The Experience Episode 6: Interview with Nick Thornton


October 17, 2022



minute read


October 17, 2022

Graphic that says "The Experience with Nick Thornton & David Allen."

Welcome to The Experience Series! We are here to give the health and wellness industry a platform to learn and share strategies for member experience. In this sixth episode, we’ll be discussing how:  

  • You need to get your team bought into your success  
  • Your sales team wants excitement and growth
  • Your marketing and sales teams should align
  • Maximizing your tools will help you find “unicorns”
  • Career paths improve staff retention
  • Your staff experience is just as important as your member experience
  • Reevaluating current memberships can boost your sales

Episode Transcription

Daron Allen: Hello everyone, and welcome to The Experience podcast. I’m one of your hosts, Daron Allen. Also, on the line here as always is Mr. Nick Thornton. I actually can’t get rid of you.

Nick Thornton: I’m still here. I guess we’re doing something right.

Daron Allen: Well, you’re doing something right. Apparently, my efforts to get rid of you, you know...

Nick Thornton: Wow.  

Daron Allen: It’s shallow, but I'll try harder.  

Nick Thornton: I feel the love already.

Daron Allen: You know what? It’s interesting because that’s one of the things we’re going to be talking about today: some of the love that salespeople might have for their sales leader. Maybe a little lack thereof, or hey – when it’s aligned it is love, right?

So, it’s awesome. I’m actually really excited to talk about our topic for today. We’re going to be talking to you, and asking some tough questions and some good questions around sales: compensation plans, motivation, those sorts of things. So, I think there are some really great nuggets in what we’re going to talk about today.

So, hopefully everybody has got a few minutes here, 10 or 12 minutes. You can hang with us and get a golden nugget that’s going to make a big difference for your business.  

So, Nick, you’ve built your career on building high performing sales systems. Tell the audience just a little bit about your past, your journey, and where you are today.

Nick Thornton: Yeah, thank you Daron. It’s something I am passionate about. I’ve been in a sales career for pushing 25 years, It’s interesting. As you go through all your experiences [you’ll see] all the different learnings that you take away. [You’ll see] how relevant they are, no matter if you’re selling software into an industry or working with clubs to try to get more memberships in the house.  

I started actually selling telecommunications to businesses across the country. I don’t know about you, but it’s a hard sales job. It is really grit that you have to have to keep going. I would say similarly selling a membership is not an easy event.  

So, it’s really been about leveraging that. My background is largely about building up teams. Most of my promotions and opportunities weren’t because we had a Nick Saban who was retiring, and I got to take over. It was more of [a situation where] we had someone who was not performing and taking a step back, [and we needed to] rebuild the team.

I enjoy that work. It’s a lot of fun. I would just say, you know, in our current team here at Club Automation we’ve really seen good growth and we have a really good group of people that’s around us. But that takes a lot of work and a lot of effort.

You Need to Get Your Team Bought into Your Success

Daron Allen: Yeah, there’s no question. You know, I’m going to pivot just a tiny little bit.

You brought up something that’s interesting in terms of, “Hey, this was a difficult sale or not a difficult sale.” I actually have an example of how I phrase or put together what it is that we’re doing in our effort to change people’s lives. [We’re striving] to really improve and encourage health and fitness throughout the world, and we are almost like the anti-FedEx, right?

With FedEx, you know what? I don’t care how long you procrastinate; you can wait until six o’clock and still drive to the airport. You can get it there first thing tomorrow and it is easy. It is so easy, and you can procrastinate. Whereas in health and fitness, there is no magic pill and there is no shortcut.  

You have to do the work. So, selling something that’s relatively intangible is a tough job. But you know what? You actually brought up something as we were doing some prep today that I think everybody’s going to be interested in.  

Nick, you were talking about [asking], “Does your comp plan achieve both the goals of the salesperson as well as the goals of the organization?” You really need to do both, right? Tell us a little bit about how you think that a club should go about maximizing growth as we push into the new year.

Nick Thornton: I think that’s really pertinent for now. I think that the biggest thing you have to focus in on is what is the true value of what you’re selling.

So, if you think about a member, do you have a good grasp of your total lifetime value of a member? Sometimes we get distracted by [it being] a $30 membership, an $80 membership, or wherever you fall into that spectrum. The reality is, over the lifetime [you have to ask] what is the real value? Is that a thousand dollars that it’s worth? What is its real value?  

I think one thing that I’ve noticed in my own career is sometimes we either under or overvalue what we’re selling. So, if [with] your compensation model you sell a $300 membership, [that’s] $30 and on average you get 10 months. But you end up spending $250 in commission to get it.

