We’re pleased to have designer, writer, and teacher Nathan Barry back for another guest post. Six months ago, he talked about his Lessons Learned Selling $355,759 on Gumroad. By the way, that number’s definitely higher now. The third lesson he shared in that post was “Build a relationship through email”. This time, he’s going to expand on that to help you sell more. Here’s Nathan.
Why did you click this article? It probably wasn’t because you want to send more emails. I’m guessing the part that got you interested was “sell more.” After all, who doesn’t want to sell more?
The #1 reason people read my blog is to learn how better market and sell products. I’m guessing you fit into that category. Then I’ll share my #1 tactic for increasing sales: use email marketing.
Building an audience with email has worked amazingly well for me in book sales and courses, but what I find more interesting is how well it works across industries. I was talking to a very experienced marketing friend about marketing, and said “It’s amazing how well email subscribers convert to sales!”
His response? “Um, yeah… I’ve known that for over a decade.”
I was so caught up in the idea that Twitter, Facebook, and other trendy social media sites were the future of online marketing that I overlooked the workhorse of the entire marketing industry—at least those that were focused on making sales.
“Gumroad sellers who use email marketing make 3x as much in a product launch as those who don’t.”
- Ryan Delk, Gumroad
Why is email ignored?
If using email to promote your product will make you 3x more money, why aren’t more people talking about it?
I think that’s because email is boring.
Everyone, especially tech news site writers, want something new and fancy to take over. It’s exciting to think that a new social media site could change the way we do business online. A few things have changed, but decades after being introduced, email marketing is the the best way to sell products online.
Why do you think Amazon puts so much work into their promotional emails? Why do you think Groupon has “Enter your email address” as their entire home page?
Because they know email works better than any other channel.
For the first six months of writing for my blog, I really wanted a post to go viral. I’d heard all the stories of YouTube videos with millions of views and blog posts hitting #1 on Reddit or Digg. Forget how unlikely this was to happen—I still wanted it.
Then it happened.
My blog post, “How I made $19,000 on the App Store while learning to code” hit the #1 spot on Hacker News. While it didn’t get millions of views, I did receive 50,000 visitors in two days!
I thought I’d made it as a blogger.
Unfortunately, when you get a huge spike in traffic like that, it usually isn’t sustainable.
Since I didn’t have an opt-in form or any other way to get contact information from my visitors, all that traffic just disappeared. Months later, when traffic started to reliably increase, I had an email list so I could push content out to readers instead of hoping they came back to check if there was a new article.
Takeaway: using email will make you considerable more revenue.
Using an email list to test interest
Is your product going to be profitable? Do people actually want it? Do you know how to pitch it effectively?
These are all questions that you really want to have answered before you sink hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars building a new product. The most effective way to test for interest is to ask people individually to pre-order (which I highly recommend). In addition to asking for pre-orders from individuals (you’ll get so much good feedback), I recommend setting up a landing page to collect email addresses.
Not everyone who enters their email address will end up purchasing your product, but with a good product and marketing, it’s safe to assume one in ten will purchase. That means you can figure out if there is demand for your product based on the number of subscribers you get.
The idea is to build the email list of potential customers before you actually build the product. By doing that you avoid wasting time and money on a product no one is going to buy.
How to set up a landing page
The first step in building an email list is to set up a landing page for your product. You can use any number of off-the-shelf tools (LaunchRock, Unbounce, a WordPress plugin, etc), but of course I recommend using ConvertKit, which is the landing page and email marketing company I founded.
With ConvertKit you can design a beautiful, high converting landing page, add email opt-in forms, and manage all your email broadcasts and campaigns in one tool.
Here’s a landing page I created in ConvertKit for my book Authority before it launched:
You can then use the ConvertKit WordPress plugin to dynamically pull this page into the rest of your WordPress site. Soon you’ll be ready to start driving traffic to your new landing page.
What Makes a Good Landing Page?
When crafting your landing page, there are four things that are critical to get right.
1. A single call to action
Should people share your landing page on Twitter, join your email list, or pre-order your product? So many landing pages try to get visitors to do too many things. The more options you give the visitor, the less likely they are to do any of them.
Instead, have a single call to action and ask them in a sequence. Have everything on the page direct the visitor towards signing up for the email list. Then on the confirmation page ask them to share the page on Twitter and Facebook. Finally, pitch them on the pre-order over email.
2. No extra fluff
That means removing the sidebar, any extra navigation link, and anything else that could distract from your one call to action. Generally the easiest way to improve a landing page is to remove content.
3. A strong headline
Your headline needs to instantly capture the visitor’s attention and get them to keep reading. Speaking to a pain is often the best way to do that. For my book Authority, my target is authors who want to make a living from their writing. So my page headline is “The idea that authors can’t make money is bull****.”
Anyone who is tired of being a poor, starving author or wants to profit from their writing is going to be drawn in by that.
4. A “What is this page about?” graphic
Finally, I like to include a graphic that visually explains what the page is about. Imagine you click a random link on Twitter and come to a landing page. Is it for a course? A book? An iPhone app? Without context it’s hard to know at a glance.
