[Meta Case Study] Lessons Learned from Optimizing Funnels in 2017

When I started this blog, my intent was to create enough value-per-square-inch that the intro sequence for new subscribers to my mailing list would pack as much value as many of the courses I’ve seen.

That may have been an ambitious goal, but by last spring, the content at the Marketing Guy Blog had reached enough of a critical mass that I could find clients happy to pay $999 for a “curated” reading list, with business-specific implementation suggestions.

That’s freed me up to evolve the blog into “phase two” – the “nothing to prove” phase. The phase in which I can talk about what interests me most, and what I’ve been working. The raison d’etere of Marketing Guy has always been real life direct response stories…

-At an “adult reading level”, so none of the euphemisms you read in much of the “wantrapreneur-osphere”.

-From a guy who doesn’t have a SaaS product to sell you, so my advice won’t be warped by the gravitational pull of, say, an email CRM.

And today, I want to talk about my engagements so far this year. By my count, so far in 2017 I’ve worked with…

…an ecommerce company, two SaaS companies (one of them 8-figure), a speaker/consultant, three info-products founders (two in the music niche, one in language learning), and a niche website builder.


The structure of all my recent engagements follows what I outlined in The Bonus Manifesto. It’s essentially the 80/20 of all the stuff I used to be doing:

  • Redoing homepages
  • Rewriting sales pages and email sequences
  • Competing with existing copy

Over time, I developed a few “rules of thumb”. Stuff like:

  • Don’t compete with existing copy except in specific situations
  • Don’t compete with existing cash flows except in specific situations
  • Add upsells to already-successful products
  • Add scarcity to already-successfully-converting funnels

Now let’s check out the good, the bad, and the ugly…

Here’s What Worked Super Well

Upsells are one of the “three legs” of the approach I’ve been using (together with scarcity and bonuses). I like them because they don’t increase acquisition cost, and don’t compete with existing cash-flows.

This year, they’ve been the biggest win overall…

Niche Site Builder

We implemented an upsell sequence for the niche-site builder, consisting of a one-time-offer page, and a follow-up email sequence.

We converted at 30% on an upsell we implemented

…which means that if a higher tier added $300 in additional revenue, they were earning an average of about $100-more-per-customer, with zero extra acquisition cost. If the base-tier was priced around $500, that’s a 20% improvement in that sector of their business.

Info Product/Membership Site Founder

The upsell with the potential to generate the highest percentage growth, though, was for one of the info-products founders, who runs a membership site whose regular members pay an average of $20/month. When we discussed adding an upper price tier, and his reaction was…

  • Number one, completely game.
  • Number two, let’s try charging a LOT, so we don’t resent delivering on the high-touch concierge service if people go for it.

With that in mind, we devised a $499/month price tier. We launched to existing subscribers, and it converted well enough that we realized it had business-changing potential.

The next step is to test an autoresponder that launches it automatically, and develop a framework to “live” launch it to some cohort of his list each quarter.

I also had the privilege of working with my wife on the launch of her first product, Cook Once Eat All Week, and the customer development she did paid off.

She did an initial round of surveys, then a “soft” launch, which converted ambiguously.

She gathered all the data she could from the first “go”, refined, then relaunched.

The “revised” product converted at 15-16% relative to her launch cohort (Bryan Harris’ benchmark is 10%), and converts better than 2% on average in her autoresponder.

Here’s What Worked “Ok”/Most-Of-The-Time

I prefer to use copywriting in “blank slate” situations, but gradually I’ve been becoming more confident about competing with existing copy in a few specific situations.

The lesson seared into my brain is from last December, when I wrote some technical copy for a founder who specialized in machine learning education. It converted worse than the control. At the time I had two takeaways:

    1. There’s a risk to taking copy that’s strongly in a founder’s “voice”, and making it more “generic direct response.”
    2. Never compete with existing copy that’s “good enough”, or converting at or above benchmarks.

In 2017 so far, I’ve stuck to copy everyone agrees could use improvement, and results have been mostly good.

Two Info Products/Membership Site Founders

We were able to double the conversion rate for a sales sequence for another of the info products founders, and increase it by 30-50% for another product in their funnel for live launches.

We’re currently testing the best-converting version as part of an autoresponder, as I write them two versions to use alternately for live launches.

For another info-products founder – the same for whom the premium price tier was such a big win – we could not move the needle to improve conversions in his funnel. Eventually, I had to ascribe it to trying to beat “good enough” copy.

Here’s What Didn’t Work At All


While I watched my wife’s launch go super well, I was at the helm of a launch that did not. The alpha version of the product converted “ho hum” in the initial launch – very common – but we were out of money and morale to refine and do a beta test.

Lesson: a launch is an expensive experiment. As a consultant I have to charge enough to make it worth my time, but by definition it’s an experiment. A client needs to be able to pay enough to cover several iterations, and customer development in between. Because that’s a big investment up front, I’m now mostly focussing on already proven products.

There’s a growing set of things for which, if I take your money, I’m at least 95% sure you’ll get results, and I want to stick to those things. (Again – bonus manifesto.)

Grant Weherly of GrantWeherly.com, has an elegant solution to that problem: he only works with authors with big established audiences. If half-a-million people bought your book, you can probably sell them a course on the same material.


I also realized that, with rare exceptions, implementing tech or design for clients was not in the 80/20 of my value proposition. In one particular case I was personally setting up Leadpages funnels and connecting them to Drip, which easily doubled the time I needed to spend.

In other cases, my changes weren’t implemented because of tech bottlenecks.

My takeaway was setting better expectations, defining exactly where what I do ends, and what the client needs to do begins, and making sure the client has the ability to implement those things before we start an engagement.

I think the “doing too much” thing probably came from insecurity, but as we started to see results, and several clients told me they were reaping a “bandwidth savings” not having to worry about how to grow their funnels or write copy for them, I became more comfortable defining the boundaries of what I do.

Biggest Funnel Mistakes I Saw

Far-and-away the two mistakes I saw in clients’ funnels were lack-of-clarity about what path they wanted a prospective buyer to take through their funnels, and lack of scarcity.

Let’s talk about the first. The funnel books and courses everybody’s reading/taking might be teaching them to write an “ascension” email series, but it’s not teaching them about the attention ratio, or the law of line extension.

The attention ratio means that if you’ve got one goal for a campaign, the more choices you give someone, the less like you are to convert well on that goal. Common instances of running afoul of the A.R. were:

  • Email series that asked readers to do up to 4 things in a single email: check out this content, check out this course, check out my book, like us on Facebook, for instance.
  • Homepages that weren’t clear about whether they wanted a sale or an opt-in.

The law of line-extension, from the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, says that there’s a high cost to dividing your brand equity over multiple products. The classic example is Budweiser, who owned the “domestic beer” category until it introduced Bud Light to compete with Miller Light, who owned the “domestic light beer” category. Aggregate sales of both Budweiser and Bud Light totaled less than what they had been for Budweiser alone.

Info-products founders are the worst offenders. Two examples come to mind:

  • One funnel which had a course and a book, both cannibalizing each other’s sales, and zero clarity about which was the higher profit-per-lead offer.
  • Another had two similarly-priced products that solved the same problem in its funnel. The rationale was not that they served different segments of the market, or addressed different rungs on the value chain, but that one was covering an ad campaign, so it had to stay.

Lack of scarcity took on two species:

  • Straight “lack of scarcity”, like email sequences asking people to buy the “paid” product only as a “PS”, often as one of multiple CTAs.
  • Dishonest/dubious scarcity, like telling people a price was going away, when they could easily double-check by clicking back to the product page after the “cart closed”. (“Waaaaaaaait a minuuuuute.”)

Things The Most Successful Clients Had in Common

I have not found it easy to generate wins for any business for which…

  • Responses to the initial “customer interest” surveys were low
  • Respondents didn’t “love” the business in pretty large numbers

One of my survey questions is something like “if you were on the fence about investing in [product], what tipped you over the edge?”

If I saw responses like “it’s [founder’s name]! I love him/her so much! I’m so lucky to have found him/her”, I knew we’d be alright.

Finally, I’ve got a 100% track record for achieving growth “for free” (even if that’s only 20-25%)through upsells and higher price tiers, but not every founder I’ve worked with has had the appetite to try them.

In general, here’s what people wanted to try instead:

  • Beating their existing conversion rates
  • Rolling out “adjacent” products to capture “more segments” of the market

Both of which are great potential growth engines, but, in my experience, less likely to be the “lowest hanging fruit”.

If you’d like more “call-it-like-it-is” marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

Does Good Copy Ever Fail? My “Shattered Glass” Moment

There’s a scene I like in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass, the portrayal of how the real-life journalist Stephen Glass “punked” the New Republic for years during the 1990s by inventing stories.

In the scene, the editor-in-chief, played by Peter Sarsgaard, has discovered that one of Glass’ stories is made-up, but hasn’t yet stopped consider the possibility that Glass’ fabrication is more widespread than a single article.

Sarsgaard’s editor comes-to-his-senses standing in front of a bookcase the New Republic lobby, face-to-face with dozens-of-issues featuring Glass’ stories, which were always just a little more fantastic than those of his colleagues. A sick look comes over Sarsgaard’s face, and he starts grabbing up issue-after-issue, feverishly thumbing through them, realizing that it’s all bullshit, wondering “what do we actually know?”

I had a similar moment last week.

Members of marketing forums I’m a part of may remember posts from this summer like this:

“I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed this effect: It seems like copy loses its persuasive power below a certain price point, or when there’s not great product-market-fit. I’ll explain…”

…and this:

How had I come to doubt the persuasive power of the medium I so love?

Here’s the story, which I’ll publish as a case-study, with as much information as the client gives me permission to share. (It does, after all, have a happy ending.) For now, I’ll leave some details anonymous.

The client hired me in April, believing their info-product funnel could generate more sales. I accepted the gig because I agreed.

Among the action items was something I rarely do: revise the copy in an email sequence.

I’ve written elsewhere about my preference to avoid “competing” with existing copy, simply because there’s a possibility it could fail.

I could miss some idiosyncrasy – some innate intelligence of why the original was working – and fail to move the needle definitively…

…or, worse yet, make it worse.

An engagement from last December still haunts me:

A client with a technical info-product had a decently-converting sales page.

Assuming the first-principles of direct-response copy were ironclad, I charged naively into the breech, and spent two months rewriting those pages…

…only to discover they converted worse in a split test.

I should have learned my lesson: don’t compete with existing copy that’s converting decently.

But the new client’s email sequence looked like it could use so much work.

They were at the center of an authority brand, beloved by their audience both for the results their materials delivered, and for their quirky/funny/supportive personalities. But their sales copy contained none of that winning personality.

What’s more…

  • They were offering a product they purported could solve their audience’ problem, without any rationale for how or why.
  • Instead, the emails mentioned the existence of the product, and the fact that a bonus would expire in the next few days.

I remembered situations in which I’d been excited to pay for information, among them this jiujitsu seminar ad I wrote about.

I’d trusted the expertise…[authority]

I’d been wary of missing a deadline, to be sure…[scarcity]

But the seller had also done one better, and gotten me excited about the journey I’d take by participating, and the results I’d achieve. [Je ne sais quoi – rationale for why I needed it]

I felt I could make that case for their product, and I couldn’t conceive of how it might fail.

I bit my lip, tried to put last December’s experience behind me, and agreed to do it.

After a week, I was proud of my results. Here’s just one excerpt, from the “last day of the launch” email:

I love how anonymizing this makes it a fun anagram

The clients were pleased too, replying that they were excited to see how it converted.

Satisfied that I finally had the monkey-off-my-back, I relaxed, confident my version would split-test better. I all-but-forgot about it, as we moved onto other items.

Until a day in May, when I got an email from the client. The split test results had come back, could we have a call?

“It was worse,” they said. “And not just a little bit worse – it converted about half as well as the control.”

I struggled to think on my feet.

“Okay,” I volunteered. “Let’s test a shorter version.”

My funnel had added a week to the sales cycle, so maybe that was the culprit.

In the ensuing month, my confidence was shaken, but I kept my fingers crossed that maybe it was a sales cycle issue, and not a copy issue.

That’s also when I started posting on copywriting forums:

“Guys – I’ve got a theory, and tell me if any of you have experienced this. I think maybe copy is less persuasive the lower the price is for products…”

[At the time I’d just seen success with a higher-priced product, so figured maybe price was the variable.]

“It’s barely better than the first test, and still converting worse than the control,” said the client over skype, one-month-hence, after the second test.

By then we had more data: another email sequence I’d written for them, for a different product, had improved conversions.

