Issue #026

How to increase course/book completion and success rates

For most of us, the sale is often our end goal.

It's the focus of all of our onboarding, our nurturing, our meticulously tested sales pages, and the overall "customer journey" funnel.

It's also how we get paid ūüėČ

But for our customers? The sale is just the beginning...

People invest in courses, books, etc. because they want to change something. They believe, by investing, that what you're offering will help transform something about their business or their lives in a way that's better than how it is now.

But you might be surprised to hear that 90% of people who buy online courses never actually complete them.

(For lower cost / "impulse buy" products, like books, I'm sure the rate is much higher.)

And it's one thing to complete a course or read an entire book, but what about actually doing something with what you learn?

It's depressing.

Digital product success rates are often in the low single digits.

Today I'd like to make a case for increasing customer completion and success rates by leveraging a post-purchase accountability sequence.

For the last few years, I've added email follow-up sequences to my digital products and it's worked out really well:

  • Many of my customers actually go through all my material

  • A very high percentage of sales come via word of mouth (I know this thanks to¬†feedback loops¬†I've set up)

  • Testimonials largely come in on autopilot

  • Refund rates are <1%

Last month, I overhauled how I'm providing automated accountability + feedback collection for my course, Mastering ConvertKit.

Below are all the details on what I'm doing now to increase success rates, and the reasoning behind it all...

As creators, we owe it to our customers to do everything in our power to help them succeed.

Getting someone to buy a course or a book, or signing up for a membership site, that's relatively easy to do.

And all the optimisations we make to our funnels, our pitch sequences, and our sales pages do a damn good job of turning more prospects into paying customers by selling them on "the dream."

But the hard part is to turning a customer into a success story, and seeing them transform away from the pain that sold them on your product toward the solution that you promised them in your sales copy.

We should all want super successful customers

Want to know the secret to getting referrals?

Do everything in your power to help make your customers successful.

Back in my agency days (10+ years ago, now!) we quickly realised that referrals from past clients resulted in our best deals.

And we wanted more of them.

We learned that just handing over a new website or codebase didn't actually ensure success.

Yes, we technically succeeded (we built the thing they needed), but for most of our clients, this was just the beginning.

Over time, they'd need to test their website with real people. They'd need to make changes based on what they were learning on the go. And they'd need to know how to safely maintain, manage, and adapt the thing we built for them.

We started doing two things that worked really well:

  1. Every client had a series of "offboarding" meetings. We'd recommend how they should host and maintain our project, along with ensuring that they were set up for success once we were out of the picture.

  2. When we handed off a project, we'd set up a series of calendar reminders. +2 weeks out, +4 weeks out, +2 months out, etc. This would help us proactively reach out to see how our past clients were getting along and make additional recommendations + pitch different ideas based on what they were experiencing now that their project was live.

Unsurprisingly, this helped us stay top-of-mind. And it led to more referrals and follow-up work.

These ideas stuck with me after I left the agency world and started selling digital products online.

Tackling the 4 "new customer" problems that creators face

I've recently overhauled my customer accountability programme for Mastering ConvertKit, and I'd like to share with you the general outline I'm using and the thoughts behind the touch points I've set up.

Let's look at the problems that I wanted to tackle with this overhaul:

#1) Shiny object syndrome

"This is exactly where I want my business to be! Even though I'm totally slammed with a million other things, I'm going to buy this..."

Buying is easy. Doing the work is not.

The course has a bit of an adoption curve in that a customer needs to first go through what I teach, and then figure out how to apply it to their specific business, and then they actually need to do the work (e.g. setting up email automations, writing email content, etc.)

The downside to a "do-it-yourself" online course is that someone can't just pay me money and I give them exactly what they need. However, many customers ‚Ästwhether they know it or not ‚Ästoften believe it's as easy as that.

What I don't want is for customers to buy my stuff and never actually log in to the courseware. I want to provide additional context that's officially¬†outside¬†of my courses that get customers to think about how they could apply what I teach to their own unique needs ‚Ästwhile also encouraging customers to hop over to specific lessons and internalise what I'm trying to teach them.

The fix:

Create an accountability programme that serves as a "virtual course club." After someone buys, a regular series of emails will go out that go through each module and lesson. These emails will provide additional context into what I cover in the course, and provide hot links directly to various lessons + resources.

