The Marketing Behind Our Million-Dollar Online Course

The Marketing Behind Our Million-Dollar Online Course

In 2013, I didn’t know what to do at AppSumo.

Business was flat, and doing online deals was fine…

But we wanted to have MORE CONTROL over revenue (since deals can be so fickle).

Over the years I got asked regularly how we built AppSumo into a 7-figure business.

Online courses were getting popular at the time — so we decided to create a course about how we grew.

The goal was to help diversify AppSumo’s income and help people grow their own business.

Pro Tip: If you’re struggling with what course to start, just think about what you’re tired of explaining to people or which specific advice people routinely ask you.

Caveats:

  • This article is NOT about how we started and improved our course. This is focused mostly on how we were able to promote the course. Our course isn’t even for sale anymore. 😛
  • When creating a course focus 100% on the success of the customer. I cared so f*ing much about that. This post is going to share the marketing strategies and tactics that worked for us to reach customers. for when you create your course.

Here are the major ways we drove sales for our million-dollar course:

1. Clear goal for your course. Our goal was 3,333, which meant we generated $1 million in sales.

If I had to do it over I would measure it by number of people who completed a certain action that makes a customer successful.

For example, the number of people who get 1 customer instead of just sales. Aligning your goal with the customer goal helps grow your business faster and more successfully in my opinion.

Total sales

Example of our dashboard.

2. SumoJerky.com

I emailed our audience saying I’ll prove I can start a profitable business within 24 hours and YOU get to choose which one. AND I couldn’t use my email list or existing audience to “cheat” when starting the business.

The top 3 picks for the type of business I should start were lemonade, beef jerky, and hot sauce. I decided to do jerky because I personally love it.

Within 24 hours, I sold $3,000 in total jerky sales with $1,000 in profit.

Then, I shared the story of how I did it with our audience.

Sumo Jerky

The jerky website.

People were blown away. So was I. Doing a real example showed we knew what we were talking about to make a business.

And showing a business we did recently was more convincing than talking about businesses we built a long time ago. People want to see NEW things.

Using SumoJerky as a real case study worked to sell not only beef jerky… it sold literally thousands of our course.

Why? I proved the material we were teaching in the course worked.

3. Facebook ads. Duh. We targeted Tim Ferriss specifically, and did retargeting to people who visited the site. We used different ads if you visited the checkout page, too.

When the price is over $100, it’s generally not an impulse buy. People need to see your message and be convinced many, many times.

Monthly1K ads

An example ad.

 

Monthly1K ads

More example ads that displayed in different places on Facebook.

4. Landing Pages. Most people are NOT ready to buy a course at the exact moment you are selling it. One way to solve that is to “warm” them up to the idea and getting ready to buy.

We bought ads on lifehacker.com and other sites. This would go to a landing page and there was no sell — just an opportunity to join our mailing list.

After you gave your email address, we would we would email you actionable tips, advice… and eventually ask you to buy.

Landing page

Landing page image.

5. Sponsored newsletters. Another type of ad we did was more niche sponsorship in email newsletters.

The newsletters work. Anytime you can do marketing directly and NOT in a marketplace (i.e. Facebook Ads, Google, reddit) you are more likely to get a better price (less competitive).

Here’s example of an email we sent:

subject: The results of the 24-Hour Business Challenge

subheader: What would YOU do with 24 hours, some beef jerky, and a mission to make $1,000?

body:On Tuesday, I started the 24-Hour Business Challenge to show you that there's no reason you can't start your business today

I challenged myself to make $1,000 in less than 24 hours, and let you pick which business I would do.

Well, I started from the bottom, and now I’m here ...

[image of results]

Now I’m going to show you exactly how I did it.

This is based on the framework for starting a business that we teach in our How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business course.

The top voted comment said that I could pick any business from the comments but that I couldn’t use my available networks of AppSumo/OkDork to promote this. Game on.

The 3 most interesting businesses y’all suggested were: lemonade, salsa of the month, and beef jerky.

The BEST way I’ve found to start a business is to solve your own problem.