It’s not a good economic situation. I think at times you need to know what those are before you really set up the amount of spend you’re going to do, and then the velocity whereby you need to sell it. It’s really backing into the numbers and building a plan specifically for that. I would just say no matter what, nothing’s perfect.

So, building within that plan, [you need to include] the ability to adjust on the fly. Gain buy-in and share the economics with the person that you’re selling with. Don’t kind of leave them in the dark so they don’t understand why they got paid $30 versus $45. Explain to them why they’re getting paid what they’re getting paid.

Get them bought into the success of the club. I think that’s something that we often miss in sales leadership. [We think], “I’m going to pay you this because that’s what I told you I’m going to [pay you].” I think with the Millennial generation, they want to know why. I think we need to tap into that a little bit more.

Daron Allen: Yeah, I agree with you. I also that that there are so many people that are really wanting to sell for the right reasons. They also want alignment. They want to be bought in, and we want to be bought in together. That has to come across.

Nick Thornton: For sure.

Nick Thornton: One last thing to add there, Daron. You [need to] think about pricing and the amount of compensation, but when you’re thinking about that stuff you should be thinking about January joins. [You need to figure out what] the outcome or the overall success needs to look like. So, what is a clear goal that you’ve set for your business?  

If it’s not clear what we’re hoping to get or how many memberships we want to get, set a goal. You can even make it a little bit of a stretch, but if you don’t have a goal it’s really hard to measure up to something. I think oftentimes, especially in light of Covid, we’re a little afraid to set really hard goals.

But you know what? We need those. They hold us accountable. So, it’s really about figuring out value and then figuring out a specific goal we’re going to attain.  

Daron Allen: I really like that. I think that’s great.  

Your Sales Team Wants Excitement and Growth

Daron Allen: The other thing that I always talk about in sales is that people want to be associated with some excitement and some growth.

I think that if there’s misalignment or they’re just focused on the money, maybe they don’t understand that. [It] has to be absolutely aligned so that we can implement a new program, so that we can renovate this part of the club, or so we can add on a new outdoor pickleball [court].

Energy and excitement for the company to grow [is necessary] as well. So, Nick, what are some strategies that clubs could focus on to really maximize Q1 interest and joins? Everybody’s getting ready for this, right? They should be. How are you going to maximize that?  

Nick Thornton: I think this is a good question. I think there are two parts to it, or I would say maybe three. [There are] two specifically.

Number one: we often think about just the membership. You need to think about the ideal package.

So often we get distracted by just getting that first step. Do the second step. An ideal scenario would be X. Create a little extra incentive on what is the best scenario, right? Maybe even pull one out there. Maybe they sign up for a membership, they sign up for the PT, and they sign up for group training. They did all the things, right?  

Find ways to give the team a little extra bump. I think that’s really important to focus on.

Your Marketing and Sales Should Align

Number two: I think this is something that we really need to find alignment on, and that is [working] with marketing. So, [look at] your marketing function and your sales function. It may not be that you have salespeople. Maybe it’s the front desk people that are converting. Is that alignment allowing for you to execute the play?  

A few years ago, I was working with a club group. They were going to roll out an incentive on a specific day. The reality is sometimes the team that’s in charge of the front desk for their sales team says, “Well, we’ll see how many leads we get.” They’re not fully bought into the goal that marketing had established.  

It goes back to those goals. Staff to the outcome. Staff to the goal you set. If you get all those leads and you don’t follow up, guess what? Those that follow up the best are getting the member. So, a hundred leads come through and you don’t have the ability to convert them? You kind of shot yourself in the foot.

You created an emotional buy and now that emotional buy is not able to convert. In fact, it may convert for your competitor. So, it’s really [necessary to make] sure that when you do these campaigns you’re staffed correctly to actually get the conversion.  

Daron Allen: Yeah. I think that alignment to not only the staff in there, but the alignment with marketing and the overall package is absolutely key.

It actually reminds me, we just had a top performing club opening a new location and they were able to accomplish 25% penetration of not only membership sales, but their personal training attachment prior to the club even opening. I mean, talk about an amazing statistic. That is alignment.

If anybody is interested in understanding a little bit more about that, they could certainly reach out to us. That’s a really exciting story.  

Maximizing Your Tools Will Help You Find “Unicorns”

Daron Allen: Another question I have for you is sort of related to top performers. You mentioned it just a bit ago. How does a club keep their top performers happy while also raising the level of the game for the next tier of performers? You want to keep your top performers, although they can’t have too much power over you. You want to keep them motivated, right?  

