Coaches Turn to Talk: “I wouldn’t still be coaching if I weren’t a salesperson.”

The halls of affiliate-owned gyms forever echo with heated discussions about what the roles responsibilities of the coach should be.

Next to the clients, the coaches are the life blood of the gym, yet owners struggle to figure out how to get coaches to work harder, to take more ownership (without actually being owners), to retain clients, and to commit to staying at their facility.

A big debate surrounds the sales responsibility: Should coaches be responsible for the gym’s sales?

A recent Two-Brain Business blog titled “Your Coaches Aren’t Salespeople” argued the coach should NOT be responsible for sales.

Their position against the coach having to be a salesperson had three components. They argued:

  1. A coach’s performance and their pay are separate issues
  2. Paying a sales commission to a coach will increase sales is a myth
  3. Paying a coach a percentage of revenue of their clients’ fees will incentivize them to retain their clients is also a myth

Online forums who debate these topics are generally dominated by owners and consultants, and subsequently their side of the argument. Thus, I thought it was prudent to hear how coaches feel about being responsible for bringing in and retaining clients – about being responsible for sales.

I figured I’d start with myself:

Having been a coach in the fitness industry for 9 years, coaching both personal training and group classes at MadLab School of Fitness, here is why I grew to love coaching, and why I’m still coaching after nine years:

I enjoy it because of the system built and administered at MadLab School of Fitness.  This system supports me as an entrepreneur. I enjoy the challenge, freedom, and responsibility for developing my career within this system. On top of the excitement in building my client base, I also enjoy it because I am free to create new revenue streams (e.g. specialty programs and more recently a meal service) all of which I’m compensated for on a percentage of revenue basis. I control my income and destiny. Contrary to the alleged myth Two-Brain Business alluded to, I am 100 percent still coaching after nine years because I am a salesperson.

Here’s where I think the issue is: It’s our perception about being a salesperson and the skills required to learn and apply a sales process that’s making everyone scared of sales. I don’t think about sales in terms of money, per se. To me, sales is a conversation – an interview – between two people, where we get to the bottom of what they’re looking for and seeing if it matches what I’m looking for in a client relationship. I believe I have something incredible to offer: Coaching that helps people improve their health and fitness. If we’re a good fit, then I know the client will happily pay the required amount because they’re getting something out of the relationship with me.

A professional relationship, where you truly make a difference in their lives and have a ton of fun along the way!

It provides me great satisfaction to take care for my clients; to help them on their lifelong journey to being fit and healthy, to be financially rewarded for my efforts, and to earn a professional wage without having to work a gruelling 60-plus on-floor coaching hours per week for $25 to $30 an hour. Embracing the role responsibilities of a “salesperson” and being compensated based on performance is the best way to do this, in my opinion.

A big economic threat to the gym and the coach is client turnover. Two Brain Business suggests as a solution to retention challenges: “Fix your retention by putting it in the hands of ONE PERSON, who’s trained and focused on keeping people in your gym.”

The efficacy of this solution eludes me. I am internally motivated to look after and retain the people I have a relationship with, which started in the sales process and continues in the training relationship. If the entire sales process is delegated to only one person, and that person is not the coach, how is a dynamic, high-value relationship possible? How can the coach have any control over their income, their schedule, or what kind of client relationships they want to be in? The client’s needs and goals can, and will, change. The coach is the one who is right there with the client and in the best position to influence the client session-to-session, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year.

To finish, I’ll say this: If I were getting paid $25 or $30 an hour to run around and administer group classes for 6 hours a day, I wouldn’t still be in the industry today. That’s a formula for burnout. Yes, I coach group classes, but for me it’s a time to cultivate my garden of humans, to provide them with a service that helps their life and to leverage the motivation from the social construct of the class process. On the flip side, being a group ex robot has zero appeal to me professionally.

Without being a salesperson, without developing relationships with my clients, without being incentivized financially to provide them with high value and retain them, all I would have is the emptiness you start to feel pretty quickly when all you do is administer a hard workout.

I’m not alone. Below are some testimonials from coaches who are responsible for sales and get paid on a percentage of revenue basis, and who earn professional wages in the fitness industry.

Chris Spigner, CrossFit 7 Mile, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

“Being paid by the class $25-$30 an hour is a recipe for disaster. The coach is going to burn out because they will have to work so much to make a living. When I was getting paid by the class, it didn’t make a difference to me if we gained 50 members or lost 50 members. The compensation was still the same.”

“For me, being compensated a percentage of revenue has made the relationships I have with my clients much closer. I am in control of my own business, and work harder than I ever have before. If the client is happy, the coach is happy, then the gym is happy. Everything is set up correctly for the success of everybody.”

Terrence Limbert, Forge Valley Fitness, Vernon, B.C.

“Being paid by the hour boxes your mind to the employee mindset. ‘I’m not getting paid to do that, so why would I do it?’ As soon as you’re done your floor hours, you mentally check out and stop working.”

Conversely, being paid a percentage of revenue and being responsible for bringing in and retaining clients:

“It makes you become more invested in the members, the gym and the overall business plan…if you lose one of your clients, or the business is affected in some way, that will directly affect your paycheck. I wouldn’t want to have the compensation system any other way. If you work hard and are good at what you do, you will succeed.”

Trevor Lindwall, MadLab School of Fitness, Vancouver, B.C. (Lindwall has been in the industry for more than a decade)

“Would you still be working as a coach if you weren’t a “sales person” responsible for your own business?”

“Not a chance!”

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