I already spend about $100 - $200 a month on jerky and would love to try new and delicious jerky. Boom, let’s do this.

First off, I started finding a domain name, obviously (wantrepreneur style).

Tip: Search “godaddy” online and then click their ad to get a domain for only 99 cents.

Literally spent around 3 minutes deciding with the team to call it “Sumo Jerky” after everybody vetoed noahsajerk.com.

A common pitfall is people over-thinking their name when they’ve made no profit. People just want the solution and could care less what you’re called.

Then spent 2 minutes to whip up this ghetto site:

[image of landing page]

After the name was decided I tried to sell to my co-workers at AppSumo. They didn’t just hand over their money 🙁

A few key questions I used in helping figure out what it would take to get them to give me money:
How often do you eat jerky?
Where and how do you decide to buy your jerky?
What would make you pay for jerky right now?
What’s your hesitation in not buying right now?

These questions helped me see that they preferred not to think about the jerky they buy. They like it cause it’s a healthy snack and are open to trying a variety of snacks.

Tip: When selling, a key thing is to get to the root of the rejection and see if you can solve that.

One potential customer specifically said the value in this business would be: “that I get to try new ones without even thinking.”

After getting a general idea of what I was going to sell (healthy special jerky of the month), I went to the gym and figured I’d hit the goal pretty easily when starting in the morning.

But while reading Fifty Shades of Grey Book 2, I got anxiety about failing you and had to get out of bed at midnight to work on the idea. So here’s what I did:

1. I made a basic budget so I could work backwards to see what amount of sales I would need to do to hit $1,000.

Download my budget sheet.

One of the most insightful things from this was the margins are small so I decided to aim for selling 3-month plans vs. just 1 month of jerky.

2. I made a customer avatar to help me sort through who to contact the following day. If you know WHO your customer is, then finding WHERE they are is much easier.

Who I decided to go for:
Offices for healthy snacks
Young professionals who already eat healthy

3. Then I did quant-based marketing (mapping out my sales/marketing numerically) to plan out how I would hit the # of sales I would need to reach $1,000 in profit. The idea here is if you can plan on who you’re going to reach out, it makes your day MUCH easier.

Download my quant-based spreadsheet.

I updated the sheet during the day so I can see what’s working and what’s not, then adjust in real-time which sales activities to focus on.

Then I started reaching out to some of the people I thought would be ideal customers.

Here’s the script I sent to the first person:

[image of script]

I then posted on Facebook and Twitter to my friends. ANYONE who said they were interested I immediately directly messaged.

[image]

I went down my list of people/offices and sales were slowly trickling in, whew. Feeling a bit better but SO much further to go.

Then I realized I should ask for referrals (d'oh, forgot about this). A key thing is to make referrals EASY for the other person to do.

1. Here’s the email I provided for people to forward to friends:

Hey Guys

Hope you're all doing insanely well.

A good buddy of mine is starting a neat service to send 1 amazing bag of beef jerky every month.

I signed up for $20 / month for 3 months (which is enough jerky for every day). It's only $0.67 a day for some good snacking...

He's only taking a certain amount of people for this first run. Thought I'd hook y'all up.

Who else is in?

Keep it real.

-Anton

Ps. Any of you work in offices or know of offices who buy snacks? This is perfect for that.

2. Here’s what I provided for people to post on Facebook:

Attention Beef Jerky Fans! My buddy Noah is launching a beef subscription jerky service. He is crazy and so are you for loving beef jerky. Check it out: http://sumojerky.com/

Went to sleep around 2 AM and got back up at 7ish to get on it ...

I searched my Facebook graph for people who like paleo, health or jerky. I had a few friends and messaged them.

[image]

Once sales started happening, I began asking people who they think I should talk to.

Tip: One of my FAVORITE email subject lines to use: “Referred by (person they trust)”

9 hours later after barely eating, 4 large amounts of caffeine and working harder than I have in a long time ... here's what I ended up with:
$3,030 in total revenue
$1,135 in profit (BOOYAH BABY!)