Here’s an excerpt from that sequence:

To be clear, two different products, two slightly different rationales. And I’m displaying parts of the emails that don’t compromise the anonymity, so there are greater differences elsewhere in the emails.

But both were solving versions of the same problem, for the same audience.

So why did one convert so much better than the other?

Both were around the same price, though one was a monthly subscription and the other was a one-off. So the theory evolved:

“Guys – what if copy loses its persuasive power if the product market fit isn’t great?”

My newest theory was that the second product – the one for which my copy converted well – was simply something the client’s audience wanted more. There’s an episode of I Love Marketing in which hosts Dean Jack and Joe Polish discuss how copy is the “last five percent” of selling, and selling the right widget  to the right audience at the right time was the other 95%.

It also made intuitive sense:

If I’m interested in buying a vacuum cleaner, I’m probably going to be receptive to an argument about why one is better than another…

…whereas if I’m not interested in buying one, I don’t care if Neil Armstrong or Neil Diamond designed it.

As I continued to do work for clients, I “pocketed” the lesson: never again will I compete with existing copy unless I’m sure it has product market fit.

Then, last week, I got this:

“Got some good news to report on the [redacted] launch emails you did for us. I initially told you our control was x% vs .5x% for your version. This was completely wrong. We were miscalculating by including conversions from before and after the launch. After we figured out what was going on the control was x% and your version was 0.75x%. After we cut out the wait steps and the pre-cart opening emails except for 1, your version jumped to a 2x%. So double!!”

My version hadn’t halved their conversions. It had doubled them.

So, in a happy way, I was left thinking back through all the inferences I’d made and “lessons” I’d imported over the summer, and knowing that at least a few of them rested on grounds I now know were false.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together:

Timing does play a huge part in the conversion rate of an email campaign. An email sequence that eventually doubled the client’s conversions performed less-than-half-as-well when the launch of the product occurred just one week later.

Thinking back, I can’t identify a reverse correlation between price point and the persuasive power of copy. I was unable to move the needle for another client’s conversions by revising email sequences (though, as I’ll share soon, we did grow his business through a premium-tier to his product). But I can’t isolate price as the failure point, particularly when his lower-tier offer is the same price as that of the clients for which my emails did increase conversions.

More likely, there’s a “diminishing returns” law, and if copy is “good enough”, it’s hard to beat.

That would also explain why my copy failed to beat the “good enough” copy of the client with the technical product from last December.

I still believe product-market-fit is an essential foundation upon which to layer good copy, because it makes so much intuitive sense, even though that ended up not being the takeaway from this engagement.

Going forward, I still intend to follow these rules-of-thumb:

  • Don’t try to compete word-for-word with “good enough” copy
  • Only write copy for products for which there’s strong evidence of product-market-fit

If the existing copy can be improved, make sure I’m not also monkeying with the sales cycle when I test new copy against it

If you’d like more “call-it-like-it-is” marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

Rener Gracie and The Lost Art of Making a Case For Your Product

I’m about to eat a little crow…

I’ve been from one-end-of-the-internet-to-the-other, loudly arguing that too many direct-response marketers are relying on copy to do the heavy lifting of selling their products…

when instead they should be relying on context.

My pet archetype for that is a former client who had a list he only emailed once-a-year, with daily offers for two months, for a product that had never sold at the “retail” price.

He didn’t need better copy; he needed a better relationship with his audience, and better products.

Go one-layer-deeper, and plenty of clients want to revise a sales page or autoresponder for a good product, when what they really need is scarcity, an upsell, or at least one email that links to an offer and only one offer.

So I’ve inveighed pretty heavily lately in favor of context. Recently, though, I’ve been learning the meaning of that old adage “be careful what you wish for”.

Lately, I’ve been seeing exactly the opposite.

Autoresponders that have perfect, textbook scarcity, linking to best-practice-rife sales pages with timers, but never really making a case for the product.

I’ll actually call out a Big Boy I’m generally a fan of: Ryan Levesque.

Losing The Forest For The Trees

I’ve been following the release of Ryan’s new info-product, based on his book Ask, with the googly-eyed raptness of a newborn. And Ryan knows-what-he’s-doing.

He’s got brand-equity-to-burn. Everybody on his list is “warm”: since Ask came out two years ago, Ryan’s been wall-to-wall in the solopreneur media, and done joint-ventures with many of his forefathers.

But I wouldn’t copy one of his launch emails for one of my clients:

Have another look at that copy, and ask yourself:

“Would Ryan have to change one word of this if he was selling blenders?”

The copy’s entirely meta. There’s not one word about the benefit of the masterclass. It’s 100% about the scarcity.

The reason most businesses should beware is that most of us aren’t starting with Ryan’s out-of-the-box brand-recognition:

Ryan’s offer stands out in our inbox because it’s from Ryan.

But there are plenty of other offers – in my inbox at least – that don’t stand out, and get ignored or deleted.


They’re not making a case for why I should care.

So – should those of us without six-figure lists and Frank Kern and Glenn Livingston on speed-dial throw-up-our-hands and resign ourselves to “second-string” status when it comes to sales?

Not necessarily.

We can command attention, too. We just have to use different tools. We can bring a more precise understanding of our customer’s journey to bear. We can make a better case.

Like one internet marketer you’ve probably never heard of. Who likely doesn’t even use the phrase “internet marketer”, much-less apply it to himself.

Like one Mr. Rener Gracie.

The Outsider

You probably haven’t heard-of him if you’re not a fan of MMA or Brazilian jiu jitsu. Gracie’s the heir apparent of the legacy of the creators of both. He’s a BJJ black-belt who runs one of the largest academies in the country – whose roster boasts students like Vince Vaughn – who travels the world teaching jiu jitsu seminars for civilians and law-enforcement, and who has one of the funniest channels on YouTube, with video send-ups of current events like this, or this.

Rener probably doesn’t think of himself as one of the savviest marketers on the internet – much-less as somebody whose videos should be studied and emulated by copywriters – but maybe he should.

For instance, take a look at this Rener video, which I transcribed some of…


What’s up you guys?

Rener Gracie here at the Gracie academy, and we’re going to talk about some guillotine details…

…that are gonna change your life.

But before we do, we have to answer one very common question that’s been coming at me…lately: what’s the difference between regular jiu jitsu seminars…

…and these mastery seminars that we’ve been hyping?

Huuuuuuuuuuuuuge difference, my friends.

I’ve been to hundreds of jiu jitsu seminars with all kinds of amazing instructors over-the-years, and more-often-than-not, the students who come to the seminars leave more confused than when they showed up.

With the Mastery Seminars, they leave enlightened.

What’s the difference?

Regular seminars are based on questions, and made-up techniques on the spot…

Mastery seminars are based on a principle.

Let’s say you were in a house, and you were looking out a window to the back yard, and there was a tree, and you were asked to draw that tree.

If you have one window, you have one perspective on that tree.

If you have eight windows to look at the same tree from, you have a…much more complete understanding of the exact-same tree.

That’s what we try to accomplish in these Mastery Seminars: we choose a topic, and we want you to leave with an understanding of the principle that drives that topic. A 100% understanding of that principle…

…more-so than just a buffet of fun…random techniques.

It’s so crazy how much more you can accomplish when you stick to one topic, and you analyze it from multiple angles.

In fact, we often go-so-far-as-to-say that in one Mastery Seminar…you can actually get one month of technical progress.


I don’t know if Rener’s had marketing coaching, but he’s deploying a handful of copywriting best-practices better than most professional copywriters:

  • The open-loop in the first sentence.
  • The “here’s what’s wrong with most seminars” structure to meet an audience who have likely seen a lot of ads for seminars, where-they-are.
  • The “one group gets bad results; the other gets good ones” dichotomy from such copywriting staples as the Wall Street Journal “two men” ad.

Above-all, though, he’s making a case for his product.

And I’ll bet you’re noticing two things as you read it:

  • You’re building a mental-model of why his seminars are different, and of the layers of value they provide.
  • You’re probably getting emotionally excited, even if you don’t care-a-lick about BJJ.

Compare that to what you feel reading Ryan’s email: something between vague-annoyance-but-intention-to-buy and just-vague-annoyance.

We might need what Ryan’s selling, but we accept it grudgingly.

How to Be More Like Rener

Imagine a product your market’s salivating over…

…with an autoresponder that hits them with an offer at just the right point in the sales-cycle (i.e. just when they trust you most, but before they lose interest)…

…with a scarcity element like limited-enrollment, or a limited-time-only bonus…

…and then this iron-clad case for why they’d be crazy not to invest in it. A case that satisfies
both the intellectual, “checklist-completing” side, and the emotional “man I wish I could have this” one.

That’s a recipe for online success, even if you don’t have a New York Times bestseller and a time-share with Russell Brunson.

I’ve written before about how certain “artifacts” of your market like “how cynical are they”, and  “how much competition do you have” can alter the “recipe” in your marketing…

…but it’s hard to go wrong with a Big Dumb Checklist like this:

  • Have you given people a demonstration that your method works, like a “small dose” in your lead-magnet, or a webinar that gives away a lot of useful tips?

    (Rener has hundreds of videos with jiu jitsu quick-tips.)
  • Have you taken the time to understand why your customers are buying from you, and incorporated that into your copy? (That’s how your specific people will know you solve their specific problem.)
  • Have you answered the question “why should I buy from you instead of from a competitor”, or its variation “why should I believe your solution works if everything else I’ve tried has been a dud”?

(That’s what Rener does so brilliantly with the “here’s the difference between ordinary seminars and mastery seminars. Ramit Sethi is a big fan of side-by-side benefit comparisons between the “ordinary” solutions and his solutions.)

  • Have you proven that your product is worth more to your customer than keeping-the-money and doing-it-him/herself?

(My favorite way is with success stories from people who were running-in-place before your solution, then achieved pretty-quick results afterward.)

Go back through your email sequences, sales-pages, and webinars.

Are you earning the right to ask for a sale, by “ticking” the boxes above, or are you skipping straight to the offer?

If it’s the later, you might not have to re-invent the wheel.

The quickest transformations I’ve seen for clients are when we do one-or-all of 3 things:

  • Make sure the lead magnet/webinar addresses the biggest problem their customers are trying to solve, and that it explicitly borrows content from the “full-strength” solution, the paid version.
  • If the email series goes straight from lead-magnet-to-offer (super common), incorporate an “intermediate week” of 2-3 emails “making the case” for the sale, by addressing the four-items above.
  • Continuing to make the case throughout the “offer” emails, so that instead of just leveraging people by telling them the offer’s going away, you’re also reminding them that they need it/it works/it’s different from everything else they’ve tried/etc.

I continue to hear marketers bemoan how “cynical” the market’s become…

…or how “expensive” attention’s become, as everyone fights for eyeballs in the inbox.

Call me a hipster, but I take the long-view: treating your customers like they’re intelligent, giving them something they truly need, and respecting their decision-making process by making a robust case for a purchase…

…and also an emotional one that gets them excited

…will never go out-of-style.

Speaking of which, if you’d like more deep marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

Two Decades-Old Marketing Best Practices Businesses Still Get Wrong

I’ve probably seen at least 10,000 small business websites. Agencies. Medical and dental practices. Rehab centers. Architecture firms.

Many have spent five-figures-and-beyond on their sites.

And most of the expensive ones look so similar I could do a discovery call with an owner without actually looking at the site, and nail it 99% of the time.

-“You’ve got a slider with different copy on each panel, and it changes too fast for a visitor to read any one.”

-“You’ve got at least five calls-to-action above the fold.”

-“Even if we were to pause your best slider panel, the copy isn’t specific about what you do, and doesn’t give the visitor a clear idea what to do next.”

-“You’re either not collecting email at all, or doing way too little – like a ‘subscribe for updates’ box at the very bottom – or way too much, like a pop-up that interrupts the visitor and has nothing to do with your core offer.”

-“And let me guess – you’re paying for traffic, then running it all to said homepage?”

Time to take off the blindfold? Boom:

But the best-in-class businesses we’ve all heard of? They approach things differently, in two key ways. And it turns out neither is revolutionary, “disruptive”, or even new. We’ve known about them for a very long time. Here they are…

Age-Old Marketing Principle Best-in-Class Businesses Are Using to Eat Your Lunch #1: The Attention Ratio

It’s easy to assume the design style 99% of agencies are using is a best-practice – after all, why else would every small-to-medium-sized business be doing it – until you look at the websites of practically every venture-funded startup you’ve heard of, and realize these companies with teams of quants measuring every pixel of their conversion optimization, are also all doing it almost identically.