Nick Thornton: It’s something really hard, and probably near and dear to everyone in the club business right now: retaining your best. I would say that’s [happening] globally, right, in any industry? I think what it really comes down to is actually creating unicorns. What I mean by that is you have to have this individual who you say, “If I just had more of so and so, [we’d be set]. But I guess I can’t find him. I can’t even get people to show up for an interview.”

I’ve heard this from clubs all over the country. The fundamental thing that we have to go back to is don’t look at the person, look at the things they do well. [Look at] the actual tasks they do well and find a means to measure people when they interview.

I know for our company right now, we call it an assessment. It’s a test they take. There are so many of these tools out there and available, but actually have your best performer take the test. It may shock you. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

The irony of a good salesperson is that they’re not very collaborative people. They basically don’t take no for an answer. So, in that way they could be considered somewhat argumentative. They could do these different things that in a way could put some people off, but the reality is they’re self-driven, they’re motivated, and they’re doing it. Whatever those success metrics are, you can do that by putting some science behind that.

Then, when somebody comes in and they say, “I think I just want to be a lifeguard,” they take the assessment. [You can ask], “Have you ever considered X? You can make more money. You’re not a lifeguard, you’re this person.” You’re able to actually identify those people more scientifically. I just think the tools that are available, even to the smallest of clubs, [need to be maximized].

Career Paths Improve Staff Retention

Nick Thornton: Then last but not least, I would leave you with this on people. What’s so cool about people [is that] the actual retention of a team member happens in the interview. What you lose sight of is we think we get them in the house, and then somehow we’re going to keep them for three months, four months, five months, or a year.

The reality is you should have a plan for that person because you posted the job. You should know if they’re a high-quality candidate they go from here to here, to here, to here. If you're actually building that out and in the interview you say, “If you do well, this is our vision for you,” you’d be shocked how that changes their perspective of coming to work for you. It’s going to be unique to the market.

They’re looking forward already to doing well for you and getting that next slot. Often, we don’t even go there. We’re just glad they came in the house and then they leave in three months because they weren’t interested anymore. They didn’t know where they were going.

Daron Allen: Yeah. Nick, I am so glad you brought that up because I was very impressed.  

I remember our company (and I’m sure you remember) took all of our leaders to an amazing leadership training and development conference at Disney. [We] invested heavily in all of our top performers of the company. You led one of the sessions on career pathing, and that’s what you’re talking about.

I was incredibly impressed with that. I wonder how many clubs could make a huge difference in the way that they retain people by tapping into that career pathing concept.

Nick Thornton: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s more critical than ever. People aren’t just going to stick with you for long periods of time. They kind of want to know where they’re going, what they could do, how they could do it.

I say “advancement” in a soft way. Some people want the same job, but they want more respect, as they would say, or maybe more responsibility within that job. Figure out what it is that they want and say, “Hey, I’ll help you with that.”

It’s about being connected with people at that level, and you’ll be shocked at what happens to your retention. These plans work. This isn’t just me saying this. It’s practiced and the outcome is pretty impressive.

Your Staff Experience is Just as Important as Your Member Experience

Daron Allen: Yeah. So, Nick, I know we’re starting to get towards the end of our timeframe here. We always want to find out a couple of questions that we ask every time on our Experience podcast. For you in this context, what does experience mean in the context of this sales process?

Nick Thornton: Yeah, thank you for asking. I would say experience for me really comes down to a simple concept of alignment.

We often (and in our whole podcast) talk a lot about creating a member experience. I’m going to shift a little bit on this one. The member experience is critical, but how are you building a similar experience for your team to be able to convert on what you’re doing for your members?  

Is the membership experience frictionless, we say? Is your team member experience also frictionless? They know what a good sale is. They know what a good member is. They know how to get them there. Do they have an iPad at the front desk that simply says fill this out? It’s very easy for them to do it.  

Or are you still having them write stuff down on a piece of paper, and later on go and type it all into the computer? Some of these things create that limited experience.

So, I would just put it down to a very simple concept. Experience to me applies to both that membership acquisition, conversion, and ongoing experience that you create for the member. It’s also about the same thing, but in alignment with your staff.

If you achieve that, your club is going to skyrocket in revenue. For the clubs that are considered efficient, you know that, right, Daron? We could go around the country and see these types of operations. That’s impressive.

Reevaluating Current Memberships Can Boost Your Sales

Daron Allen: There’s no question, there’s no question. So, I know we have hit I think about 15 or 16 minutes here today, Nick. I really appreciate you taking the time to really think deeply about this, but it just comes naturally to you because you’ve been doing it for quite some time.

