7 Ways to Sell Online Courses That Actually Work in 2020

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sales

Krystal Wascher
Oct 20 · 10 min read
A person wearing a red academic cap.
A person wearing a red academic cap.
Photo by Kameron Elder on Unsplash

When you ask most people about their hobbies they might tell you that they like to read, watch movies, or practice yoga.

I, on the other hand, like to study successful digital product creators to figure out how they are able to thrive while most people struggle to make just a few sales — if any at all.

I’ve sat through hundreds of hours of “free” webinars and masterclasses taking copious notes on the format. I have email accounts dedicated to collecting marketing messages from my favorite creators.

My computer desktop is cluttered with folders full of notes and screenshots from marketing campaigns and sales pages that I’ve studied over the years.

You could say that I have a bit of an obsession.

But this hobby of studying other online creators has paid off. I’ve been able to use the strategies and tactics that I’ve learned through this practice to create my own six-figure digital product business from the comfort of my cozy home office.

I’ve used the methods that I’m about to share with you to sell online courses, books, audio programs, digital workbooks, freelance services, consulting, and affiliate offers.

Each of these methods will work when implemented correctly. However, the extent to which they will be effective for you depends on a number of factors including:

  • the clarity of your offer,
  • the quality of your online course (does it get results?)
  • the demand for your course (does it solve a real problem that your customers care about?)
  • the size of your audience (it’s entirely possible to make sales with a small audience, but having a larger following obviously gives you an advantage.)
  • your ability to send traffic to your content via SEO, pay-per-click ads, YouTube, Medium, etc. (if no one knows you exist, you won’t make any sales.)
  • a sales page that converts “warm leads” into paying customers.

The term “warm leads” is marketing lingo for people who have engaged with your content in the past and are interested in purchasing the product that you are offering.

By contrast, the term “cold traffic” refers to people who are essentially strangers to you or your brand. These people may be interested in the online course that you are selling, but they aren’t ready to buy from you yet because they don’t know enough about you.

The seven marketing strategies that I’m about to share with you are designed to turn cold traffic into warm leads who are ready to purchase your online courses.

However, you will still be responsible for sending traffic to the “top of your funnel” — i.e. the initial content that you will use to promote each of these marketing assets.

Remember, you can promote your content with search engine optimization (SEO), by running ads, creating YouTube videos, writing articles on Medium, or posting to your other social channels.

Let’s dive into the strategies.

1. Email Course

The first strategy is to create an “email course” that transitions into a sales sequence after five to seven days.

An email course is simply a series of messages that are designed to educate your potential customer about the topic or problem that your online course solves.

The goal here is to use a combination of personal stories, case studies, facts, or tutorials to show your customer that you understand their issue and that you have a solution that will work for them.

It also helps to boost the “know, like, and trust” factor that is essential for making sales.

Your email course could help your prospect take the first couple of steps toward achieving their ultimate goal or it could give them a bird’s eye view of the step-by-step process that you teach in your premium course.

Once you have completed your five to seven-day educational email series, send a follow-up series of three to five sales emails.

Studies have shown that most people will procrastinate when given long deadlines to take action. Therefore, if you include a short deadline for enrolling in your course, more people are likely to purchase on the last day or two of your email sales sequence.

One caveat to this is that email courses tend to work best with lower-priced programs. This may be a great strategy to try if your course is priced between $49 and $199.

2. Challenges

There’s nothing quite like a challenge to get people to pay attention to your message and take start taking action towards their goals. That’s exactly why challenges are so effective for selling online courses.

The key here is to set a length of time to complete a specific goal or task. I’ve seen marketing challenges range from 5 to 30 days.

For example, “Create Your Course Outline in the Next 5 Days,” would be a great marketing challenge for someone who is selling a course about how to create online courses.

Each day during the challenge you can provide educational instruction via live or recorded video, an action step for the participants to complete, and an opportunity to ask questions or engage with the group.

At the end of the challenge, your participants have made real progress toward a larger goal, they trust you to be their guide, and they are ready to take the next step by purchasing your full online course.

Since challenges are so immersive and captivating, they are a great way to sell higher-priced courses. Consider creating a challenge for your audience if your online course or group coaching program is priced between $299 and $997+.

3. Webinars

You might have heard the rumor that “webinars don’t work.” But I’m here to tell you that they are alive and well in 2020.

In fact, multi-million dollar course creators like Amy Porterfield have been using webinars religiously for over a decade to sell online courses. I would know — I’ve watched them all.

Some marketers have tried to cleverly rebrand the tired old term “webinar” by calling them “free masterclasses”, “workshops” or “live training,” but most of them still use the same old webinar formula that Russel Brunson outlined in his book, Expert Secrets.

In a nutshell, a webinar usually starts off with a personal story that establishes your authority to teach on the topic of the “masterclass.” This also helps to create a personal connection with the audience.

Next, you’ll share three to five teaching points. If you’re following the “Expert Secrets” formula, these would be the “three secrets” that you share about your industry or topic.

This is supposed to make your audience feel like they learned something or got something of value rather than merely sitting through a 90-minute sales pitch.

Once you’ve delivered your teaching points, the webinar transitions from an educational event to a sales pitch. This is where you introduce your online course and frame it as a continuation of the free training that your participants just sat through.

