Getting it Right; Drew Girton and CrossFit Pendulum
Note: If you want to skip to the interview in the audio portion, it’s around the 12-minute mark. Enjoy.
Recently I had the good fortune to sit down with an old friend and former comrade, Drew Girton, while on a long weekend in Los Angeles.
Only a month prior I’d audited the email marketing efforts Drew’s business, which is located in Pasadena, California.
Not to spoil the ending, but Drew and his partners are doing great work. So I had to get behind the scenes with the man at the helm.
The recording of this interview is not awful, but it’s not gonna win any sound quality awards. You can hear the sounds of an active brunch scene in downtown Los Angeles (DTLA); mostly because we recorded it on my iPhone after brunch at a restaurant in DTLA.
That said, it’s worth a listen. We dig into some interesting corners of Drew’s life and discover how he climbed to the top of my list of gym marketers you should try to copy.
If you want to duplicate a winning email strategy you could try to hire Drew as a consultant. Failing that, I know another marketer who can do a bang-up job with emails, especially for gyms.
Ahem... (I’M TALKING ABOUT ME.)
While I’d planned to write a lengthy intro for Drew here, he does a swell job in the interview so I’ll spare you.
The short version is this: Athletic competitor becomes a trainer in a national fitness chain. That trainer becomes a department head with aspirations of doing his own thing, then he actually does it: his own thing.
I think you’re going to identify with and enjoy Drew’s story.
How did we get here?
When I launched this blog, I’d intended to review a good smattering of gyms, big and small, and across as many practices as I could manage. That is still the plan, but the fruit is hanging so low that it’s rotting on the ground for every gym I’ve investigated so far.
There is a pattern of marketing behavior which is nearly the same from gym to gym, across brands, and regions. I have yet to find one shining example of a fitness organization that gets email marketing.
When I enroll in a gym’s free pass via their online portal, here’s what I’m finding 98% of the time:
- They have no online enrollment option.
- That portal gathers my email and phone number.
- I receive an email for my pass.
- My phone starts ringing.
- My texts go off the chain.
- This goes on for a month, maybe more.
- They can’t effectively leverage my email for nurturing.
- Few offer a double opt-in for email.
- Never is there a double opt-in for my cell phone.
That last one wasn’t fair. I’ll come back to this idea.
The dissonance is so loud between what I expect and what happens, I’ve started to doubt what I know about lead nurturing.
Is there is something I’ve been missing?
Then I peered into the email efforts of CrossFit Pendulum, a sizable “box,” as they call them in the world of CrossFit. For efficiency, I’ll refer to it as Pendulum going forward.
Full transparency: I’ve audited Pendulum’s emails before. It was about a year ago.
In that year I’ve dedicated countless hours of my life to gurus, incubators, and other educational outlets in an effort to master email strategy. Thus, I needed a fresh look.
Also — in case you’ve been skimming — I know two of the founders, Drew and Christina.
Here’s what happened
On May 6, 2019, I put my name in for more information from Pendulum. What came to my inbox was a personal letter, albeit it automated, which mentioned my name, and was signed by one of the founders: Drew Girton.
Although it’s tempting, I won’t share the whole letter here. It’s not award-winning copy, but for a jock, it’s not half bad.
His words in this message are genuine. They’re encouraging. They come from a single person, an authority. I already feel like I know him, which I do, but I’m playing along.
In his first message to me, Drew shares a 14-day meal plan PDF. He doesn’t tell me to ask him for what I need. How do I know about what I need? That’s what I’m going to him for. He just provides something.
Also important, he tells me what’s gonna happen next: “Over the next few days, we're going to share our story and introduce some of the people that make this place so special.”
Mind blown. No gym has nailed this first email. Not even kinda.
That same day I recived a text from Drew. This violated my personal preferences about business texting their leads, but that’s me. And, as you will learn in the interview with Drew, Pendulum sees good results from this work.
I’m open to being wrong.
That’s when it got personal
Drew recognized my name when it popped up in his lead management system so he pulled me from the funnel and texted me a truly personal message:
After a little back and forth, I convinced him to let the story play out. He agreed to let it roll.
One thing he did not do, something he copped to in the interview, was he did NOT call me. Normally, he would have called.
I can’t say from firsthand experience how aggressive that calling would have been, but my guess is it would match the aggressiveness of Pendulum’s other marketing efforts. [Read: measured and appropriate.]