Do you have a success story that comes to mind to sort of wrap us up today?  

Nick Thornton: Yeah, I would. So, actually in a prior life I was selling some telecommunication services and our product teams were really having a hard time getting our teams to embrace the product. They were trying to sell it as an attachment to current customers. Meaning they had this [membership, and needed to] add this, right?

So, think about it. You have a membership, why don’t you also join a program or join, you know, whatever it was. I think one of the things that really triggered my career path [was this]. This was really what it came down to. I figured out a way that we were doing too much work. [We were] trying to add something on for somebody, but not actually starting from the beginning.  

Oftentimes, you go to a current member and you literally are talking to them about an added service. Why don’t you go back to them and say, “Why don’t we reevaluate your experience and what you have with us right now?” Ask them, “Do you have a family? Do you want to put them in here? We could do this, this, and this for you, and by the way, add these things.”  

So, what I did with my sales team in this scenario was start from the beginning, and whether you were a new customer or whether you were a current customer, we sent you through the same process. What ended up happening? The adoption of that product went through the roof.

It’s because they were reevaluating how they were experiencing our services at the time, or how you would experience a membership. I would just say do those exercises. I think you’d be pretty amazed what happens if a team member says, “Hey, why don’t we look at one of these new membership packages we have? And by the way, these are some great attachments that new people are buying when they come into the club.”  

It would just be kind of a refresh with that member. They would appreciate it.

Daron Allen: That’s fantastic. Well, I think that’s a wrap for us today. As always, Nick, I enjoyed it.  

We’re working on some great guests for the next couple of podcasts. We’ll be letting everybody know who they are shortly, so look for that. You can follow us on various outlets. We’ll get the message out about who’s going to join us and bring some golden nuggets to help everybody get ready to crush the new year.

Thank you for joining us for The Experience. Check back next time for another episode on how to take your club to the next level. For more content and to stay up to date with The Experience, follow Club Automation, VFPnext, and Motionsoft on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. We’ll see you next time.

The Experience Series is produced by Kevin Mulligan, Nick Thornton, and Daron Allen. Sound production and story editing by Kevin Mulligan. Creative and graphic design by Jenny Miller. Special thanks to Kayla Canon and Marissa Meyers for logistical coordination.

What’s a Rich Text element?

Thi sis a

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!


Static and dynamic content editing. A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!


A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!


A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

  • Just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection
  • Any collection and then connect
  • This i any collection and then connect

Into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

other articles

continued reading

Grow Your Memberships With the VFP Performance Dashboard

read article

Grow Your Memberships With the VFP Performance Dashboard

The VFP Performance Dashboard offers the insights you need to unlock your club’s full potential. Set smarter goals, track progress, and convert more members

Read Article

Redefining Fitness Success with Club Automation Tech Partners

read article
No items found.

Redefining Fitness Success with Club Automation Tech Partners

Discover how Club Automation key fitness partners are redefining fitness success. Gather valuable insights from industry experts on the significance of tech partnerships.

Read Article

Lead Generation Ideas for Gyms: Engage and Convert Prospects

read article

Lead Generation Ideas for Gyms: Engage and Convert Prospects

Discover actionable lead generation ideas for gyms. Use these proven strategies to engage prospects, optimize follow-up, and convert leads into loyal members.

Read Article

IHRSA 2024 Recap: Unpack the Latest Insights and Innovations

read article

IHRSA 2024 Recap: Unpack the Latest Insights and Innovations

Couldn’t attend IHRSA 2024? No problem. Catch up on the latest fitness industry trends and tap into the IHRSA energy at home with an on-demand recap webinar.

Read Article

How Unyqe Fitness Grew New Members 488% in One Month

read article

How Unyqe Fitness Grew New Members 488% in One Month

Unyqe Fitness grew their average new members 488%. Learn their secret to enhancing their experience without losing the human connection that makes them special.

Read Article

8 Things You Need for Better Gym Lead Generation

read article

8 Things You Need for Better Gym Lead Generation

Attract more leads and increase your gym’s revenue with the right techniques and technology. Here are 8 things you need to improve your gym’s lead generation.

Read Article

Top Fitness Industry Trends to Know for 2024

read article

Top Fitness Industry Trends to Know for 2024

We analyzed 880+ Club Automation users to discover the fitness industry trends to know in 2024. Learn how we grew in 2023 and how to keep that momentum in 2024.

Read Article

Ready to outrival
the best?

Talk to our team and unlock your full potential.

Get a Demo
Get a Demo