Dang, I am surprisingly tired. Whiskey and taco time for me 🙂

Future ways I can grow this business:
Look up office managers on LinkedIn and spend time seeing who knew them.
Give away samples to offices for them to have a great experience and then sign them up. A great way to get in the door and meet people
Get jerky companies to give away jerky in exchange for all the promotion they are getting to the buyers.

Really fascinating take-aways during this process:
1. Real-time communication (skype, gtalk, texting, phone-calls) wins. This was the most effective way in selling vs more passive forms (emails, Facebook/Twitter posts).

2. Ask for referrals. If someone isn’t interested, ask who is. If someone is interested, just ask for 1 person who else they think will like it. I incentivized this with an extra month of jerky with any successful referral.

3. Downsells work. If someone didn’t want 3 months which helped me with my goal, I asked if they were okay with just 1 month of jerky.

4. You can’t sell everyone. With limited time, anyone who did not eat jerky or didn’t care about high-quality specialty jerky wasn’t worth selling to.

5. Focus on what already works. Quickly, I noticed offices already order snacks AND have larger budgets to expense things (perfect).

6. Ask people what they want. If people liked a certain type of jerky already, I noted that and will just get them the kinds they like. Why guess? Work backwards from what people already want.

7. Social media is noisy. I posted twice on both Facebook/Twitter to make sure anybody who knows me has a better chance of finding my jerky. I usually assume one tweet should reach everyone, it doesn’t.

8. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to start a business. With only 24 hours and $7.99, I got this biz going. You don’t need to spend tons of money and time to validate a business.

9. The secret to success ... is work. That’s it. It’s hard and tiring but if you want it, you can do anything.

10. You’ve got to ask. I focused on people who I thought the jerky would genuinely be good for. It is a bit uncomfortable but I noticed that’s generally the case when you aren’t promoting something you believe in.

11. Build (or maintain) your network. If you complain you don’t have enough people to sell to, build it now. I noticed I hadn’t reached out to many friends in awhile. You have to tend to your “garden” or it will decay.

What it all boils down to is yourself. If you really want it and are willing to work, the lifestyle you want is available to you.

I made $1,000+ in less than 24 hours with Sumo Jerky. If you’re serious about starting a business, we want to get you started today.

With our How To Make A $1,000 a Month Business course, we give you the system, support, and framework to start your own business.

What’s stopping you from starting your business today? Join now

6. A/B tests. I hate when I see A/B tests on blog posts cause it’s vague AF.

Instead of giving you broad BS, I want to highlight 2 specific and major things that HUGELY helped us get to million dollar plus in sales.

  1. Changed the name of our course. It started off as How to Make Your First Dollar. We just assumed it was fine then we tested How to Make a $1,000 a Month Business, aka Monthly1k. This simple name change DOUBLED sales. I was surprised and reminded it’s better not to assume shit.
  2. Re-organized our site. We took every question over a month that we got asked, and put it into a spreadsheet. Then we sorted it by most frequent to least. We then re-did parts of our site by focusing on those questions, and included regular placements for people to buy on the page. This significantly increased sales.

7. Email drip series. 98% of people on websites DO NOT BUY. That means only 2% of your visitors are going to buy when they first visit.

The key to deal with this capture those people’s email address to educate them and hopefully sell them later. Use Sumo for free to capture and communicate with your customers.

Our drip series was like this:

  • Sent right away:  Here’s 5 ways you can start a business today
  • Sent 24 hours later: Case study of someone who started a business
  • Sent 48 hours later: Sales pitch about why not to join course.

8. Email about it monthly. This blows my mind. AppSumo had 500,000 subscribers at the time, and you’d THINK that with one email everyone who SHOULD buy would have bought.

Uh… NOPE.

We messaged monthly about the course to our audience. I was shocked when people bought the course after 9 months. I’m like, why didn’t you buy in January when we first mentioned?

Keep experimenting with different messages, motivations and styles. Different people get sold in different ways and at different times.

Key thing was being persistent about promoting the course in a beneficial way to your audience. Meaning every email we sent was valuable even IF the readers never bought.