Their sites look more like this…

…or this…

…or this (lest anyone accuse me of cherry-picking SaaS and leaving out agencies…)

So these quant armies must’ve invented a bold new concept, using their reams of Big Data? Right? A concept that was opaque to most of us. That’s why most small business websites don’t look like theirs. Right?

Turns out it’s based on a decades-old principle of psychology that copywriting-titan Joseph Sugarman describes in The Adweek Copywriting Handbook.


The developers of the Swiss Army watch asked Sugarman to run an ad in the Wall Street Journal. No problem, right?

Turns out, big problem. The Swiss Army folks wanted to feature all nine styles of their new watch line, reasoning that more choices would attract more attention.

Sugarman, knowing the principle we’re about to discuss, recommended showing only one, but was vetoed. The leadership agreed to a compromise, however: Sugarman could test two versions of the ad in the Wall Street Journal.

The result vindicated Sugarman, and the principle he knew deeply: the single-watch ad outsold the multiple-watch ad sixfold.


So what was the principle working in Sugarman’s favor? In modern parlance, it’s called the “attention ratio”.

As Unbounce founder Oli Gardner explains it, the more choices you erect between a potential customer and the goal action you want them to take, the less likely they are to reach it.

Ergo, you’ll have the best result if you decide on just one action you want your visitors to take, and give them only that option on your website.

Most small businesses are getting this wrong in two big ways.

First, they’ve got a choice-jumble on their homepages.

That’s more understandable, because a homepage is like a showcase for what you do, with “about us” text, testimonials, and menu-bar items to navigate.

Still, the best businesses give their visitors one clear next step even on their homepages, relegating everything else to below-the-fold.

Harry’s, for instance, includes a menu-bar, and still manages to leave zero ambiguity about what a visitor is supposed to do…

But what if you’re paying for Google adwords. Or, worse-yet, paying a marketer to run ads for you?

If you don’t have dedicated landing pages, you’ll tossing your money into a barrel, lighting it on fire, and pushing it off a cliff.


Because of a little thing called quality scores.

Know how you’re trying to outbid all your competition for those precious clicks?

Yea – quality score is the way to arbitrage that.


Google computes quality scores based largely on how relevant the landing page is to an ad.

It’s stupid-simple. Just run each ad to a dedicated, relevant, landing page, with just one thing-to-click, as Shopify does here…

How do I know you’ll outrank most of your competition?

Because approximately zero percent of small business websites do this. Instead they take that expensive traffic, and run it to their already-choice-paralyzed homepages.

…where, ten-to-one, they’re wasting 99% of their opportunities to collect email. Which brings us to our second mistake…

Age-Old Marketing Principle Best-in-Class Businesses Are Using to Eat Your Lunch #2: The Sales Cycle

You might have noticed another thing about the “best in class” websites.

They all ask the visitor to take only one action, sure. But a surprising number make that action an email opt-in.


Yup. Even those agencies and SaaS (software as a service, like Zapier or Squarespace) companies whose sites want you to “try it now” will collect your email within 1-2 clicks.

And still more are abandoning free-trials, or “get a quote” for a plain-Jane email opt-in, right out on the homepage.

But wait: Don’t these companies want business?

Don’t they want people to browse all the various services they provide, then call the number conveniently situated at the top-right corner of their page, in tiny print, to get a quote, even though that’s not made clear? 😉

So what do they know about web marketing that most small businesses don’t?

Turns out it’s not some maverick new online marketing technique the kids invented, but something much older, and much more mundane: the sales cycle.

Talk to a xerox salesperson in the ’70s, and he/she would tell you the percentage of B2B customers who buy off the first cold call. Aboooooout…just a sec as I calculate this…carry the one…ZERO percent.

Potential buyers wanted time to decide. And they wanted to get to know the product better. And, with enough data, you could calculate how long after their first exposure most people bought. The sales cycle. MBAs have been calculating sales cycles since we were twinkles in our parents’ eyes. It’s old school.

So why are so many small businesses ignoring the approximately 96% of their potential customers who aren’t ready to buy on their first visit to their websites?

The best-in-class companies aren’t. That’s why you can’t even sign up for Meet Edgar, a social-sharing automation widget, without giving away your email address.

Or get a free trial of Zapier.

These companies and their phalanxes of quants know exactly how long it takes their most profitable customers to buy. And they know it ain’t instantaneously. While most small businesses attempt to tailor their on-site efforts to the tiny chunk of “red hot” visitors, at the expense of the vast majority of their “luke warm” ones, successful funded startups focus 100% of their efforts on this more profitable chunk.

Let’s review what we’ve learned so far…

Step one: give your visitors just one action to take on your homepage, and especially on landing pages.

Step two: consider making that action an email opt-in, and if you’re not, make sure you collect email within 1-2 clicks no matter what.

Then, email them, and make them an offer at the “sweet spot” of the sales cycle. (More specifics of that here.)

What to Do if You’re Starting From Scratch

If all this seems like a lot-to-digest, just remember: you can take it one-step-at-a-time. Maybe you just spent 50-grand on your website. The good news is you don’t need to redesign anything on spec.

First, stop the bleeding.

If you’re paying for traffic from Adwords or social ads, use a landing-page builder to create dedicated landing pages for each keyword group.

A landing page I like a lot. Because it’s MINE;)

Apps like Clickfunnels, Leadpages, or Unbounce have templates that don’t require a designer or developer (unless you want to customize). They also host your landing pages on their servers, but let you use your own domain name.

End result? Far better quality scores and conversion rates on your paid traffic, so you pay less per click, and can attract more customers for the same ad budget. All with zero changes to your actual website.

Next, decide which action you’d like homepage visitors, and potential clients/customers/patients who find you via google, to take on your homepage.

Not sure what to do?

Survey your best customers and ask them about their customer journey: did they call the first time they arrived at your site, or did they request a quote first? How long after their first exposure to you did they become customers?

Chances are, you’ll notice patterns:

-Most read about you from another source first.

-Most got a quote, but didn’t buy immediately.

-For some agencies I’ve worked with, most of their best customers read their book first.

Whatever the most-correlated precursor activity, consider making that your only call-to-action on your homepage.

Finally, make sure you collect email from everyone who visits your site who’s willing to give it.

I’m going to repeat that:

Collect email from EVERYONE.

If you choose a precursor action like “get our book”, or “get a quote”, make the next page an email collection form, as Zapier does here:

That way, even if not every visitor orders your book, or gets a quote, you can still follow up with them via email.
Speaking of which, if you’d like more deep marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

The Bonus Manifesto – Increase sales by 247%…Without More Traffic, Split Testing, or Discounts

Can we agree scarcity is gasoline-on-the-fire to sales?

As Sumo.com describes it increased sales for one agency 226%.

…it produced a graph like this for End of Jobs author Taylor Pearson’s masterclass launch last summer…

(That big peak on the right side is people enrolling before-the-deadline.)

…and it helped me personally double my sales to my primary list without changing anything about product, copy, or price.

Can we also agree trying to beat existing copy sucks? Weeks spent “understanding the market”, then sometimes months split testing before you get enough data, for what’s often a marginal-at-best improvement?

Last fall I spoke about the three big benchmarks to know if you want to improve sales – opt-in rate, list-to-sale rate, and traffic – and I still lean heavily on those numbers to diagnose where an online business is underperforming.

But lately I’ve been working with a lot of businesses with good enough copy.

Sure – there are probably marginal wins from revising a sales page or autoresponder, but what if there was something easier? Something that didn’t require months of split-testing. Something that’s a “zero-to-one”, creating an additional cash-flow where there was none.

And, working with clients, I discovered that “something easier”. It wasn’t one, but usually three primary things:

  1. Improve opt-in rate not by revising copy, but by collecting email in spots where you weren’t collecting it before.
  2. Improve sales not by changing a sales page (yet – there’s plenty of room for that later on), but by implementing an upsell where none existed, and adding scarcity to that upsell.
  3. Add scarcity whenever there’s a buying decision.

But what if told you there’s a “meta-win” – a lead domino that not only makes all of the above possible, it turbo-charges the results.

This isn’t a “secret” or a “deep insight”. It will ring true intuitively as soon as I say it…


Stay with me – here’s why…

Bonuses are often the key to increasing opt-ins, especially for verticals that don’t fit neatly into the “lead magnet” slot, like travel agencies, ecommerce stores, and tour companies.

In such instances, a VIP List or a First Class version of your experience is often a powerful rationale to opt-in: one that doesn’t require D….DDD….Discounts, henceforth “the D-word”.

Bonuses are the key to time-limiting promotions, no matter what vertical you’re in. (Want the VIP-version of the experience? Buy between next Monday and next Friday. Reminder 1, Reminder 2.)

Finally, upsells are fire, but upsells-with-scarcity are Hellfire.

Sure, a one-time-offer of a relevant upsell, introduced after the purchase decision, is free money: increasing lifetime value without the usual blow to acquisition cost that raising prices would entail. But what if the upsell includes a bonus buyers can only get for 48 hours? That gives you an excuse to follow-up (politely) by email.

And I’m betting nobody reading is going “wait – I need to see some data on that”.

That’s the great thing about zero-to-ones. They’re like truffles: everybody agrees they taste great – it just hadn’t occurred to us to sprinkle them on stuff.

But there’s a caveat.

Use bonuses wrong, and you’ll come across like the local carwash. (“Wash your car 19 times, and get the 20th wash free!”)

Yes, this is actually a thing

Or, my perennial low-resolution-marketing punching bag, Retro Fitness. (“Use YOUR bonus points for GREAT Retro Rewards, like a free month of membership!”)

Retro memberships are $19-a-month. It costs me $19 to wash my car. Both of those offers are so low-value it’s barely worth my time to redeem them, and I’m already washing my car and working out.

How to avoid getting caught in the spammy/low value bonus bucket? Follow the following steps:

Step One: Surveys Are Your Friend

Often, your audience will tell you what’s worthwhile to offer as a bonus…

…and what will elicit audible eye-rolls.

How to Send a Survey

Best: if you have a big cohort of existing customers, don’t bother surveying anyone else. In our passion-projects we can cater to everybody. In our businesses, if we want to shortcut the growth-curve, we have to cater to our likely customers.

Decent: if you don’t have enough existing customers to get a good sample, you can control for likely buyers instead of tire-kickers other ways:

  • Ask for email at the end, and make it an optional field. Anyone not interested enough to give you his/her email address gets eliminated immediately.
  • Do as my friend Dom did, and ask directly what respondents’ budgets are, with a multiple choice question like “how much do you plan to spend on [your niche] this year. People will know what you’re doing, so they’ll likely underestimate their budget, which is what you want. (It’s so obvious, but so elegant.)
  • Do as Ryan Levesque recommends and sort by response-length. When I first read Ask I was fired-up about this. In real-life, it’s often the least-useful indicator, as likely buyers sometimes give shorter responses just because they’ve got a clearer idea of the problem (and less spare time).

Good Questions to Ask

Real survey we sent for a client, appropriately redacted;)

If they’re already bought something – “If I had to get rid of everything about [product/service] except one thing, and still charge the same price, which would you most hate-to-lose?”

Whether they’ve bought-or-not – “If I had to double the price of [product/service], but could only offer one more thing, what would make it worth it?”

For businesses that are good fits for the VIP/Insiders List rationale – “If I were creating a ‘first class’ version of this experience that would cost twice-as-much, but could only add one new thing, what would make it worth it?”

For existing customers of products with a “value stack” of existing bonuses – “If I had to get rid of all these bonuses except one, which would you most hate to lose?”

How do you ensure you’re not wasting months on new-product development just to offer a bonus?

If you can, start with existing offers.

If your product or service includes more than one component, you’ve usually got raw-materials that could be broken-out into a bonus. I’ll get into more detail, but for now, take an inventory of offers you already have that could be broken out as bonuses, and, where it makes sense, use those as multiple-choice elements on your survey.

For coaching/service/info businesses, I also like to include this one – “If you could ask me for help one-on-one with anything, but we only had five minutes, what would you ask?”

The above is good for teasing out possibilities you hadn’t considered, even if they’re more “phase two” implementations.

Step Two: Decide Which Bonuses to Offer Where

These British postal employees have it “sorted”

There are three primary spots I tend to deploy bonuses for clients.

  1. As an opt-in offer, where appropriate
  2. As a scarcity justification for a buy/don’t buy decision
  3. As a scarcity justification for an upsell

In some instances, especially businesses with “few SKUs”, a single bonus can be pivoted to handle all 3 instances.

More often, we’ll use one bonus for the first two, and a second for the third.

The Opt-In/Buy-Decision Bonus

This should be a bonus with a low marginal delivery cost, but high perceived-value to your audience.


