Have you created and sold an online course?
How did it go? Did you go the "build it and they will come" route?
(you know...the part where you spent weeks or months creating a course and then discovering that nobody knows you exist and even when they discover you...they don't want your course).
If that sounds like you, don't feel bad. Building a course takes a lot of effort, commitment and persistence to resolve all the little roadblocks along the way, so if you finished it and managed to sell even just a few copies you have my permission to take a minute or two right now to pat yourself on the back.
Now that that's out of the way...
...I want to help you to sell more of those courses, how does that sound?
But before I do here's a few ground rules...
Selling more courses is a BIG topic, it's not a neat little 500 word blog post (at least not if you want it to actually help people out), so I will narrow the focus down to the three words in this post title:
Which means that I will assume that:
- you have a course to sell already
- you've sold at least a few copies of it so far
I'm also not going to give you any ninja tips on how to drive traffic to your course.
The reality is you're either going to have to pay some money and advertise your course or you're going to invest your time in creating great content and ranking it on Google as a free traffic source...so yeah, that's a topic for another day.
But if you have a course and you've managed to sell some (or maybe even a quite a few) copies and you'd like to sell more, then you've come to the right place.
My goal is to help you sell more of your courses by leveraging a system that makes multiple offers to your audience over time.
This isn't get-rich-quick "overnight riches", if that's what you want then look elsewhere.
What you will get though is the thinking behind a system that you don't have to dream up that can help you sell more courses once it is up and running.
Still with me? Let's dive in!
The Automated Online Course Sales System
Here's what you'll need to get started.
- Your completed online course
- An email service like ActiveCampaign (affiliate link) that allows you to build an email list and use email marketing and sales automation to sell your courses 24/7 while you're awake or asleep
- A basic understanding of how to build automated follow-up sequences, how to segment your email list, apply/remove tags etc.
That's about it (remember, you've already sold courses before so I assume you have some sort of shopping cart set up - right?).
Here's a breakdown of the different systems you should have in place if you want to generate regular course sales each month:
Each of the above systems work together to help you sell more courses without having to be in a constant "launch mode". Product launches are fine...but they are not a business model.
The point of building a course to sell in the first place is that it allows you to scale in a way that offering services never could...so let's take advantage of that to get systems working for us even when we're not working at all - sound good?
Let's start with...
The Intake System
Okay, this is only one out of the four systems...but it's HUGE because it sits at the very top of your marketing funnel.
The Intake System is how you get leads and prospects into your email CRM or onto your list.
The Intake System is fueled by your content marketing to turn "suspects" (anonymous visitors to your website) into "prospects" (those who've willingly revealed their contact details to you in order for you to communicate with or market to them.
They have 'stepped into the light' and raised their hand to indicate that they are interested, so your job is to not lead them astray (or waste their time) but show them what you promised in the hopes that some will decide to buy your course.
Selling online courses is a business, and all business is ultimately a game of numbers. Get the numbers right and your business will thrive and fund your lifestyle, that's the goal.
Collecting Leads on your Website
As the name implies, the Intake System is there to collect the leads that come to your site, for this reason it has nothing to do with traffic generation but instead is about converting visitors to your site into contacts (or leads) inside your email database.
The main objectives of the Intake System is to:
- Ethically collect contacts into your email database
- Discover their main interests in order to serve them better
- Make an initial offer based on their specific interests
For this purpose, numerous lead generation methods can be plugged into the Intake System for your site including quizzes, lead magnets, pre-sell sites and content upgrades.
While any of these methods work, the Content Upgrade will be our primary focus in this article.
What is A Content Upgrade?
A "content upgrade" expands on the concept of the more generic "lead magnet" by being hyper-focused on a very specific topic related to a single blog post.
If you had a blog post about "10 Best Tools for Creating Content Upgrades Fast" then your content upgrade could be:
"Watch me build a content upgrade in 5 minutes that converts 75% of site visitors onto my email list using this killer content upgrade tool"
Content Upgrades tend to convert much higher than typical (and generic) lead magnets because they have a narrow focus related to a specific topic.