That’s why all my book landing pages have a prominent book graphic. My iOS apps have an iPhone showing an app screenshot. These give instant context that the visitor can use to understand the rest of the page.
Doing each of these will noticeably increase your conversion rates. Though always keep in mind that traffic source is more important than anything on page when it comes to converting more of your visitors.
Takeaway: capture email addresses to validate a product idea before launch.
The Launch Sequence
A long-term relationship
When someone visits your site you are in a mad rush to sell them a product. Because if you don’t, they’ll be gone in a moment and will probably never return.
My favorite thing about email is that you can build a relationship with each subscriber over time. Once you get that visitor to subscribe, you can educate them gradually until they know and trust you. No longer are you in a mad rush to make a sale. Instead, you have time to develop the relationship and gradually convince them that your product is a good fit.
The more you teach, the more they will trust you. The better your content, the faster you can build that trust.
In addition to trust, you can also build anticipation. Anticipation is a key ingredient in every good product launch. It starts with casual mentions of the upcoming product in the educational emails, then over time you share more and more about how the product will help the them.
If you only had five or six weeks for a product launch the sequence could look something like this:
Week 1: Educational email, mention the product so they know it exists.
Week 2: Educational email, with a quick update on the product.
Week 3: Educational email, with more details on the product launch date.
Week 4: Short educational email, lots of product details including price and what is included. Reminder of the launch date.
Week 5 — Monday: Provide every detail the customer needs in order to make a decision of whether or not to buy.
Week 5 — Tuesday: A short email with link to purchase the product and a couple testimonials.
Note that in that launch sequence you can’t buy the product before the launch email. That means all those emails are building anticipation without the ability to make a purchase. This is critical, because it is hard to sell a product that is available at any time.
The final launch email is just the release of all that built up anticipation. This is how even an email list of under 1,000 subscribers can drive $10,000 in sales in a single launch day.
Though in order to have that successful of a launch, you need perfect pricing (that’s a big topic we’ll save for another article) and a reason they should purchase right now (urgency), instead of putting it off for later.
There are a few different ways to create urgency:
Discount the price
Add a bonus
They all boil down to convincing customers who are (almost) ready to buy that right now is the best time to make a purchase or they will miss out. Let’s quickly cover these individually.
1. Discount the price
I find this is the easiest to implement and often the most effective. Running a 20% off sale for anyone who purchases in the first 24 hours has become my default way to motivate purchases. Not only does it reward people who have been on my list since the beginning, but it also gets everyone to purchase right away rather than waiting until some future date.
In order to make this compelling, you need to offer a decent discount (as a customer I would find just 5% or 10% off to be insulting), but you don’t want to offer too much (e.g. 50%) since many of your biggest fans will purchase right at launch anyway.
2. Add a bonus
Many people say that you should never discount your products since that devalues them in the eyes of your customers. I agree that running sales all the time will encourage buyers to just wait for your next sale, but I don’t think a one-time discount at launch will hurt your reputation.
For those who don’t like to run sales, another method is to add extra content as a bonus. This can be an extra video or webinar, a bonus course thrown in for free, or code samples that are exclusive to just the early purchasers.
I have two problems with this method:
I don’t think a bonus motivates sales as well as a discount. You will have to offer a very compelling bonus to match even what you would get from 20% off.
Creating content is a lot of work. I want all the content I create to go out to all of my customers. The idea of creating something just for a few customers that won’t get used in the future really bothers me.
Take all that with a grain of salt since many people who are far smarter than I am swear by offering a bonus to add urgency.
3. Limit sales
If you don’t want to offer a discount or create additional content as a bonus, then another option is to limit sales. That can mean limiting for a set amount of time (the product is only available for 24 hours, then the sales page is taken down) or for a limited number of seats.
For ConvertKit Academy I limit each class to just 10 students. A small group means I can spend more time and attention on each student (a big win for them!). But it also adds urgency to everyone on the fence since they know the class will sell out and they might not get a seat.
On a time-based limitation you just take down the sales page and the product is unavailable until the next launch.
Sending reminders to drive more sales
It doesn’t matter which method you choose to add urgency if you don’t remind your customers about it. In fact, those reminder emails are what drive so many sales in a launch. That’s why it’s so important to add urgency in some way, you get to send emails saying “The sale ends in four hours.”
Those move sales. Take a look at this graph of sales by hour for the Authority launch. Can you guess when I sent the reminder email?
Yep, sales were trailing off and the reminder email really kickstarted another wave of sales. If you don’t send at least one reminder email, you are really missing out on sales.
Driving Ongoing Sales
Email is especially good at driving ongoing sales after a launch. Instead of traffic disappearing entirely, you can continue to make sales off an email list. So how do you can you capture those subscribers? With a sample chapter.
Sample chapters and giveaways
On each of my book sales pages I give away a sample chapter. Just enter your email address and a minute later a PDF will be available in your inbox (which makes it easy to download onto your phone or tablet). This is great for growing my email list (about 5% of page visitors request the sample chapter), but visitors can also check a box to get a free course on designing better iPhone applications (or whatever is relevant to the book topic).