Since it’s a deal-sweetener before purchase, any delivery-cost increases acquisition cost. (Example: if you have to mail a book to all your prospects, your front-end cost-of-sale went up by customers/total cost of books. If it increases conversions, it may ultimately lower your net cost-of-sale, but you need a lot of data to be sure, and it’s cash-flow negative.)

For info products or SAAS, the front-end bonus is a good place to offer extra features that don’t require any human being’s time.

For services or ecommerce using the “VIP” rationale, I’d just choose the popular feature with the lowest delivery cost.

How to determine?

Usually the surveys will reveal not one, but a few emergent crowd-favorites. I’d just choose the cheapest-to-deliver for the front-end.

The Upsell Bonus

If you’ve got a “Cadillac” feature set your surveys have revealed is super-popular, the upsell is the place to offer that.


Even if it costs to deliver, it’s cashflow positive, since you’re only offering it to people who just made a purchase, and, unlike opt-in offers, you only have to pay to deliver it if people give you money first.

It’s still not my favorite, but this where I’d counsel the entrepreneur who really loves to offer his time to do it.

“Get [upsell] in the next 48 hours, and get a 15-minute one-on-one coaching call with me, usually a $250 value, completely free.”

Better still, if there’s a crowd-favorite that still doesn’t require any of your personal time to deliver.

Best, if it doesn’t require any human being to spend his or her time.

But, with upsells, follow the crowd. Here, if there’s a standout favorite among your survey respondents, you can afford to spend money and time, as long as the margins look good.

Step Three: Deploy The Bonuses Like a Ninja

Turns out Sales Ninja is already a thing

Now that you know which bonuses your audience is ravenous for…

…and you know which are the best fit for your business to deliver…

It’s time to light the fuse.

I usually work in reverse-order, starting with the upsell. Again: free money, quick win.

The Upsell

Deciding exactly what to offer as an upsell is beyond the scope of this post, and depends heavily on the type of business (for SAAS it’s often the next-highest tier, whereas for ecommerce it’s often something complimentary, etc), but the broad-strokes are the same: what’s the “crowd favorite” among your audience that earns you the most margin.

The “if I could keep only one feature” question is a good one for this.

When we implement upsells, it’s two super-simple steps:

  1. Well copywritten post-purchase one-time-offer page. I try to avoid 100% of online marketing cliches. I like it to look as little like – no offense – a Frank Kern funnel, and as much like a helpful suggestion as possible. Trust the context, product-market-fit, and scarcity to do the work for you. Tell them the major benefit. Tell them the bonus. Tell them the time limit. Do NOT use the word “amazing” or the phrase “don’t miss out”.
  2. Follow-up email sequence. Same-as-above. Remind people politely, reiterate the benefits, reiterate the reason to buy now, be fun and funny, but do not patronize. These are your customers. Even if they don’t buy now, they’re worth tons to you down-the-road.

The Offer

Here’s why I love bonuses so much: people will say “my autoresponder’s not converting well-enough. Can you revise it for me?”

“Sure. Eventually.”

But first, is anyone buying your product?

The answer’s usually “yes – I’d just like to increase the sales”.

Great. Before we revise any copy, we’re going to incorporate scarcity.

Product permanently available online, but you’re selling it through your autoresponder? Two steps:

  1. Instead of linking to your offer from every post, announce that you’re doing a time-limited promo. People can buy whenever-they-want, but your promo is the only time they’ll get the free bonus.
  2. “Open the cart”, then send reminders. People like to decide while the cart is “open”, but they often forget to come back before the bonus expires. Hence, reminders.

Couple of varsity moves – probably “phase two” stuff:

Most people buy during the last day of a promotion or launch, but you can reward early decisions by offering a second bonus for buying in the first 24 hours of the promotion.

If your business model allows gradually raising the price of certain offers, use that in your marketing. “Once this offer ends, the price will increase” is the x-factor that will increase conversions still more, because it addresses the objection “maybe I’ll just wait till the next time the promo comes around.”

See what we did there? Not once did I use the D-word.

Quick Refresher: Why Discounts Suck

D-words erode perceived value, since people assume if you could actually sell it for X, that’s what you’d be selling it for.

D-words train people to buy only at the lower price, forcing a gradual lowering of prices, instead of the opposite.

People often use D-words inappropriately, to anchor – put a high price in the buyer’s mind, compared-to-which your price looks lower. Don’t. Read a Chialdini book or hire a marketing pro if you need to price-anchor. It’s not worth the perceived-value erosion.

Ok, last step…

The Opt-In

Not all businesses will use bonuses for opt-ins.

If you’re an info-products entrepreneur, with-or-without coaching or consulting, you’re probably better off going with a lead-magnet that addresses the “if you could have five minutes with me” question.

But if you’re a good fit for the VIP/First Class/Insiders List rationale, the same bonus you use to add scarcity to your promos can work preemptively for your opt-in. Here’s the two-step:

  1. Opt-in offer: Get [crowd favorite from your survey] – exclusive to our Insiders List.
  2. Promo: That [crowd favorite] VIP bonus you opted-in for? We’re launching next week, and you can only get it if you buy during the promo.

That’s it.

Adding Up The Wins

Using figures from real-life examples, let’s look at the potential impact on a business the “Bonus Method” (the “Give Method”;) might have…

Scarcity on the primary offer: this 2xed my business without changing the offer, audience, funnel, or price, and it made a 226% impact for SumoMe. Let’s be conservative and say 1.5x.

Scarcity on the upsell: this has shades-of-gray, but I’ve seen an upsell that’s 50% the cost of the primary product convert at 20%. For every $100 spent on the primary product, 20% spend $50 on the upsell. That’s 1.1x.

But it’s quick-to-implement, and it’s risk-free. Plus, you can often add upsells at multiple points in your funnel.

Improving the opt-in offer: many businesses are converting between 1-3% on the opt-in. Nudging that up to the 10% benchmark is potentially a 3-4x win, but let’s be conservative and call it 1.5x.

Aggregate, that’s 2.47x. (See? The title wasn’t just hyperbole;)

Remember: whatever we’ve managed to wring out of this retrofit, it’s all…

  • Without competing with existing copy
  • Without writing (much) new copy, save explaining the rationales and the reminders
  • Without jeopardizing existing cash flows
  • Without split testing


If you’d like more deep marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

Four Hacks to 2x Your Online Sales – Without Split Testing

Last fall I gave a talk called So You’ve Got An Email List: Here’s How to Double Your Sales. In it I detailed a formula I certainly didn’t invent, but which would diagnose quickly the parts of a funnel that were underperforming, which the owner could then triage with copywriting, email, and site design.

The talk was well-received, and a number of businesses hired me to execute the formula for them. Along the way something surprising happened: we never got to the formula. At least until after 3 months-or-more.

I’ll explain..

The basis of the formula was look at the KPIs in your business (like opt-in rate, list-to-sale conversion, etc) in a key order, and compare them to benchmarks. But that’s not what I ended up doing with my clients, at least until later-on. Because we found something easier.

Good-as-it-was, the old method involved two things I don’t like to do, at least early on…

  • Trying to “beat” existing copy in split-tests.
  • Large scale design changes.


If you picture an online sales funnel like a plumbing system, that’s like swapping out your copper pipes for gold ones. Sure, that might give you some marginal returns, but what if all you found out was that you had a few big clogs?

Wouldn’t it make sense to clear those up first? And to find all of them, before spending money to upgrade to gold? Then you’d be sure the water would run unobstructed through those beautiful gold pipes. (I don’t know anything about pipes, btw;)

And the businesses I worked with had a lot of “clogs”.

A missed upsell opportunity that was lower hanging fruit than revising a sales page…

A missed opportunity to add scarcity, or better scarcity, to an autoresponder that was lower-hanging fruit than rewriting it from scratch…

Unnecessary segmentation…

The good news was these were what I call zero-to-one wins: adding profit where was none, instead of trying to beat the conversion rates of existing cash flows.

But the existence of “clogs” wasn’t the most surprising part.

I’d assumed most businesses would have a few of these, and I’d diagnose what they were, then we’d execute.

What surprised me was that, business-after-business, I kept seeing the same clogs.

These businesses had all the trappings of a Digital Marketer funnel: landing pages, autoresponders, webinars in-some-cases…

They just weren’t attached right. At least as far as was optimal to wring the most profit out of the traffic they’d paid for so dearly.

So I decided to write a guide about it.

Below, the places most online businesses are losing the most money in their digital marketing, even if their design and copy are decent.

Online Funnel Clog #1: Upsells

I kept seeing two species of wasted-opportunity when it came to upsells:

Either a business wasn’t offering them at all

…or it was offering them weakly, or arbitrarily.

Upsells became fast favorite, because, done right, they entail zero risk to existing cashflows (unlike, say, revising a landing page), and don’t require competing with existing conversion rates, as long as they’re introduced after a purchase decision of a primary product.

Broad-strokes, here’s what I saw:

Decent: there’s an upsell, but it’s either offered at the wrong time during the buy-flow (i.e. before the purchase of the primary product, where it introduces friction and choice-paralysis), or it’s not copy-written at-all (“you might also enjoy”). Forget about scarcity (a bonus that expires), let-alone email follow-ups.

Bad: there are multiple price-tiers, but no upsell from the lower to the higher once a purchase decision was made. (i.e., if customers chose “basic”, no effort was made to offer them the “pro” version.)

Wheels starting to turn?

It’s time to talk about element #2…

Online Funnel Clog #2: Scarcity

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “I’ve got an autoresponder, but people aren’t buying as much as I’d like.”

Ok, we can check out your product and positioning, see which “pillars” of the case for your product you’re not making to your audience, and try revising your autoresponder.

Ooooor, I could ask one simple question:

“What do people get if they buy now instead of waiting?”

Ten-to-one it’s one of these two…

If they’re lucky, they’re offering a discount to buy – one that will ensure nobody will ever pay full-price.

But most-often, they’re just linking to the sales page occasionally. (Sometimes as a “PS” at the end of content emails. I couldn’t make this stuff up.)

But that’s good news. Because it means we don’t have to revise your autoresponder. Yet.

Crash course:

If people are buying your products both directly off your site and also from your autoresponder, we don’t want to cannibalize the direct sales…yet. We’re going to use bonuses as the incentive to buy.

Does your product have existing bonuses as part of your “value stack”?

Great: find out which is most popular with your buyers. (If you don’t know, survey them.) This is what you’re going to offer only to mailing list subscribers, and only during launch weeks.

If you don’t have an existing bonus, you can use the same process to create one, or to break-out a part of your existing product or service.

Remember upsells? Yea – this also works for those. You can only get the best bonus on the one-time-offer page after purchase. You can only get the second-best bonus for 72 hours by clicking through from one of the reminder emails.

(Yes, of course the tenor and frequency of your follow-up will vary with your audience. No, of course you don’t want to overdo it.)

What if you’re introducing a new product from scratch, or only offering it from your list already?

Do open-enrollments. People can only buy when the cart is open. I’ve seen it double sales.

Open-enrollments are a great fit for info-products and consulting, and not such a great fit for ecommerce or SaaS. Use your judgment: is there a rationale for closing the cart?

Online Funnel Clog #3: UX

Two examples from recent memory:

First, a client had a price-table with a basic and premium flavor of his product.

We talked upsells…

We talked scarcity…

Trouble was, he had an even more basic issue: only one “buy now” button. Which defaulted to the basic tier.

Second, a client had a free-plus-shipping offer for their book, but they weren’t satisfied with the order-completion. A bunch of people were clicking “order now”, then abandoning their carts.

It wasn’t the cart-abandonment emails that were the issue…

Nor the book itself…

Nope. It was the 10-page checkout page with the order-completion fields at the bottom, which required people to scroll past reams of copy for a book they’d already agreed to order.

As I detailed in the case-study, we revised the checkout page, and order completion shot up 21%.

Here’s what’s astonishing to me: 20-50% of people’s sales is a non-trivial number, especially if you’re paying for traffic.

But that doesn’t stop site-owners from allowing at least that percentage to slip through their fingers on account of things like…

Opt-in forms that don’t redirect to anywhere, which have too-many fields, or which are buried at the bottom of the page.

Double-opt-in confirmation emails that either aren’t clear about what they are or read like a notice from the DMV.

Binary “choice” buttons on the homepage that don’t make clear which-is-which.

But there’s another clog that’s even more subtle-and-insidious…

Online Funnel Clog #4: Over-Segmentation

Do you know who your most profitable customers are?

Do you know which lead sources they came from?

Do you know which opt-in offer they found most attractive?

If the answer is “no”, a quick survey will give you a “quick-and-dirty” educated guess.