Some claims of about the effectiveness of Content Upgrades for collecting email opt ins include:
- Bryan Harris at Growthtools.com claims a 300% increase in email subscribers per post. https://growthtools.com/action-guides
- Brian Dean of Backlink.com claims he saw an increase of 785% with content upgrades. https://backlinko.com/increase-conversions
- Authority Hacker claims up to 20% opt in rate on blog posts s. https://www.authorityhacker.com/content-upgrades/
Clay Collins is reportedly the originator of the Content Upgrade...even if he didn't necessarily coin that phrase. It was the main content marketing/lead generation strategy he used in the early days of LeadPages.net.
Credit also goes to Hubspot.com however as they pioneered the 'inbound marketing' movement through the use of highly specialized lead magnets even ahead of Collins.
Due to their specificity, collecting an email via content upgrade has the added benefit of revealing an interest of the contact at the time the email is collected - so you're figuratively able two kill birds with one stone.
Once your contact has opted in, the next step is to deliver what you promised...the content upgrade.
There are many ways to do this and this isn't a content upgrade "how to" article, so all I will say here is that I'm currently testing something I refer to as the "content vault" approach...perhaps it will become the focus of another post down the road?
Some use third party apps that handle the delivery of the content upgrade...for now I will just say that I'm not a huge fan of these as they add one more potential area of failure. Also if you use your email to deliver your content upgrades you'll get some of the highest click through and open rates that you'll experience...so it would be shame to waste those positive signals on a third party tool, wouldn't it?
Ethically Collect Contact Emails
Remember the part where I said 'ethically collect contacts'? Whether you agree with the email laws or not they have come about due to abuse by digital marketers and tech companies and in many ways reflect the will of the marketplace to no be spammed and have their data exploited.
To me, it's just good business sense to respect your audience while building something that can last for the long haul...but if you disagree you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.
My preference when I receive a new contact in my email service is to:
- Confirm their email via double opt-in
- Attempt to determine if they are based in the European Union - if so adhere as closely as possible to the GDPR laws passed in 2018.
If the contact doesn't confirm their email, or provides a fake email address then they won't receive the item they opted in for.
If they are based in the EU, I will only deliver the item they requested - they won't be added to a regular mailing list because that wasn't what they asked for. There are several ways to handle GDPR compliance, including some like these that Thrive Themes posted about.
One way I've been testing is to deliver the lead magnet/content upgrade but show conditional content (if they are tagged as being located in the European Union) that asks them for permission to send more cool stuff, clicking a link takes them to a short form with a check box that is tracked inside my email software to show that I have permission to email them or "explicit consent" in compliance with GDPR.
Go here if you'd like to learn more about how my GDPR checking system works for delivering lead magnets.
Some of you might be thinking "Mike - how does ANY of this help me sell more courses????"
It likely won't....at first.
There are people out there that will cheerfully advise you to 'never use double opt-in (unless you hate to make money)' and many that will scoff about adhering to GDPR or almost any other email legislation.
If you agree with them then go ahead, do your thing.
As far as I'm concerned using double opt-in is more about adding transparency and to maintaining the overall quality of the contacts inside your database then about being the perfect law-abiding citizen of the inter-webs.
(I'll also gladly take 10 legit email address over 1,000 garbage emails any day of the week)
Not only are you less likely make a sale to someone who doesn't even consider you worthy of an actual email address...you'll also pay more (since most email service providers charge at least to some degree) based on the number of contacts you maintain.
But there is still an opportunity to get a sale in the midst of all of this!
After the form has been submitted fire a redirect to a Thank You Page that mentions the next steps and includes an offer for your course related to the content upgrade they just requested.
If your course addresses their problem and is inexpensive...you have the chance to make a sale right out of the gate.
A small amount of people will convert with this if you do everything right...but it's your first chance to make a sale, so don't let it pass you by.
