“My coaches can’t sell!” – Who is truly to be blamed?

-By Craig ‘Patty’ Patterson

“My coaches are lazy.”

“They never bring anyone in.”

“They can’t sell.”

If I had a dollar for how many gym owners I’ve heard say the latter, I could retire right now.

The problem isn’t your coaches: it’s the system they’re working under. They’re probably getting paid by the hour, by the class, or they’re on salary, right?

So why would they bother trying to bring people in? Why would they go to Mary Sue’s Christmas concert to show appreciation for her business, or take Johnny Black out for drinks after a class one night? What’s in it for them if they go out into the world and bring in a new client? What’s in it for them to try to stop someone from holding or cancelling a membership?

Absolutely nothing (Well, good will, maybe. But a professional career isn’t built purely on good will).

IN SHORT: Performance-based pay is seriously lacking in the fitness industry, and it’s 100 percent responsible for your coaches apparent ‘laziness’ or unwillingness to sell. It’s not only hurting your business, but it’s also hurting your coaches’ ability to make a good living, and your clients, because nobody is taking care of them the way they should be.

Here’s a (rather long) excerpt from a recent Breaking Muscle story I wrote that went into the topic of coach compensation:

“When I was studying at McGill University in Montreal, my hockey buddies and I got involved selling beer in the stands at the football games. We were paid 25 cents per beer sold. I quickly discovered there were two major flaws in the system.

One: There were two sections in the stands nobody wanted to work. One was the opposing team’s section (fear of being mobbed). The other was the alumni section (Uptight wives wouldn’t let their husband’s drink).

Two: When we sold our flat of beer, we had to wait in a long line-up for a new flat. The girls pouring the beer were slow because there was nothing in it for them to move any faster.

By the third game, I had figured it out:

Early in the game, I would make a “friend” in the opposing team’s section and sell him the entire flat of beer for a $10 upcharge. He could then sell individual pints to his friends for whatever he wanted. Win-win for everyone. I made an additional $10 per flat and could dump an entire flat for one single transaction. The thirsty and frustrated Queens University students got beer.

Problem number two: The alumni section. Simple: Befriend the wives.

“Let the poor bastard have a beer. He works his ass off for you and the family. Right? Let him have a damn beer and enjoy himself.”

Next thing you know, the wives were on board, I’m dropping off flats of beer at a time, and the husbands are tipping me hugely.

As for the slow beer pourers:

“Here’s $5 to bring me a full flat directly every time you see me coming.”


Next thing you know, while most were making $50 to $75 a game, I’m bringing in $475 in three-quarters of a football game.

This went on for a while, but my ex-girlfriend’s brother soon caught wind of what I was doing (I was probably flashing cash and bragging). The athletic director of McGill calls me into his office. I thought he was going to give me a job, to be honest.

‘This guy’s a genius. We should let him run all beer sales!’

He didn’t see it this way. Instead of investing in me, knowing I would help the university make money, he reprimanded me. His argument wasn’t based on the fear that I was going to get too many kids drunk—that argument I could have understood. His argument was I was going to be making more money than almost everyone working the game soon, and somehow this was a problem. He cut our commissions by 60%.

What do you think I did next?

I quit. So did everyone else that was actually working hard. (And we wonder why universities in Canada aren’t prosperous).”

The lesson I learned from both this experience and from years as an engineer, is that in order to generate success and be profitable, incentives need to be aligned with all parties.

How do you line up incentives?

Lining up incentives so they motivate the coach to truly take care of clients is one of the foundational principles we teach with the MadLab Group.

All MadLab Group member gym coaches essentially “own” their own clients and are responsible for their tribe of people. So it’s up to each individual coach to build his own book of clients, and then keep his clients happy so they stick around getting and being fit and healthy for life. (Which is why we all got into this in the first place, right? To get clients fit and have them stick around and be part of a healthy community?)

So instead of rewarding the wrong behaviour—paying coaches by the hour rewards punching the clock at the start and end of the class and doing nothing more than that—our coaches are paid based on their performance.

This means our coaches are compensated based on their gross revenue: They receive a percentage of revenue per client for the lifetime of that client (Read more about how this works in the Breaking Muscle article).

The lesson that keeps getting reiterated over and over from our member gyms who have made the switch to our compensation model is that when coach pay is tied to gross revenue, clients get more fit, they stick around longer (increase in Average Client Value (ACV) and decrease in churn (retention goes up)), coaches are able to make a professional wage ($75,000-plus a year) and have a real career in the fitness industry, and the business is able to turn a real profit. 

Ben Timms and his flock at Double Barrel Fitness

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