If the answer is “yes”, you’re singular goal is to find as-many-as-possible, and guide them, with as-little-friction-as-possible, to a sale.

But over-and-over, what I see in real life is some version of…

“So everybody who opts in gets an offer for the book, at $29…

…then those who buy the book see an offer for the course, which is $999.”

“What percentage of people who opt-in get the book?” I’ll ask.

“Around 10%.”


Even if it’s converting at 50%, that’s still half your list never seeing an offer for a flagship product.

I understand why businesses do this:

Some very “black belt” marketers like Perry Marshall and James Clear will sometimes only offer their flagship products to existing customers of lower-tier offers.

There’s a super-good reason for that:

When James and Perry do it, it’s a hedge against working too hard to sell to too-cold-a-lead.

Here’s a sales law-of-physics: all-else-being-equal, the higher the price tag, the more personal the sales process needs to be.

Selling a $29 ebook?  You can probably do that on a sales page.

Selling $15,000 consulting engagements? Most people will need to talk to you on the phone.

Say you had a $15,000 offer that was a fit for a market – meaning people in that market wanted it. Great – so how do you find clients?

You wouldn’t just fun facebook ads to a landing page and talk to thousands-of-people on the phone just to make a sale.

But say you asked those people to sign up for a webinar, then after the webinar, you pitched your high-end product and offered to get on a call with people interested, as Chris Evans and Taylor Welch from Traffic and Funnels do.

Then you’d be taking far fewer calls, with much more qualified prospective clients. So your acquisition costs would drop.

The other major reason for segmentation is when you have multiple customer avatars that don’t overlap. Say you offer a weight-loss camp specifically for women, and one for men. It wouldn’t make sense to pitch something to the wrong audience, so you segment.

It works for related-but-non-overlapping offers too. You’ve got a martial arts academy. Some people are interested in Jiujitsu, others in Muay Thai, and some in both. There’s little to be gained sending extra email to someone with no interest in striking, so you segment.

But what I see over-and-over in the real world is unnecessary segmentation.

  • You’ve got an info-product on a sales page (i.e. no extra marginal cost to sell to more people the way a phone-sales process would require), but you’re not offering it to everybody who might be a fit.
  • You’ve got multiple offers, but there might be some overlap, particularly with an upsell or cross-sell, but you’re keeping your subscribers completely siloed.

There’s no faster way to drive up acquisition costs than not offering to all qualified buyers.

Sure, people who buy the book might convert better to the flagship coaching or service, so it makes sense to sell the book hard.

But, so long as your cost-of-sale is fixed (as in with an automated funnel), and non-book-buyers might be a fit, offer it to them as well.

Next Steps

There are, of course, subtleties beyond the scope of this article.

Ok – just one: there’s a Claude-Hopkins-derived expected-value equation to decide how long your funnel should be.

So once I was resolving those four major “clogs” for clients, the real subtle work of copywriting, split testing, defining-and-scaling the most profitable lead-sources, etc could begin.

But hopefully one-or-more of these tips has opened your eyes to the “zero-to-one” wins that could be lurking right under your nose.


If you’d like more deep marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

Agency Websites are Leaving Millions On-The-Table: Here Are Two Ways to Fix It

If you’re an agency-owner who’s sure you’ll never need your website to generate closed business, good-for-you.

A number of agencies are happy relying on referrals, analog lead-generation like speaking engagements and networking, and analog direct-response marketing like direct-“snail”-mail, followed up with a call.

Even as I write these words it’s hard not to picture the torrents of lost profit leaking out of your business like baby-oil-through-a sieve – leads you’ve paid to acquire, who might turn into closed business, whom you’re never following-up with, who are then likely ending up in the competition’s funnels.

(I’m not talking about the small percentage who make it to a call. More on this below…)

But if you’re killing it without relying on your website, good-on-you. Then your website can function as a glorified business card, or – like Berhshire Hathaway’s – as a…Craigslist ad?

But heaven-forbid your website is any part of a growth strategy, let alone – be-still-my-beating-heart – if you’re running paid traffic like adwords or facebook ads to it. In that circumstance, the average agency is not only leaving unlocked suitcases of cash on the table, it’s hanging a “free cash” sign on them.

After months of seeing the same mistakes on agency sites, and having the same conversation over-and-over with agency owners, I decided to just write down everything I would do to their businesses starting tomorrow if I won them at auction and needed to double them in 3-6 months.

Instead, you should steal them, and use them to outflank the competition.

Low-Hanging-Fruit Agency Website Move #1: Get Rid of 95% of Your Homepage

Most agency websites I see look something like this, if they’ve at least shelled-out for decent design:

Average Agency page, with at least 6 calls-to-action if you don’t count redundant ones. Note the “pause button” on the slider.

If you’re lucky, you don’t have a slider sliding your copy out of the way before people can read it. Maybe you even have a “get a free assessment” button above-the-fold.

But you’re probably trying to be everything to everybody. I see you. I’ve heard it on enough calls:

“We want to make sure we let people know we offer a full range of services.”

If I won your business at auction, I’d just change that to one offer above the fold and start making money.

But for purposes of this article, I’ll explain why having 3 to…Umpteen different services on your homepage is a bad idea. 2 well-studied principles:

Lyft, a six-billion-dollar funded startup with, let me count them…oh yeah: one primary call-to-action. “But my clients are different!” Yea? Keep reading;)

1) The law of Line-Extension. The book 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing relates a simple principle –  there’s only room in the consumer’s mind for one brand to be the best at one thing – then spools ample cautionary tales of companies who ran afoul of it.

Here’s just one: Budweiser was the number one domestic beer. Then Miller came out with Miller Light: the number one domestic light beer. So Budweiser responded with Bud Light, to corner the light beer market. So, aggregate sales of Bud and Bud light were greater than those of Bud alone before Anheuser Busch introduced Bud Light, right?


Overall sales went down. Controlling for market factors. I see what you did;)

In order to extend their line, Bud forfeited their spot in consumers’ minds as the number one domestic beer.

Even if you don’t think this is happening to you, just register that it can happen, and to very smart people with billion-dollar corporations.

2) Opportunity Cost. Whether you know it or not, your business has a most profitable activity, and a most profitable customer.

And according to Perry Marshall, author of 80/20 Sales and Marketing, the fastest way to grow is to identify your most profitable clients, and find more of them.

Why not continue to cater to everybody? Opportunity cost.

In the real world, customers cost money and time to acquire, and any energy not spent on acquiring the most profitable clients is energy wasted.

Think of it this way: say you’ve got a row of change machines. Put in a $5 bill, you get 5 ones. But say one is broken, and instead of 5 ones, it gives you six.

It make sense to dump all your $5-bills into the $6 machine, unless you discovered another machine that gives you $10 for every $5. Then, any $5 you dumped into the $6 machine would be like taking $4 and lighting it on fire.

In the real world, there are two reasons agencies don’t lean into catering their offer to only their most profitable customers: clarity, and fear.

If you don’t know who your most profitable clients are that’s one thing. But you should find out. The quick-and-dirty way is to survey all your clients, then look for commonalities among those with the highest lifetime value (LTV):

  • Which services do they tend to purchase?
  • Which lead sources do they tend to come from?
  • What other things do they have in common?

Then, tailor your entire website to attract more of them. It’s what I would do if I won your site at auction, and had to turn a profit on it.

“But wait,” I can hear some agency owners saying. “Our clients depend on us for a range of services.”

Great. Which services do your highest-LTV clients tend to value most, and purchase together?

Next, which services do your highest-LTV clients utilize hardly at all.

You know where I’m going with this…

Generally, as Perry Marshall has found, the distribution will follow a power law, Pareto Distribution, or 80/20 distribution. (All the same thing.) (And yes, that’s what my site’s named after.)

20%-or-fewer of your clients will be responsible for 80%-or-more of your earnings. And 20%-or-fewer of your services will be those most-attractive to 80%-or-more of your high-LTV clients.

“Ok,” you might be saying, “but what if our best clients all purchase SEO, web-design, Facebook ads, and Adwords? Shouldn’t we have a blurb about each one on the homepage?”

Yes. But below the fold. Above-the-fold, here’s what you do. Sell the benefit of those services.

Sumo.com’s making payroll and keeping the lights on, last-I-checked. Be like them.

Which do you think a new website visitor will care more about? That you increased your clients’ new leads by an average of 55%, or that you do SEO and Facebook ads?

Lead with the primary benefit to your most profitable clients, give them one CTA – whichever’s most predictive of your best clients (you can survey them to find that out), and get out.

Then, below the fold, you can list all the services you provide as long as they’re the 20% your most profitable clients find valuable. And make sure you supply ample client results.

Low-Hanging-Fruit Agency Website Move #2: Collect Email, Then Utilize It

It’s well-documented that 96% of your organic website traffic isn’t ready to spend money on you on their first visit. Takeaway? Unless you’re collecting email, you’re relying on serendipity that the far-and-away-vast-majority of your site visitors will find their way back to you when it’s time to make a purchasing decision.

Between first-impression-and-sale, it’s an average of 6-7 “touch points”, whether that’s seeing you onstage, hearing you on a podcast, seeing a “remarket” facebook ad, hearing about you from a friend, etc. If you capture an email address, you’re now in charge of that game.

Instead of hoping somebody hears you on a podcast, you can email them a podcast interview.

Instead of hoping somebody hears about you from a colleague, you can email them a case-study.

I can’t emphasize enough how big a game-changer this is for agencies. Nobody’s doing it.

“Ok,” you say, “but what if I already have an autoresponder?”

Great. What’s your opt-in rate?

Open up Google Analytics, look up your “sessions” (same as unique visitors) in the last month. Open up your email provider, and count the new subscribers. Divide the latter by the former. Less than 10%? It shouldn’t be.

If your opt-in rate is less than 10%, here’s a crash course on why.

Here’s the good news: if you’re already following the advice of step 1 and understanding your most-profitable clients, your opt-in rate will likely nose-up automatically. Another quick-and-dirty tip? Give proof. Like “Client X increased his leads by 75% in 3 months.” Nobody does that in the agency world. You’ll stand out.

My friends at Ginsburg Expeditions: proof works

“But wait,” you’re saying. “I want my visitors to get a free assessment, not just subscribe to a newsletter.”

Cue missed-low-hanging-fruit-opportunity #3: Collect email first, as a part of the assessment process.

98% of agencies I’ve come across have a contact page that looks like this:

Any guess how many of your prospective clients are abandoning the page before completing the form?

Would you complete the form?

Fantastic if you explain a benefit of getting the assessment, and lose the extraneous fields like “what would like information on”. (I’m on your site, and I have to tell you what you’re going to do for me?)

Even-lower-hanging-fruit-than-that, just collect email on step 1.

Rationale: “So we can send you your personalized result”. Boom.

Sumo.com’s intake form. And they need more info to get started than you do.

Then, after they enter the email address, redirect to the rest of the intake form.

Now that you’ve got their email address, guess what?

  • If they do complete the form, you can follow up. (But you were doing this already.)
  • If they don’t complete the form, you can follow up;) First, with a reminder to complete the form, then with helpful content and proof elements.
  • Not-to-mention, you can go nuts and incorporate scarcity. “For the next four days, get a free SEO audit with all assessments”. (Or whatever bonus your high-LTV clients told you was most valuable in your survey.) Reminder 1. Reminder 2. You don’t think that will make an impact on your sales?

The Good News

There’s a silver lining to the ultra-low bar for agency websites. The agencies that do the bare minimum are going to win.

All this is just 101 stuff. There are dimensions-within-dimensions of moneymaking opportunities once you have a list. Upsells. Limited-time-offers. Referral programs. Money Typhoon. (Ok – I made that last one up;)

Your website is out there, representing you, whether it’s good-or-bad. Why not utilize it to make some cash money?

If you’d like more deep marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

Autoresponder Sanity- Cut Through The Bunk, and Focus on What Really Sells

Remember autoresponders? That thing most of us have? You know – between an opt-in and a sale?

And let me guess: we’ve mostly either copied our autoresponders from a book, like Jeff Walker’s Launch, or Ryan Deiss’ Invisible Selling Machine, or maybe a course like Ramit Sethi’s Call to Action or Andre Chaperon’s Autoresponder Madness.

And maybe we’re pretty sure they’re working “well enough” for us.

But what if we want to scale? Could we say for-certain whether our email campaigns are over-performing or underperforming?

Let alone if our entire funnel is under-performing – as I’ve written, 2% is a decent offer-to-sale conversion benchmark: what if your funnel is converting at 0.5%?

How would you know what to change in your autoresponder?

In fact, if you had to get rid of 80% of the stuff in your email campaigns and keep just the essential 20% that’s really doing the selling for you, would you know what to keep?