But the fun didn’t stop there
Over the course of the month, I received four texts and nine emails from Pendulum. I responded to none of them.
There are funnel pathways that may have unfolded had I replied, but I wanted to see how Pendulum treated its coldest leads.
Over that month, I received an introduction to the team, an invite to book a tour, some visionary questions about where I saw myself in the next 30 days, six months, that sort of thing.
It was all in the name of being helpful as possible, trying to get me closer to the gym, its team and the culture of the place.
Any efforts I would make to improve the copy in these emails would be hair-splitting. After all, he’s converting his online leads at nearly 20% as of this last 90 days.
That said, there were some opportunities I would like to see the Pendulum roll out with these onboarding emails.
Here’s what Pendulum could do better
This is a short list, trust me. I’m into the details because their efforts are generally good. They’ve forced me to look harder.
︎ CAN-Spam laws, the laws that govern email in the USA, don’t require double opt-ins. I would do it anyway.
It cuts out non-serious leads and makes the arrangement clear: We’re gonna email you.
︎ The CAN-Spam laws do require an unsubscribe link in emails.
It’s not only a fair law, but it’s also a lot better than getting the one-click spam designation, which hurts your domain reputation.
Not providing an easy out can land your emails in the spam bin, a tough place to get out of if your domain gets blacklisted.
︎ Introduce the other two partners, and have them talk about their roles.
They could send “their own” emails, rolled into the sequence, the earlier the better. I would compose them both separately because people don’t write emails. Individuals do.
︎ A little more media would go a long way.
CrossFit Pendulum has a nice log of digital captures from inside the gym, videos, and photos. The lead nurture series introduces one video, but it could include more. If I’m an online investigator, curious but scared, I'd like to get as much of a feel for it as I can before going further.
︎ Socialize with your leads.
Speaking of content, Pendulum runs a fantastic Instagram account. One email should invite me to follow that feed.
︎ Don’t forget to say “bye.”
The series ends without a formal goodbye. Recipients should know Pendulum is still there for them, but that they respectful acknowledge the message their lead is sending.
That email could read something like this:
You and I have been around as much of the Pendulum world as I can show you from the internet.
I have to tell you, I’d really hoped to convince you to come to see it in person. There’s nothing else like it, not in the CrossFit world, and not in Pasadena.
As an internet user myself, I know it feels like I can see the world from my laptop. Heck, I can circle the Eiffel Tower on Google Earth without leaving Pasadena. But I know it’s not like really being there.
It really is a BIG WORLD
But, I don’t wanna be that guy. I get it. You want to think about it, and you should.
I'd lobby on your behalf that you’ve done enough thinking, but that’s not my call.
Anyway, I’m here if you need me. If you don’t want to hear from me, you can unsubscribe [︎link] right now.
If not, great. I will check in from time to time to see if you have decided to come to meet the team.
I know for a fact they’re gonna like you, and I have a feeling you will like them too, but you’ve gotta come to me on this one. There’s simply no other way.
I hope you change your mind. You never have to explain yourself to me. When I say “no excuses,” I mean it. No time for that. Just keep moving forward.
May you move forward through this world in all the ways you want to. Thanks for giving us a look-see on your pathway to health.
Drew (But, also my partners Christina, Dario & the whole Pendulum team)
One last thought
Something I would be curious to test with Pendulum or any gym, frankly, is an opt-in feature for calls. Some people, this writer for example, just don’t wanna be called on the phone.
A gym like Pendulum might be the proving ground on my theory that a call me opt-in would produce cleaner leads. It reads like madness, I know, but I have two rationales.
Point 1: Someone who says, “yes,” to cell contact will respond better to incoming calls. In the world of email marketing, this was being done with emails by savvy marketers long before CAN-SPAM and GDPR regulations forced the issue.
Point 2: Who wants to market to the unwilling?
It’s fair to point out, many will opt out as a reflex. But, those who opt in will have told you a ton about how they want you to reach them.
Even with those leads, I would use a voicemail script that acknowledges, “we won’t keep calling you like other gyms so if you really have an interest, you’ll need to call us back.”
It’s bold, even risky, but when it comes to brand perception in the wild, you have to consider how you want the community to perceive you. Gyms are already starting from a low point of expectations. Leads assume gyms will harass them.
The bar may be low, and the world may be big, but CrossFit Pendulum is striding all of it with some of the smartest marketing this strategist has seen yet. This is the new bar.
You've really gotta listen to the interview.
Thanks for reading.