The Promotion Sequence
Okay, now lets sell some more courses already! That's where the promotion sequence comes in.
Your content upgrade should be the logical first step towards the course that you intend to sell, so once you've delivered the promised materials and you have a confirmed email and all the rest, you can usher the contact into your promotion sequence.
This is a sequence that is designed to further warm up your contact towards becoming a customer.
You'll accomplish this by:
- Delivering great content that helps them avoid mistakes and moves them closer to their goal
- Making them an offer relevant to their situation (your course)
- Giving them an incentive to take action now instead of later
A typical sales sequence can last from "4 Day Cash Machines" or "flash sales" popularized by guys like Frank Kern and Ryan Deiss right up to 7, 10 or 14 day sequences.
Longer sequences build up to when the cart "opens" and does the 'heavy lifting' to increase the desire for a solution in the mind of the reader
Your incentive for them to buy can be an initial discount...or better yet, a limited time bonus that increases the perceived value of your course like a free 30 minute consultation.
Adding to the fear of missing out (FOMO) you can also make use of countdown timers etc. to convey that this offer is indeed limited and going away.
In the interest of having a true deadline, make sure your limited time offer lives up to its name or you risk losing their respect.
You'll want to make note of those who express interest in your offer, these will be the contacts who click the link to your offer page once your cart opens.
This is where you want to give them a nudge if they didn't actually buy.
The Sales Offer Bump
Unlike an actual "cart abandon sequence" that may involve using a script and integrating your website/sales page with your shopping cart (and deter you if you avoid anything technical like the plague) the sales offer bump is similar but requires little to no tech.
All you need is a way to "know" two things:
- That a contact clicked on a link to your sales page
- Whether they bought or not within 30 minutes of the click
Here's how it works.
When a contact clicks on a link in my email, a tag is applied that triggers an automation.
This automation then waits about 30 minutes and checks to see if a purchase has been made (this is confirmed by the existence of a 'purchase tag' inside their contact record inside my email service).
Now there are two possible outcomes:
- The purchase tag exists - and the automated sequence ends with no follow up.
- The purchase tag doesn't exist - and the automated sequence sends a short email reminder that includes a link back to the sales page (or even better yet) the actual cart page for a second chance to make the sale.
This is a polite nudge in the right direction if they happened to get distracted when they were about to buy. I'll often schedule one further email 24 hours later as a last resort (don't want to be too pushy).
The sales offer bump occurs during the 'open cart portion' of your promotional sequence, so it runs in parallel to it.
By the end of the promotional sequence you'll either have made a sale or you'll add this contact to a weekly email follow up.
But before we do that there's one last sequence that we want to add to the mix for another shot to secure a purchase.
The Non-Sales Follow Up
Your promotional sequence is over.
You contact had multiple chances to buy:
- On the thank you page
- During the cart open promotion emails
- With the sales offer bump email(s) if they clicked the link to the sales page
You had a deadline, maybe you had bonuses and discounts and they still didn't buy...wtf?
All is not lost, there is a lot of power in "unconverted leads" which we'll get to later but for right now...
...wouldn't you like to find out why they didn't buy?
Was it too expensive?
The wrong time?
Were they away on vacation for a few days and missed the deadline completely?
Marketing isn't easy, and we should always have two objectives any time we undertake a promotion.
We'll either succeed with our objective...or we learn something.
So what if your first few sales attempts didn't pan out! We're in this for the long game, right?
This is where the Non-Sales Follow Up comes in.
[By the way...massive props to Brennan Dunn for sharing this recently, he's a true dude's dude or marketer's marketer. 😉 ]
We're going to send an email a day or so after the promotional sequence is over and they haven't purchased, we're going to ask them why they didn't take us up on our offer.
We'll offer a few reasons - and these reasons will be linked so we can identify the prospect's reason by giving them a tag. That tag will be used to eventually re-pitch the product again while addressing their specific objection.