If you wouldn’t, I wouldn’t blame you: with the exception of Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, marketing literature has been woefully short on first-principles theories to explain exactly what’s working, and why.

But two unlikely sources might provide a clue…

The first is one I’ve written about before: Eugene Schwartz’ Breakthrough Advertising – I truly believe it’s the be-all-end-all meta-resource (the “matrix” that knits together all the other successful strategies and explains why some work sometimes and others work other times) of modern sales writing.

And of course Schwartz predated email. But that’s not the primary reason I needed to look to another source to plug the holes in my autorespoder matrix. The reason is that Breakthrough Advertising, for all its staying power, mostly concerned one-and-done sales: print-ads that had 30 seconds to capture attention and make the sale.

The ’60s equivalent of a landing page or short sales page.

So where are we supposed to turn for advice on a multi-touch-point sale? To another unlikely source: Nail Rackham’s SPIN Selling.

“Wait a minute. Isn’t that a sales book? As in sales CALLS?”

It is, and that’s exactly why more direct-response marketers don’t talk about SPIN Selling. But buried amongst the chapters on closes and need-payoff questions is a powerful premise: the value scale.

Simply put, the higher the price of the sale, the more expensive the buyer needs to believe not buying is.

Mildly annoyed with doing your invoices by hand? A $20/month SAAS product is a no-brainer.

But what if it was $2000/month?

Then you’d need dollars-and-cents illustration that not taking action was costing you at least that.

The value scale becomes extremely important in autoresponders as the price of the product rises. In fact, as I’ll explain below, most marketers are making the same big mistake when it comes to their email funnels.

First, though, let’s talk about first principles:

The 80/20 Autoresponder

To understand why we have autoresponders, picture replacing your homepage with nothing more than an offer for your flagship product, and a “buy now” button.

If your product costs more than a trivial amount, let alone if the buyer doesn’t already understand exactly what you do and trust you, your offer probably won’t convert very well.

But if you leave your offer up for long enough, you will start making a few sales, at least if it’s a good product that works, and that people actually want.

“Wait a second. What?”

I know: It seems counterintuitive. Nothing about your offer’s changed. But all-of-a-sudden, a few people start buying.

Did the market change overnight? Unless Oprah shouted you out, then probably not.

But if you surveyed those buyers, you’d probably find something surprising…

Most of them didn’t buy on their first visit to your site.

In fact, according to industry averages, you’d probably find that most of your buyers had had six-to-seven “touch points” with you – a visit to your site, hearing you on a podcast, seeing a facebook ad, going back to your site, hearing from a friend who’s using your product – before they bought.

Now – imagine if, instead of relying on serendipity to guide those few lucky buyers repeatedly back to your offer, you could make those “touch points” deliberate and repeatable. That’s the “why” of email marketing.

And the above thought experiment illustrates perfectly the 80/20 of an autoresponder. It’s literally just staying in front of people while they take their time to make a decision.

That’s why my friend Christopher, a marketing ninja with an info-products empire, says this…

It’s also why, if I don’t have time to create an ultra-elaborate autoresponder in my own funnels, I’ll often just use popular content that’s congruent with the product I’m eventually going to sell.

But as long as you’re going to be emailing people to stay top-of-mind, you might as well be helping inch yourself toward a sale.

And that’s where Schwartz and Rackham can help. From their materials, I’ve devised a 3-question “decision tree” to help guide any online business toward higher sales from an email autoresponder.

Autoresponder Sanity Question 1: “How Big Does The Reader Think His Problem Is?”

Once he’s on your email list, your reader is going to receive periodic emails from you that keep you on his radar while he takes his time to decide if he’s going to invest in your product.

But one way you can increase the likelihood that he’ll buy is by understanding how painful he believes the problem you’re solving is. You can get fancy with surveys, but often the most effective way to get started is just asking yourself:

“If I were in this guy’s shoes, with no prior knowledge of me or my product, would I consider my price a lot to pay for this product?”

Are you selling in a market (like cooking or fitness) with lots of free or low-priced solutions?

Are you selling to people who haven’t thought a lot about this problem, even though you know it’s costing them money?

If the answer is “yes”, the first thing your autoresponder should be doing, besides making you familiar and likeable to the reader, is educating him about the severity of the problem. Here are a few examples…

If you’re selling a cooking course that costs $499, you could start with a story about how you didn’t realize how much money you were wasting at the supermarket and on takeout until you discovered a simple solution that helped you plan your meals.

For a B2B SAAS product that costs $150-a-month, you could prove how costly the problem is by supplying real-world numbers about how much companies similar to your reader’s are wasting without your solution.

In this later scenario, there’s one thing that cuts through the noise like nothing else: stats.

“Did you know 82% of marketing emails are NEVER READ?”

Ever wonder why you hear ads like “did you know that every year Americans leave over a billion of unclaimed tax refunds on the table” around tax season? It’s likely because the commercial accounting firms have determined that their market sees doing taxes as a minor irritant, not as a potential-four-figure-windfall they’re missing out on.

Which do you think is a more expensive problem? 😉

But what if you’re not extinguishing a burning pain, but selling a dream or aspiration?

The same principles work in reverse: you’d just educate about the size of the upside.

For the type of consulting I do – i.e. growing someone’s business with funnels – the reader often doesn’t know how much he’s missing out on by having a leaky funnel. Any story about how you overcame a problem similar to your reader’s, and how much extra you made, will work. Case studies about success stories are a no-brainer (and also help with question 2, as I’ll discuss below), but often just educating your reader about how funnels work, and taking him through some of the conversion math is sufficient for this step.

Finally, there’s a reason hotels, restaurants, and airlines splash glossy photos of their first-class experiences all over their websites: is amplifies desire. If you’re selling a premium product your reader has a background-desire-for, anything you can do to get him to visualize the experience more vividly will turn up that desire.

Autoresponder Sanity Question 2: “Does The Reader Think The Problem is Solvable

In some markets, the customer won’t need much proof that solutions to his problem work. If you’re selling an iphone app that makes funny dog sound effects, or one that helps you mark up your photos with cool out-of-the-box filters, you don’t need to burn many calories just convincing people that’s possible. You just need to show why your version of the solution is the best. (See question 3;)

But what if you’re teaching people to do a muscle-up, as a friend’s product does?

Or helping them use credit card signup-bonuses to fly business class all over the world, as another’s does?

Or showing them how to make more progress in their businesses and relax-without-guilt every weekend, as a former client’s product does?

In all of those cases, you’d be dealing with a market skeptical a solution to their problem even exists.

  • People don’t generally see others doing muscle-ups, and attempting to do one can induce unpleasant sensations, so many might assume they’re un-trainable, or that learning to do a muscle-up is too big-a-hassle.
  • You don’t hear much about “travel hacking” outside small circles, and many people don’t understand that the sky-high customer acquisition costs credit card companies face make it smart business to offer tons of award points for signing up (especially given that the vast majority will redeem those points on stupid handbags instead of free travel), so you’re bound to raise skepticism with a service that helps people travel the world, on business class, for nearly-free.
  • In the productivity space, convincing people that mindset, and having a system – and not just luck and privilege – are predictors of success, can be a steep mountain to climb.

How should you determine if your market needs “proof-of-concept”? Just ask yourself: “If I had zero knowledge this was possible, would it seem FISHY to me?”

If the answer is “yes”, you should probably devote a decent portion of your autoresponder to proving a solution is possible. Here are my 3 favorite solutions, which can be used in-combination:


Tell a personal story about how you overcame the challenge. Be truthful, but if you had a disadvantage that made success less likely, lean into that.

“From Picked-Last-For-Every-Sport to doing muscle-ups, in just two weeks”

“How a broke kid from West Newton flew around the world on business class”

“In High school I was voted ‘least organized’. Now I run a seven figure business from my living room, and work fewer than 20 hours-a-week”

The goal isn’t to aim for outrageous – your market’s already skeptical so it will read as “too-good-to-be-true” – but to illustrate that you started worse-off than your typical reader, and nonetheless achieved the goal.


Personal anecdotes always raise the objection “what if you were just lucky”, or “what if you were born with it”.

That’s why even better than your personal story is stories of people you’ve helped.

A recent client built 3 8-figure consulting agencies, and wouldn’t have to work more than 8-hours-a-week if he didn’t want to. His story is compelling enough – and necessary, as we’ll discuss below in question 3 – but it’s still easy-to-dismiss:

“Sure YOU can do it – you’ve been doing it for 27 years.”

“You did it, but things were different back when YOU were getting started.”

“Sure, YOU did it, but what if I don’t have the SELLING GENE.”

Not so when he includes stories of his students’ success – five, six, and even seven-figure success only months after implementing the system.

Recent success, so they’re more difficult to dismiss as dated.

And there are a lot of success stories, so it’s difficult to dismiss any one of them as a fluke.

If you’re selling a solution your market is skeptical of, do you have any student or client success stories you could point to as proof-of-concept?


But there’s an even better way – one that almost end-runs the need for success stories. And that’s giving your subscriber a micro-win. A bite-sized bit of advice she can implement today, which will succeed, and the success-of-which will put a crack in the facade of skepticism.

Here are some examples:

For my friend who teaches muscle-ups, a micro-win might be showing them, in just minutes, how to perform an intermediate movement they didn’t think they could do.

For the travel hacking guys, maybe it’s showing their readers how to redeem some of the award points many-of-us have just lying around, after so many years of using credit cards, to book a short weekend flight for free.

Finally, my friend and former client who sells the productivity system gives potent chunks of it away – letting readers see the results in their everyday lives – then follows up with them to make sure they’re using them, and to tell them how to “upgrade” (to his paid product).

What could you offer, as part of an autoresponder, to let your readers feel their own “results in advance”?

Autoresponder Sanity Question 3: “Does The Reader Think You’re a Commodity?

There’s a little-discussed Catch-22 in some markets: prove the problem’s easy to solve too well, and people won’t think they need you to do it. Go overboard proving how dire the problem is, and they won’t believe anybody can solve it.

This is more of a problem with some markets than others.

Take my friend who helps ecommerce founders get their products on Amazon. Turns out, negotiating the twists-and-turns of Amazon is a huge problem for time-poor founders. They were crying out for a solution. My friend was among the first to gallop-to-the-rescue, and at a reasonable price.

Did she need to do what the sales literature calls “demonstrate capability”? Of course. But a few case studies were more than enough to do that.

But say you’re solving a well-understood problem in a market with a lot of competition. Let alone for a higher-than-average fee.

Here are few examples:

Selling marketing strategy (as I do) to a market that’s used to paying $80-an-email for bargain-basement copywriting firms.

Selling a high-3-figure info product to a market saturated with $29 books that purport to solve the same problem.

Selling a high-priced SAAS product that does a better job solving a problem than the low-priced alternatives, but the market isn’t educated to that fact.

In those situations, simply focussing on the size of the problem isn’t going to be sufficient: your market will just opt for one of the many lower-priced alternatives.

Neither will only focussing on proving that a solution’s possible: your customers will either bypass you for lower-cost alternatives, or try to do it themselves.

In those situations, you need a different kind of proof: differentiation. You have to prove that everybody else’s solution doesn’t work, but yours does.

Here are 2 ways to do it:

Lead with your differentiator

If customers have a well-trodden gripe with the competition, you can build what you do differently into every facet of your marketing, from homepage to sale.

“Finally: ecommerce marketing services with GUARANTEED ROI”

“Call Them Out”

To show how other solutions are inferior, you can use a tack I like to call “let me guess”. It’s a way of demonstrating your understanding of the reader’s situation, and simultaneously calling attention to how you’re different.

Say  you were selling a system to get new clients via webinar. The “let me guess” might be:

“Let me guess: you can’t get enough clients through referrals.

Let me guess: you’ve tried SEO for a year and it hasn’t been worth it.

Let me guess: you’ve tried cold email and been called ‘spammer’, but you haven’t gotten any good clients from it.”

As long as the reader considers you credible, you’ll have the effect of subtlely deflating her assumptions that she’s got multiple options, and if you’re priced too high she’ll just go with something else, because, you’ve just planted the seed that nothing else works as well.

In reality, I don’t usually write “let me guess” unless I’m trying to be provocative. It sounds holier-than-thou, and you’ll come off as a douche instead of a knight-in-shining-armor.

Instead, deploy the “let me guess” with subtlety:

  • If you’re already telling a personal anecdote that’s a “failure to success”, mention that you “tried everything”, then list why all the alternatives the reader’s sure-to-be-trying didn’t work for you.
  • Even more powerful, talk about a student/client success story, in which he/she had tried the alternative solutions and failed, then tried your solution and succeeded.