Webinars can be live or pre-recorded. However, if you are going to pre-record your “masterclass,” please do not try to trick people into thinking that you are delivering it live.

This is a disturbing trend that I see all the time in the online course space. People do this because live webinars tend to convert better. However, your viewers aren’t stupid and when they catch on that you’ve lied to them you’ll lose their trust and the sale.

Pre-recorded webinars are a great way to create an automated funnel to sell your online course. All you really need is a video presentation, a sales page, and email marketing software.

You don’t need to buy expensive software that makes them wait until a specific date or time to watch your presentation. If someone is interested in hearing what you have to say right now, let them watch before they get bored and move on to something else.

4. Video Series

The next strategy is the four-part video series. This is a marketing strategy that was allegedly created by the well-known internet marketer, Jeff Walker.

This is simply a series of videos that are released every other day over the course of six to seven days.

It’s basically a pre-recorded webinar that has been chopped up into three or four video segments and delivered via email or inside of an online course platform.

The first three videos are usually educational in nature and the fourth video delivers the sales pitch.

There is usually a three to five-day email sales sequence that follows the final video in the series that highlights the benefits of the course as well as a deadline to enroll in the course.

Personally, I’m not convinced that a multi-day video series is more effective than a webinar. Most people have very limited attention spans these days and are not likely to click on all of your emails or watch all your videos.

As obsessed as I am with studying other people’s marketing funnels, I find that even I have a difficult time following along with most multi-part video series.

I’d rather create a shorter webinar that contains only the most important information that my prospects need to know and let them have immediate access to it. That’s just my opinion. You can take it or leave it.

5. Mini-Course Funnel

The fifth strategy is the mini-course funnel.

The idea here is to create a free “sample” course which could simply be a lesson or two that you pull out of your premium course. It could also be an overview of the step-by-step process that you teach in your paid course.

At the end of the mini-course, you can make an offer to upgrade to the full course. This works even better if you offer a time-limited discount or coupon code.

In a lot of ways, this is very similar to a webinar. You’re providing free content upfront, then making a sales pitch. However, for some reason, it feels less gimmicky.

I always try to make sure that my mini-courses are valuable in their own right. While I am making an offer at the end, the student should come away with additional clarity on the topic or be one or two steps closer to achieving their goal.

I also like to host my mini-courses inside the same online course platform that I use for my premium courses. I think this gives the student a better overall experience with my brand and gives them a real taste of what they can expect if they enroll in my premium courses.

6. Consultation Call

The sixth strategy for selling online courses that I’m starting to see more often is the use of a free consultation call to qualify clients.

Course creators who are using this strategy will offer a free PDF or short video presentation to give an overview of their offer. At the end of the PDF or presentation, they include a call-to-action to schedule a free consultation or coaching call.

The stated objective of the call is to give the customer “free coaching” and also to see if they are a good fit to work together. However, this call is merely a sales call in disguise.

Once the client schedules a call, they are usually given an intake form to fill out. Here, they’ll describe what problems or challenges they want the course creator to “help” them with during the call.

What this really does is give the course creator information about the psychology and desires of the potential client which they can use to craft a personalized sales pitch before the call.

Typically, this strategy is used with higher-priced online courses and programs that have a coaching or “done-for-you service” element.

7. Amazon Book Funnel

The last online course sales strategy that I’m starting to see creators use more frequently is the Amazon book funnel.

What many people don’t realize is that Amazon is a search engine unto itself. Each day there are hundreds of thousands of searches for books on every topic imaginable.

The best part is that when someone is searching for information on Amazon, they are willing to pay for it, which means that they are likely more willing to pay for a course if they believe it’s valuable.

The goal here is to create a short to mid-length nonfiction book (50 to 150 pages) that is relevant to your topic or niche.

Before the book’s introduction, include a section called “Free Gift,” “Book Bonuses” or something to that effect. Here, you’ll give the prospect a link to additional free content that essentially gets them on your email list.

From there, you can use any of the strategies that we have already covered above.

At the end of the book, you can include an offer with a coupon code for your full course. However, I would not put this at the beginning of the book as it may turn off your readers.

You want people to sign up for your free marketing materials and read your book first. This helps them build a connection with you and gets them invested in your work which will make them more receptive to purchasing your course as the next step.

Conclusion

I’ve covered seven different marketing tactics that you can use to sell online courses. Each of these tactics is designed to turn cold traffic into a warm lead that is ready and willing to buy your online course.

Any of these tactics can work. One is not necessarily better than another. In fact, all of them have similar elements such as providing value or education to your prospects before asking for a sale.

These tactics can be used alone or layered upon one another.

However, none of these tactics will work if you don’t have a few essential items in place, such as:

  • a topic that is in demand,
  • a clear offer,
  • a quality product,
  • a traffic source, and
  • a sale page that converts.

If your sales strategy is not producing the results that you have hoped for, you need to take a look at each of these elements and work to diagnose your weaknesses.

All marketing can be improved through consistent testing and optimization.

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Krystal Wascher

Written by

Attorney with a dozen side hustles. I write about freelancing, creating online courses, and YouTube → https://bit.ly/38o6Jih

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

Krystal Wascher

Written by

Attorney with a dozen side hustles. I write about freelancing, creating online courses, and YouTube → https://bit.ly/38o6Jih

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

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