[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

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