Remember Don Draper describing Lucky Strike’s competitive advantage in Mad Men? 

Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike’s is toasted.”

Mechanization, from Breakthrough Advertising, is perhaps the most potent way to differentiate, especially for a jaded market.

Picture it: you’ve seen a million-and-one products in this category, and they’ve all been garbage. To even be motivated to read a sales letter or watch an ad, you need to know why this will be different with a quickness.

And it’s hard to find a better modern example of mechanization-as-differentiation than Dyson ads.

Most vacuums are garbage.

Here’s exactly why: [shows outdated technology]

So I invented a new way. Here’s exactly what makes Dyson different.

If you’re selling to a jaded and/or competitive market, how could you mechanize your offer?




For me, it’s simple: most people want to sell you a template, and don’t understand why it works. Here are the exact persuasion principles that make other-people’s-funnels work. Steal them and get your own results. Or, hire me to do it.

For a high-priced SAAS product that improves your Amazon rankings (as a former client’s did), what’s wrong about the way the competition does it? Do they upgharge for obsolete, open-source code? What’s different about how your software works? Is it the only platform to draw data directly from Amazon’s Xyz Matrix (not a real thing;), so it’s been shown to be 2x as reliable in tests?

How to Use The Questions

You may be wondering what “shape” the container into which you’re pouring your 100ccs of “twist the knife” and your 50ccs of “quick win” should take. I’ve only got two basic rules.

  1. Dovetail with the “sales cycle”. How long does your market naturally take to reach a decision. If you can time your email campaigns to be just shorter than that natural cycle, you’ll sell the most. The sales cycle is easy-to-determine: just survey your existing customers and ask how long after they first heard of you they purchased the product.
  2. Use scarcity: equally important as answering the questions above is giving your subscribers a reason to buy now. A good rule-of-thumb is, all-other-things-being-equal, scarcity will roughly double your sales. The best rationales are bonuses and open enrollment. If you’ve got a product that’s permanently available on your site, and it’s selling at least some to “drive-by” traffic, offer a bonus to only your list – survey them if you need ideas – then put a time limit on the bonus, so subscribers can only get during a “launch”. If nobody’s buying your product except from your list, you can simply keep it “closed” to everybody except subscribers, and at all times save during “open enrollments”. Finally, if you can raise the price slowly, that gives people a final incentive to buy during this open-enrollment/launch, instead of waiting for “next time”.

It’s time to demystify the autoresponder.

Don’t worry about open-loops…

Don’t worry about Frank Kern cliches…

…and don’t worry about Digital Marketer.

Start from the principles in this article, be yourself, and watch your earnings rise.

If you’d like more deep marketing and sales insights like this article, plus the exact steps I used to 4x my business in one year (controlling for list growth), you’ll want to subscribe to my mailing list

See you next time.

3 Stupid-Obvious Marketing Moves Ecommerce is Missing Out On

If you run an ecommerce business and you’re either not utilizing your email list or – be-still-my-beating-heart – not capturing email at all, go and implement the bare minimum today. (I’ll explain how below.)

And prepare to experience a 15-30% boost in your total sales.


According to Kissmetrics, only about 4% of website visitors buy immediately upon landing on your site, while 46% typically buy later on.

Are you really ready to let 92% of your potential customers walk away just because they’re not ready to buy immediately? With email marketing, you don’t have to hope they’ll remember you and come back. You can build that relationship with them.

And as long as you’re going to implement an email list, you might as well do it right from scratch, and this post will show you how.

But what if you’re one of the 70% of businesses already using email marketing?

You may be doing the boilerplate Digital Marketer email sequences, like onboarding, nurture, and re-engagement. You might even be doing some “ecommerce specials” like cart-abandonment.

And it’s to you, dear “I just passed marketing 101” ecommerce entrepreneur that I address the bulk of this article. Because it’s time to raise the bar.

Know how you wouldn’t want to be the unsuspecting bar patron who challenged a former inmate to a fistfight?

In online business, digital products/SAAS/services marketers are those street-hardened veterans.

I cut my teeth in info-products. Then I worked with consulting agencies. Web agencies. SAAS companies. All contexts where email is the primary revenue channel. Where subscribers are used to being marketed to, and they’ve seen all the “tricks”. Where simply having an email sequence hasn’t been good enough since 2003.

Why are digital products, SAAS, and services so much harder to sell? To paraphrase Selling The Invisible author Harry Beckwith,

“many purchasers of services aren’t even sure what it is that they are buying, since it hasn’t typically been delivered yet. Clients typically cannot evaluate expertise (which is what service marketers are selling), since they lack the technical skills with which to evaluate the expert.”

But what if you could steal some of the same flame-hardened tactics that work to move digital products, services, and SAAS, and transplant them to the physical realm, where customers mostly know what they’re getting, and value is inferred?

Then, friends, you’d be doing a little something I like to call “bringing a Howitzer to a knife-fight”.

Here are the top 3 things marketers from the “mean streets” of digital/SAAS/services wish ecommerce founders knew…

“From-The-Streets” Marketing Trick 1: Scarcity

67% of online carts are abandoned. That means only 33% of people interested enough in your products to add them to the cart actually complete their purchase.

That’s why cart-abandonment sequences have been boilerplate in ecommerce for years. And those series typically enjoy between 3 and 12% retention rates. But ecommerce has been ignoring a tactic street-hardened digital marketers sleep with under our pillows: scarcity.


Here’s how a typical ecommerce cart-abandonment sequence goes, according to Shopify:

Email 1 is a reminder…

Tell them that they left something in their cart. Show them a picture of it. Add some benefits (people love free shipping) and include a simple link to complete their checkout. Done.

Email 2 is an objection handling email.

What’s the main reason people aren’t buying? If you don’t know, you’ll need to ask them. Add a question to email one that says something like “Why didn’t you buy? Please hit reply and let us know”.

Email 3 is a discount email.

If people haven’t bought by now, they’re in the slow lane and we need to kick them into the fast lane. Give them a discount. 5%. 10%. Whatever works for your margins (and you’ve found works best with your customers).

What’s the problem? Customers could theoretically open email 3 six months from now and still receive your discount. There’s no urgency to buy.

What to Do Instead

Want to know how SumoMe increased sales of one of their offers 226% without changing anything else about the offer? Scarcity. They gave it an expiration date.

Here’s how I rewrote the cart-abandonment series for one client who had only a 3% retention rate:

Email 1: You left something in your cart. We want to give you a bonus for completing your purchase. But that bonus expires in 48 hours.

Email 2: Only 24 hours left to complete your order and get the bonus. [More about the benefits of the bonus]

Email 3: Last 6 hours to complete your order and get the bonus.

“Wait-a-second!” you may be saying. “I’ve read you should NEVER give discounts in the first email, because customers will intentionally abandon their carts just to get one.”

I’m dubious of this argument for a few reasons:

First, in my experience, as much as 83% of the sale-retention comes from the first email. What’s more, the open rates are almost twice as high as those of the second email.

Why waste your strongest retention rationale for an email nobody’s going to read?

Second, add up the profits at the end.

You’ve either increased the lifetime value of a customer or you haven’t.

Whether that 67% + abandoning the cart includes deal-hunters who know you’ll offer a discount or not, if you’ve made more sales, you’ve made more sales.

Besides, I have deep suspicions that customers who abandon the cart just for discounts were ever going to buy, much-less become your most valuable customers.

Finally, you’ll notice I don’t offer discounts. I offer bonuses. Bonuses don’t erode perceived value and train people only to buy at the discounted price the way discounts do.

“From-The-Streets” Marketing Trick 2: Upsells

If you’re looking for a way to 1.5x your profit overnight, it’s hard to beat upsells. Professional marketers love them, for two reasons:

  1. Introduced properly*, they’re “non-split-testable”, meaning even if they fail, there’s zero danger of cannibalizing existing cash flows. (Unlike, say, revising an email sequence that’s already converting at a certain rate.)
  2. They’re one of the only cash-grabs that doesn’t carry an associated spike in acquisition cost. Raising your prices, another “grow-your-business-fast” mainstay, might lower your conversions, which increases your acquisition cost because you now have to attract more leads to make the same number of sales. Upsells, as long as you introduce them after a purchase decision*, don’t decrease conversions.

“But wait!” you might be saying, “I’ve got upsells everywhere!”

Let me guess – like this?

…or this?

Ok – thumbs-up for effort. But by “from-the-streets” digital marketing standards, these measures are weak sauce.

Remember the little asterisk when I said “introduced properly”? That’s because most ecommerce merchants are making at least one of the two above mistakes when offering upsells:

The first is added friction. Forget that many shoppers have pop-up blockers, and are habituated to shout “ack – AWAY!” whenever they see a pop-up. You’re introducing a choice just prior to the sale, a decision that cuts against a well-understood axiom of sales psychology – one we’ll revisit later on – choice paralysis.


As this SumoMe article describes, when you give people too many choices, they’re more likely to make no choice.

“Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, spoke about the art of choosing in a TED talk she gave in 2010. She said, ‘Too many choices can overwhelm us and cause us to not choose at all. For businesses, this means that if they offer us too many choices, we may not buy anything.’”

In practice, that means you added your sweater for $19.95, then oh wait here’s this offer – wow do I need these 3 items? Are they worth it? Ok, maybe I’ll decide later. And you’ve lost the sale.

Choice paralysis is at work in the second example, as well (“which of these 4 options should I consider” instead of “how do I complete my purchase”), but not as much as simple attention starvation. The human brain is astonishingly bad a multi-tasking, and you’re relegating an offer designed to increase your profit to the periphery, where the best-case scenario is that it distracts the buyer from her purchase.

(Never mind that the offer isn’t relevant – I’m assuming yours are if you’re reading this;)

What to do instead

Pro marketers don’t piddle with upsells that decrease conversions on the primary sale. Look at any of Frank Kern’s, Ramit Sethi’s, Neil Patel’s, or Bryan Harris’ properties, and you’ll notice something that might surprise you…

A total lack of decisions.

Every page gives you just one choice to make: subscribe, buy, etc, or not, but you’re never offered more than one choice-at-a-time.

Here’s Neil Patel’s homepage:

That’s why you won’t see any upsell offers until you’ve decided “thumbs up” on a purchase decision.

Introduced after a purchase decision, deciding whether or not to upgrade can become your primary focus.

And good marketers don’t waste that focus. Instead they make a strong case for how the upgrade will benefit you. Here’s Ramit Sethi, making the case for a digital upsell that costs $2000.

Check out the rationale:

You’ve already made a purchase that will solve your problem.

But if you want to solve the same problem faster/better/more permanently, you can upgrade your solution.

Remember, Ramit’s selling a two-thousand-dollar-product here, and all the buyer gets is access to a website. If it works for Ramit, don’t you think it will work for a (usually) much-lower-priced physical product?

Here’s an upsell page I recently wrote for a client:

You don’t have to go nuts: just tell your customer why they should care about your offer.

If you’re savvy, you probably spotted something else: the “pay no additional shipping”.

Remember scarcity?

What could you offer your customers to entice them to make a decision now, instead of waiting till later? For this client, no-additional-shipping was a fit because his supplier can put the upsell item in the same package for little marginal shipping cost for about one hour after the initial order is placed, after which it becomes inconvenient.

The Result

One recent client converted at 20% order-to-upgrade. That means that 20% of people who purchased the primary product said “yes” to the upsell. Multiply that by the margin on your upsell product to get an idea how that would benefit your business…

But it doesn’t stop there…

Because we can use the same email framework that works so well for cart-abandonment for upsells.

If customers don’t take your upsell on the Thankyou page, send this 3-email series:

Email 1: The upsell’s available at a 15% discount, but only for 48 more hours

Email 2: Only 24 hours left to get the 15% discount on the upsell. Here’s why you should care…

Email 3: Only 6 hours left to get the upsell for 15% off.

I’ve just said I don’t like discounts, but that applies mainly to primary products. Remember, because an upsell is free extra money, the danger that you’ll anchor somebody at a discounted price-point is less than with primary products.

What’s more, if you offer no-additional shipping charges on the Thankyou page, you’ll reduce the risk the customer will “roll the math dice” and wait to see which is more; the 15% discount or the shipping costs he would-have-saved.

“From-The-Streets” Marketing Trick 3: Opt-In Conversion Rate

Our third trick concerns the single-most-neglected metric for most online businesses: opt-in conversions – the percentage of website visitors who give you their email address.

Here’s why that’s important: you’ve heard me say an email list can increase your sales by 15-30%. But you can only sell to people whose addresses you collect.