Example - here are a few reasons for why they didn't buy:
- Missed the deadline
- Too expensive
- Not convinced it'll solve my problem
- Won't work for me
- Not enough time
We already know that they didn't buy...but we don't know WHY they didn't buy.
This mini post-sales survey allows the non-buyers to surface their objections to your offer, which we can then handle and use to increase our future potential sales.
Now we can reach out to them with an extended deadline (in the case of the 'missed the deadline' objection) or perhaps a payment plan in the case of the second objection above.
In the short term you'll identify some extra immediate sales opportunities by extending a deadline or offering a pricing plan solely to those who indicated they were issues.
In the longer term, the feedback you gather through this survey can improve overall conversions on your sales page and your promotional email sequence...increasing the revenue you generate going forward.
Bonus Sequences for Selling More Courses
Those are four systems that you can use to improve your course sales.
They are all useful...but can compound your results when combined together and refined over time (the long haul...remember?).
If we left it right here with just those 4 systems we could still be potentially stopping just 'four feet away from gold'.
How about one last bonus sequence to handle the rest of our unconverted leads and guide them towards becoming satisfied students of your course?
We can manage that with...
The Ongoing Nurture Sequence
This is the unsung hero, the ugly duckling...yes, the red-headed step child of selling any digital product online:
The weekly email.
Stay with me here...because even though we've given what feels like a ton of chances for your contacts to buy your course...there is still opportunity inside these unconverted leads.
The weekly email provides useful information to your contact related to why they signed up, allowing you to stay on their "radar" until they unsubscribe or decide to buy.
Not exciting enough for you? Not new and innovating? Been done to death you say?
What if you learned that the ongoing nurture sequence may generate the single biggest and best opportunity to sell more of your only courses?
Beyond the Promotional Sequence (The Value of an Unconverted Lead)
Dean Jackson (OG marketing genius) offers some great insights on the value of unconverted leads.
. You can drink in some of his insights right here (skip ahead to the value of unconverted leads section)...but here's a quick summary:
If 100 visitors come to your site:
- 50% will likely never buy from you, they'll likely bounce from your page without signing up or reading much of anything
- Of the 50% remaining - 15% (7.5 people) are likely to make a related purchase within 90 days of inquiring (or opting in). These are the "near instant" sales that every one is after
- However, 85% of that remaining 50 visitors (42.5 people) are likely to buy from someone within 18 months of making an inquiry - almost six times as many people!
Not staying in touch with your unconverted leads is a fatal mistake if you want to actually make sales.
And while most of the competition is after that initial 15% (and most likely dropping the ball well before day 30) you can play 'the long game' and stay in touch to convert more course sales through perseverance a commitment to show up for your audience consistently.
So guess what you're going to do if you want to sell your course to the 85% of potential students who haven't purchased within your first few attempts?
You're going to email them each and every week until one of two things happen:
- They buy your course
- They unsubscribe
Every 90 days or so, you can reach out to them with a nice little 9 word email that asks if they are still interested in [your course topic]
And that is how you are guaranteed to sell more of your courses.
You'll play the long game, you'll come at your potential students from several different angles, you'll only offer helpful advice and useful information. You'll make it easy for them to buy from you.
Then you'll stay in touch, so when they're ready to buy you've become the only trusted option.
They say that humans tens of thousands of years ago would chase down their prey until they literally collapsed due to heat exhaustion.
Despite the fact that we weren't as strong or as fast as the animals, we were upright with the ability to see far across the plains, we were also furless with the ability to sweat...keeping us far cooler.
While we couldn't match speed for speed...we could jog for hours if we had to at a moderate pace while keeping them in view. We'd harry our prey, throw spears or sticks or rocks until they gave up.
And we prospered.
That's what you're going to do when it comes to selling more courses.
You're going to identify your potentials students...and you're going to chase 'em down...one by one, and prosper.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about how to build any of the sequences and get them working for you - hit me up in the comments below.