This course is timed to the date they subscribe, so it is customized to each individual and sends out automatically. In the first few emails I teach more about the topic with content related to the book, but then gradually work in a sales pitch for the book itself.
Many people go to the sales page and are interested in buying, but for some reason don’t make the purchase right then. If a visitor leaves without making a purchase, chances are they won’t come back. But, if they join the email course when they download the sample chapter, then you can gradually remind them about the product and overcome any objections that you didn’t have time for on the sales page, eventually making the sale.
Since all this is automated (once you write the email course) you can continue making sales so long as you continue adding leads to the top of the sales funnel.
As your email list continues to grow, the new subscribers will have missed out on that initial launch. Which means that even though they may have heard of your product, they haven’t experienced the full sales pitch.
In fact, last fall I started asking for case studies for my book Authority. I got some great responses, but a large number of subscribers in my audience asked, “What’s Authority?”
That shocked me! I thought I was talking about my books and products too much! Instead there were people on my email list who had never even heard of the book. That means it is time for another launch. Turns out, you can launch the same product multiple times!
Once you have everyone on an email list those future launches become so much easier. Instead of scrambling to finish a product and grow your list, you can focus on just making a great product.
Never start from scratch
But the best part of building an audience is that you will never again start from scratch. So long as there is even a little bit of overlap between your current product and whatever venture you pursue in the future, that audience will help you kickstart future success.
If you play it smart by focusing your next product on the same audience as your first product, you can make so much more money without any more promotion effort. My second book launch was more than twice as big as my first one because I was able to target the same audience (designers).
Selling more digital products
In order to sell digital products (books, courses, Photoshop plugins, or anything else) you should start using email. In order to do that effectively you need an email marketing provider that handles a few things really well. Here’s the basic list:
Allows you to give away an incentive (like a sample chapter or video course) to new subscribers. This is actually surprisingly difficult in many tools. Companies like MailChimp force you to hack around their system in order to implement this best practice that will noticeably increase your conversion rates.
Allows you to combine subscribers from multiple incentives into a single list. If you do get it to work in another provider you’ll quickly find that it forces you to create multiple lists, which is really bad since you can’t segment your subscribers across lists. As you get more advanced with the promotions you run, this becomes very important.
Makes it very easy to create email courses or autoresponders. Email courses are one of the most profitable ways to continue driving sales with minimal work. But unfortunately they are really painful to set up in most providers (especially MailChimp!). You can do it, but you’ll wish you chose a different tool.
Once I learned all these tactics for increasing revenue—and just how powerful email marketing can be—I was shocked that the major tools didn’t support these best practices. So I created my own company: ConvertKit.
I used my background in designing easy to use software to solve each of these pain points and build these best practices directly into ConvertKit. You should definitely check it out and start building your list with ConvertKit.
What’s Holding You Back?
After growing ConvertKit for over a year I was surprised to find out that even with the right tool, people weren’t growing their lists as they should. That’s when I realized that to be successful you need more than just a tool.
After interviewing customers I wrote a brand new course called ConvertKit Academy, designed to take you from zero to growing a successful email list in just over a week.
Then I started asking customers, “What’s holding you back?”
With each answer I built something into the process to account for it.
When working on a coming soon page for a new book, these up and coming authors would get stuck by not having a good book graphic. So we included eight different Photoshop book cover templates in with the Academy.
And then we asked, “What’s holding you back?”
For some the answer was, “Well, I don’t have Photoshop.” Easy! We jumped on a quick call, helped them choose an icon, and then within 10 minutes had a finished book graphic. They wouldn’t win any cover design awards, but are still very clean and professional looking.
Again, we’d ask, “What’s holding you back?”
Here the answers got a little more varied. From “I don’t know what to offer as an incentive” to more complicated questions about email marketing or high level tactics. So we added two live Google Hangout calls with each class of ConvertKit Academy (limited to just 10 people). In these calls we talk through any questions that come up, help each student put together a final direction, and then deal with any implementation details.
Focused on success
The success rate has been fantastic! The best students go from zero email subscribers to over 100 in under a week! And those first 100 subscribers are the hardest to get.
Instead of just signing you up for a great tool (ConvertKit’s the best) and giving you some help documentation, we add a full training course, live coaching, book templates, design help, all focused on making the customer successful. What other email marketing provider does that?
This entire course is just $300. And just to make the offer irresistible we throw in six months of ConvertKit for free! At $50/month that would normally be $300, so that alone pays for the entire course.
The students who go through ConvertKit Academy say that it was absolutely critical to get them to take action. They knew generally what to do, but hadn’t set aside the time and energy to actually get it done. The Academy provided everything they needed to really make progress. And anytime they got stuck, we were right there to answer questions and help them get going again.
Do you want to grow an audience and sell more products over email?
If so, consider joining ConvertKit Academy. We open up a class of just 10 students once per month and you can join the waiting list here:
Join the waitlist for ConvertKit Academy.
And if you join the list, I’ll send you more free training on how to profit from email marketing.