#2) Dead communities

This is something I'm still trying to figure out.

I realise that creating a free Facebook group and adding customers to it != "community", but for many of us ‚Ästespecially course creators ‚Ästthis is sort of par for the course. The pros have full-time community managers... I, uh, don't ūüėÄ

For self-study / evergreen courses (where people can join at any time), it can be a bit of a challenge to try to find ways to add new students to a course and find a way to get them to nicely integrate with the existing community.

The fix:

After I've introduce a module or concept in my accountability programme, I want to find ways to get people to publicly apply what I've taught and share it with me / the community.

Every week, customers receive an automated email that encourages them to go and share something specific with the community.

And because these emails are sent relative to when someone bought, the hope is that throughout the week we'll see new threads about list growth... pitch copy optimisation... segmentation... etc.

My hope is that this will help inject fresh content and ideas into the group. A few of the tasks are me asking people to publicly commit to something, while others (like the below example) are designed to get people to solicit ideas from the community.


#3) A lack of qualitative feedback

I like data, and I track¬†everything¬†‚Ästincluding how people watch my video lessons, what modules are most completed (and which aren't), and so on.

But this data, while important, doesn't provide a complete picture:

  • Why are people actually buying?

  • What, if anything, almost held them back from joining?

  • What do people specifically hope this course will help them achieve?

  • (After a few weeks) What have they done with what I've taught? And do they have any interesting work-in-progress results to share?

  • (After a while longer) What material difference has this course made in their business?

The fix:

I've introduced regular touch points (after someone's bought, +1 month in, +2 month's in, +3 month's in) that are designed to start email discussions between my customers and I.

This is a unique superpower those of us who sell directly have vs. creators who sell on platforms (Amazon, Udemy, etc.)

Because I have the email address of every buyer, I can send highly personal emails and "reply and tell me..." call-to-actions that lead right back to my inbox, the author/creator.

(I can't remember ever getting an email from Stephen King asking what I thought after buying his latest off Amazon! ūüėā)

Here's how I've modeled out the email that I'm sending to customers a month after buying Mastering ConvertKit (taken from my internal playbook):

I've done this over the years across pretty much all of my products, and I have to say... this is such a great way to capture testimonials and success stories on autopilot.

For every customer who takes the time to send you an unsolicited "you rock! thanks for helping me" email ‚Ästimagine how many other lives you've helped transformed without actually knowing it?

#4) "Here's how I can help in other ways" context

I've always been a bit reluctant to upsell or cross-sell paying customers.

If someone bought something of mine, awesome. Statistically, there's a strong change that they'll eventually buy other stuff of mine ‚Ästbut I don't want to pressure them, especially in a follow-up accountability sequence.

But I've had a lot of MCK customers who have written in asking if I can recommend anyone to help them implement specific things I teach, especially around Liquid templating. (Some have even asked if that's something I could be hired to do for them.)

...So why haven't I sent out dedicated emails to customers with recommendations for Done-For-You or Done-With-You options?

And why don't I point out the obvious, like that my new Creator Email Template Pack works really well alongside the theory and strategy packed into Mastering ConvertKit.

The fix:

A little bit of conditional templating can ensure that I'm not promoting any of this to people who already own these other products, and can help someone who's already already paid me to help make their business better optionally pay me a bit more to double down.

I've wired up additional messaging in my automation ‚Ästusually as P.S. includes at the footer of accountability emails, and sometimes as dedicated emails ‚Ästthat's designed to help people go beyond just consuming and acting on¬†Mastering ConvertKit:

  • A dedicated email promo for the Template Pack ‚Ästhighlighting how the templates and widgets within the Pack directly complement the course (i.e. the lessons on list growth ‚Üí the Referral Area widget)

  • CTAs in the accountability emails on Liquid templating and advanced automation that make it clear that I know automation experts who can help them implement what I teach. While I don't get any sort of kickback or anything in matchmaking, if there's enough demand I could possibly put together some sort of email automation agency.

  • As I roll out new workshops and micro-courses that are beyond the scope of what¬†Mastering ConvertKit¬†teaches, I'll promote those where it makes sense.