Client’s First Day: Find the Pain

Craig “Patty” Patterson
Guest Contributor
Business, CrossFit

For years, when a new prospect came to us, my coaches and I would spend our energy trying to sell them on CrossFit: the movements they would learn and the workouts they would do.


We would sit down with them and go through our ‘what is fitness’ speech. Then we would explain the concepts of training constantly varied, functional movements at a high intensity, and we would talk about the 10 general physical skills that would improve their training.


It’s not that this method didn’t work for us; we had great success for a number of years selling 10-15 personal training sessions before shuffling them into a group class.


But one client — a woman in her 30s I'll call Megan (her real name is being withheld for privacy reasons) — completely opened my eyes as to what our training really was and where it missed the mark. What became apparent to me was that selling and delivering a single fitness methodology — one that is most commonly delivered in a group class — is woefully inadequate for addressing the fitness, and more importantly the emotional needs, of the vast percentage of the population. While the majority are not as extreme of an example as Megan, almost everyone over the age of 35 has, at the very least, some kind of a physical limitation.

It was obvious to everyone that Megan was anorexic.


On her first day, I gave her my patented first-day talk. We talked about getting her stronger and getting her a pull-up. She went through personal training and then she started coming to regular group classes.


Megan struggled in group classes because she clearly lacked the energy to get through the workouts. Everyone could see it.


One day, as she tried to change the workout and convince everyone in the class that it was too much, I said to her, “You know, Megan. One day, you’ll go out and eat a burger and fries three hours before class and you’ll be able to finish the workout.”


It was inappropriate. I knew that, but it had reached a boiling over point and that was my way of dealing with it. I had popped the bubble that nobody else had dared pop.


The rest of the class was horrible. Nobody looked at her because they didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable.


She was visibly upset and went over into the corner to work on her ring dips in a thick band. Then the band slipped and smashed her in the face. She burst out crying and ran outside.

I sat down next to her as she bawled.


“I’m anorexic, Craig. And I need help,” she revealed.


I realized at that moment how backward we had been doing things. We had been trained to sell the movements, personal training, group classes, and what we should have been selling was a relationship with a coach. All this time, we had been teaching people our methodology, but what we actually needed to be doing was figuring out what they truly needed to live a healthier, happier life.


That conversation I had with Megan on the bench outside that day needed to happen on Day 1.
This is exactly what our Day 1 introductory session is about today.


Change the Way You Think About Sales

Before I go into more about a client’s first day, let’s digress and talk about sales (we use the term enrollment) for a moment. After all, that’s ultimately what you’re trying to do when a new prospect shows up: enroll him/her to your service and your ability to manage their health, wellness, and fitness for life.


In my last article on coach compensation I talked about the reason your coaches aren’t motivated to bring in and enroll new clients: incentives aren’t aligned to motivate them to bring in and take care of clients. Appropriately aligned incentives means paying them on a percentage of revenue basis.


But even if you switch the way you compensate your coaches to a percentage of revenue basis, that doesn’t mean you suddenly have a group of seasoned salespeople on your hands who know to ask someone for $875 upfront for 10 personal training sessions.


Like anything, sales is a skill and it doesn’t have to be the dirty five-letter word you think it is. MadLab Group coaches all go through sales (enrollment) training with sales expert Greg Mack, a man who has 25-plus years of experience in the industry, as part of their coach development process, and it has made a world of difference to our member gyms’ client retention, coach retention, and business profitability.


The truth is sales is just about finding a person’s pain—meaning the real reason they’re seeking your help—and then figuring out if you have a solution to their pain.

Sales are actually just an interview between two people. It’s not the coach’s job to convince or influence someone to buy something they don’t want or need. It’s the coach’s job to find out what the prospect wants and if he’s able to offer a solution.


If you’re doing it right, sales are just communication to get to the truth. It’s dead honesty. It’s about two human beings trying to get to the bottom of something.


First Day Purpose

What is the purpose of the client’s first day at your gym right now?

If you’re running a giant clusterf*ck of a group class, then your purpose is just to give people a good sweat. You’re selling a commodity: the workout.


We think there’s a better way: Instead of selling a commodity, or a mechanism, or a group class, or a personal training session, sell a relationship. Enrol them in a relationship with a coach for life so they can have a great life.


Let’s go back to the purpose of the client’s first day.


The purpose of an intro session at any of our gyms is to get a yes or no answer from the prospect. That’s it. Do you want to do this training with me?


The best way to do this is to sit down — by appointment only and in a one-on-one environment — with a coach to see if you’re a good fit to work together.


I repeat: this must be done in a one-on-one setting. Doing this simply can’t be done in a group setting.


One of the biggest mistakes I still see gym owners make is running free bring-a-friend group classes. The friends who show up aren’t even sure why they’re there. And there is zero opportunity for the coach to connect with the prospects to find out their story — what they’re looking for and why. It’s just a giant waste of everyone’s time.


What’s worse is after the class the people disperse and all you’re left with is a small amount of hope: hope that the workout sold a couple of them enough that they’ll come back and sign up. To truly discover the emotion behind the person’s reason for being there, the coach needs to get to the heart of their pain. Not the surface level ‘I want to lose weight’ reason. The real reason. The coach needs to unlock the emotion behind the reason the person walked through those doors.


Finding the pain is the moment the prospect becomes vulnerable and admits she’s a new grandmother, but because she’s so unfit and overweight, her daughter doesn’t trust she’s physically competent enough to look after her two-year-old grandchild. It’s the moment the client tells you he’s about to give up on ever surfing again and needs your help. It’s the moment the prospect looks you in the eye and starts crying about how he was bullied in High School or feels like sh*t because she sits behind a desk all day. It’s the moment Megan told me she was anorexic.


It might sound daunting to know where to start to get someone you don’t even know to trust you enough to break down their walls and be vulnerable.


As Mack explains, “There are two reasons it’s difficult to discover someone’s true pain. One, the person may never have said it out loud before. Two, they don’t trust you so they’re not going to tell you.”


Overcoming those two roadblocks is a learned skill and requires practice, just like a clean and jerk. It’s also why all our coaches go through formal training: It’s just not a skill people are born with.


In short, getting good at getting others to open up requires learning to be comfortable with dead honesty, learning how to ask the tough questions, and learning how to be completely present in the moment. And it means growing a pair of balls and making yourself uncomfortable to get to the bottom of what’s really going to help the person in front of you.


More than anything, it’s about building trust. If you manage to get the prospect to reveal his pain, that’s a great start of a productive coach-client relationship—a relationship that will allow the coach to truly help the client get what he wants at the gym and in life.


Ultimately, if you can become skilled at it, it’s what’s going to make all the difference for the client, the coach, and your business.