Gym Owners: Free Trials Are No Longer The Best Way to Start CrossFit

The most beautiful thing about CrossFit isn’t its constantly varied functional movements. It’s not the “elegance” of movement executed well. It’s not even the community.

The best thing about CrossFit is that it gets people to their goals really, really fast.

CrossFit is great at getting results. The program takes pieces from other disciplines and combines them to make training feel like a game. But it also uses fitness tools to prioritize intensity—the most important part of fat loss or muscle gain.

Intensity was the part most fitness programs skipped before CrossFit.

Doesn’t that sound crazy? It’s true: The strangest thing about the pre-CrossFit fitness industry was that no one knew how to get results.

Now the craziest thing in the fitness industry is that most gyms can’t keep clients long enough for this powerful tool to really be effective.

No exaggeration: The average reported retention score has dropped from 13.1 months in our 2016 surveys to 7.8 months now. And in my 20-plus years in the fitness industry, I’ve learned 7.8 months isn’t long enough to change a life.

Gym owners, I know that changing lives is your primary goal, but if you take this advice, you’ll also get another $40,000 per year in revenue just by keeping clients longer.

Below, I’m going to tell you exactly how to set a client up for success, how to keep a client engaged, and how to leverage the most powerful tool we have for changing fitness and health for the better.

If you’re a person who’s looking to start a CrossFit program, review the steps below. These are the best practices in the industry, and if your experience starts like this, you’ll know you’re going to get great results.

personal training for crossfitSource: Stevie D Photography

Step 1: Start With a Consultation.

Before you can say “My program is best for you!” you have to know that it is.

CrossFit is not the best option for everyone. According to years of data from hundreds of gyms we work with around the world, we’ve found that you must start with a conversation before anything else. We track the conversion rates in all our clients’ gyms, and we change our approach whenever we find something that works better. Through that process, we’ve discovered that a short interview we call a “No Sweat Intro” gets people to sign up better than anything else. Our data shows the No Sweat Intro is far superior to a free trial.

The No-Sweat Intro (or NSI) is a short-form motivational interview. It follows these basic steps: 

  1. Greet the client in a private, professional space.
  2. Ask what brought the client to your door—and why now.
  3. Measure the thing the clients want to improve. A tip: After more than 20 years of coaching, I’ve never had a new client say, “I just want to move better.” So I don’t do a movement test or screening. If the client wants to lose weight, I measure weight. If he or she wants to lose fat, I measure body fat. If the client wants to get stronger, I measure strength.
  4. Outline the best plan to get clients to their goals, knowing that no plan survives 100 percent intact over time. That’s OK—we’re going to set up opportunities to change the plan along the way. Include all elements they’ll need from you: exercise prescription, nutrition, meditation—you’re the coach.
  5. Ask if they would prefer to be coached one on one or in a small group setting (your “budget-friendly” option).
  6. Ask if they’d like to work out at your gym, at another gym or at home (your “online” option).
  7. Tell them the price. I prefer to use a sales binder because I’m not a good salesperson. We share a sales-binder template with all Two-Brain gyms for this reason.
  8. Help them make a decision (that’s their first action, and you need to start coaching them).
  9. Schedule the first Goal Review Session for 100 days later.
  10. Kick off your on-ramp or fundamentals program.

Step 2: Onboarding a client

Whether clients plan to join your group training program eventually or stay with one-on-one coaching forever, they should start one-on-one with you.

How many sessions? That depends. What does a client have to know before you feel comfortable inviting him or her into a group of experienced exercisers?

For me, I can teach the things I want new clients to know in five sessions—but you should set up your own on-ramp process based on what you want them to know, not what you think you can “sell.” Three sessions are far too few for me; 20 are far too many. 

After the first five sessions, we ask a client, “Do you feel comfortable trying a group class?”

About 10 percent of the time they say they’re not comfortable yet. If we hadn’t asked, they would have just quit there. But we do ask, and they getmore one-on-one sessions.

No matter the path, meet with clients within their first 100 days.

Step 3: The Goal Review

Goal Reviews are the best thing you can do for client retention—but they’re also sometimes a great opportunity to ask for referrals.

A client within the first 100 days of the journey with you is most likely to be an evangelist for your service.

Remember your first 100 days of CrossFit? You were pretty damn unbearable. It was all you talked about. And it was all I talked about, too.

Handle a Goal Review Session like this:

Measure their progress in the same way you measured their starting point. Yeah, it’s cool that their deadlift went up—but if the swimsuit still doesn’t fit, departure is imminent.

Then ask: “Are you totally happy with your progress?”

If they say “yes!” pull out your camera and say, “I think your story is so inspirational, and you have the power right now to help some others. What would you tell past you if you had the chance?” Record, put the client on stage and share with permission.

Then ask, “Who else in your life could really use some help with their fitness right now?”

If the client says, “No, I’m not really happy with my progress,” then change the prescription.

No one is happy with progress all the time. The Goal Review gives you a second chance—and then a third and a fourth—to get clients back on the right track.

Say, “If I were in your shoes, I would … ,” and then explain what to add or remove or change. You’re still the coach. Help the client pivot.

crossfit introSource: Stevie D Photography

These three stages—the NSI, on-ramp and Goal Review—are part of a long process we at Two-Brain Business call “the Client Journey.” Every client’s journey in your business is different, but in the gyms I work with, every client follows the “Prescriptive Model” outlined above, and that’s why Two-Brain gyms keep clients longer.

So where does the money—more than $40,000—come from? Keeping clients longer.

If you have 150 clients paying you $150 per month each and you can keep each of those clients for two more months, you’ll get them closer to health. You’ll also get yourself $45,000 in new revenue—without worrying about ad spend on Facebook or recruitment or any of the other marketing problems.

 Retention saves lives. It can also save gyms.

Additional resources

Find out more about the Prescriptive Model here or  read more about Goal Reviews here.

Chris Cooper is the founder of the worldwide gym mentorship practice Two-Brain Business. He’s been a trainer for decades and owns Catalyst Fitness in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. He’s the author of four books on the fitness industry, including the bestseller “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief.” Chris is determined to help fitness entrepreneurs find success and happiness.

Find out more under Two-Brain Media.

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