If you’re a total nube, you might only be collecting addresses in two places:

On the actual purchase page…

…and at the bottom of the website template, with some 1994 copy like “subscribe for updates” if you’re really going-for-broke…

“HANG ON” you’re probably saying. “I’ve got pop-ups!”

Aaaaaaaw do you have the “10% off” pop-up?

Maybe you’ve even got a countdown timer that gives visitors only an hour to redeem their discount code.

Congrats. You’ve passed marketing 101. Here’s your sticker. (I jest, but I love you guys;)

Here are two reasons I wouldn’t use that rationale if we were starting from scratch:

  1. Forget all the Chialdini* sales psychology that says if you lead with price, your buyers will be focussed on price as your primary differentiator, and you’ll cut your own legs from under you if you want to compete on – say – quality. There are more immediate dollars-and-cents reasons to be wary: if discounts in cart-abandonment emails train shoppers to “wait for the discount” instead of buying at the regular price, what do you think a pop-up within the first 15 seconds on the site does?
  2. It’s also classic choice-paralysis. You pay a developer to create an enticing above-the-fold “shop now” call-to-action, then you interrupt your own sales pitch with a pop-up that asks the visitor to take a different action.

* In his book Pre-suasion, Robert Chialdini (summary here) describes a split-test a furniture company ran: when they changed the background of their homepage to clouds, shoppers were more focussed on comfort, and tended to buy more comfortable sofas, even if they were higher-priced. When they changed it to pennies, shoppers were more focussed on economy, and tended to buy cheaper sofas, even if they were less comfortable. This wasn’t “noisy” data – the effect was strong even after controlling for other variables.

What to Do Instead

First, decide what you want your visitors to do: subscribe, or buy immediately. Even if most of your site visitors buy-without-subscribing (an assumption we’d have reason to doubt, since only 3% are usually ready to buy right-away), I’d take a page from best-in-class marketers, and make subscribe the primary action you promote above-the-fold, as Videofruit’s Bryan Harris does here…

(Note: he doesn’t say “subscribe” once. Marketers haven’t used that word since about 2001. Instead he sells the benefit of subscribing. More on that below.)

There are two primary reasons we’d lead with the email collection if I were setting up your store from scratch:

  1. According to Shopfy, the lifetime value (LTV) of customers acquired through email is 12% higher than average. That’s strong evidence you should be getting them on your list first.
  2. Just because you lead with the subscription ask doesn’t mean you can’t redirect people to a “shop now” page immediately after they subscribe. (You can also include a small “nope – I want to start shopping NOW” link under the subscribe button that skips to the same page. Don’t worry – if they really are buyers, you’ll still get their email on the checkout page. Otherwise, they’re worthless to you anyway.)

Sidebar: It’s not like many ecommerce shops aren’t underutilizing calls-to-action astonishingly anyway. Note the utter lack of any clarity about what you’re supposed to do on this webpage

Takeaway? They might as well have a big opt-in offer above-the-fold.

Next, decide on a rationale to subscribe. For the reasons I discussed above, it’s best if it’s not a discount. What to use instead? Here are a few alternatives that have worked for clients:


If your product has high perceived value, use an Insiders List or VIP List. Subscribers will be the first to hear about new products, and the only ones allowed access to members-only promotions.

Know what the smart brands use as the clincher? Scarcity.

Supplies of Madewell’s limited-run jeans are often limited. How do people get advance-notice when they’re about-to-be-released? You guessed it: the list.


If using a VIP rationale makes you ansty, but you’re on-board with the “don’t focus people on the price” argument, you can take one step back from the precipice and offer bonuses.

One client had great results with a “free-plus-shipping” offer…

Important: if you’re using a pop-up, I’d recommend using only an exit pop (to avoid choice-paralyzing people trying to shop), and only on desktop (otherwise, google will likely penalize you.)

Even better, though: instead of offering the bonus up-front, see if you can make it it the rationale for the VIP list:

Yes! I want to receive EXCLUSIVE BONUSES!

You may-or-may-not want to make your above-the-fold content an opt-in. Even though I’ve seen the numbers to indicate it’s moneymaking fire, there are pros and cons, and it wouldn’t be the first thing I would change with a client who had a good enough homepage.

But the next tip is an unequivocal “zero-to-one” – something with zero opportunity cost, and hardly anybody is doing it in ecommerce.

I’m talking about collecting email addresses the first time a shopper clicks “add to cart”:

Here are two reasons why not doing this is categorically insane:

  1. You already have to collect the address before purchase, so you’re not introducing any additional friction collecting it earlier.
  2. But according to Xipix Global, 68% of your site visitors abandon the site without ever visiting their carts, even after adding items to them. That means potential buyers who never even see your email collection field.

What to Do if You’re Just Getting Started

Finally, I promised newbies just getting into email marketing some time-saving shortcuts to start capitalizing on email marketing immediately. Here goes:

  1. Decide on your VIP-rationale – what you’ll offer subscribers in exchange for subscribing to your VIP list – right away, and devote your above-the-fold real-estate to it exclusively.
  2. Install a plugin like CartMail, that collects emails as soon as people add the first item to their carts – provided they haven’t already supplied them – immediately, so you don’t miss out on the opportunity to email market to a fresh stream of qualified buyers.
  3. Decide on a good candidate for your upsells right away (by surveying your audience, if necessary, with a question like “what $20-or-less item would you pay twice as much for – don’t worry, we’re not going to raise the price! ;)” ). Then, install a plugin like Thankyou page customizer to start offering post purchase upsells to your customers.
  4. Next, write your cart-abandonment and upsell email sequences, copying the template I’ve supplied.
  5. Once you’ve got all that done, take everybody else’ advice. There is value in those onboarding, re-engagement, and repeat-customer sequences. I do them for clients all-the-time.


3 “Unknowns” that Could Doom Your Product Launch

Helping clients with a product launch strategy, I used to offer two options:

The buck stops with me, or the buck stops with you.

In the former scenario, I’d vouch for typical results.

I’d be there on the other end of the call to “talk down” my client if things didn’t seem to be going well, and I’d also sleep fine at night taking credit for an outstanding result.

But I’d need end to end control, and I’d need to know a lot of things going in.

In the latter, I’d integrate myself into the client’s existing launch-flow, write “best guess” copy, and advise him broadly about best-practices that had worked in the past. But I couldn’t take responsibility for the results. If things went well, I’d be humble about how much credit to take (“it probably didn’t hurt”), but if they went badly I’d be honest that it could be any of 300 factors, and we’d never know for-sure.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Increasingly, especially with new clients, I’m moving away from scenario 2, and toward either the “zero-to-one” interventions I describe in this article, or a well-researched, end-to-end product launch.

What, you may be wondering, makes the difference between my being able to vouch, at least 85%, that a launch will be a success, and the “you got this, right?” scenario? It’s 3 things…

Product Launch Strategy Essential 1 – Product Market Fit

To vouch for results, I need strong evidence that people want your product. Is it Viagra, or is it dog deodorant.

In the latter scenario, no amount of copywriting genius can overcome a product noone wants. As I’ve said onstage, “You could hire Frank Kern to copywrite this, and you still wouldn’t sell anything.”

At the risk of repeating myself, here’s what I look for:

  • When you launched this initially, did more than 2% of your entire list buy?
  • If you asked people to opt-in for the launch/participate in a “focus group”, or otherwise curated the launch cohort, did more than 10% buy.

If so, great! That means you’re probably solving the right problem for the right people at the right price, and they know it.

If not, it voids the warranty. In some scenarios I’d still work with you, but I’d need you to acknowledge the possibility of the dog deodorant trap. And let’s be honest – failed launches are no fun, even if the client assumes ultimate responsibility.

[For more info on the exact strategy I use to validate and launch products, read this.]

Product Launch Strategy Essential 2 – Subtle Positioning

There’s a Ramit Sethi interview (page 25) from Smart Passive Income in which Ramit describes launching a product after spending months writing the copy, then watching it flatline the first 24 hours. He pulled it off the market, and his team went back to research what went wrong.

In Ramit’s-words, We started back and looked at the research and it took us about two weeks and we discovered that we had missed a couple of really, really subtle things in the development and the marketing of the product. We fixed up the product. Our conversion rate jumped to I believe 26% – the same slide deck, did not change one word, and the product was better. “

Eugene Schwartz agrees: there’s only one deepest pain or desire of your market. Get it wrong, and won’t sell a thing.

Which sets up scenario 2 in which the world’s greatest copywriter, working with “faulty readings”, could fail to convert. For a real life example, say you were selling designer strollers, and you theorized that your target market was new moms who wanted to “look cool” when at the park with the other moms.

But say that deeper research revealed that those moms found the outright assertion of a deep-down desire – status – odious, and that their nominal reason for purchasing a designer stroller was the safety of their baby. The difference between a campaign that leads with safety and earns the status element (by planting seeds, then providing proof, as Ramit did in the sales page I analyzed last week) and one that hits them over the head with status from the jump, could spell the difference between a wildly successful launch and one that barely moves the needle.

A real-life example is Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year productivity product, whose headline is “Make more progress in your business in the next 90 days than you did in the last year”. What if, instead of ambition/the desire to build something, Todd had led with leisure: “What if you could work just two hours-per-day after just 90 days?”

I’ve got direct experience in this market, and I’ll spoil the end: the people with money to spend on productivity info products for their businesses don’t think of themselves as idle, and they resent the implication that they don’t like a hard day’s work. Just like the stroller-moms, Todd’s buyers need copy that answers their nominal desires, and fulfills their latent ones (working fewer hours, or even the peace-of-mind of knowing that the hours they do work are taking them somewhere) with subtlety.

That’s why, if I own the result, I insist on seeing recent customer survey data, and if I don’t like the way the questions were asked, I’ll ask my own. (In some cases I’ll take the client’s “word for it”, but that’s only when I know somebody well, or have deep familiarity with their brand/market.)

Product Launch Strategy Essential 2 – Context

Some time ago I participated in a product launch, did a lot of strategy, and wrote a lot of copy, then thought I could “rest easy”.

Fortunately, I had subscribed to the client’s email list. That’s how I know they were sending as many as 3 totally unrelated emails every week, many of them with offers.

Just as multiple/conflicting offers on a webpage (usually as the result of a lack of clarity about what’s really driving growth) often lower conversions, firehosing people in their inbox can dilute the potency of the best “on paper” launch strategy.

The second scenario that can doom an otherwise great launch is list fatigue. Have you launched this product to the entire list before? How recently?

I could nail the product-market-fit, and we could nail the messaging and positioning, but if you’ve launched to the same cohort too recently, or if your launch emails are drowned in a sea of unimportant emails, many of them with conflicting offers, the subscriber has the “JFK cab-tout” experience, and we lose her attention.

The third-and-final launch-dooming scenario is an audience that’s anchored at low prices, or trained to buy only during “sales”. As above, we could do all the positioning perfectly, but if I didn’t remember to ask: “do you typically do discounts or sales for this product”, we could launch to crickets.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Have you launched this product to the current cohort before?
  • Did you offer a discount?
  • If so, what do they believe it’s worth? [hint: the discounted price]

If the answer to the first 2 is “yes”, that’s not necessarily damning, but it will change the approach. We’ll need to build the perceived value, say truthfully that even the sale price will be higher the next time the product “opens”, and continue to use the discount. Either that, or rebrand, or launch to a brand-new cohort.


If there’s anything I’ve learned from participating in many launches – both my own and clients’ – over the years, it’s humility.

Human beings are complex and unpredictable one-by-one, let alone in groups. That’s why there’s Optimizely. That’s why there’s WVO. That’s why trial-and-error underpins everything we do in direct marketing (distinct from mass-marketing in that it typically seeks a measurable ROI).

Skilled marketers are skilled at knowing what we don’t know, and at building trial-and-error into our launch strategies.

  1. Starting with existing product-market fit: that means the “error” is already out of the way, and we’re working with the one-in-ten iteration of the product that worked.
  2. Using both qualitative and quantitative survey results to, as Ryan Levesque puts it, Ask what’s valuable about a product to our audiences, rather than trying to guess.
  3. Being extremely care to track everything we change after a successful launch. Cohort? Copy? Price? That way we control both for our own unintentional consequences and randomness. (e.g. the same launch, repeated verbatim to a new cohort with the exact same selection criteria, that converts 75%-as-well can be ascribed to randomness/regression-to-the-mean)

If the downside is that we can’t be 100% assured of great things when there are too many “unknowns”, the silver lining is that great rewards await he/she who is humble about his/her ability to “predict” what the market will do, who changes only one thing-at-a-time, and who works within a small-but-growing framework of things it’s possible to know.

Want the exact launch choreography I road-tested with clients? Just Click here!