9. “How I made my first dollar” (microsite). This was a hackathon project we built in 24 hours that showed how people made their first dollars at their companies.

It was a site where you could post how you got your first customer. Then we reached out to friends and posted their stories. Finally, we enabled it so anyone on the web could post and get a link back to the site. Didn’t drive a TON of sales but was a fun project.

10. Build in referrals. We BUILT marketing into our course. When you joined we made you hit up people for accountability in the course AND when you had SPECIFIC success in the course we encourage you to share that publicly.

11. Doing challenges.  When I was on podcasts, sending our emails to promote the course, or doing guest posts, I would engage the readers by saying, If you do X within 30 days I’ll personally give you something.

This got people to do the actions I said in the content, trust I knew what I was talking about, and then buy the course. Get people results INSTANTLY and they’ll LOVE you.

12. No cancelling. This is NOT as bad as it sounds. We  made everyone really explain why they want to cancel.

Then, if we could help, we made huge effort to help hem out as much as possible. I gave out my private phone number to prospective students. If we couldn’t help we would cancel, but think it’s important to see if you can help your customers before cancelling.

13. Reddit AMA. If you can do an AMA and give all the information away for free people will buy to have support to reach their goals. Especially nowadays there’s almost NO information that’s not available so what’s the value of the course?

For the most part it’s some sort of structure, people commit by paying money and you SHOULD be doing accountability.

14. Case studies. Everyone thinks they are unique. You are a special butterfly. Showcasing other people who are similar to themselves helps convince people they too could get similar results. Also people believe case studies more than you spouting out your historical accolades. I don’t think you can do ENOUGH case studies.

15. Urgency. There’s NEVER a good time to join a course. People have wives, dogs, jobs, hobbies. To motivate someone to PRIORITIZE your shit is hard. So we added and honored a monthly limit on how many people could join the course.

Each month it’d vary but between 100 to 300 people could buy the course. We did NOT reset the counter like fake ass internet marketers which means, yes, we lost out on money. But it did motivate people to make sure to join or they’d have to wait until next month.

16. Mastermind. This is how we got started and how I encourage you to do it as well. We found 6 people wanting to start a business and for $100 we spent a WHOLE day helping them start a business. This helped us really improve our material, structure and find weaknesses in our course like not having accountability for students.

17. Live chat. This is big. Most people have questions before they buy. Think of walking into a store — there are times that you want help. Live chat is like a live salesperson on your site.

This was also valuable in learning the language our customers used and the TOP questions they were asking about the course. We used both of those things in UPDATING our landing page to be more effective at selling.

18. Price. We did 1 price increase and we added 1 payment plan option. Both of these things drove urgency and motivated people to buy the course. As well the payment plan reduced the risk for people since they could buy in for $50 instead of the whole $600 course price.

19. Podcast / guest posting. I wrote blog posts and did AS MANY podcasts as humanly possible. Literally every customer counted, so if could sell one course doing something then I’d do it.

You can start doing guest posts and podcasting and then calculate what ROI for your time you need to make it worth it for you. For example, 1 guest post = 1 customer = $300 and divide that by the time it took you for that post.

20. Conference. We gave an incentive if you bought the course you could come hang out and work with us live for a day. It was around 50 people. Frankly it was a bit draining for me but customers seemed to enjoy it.

21. Affiliate partners. At $600 per sell we were able to pay out 50% to partners who referred students. This works.

22. Optimizing customer success.

The image below may make absolutely NO sense but it’s every single page in one of the sections of our course. We looked at how many students completed each page, and how long it took.

Then we took our hardest (least completed) page, and figured out with a user experience expert how to improve those pages for completion.

This made a huge difference as more people that were successful with the course did referrals and also did less refunds. The more your customers succeed, the more your business will, too.

Monthly1K pages

The breakdown of pages that we improved.

I can’t believe we did this much but the proportion of your effort SHOULD be proportional to your results. As well just think if you want to make a million dollars you need to impact a million people.

Go out and kick ass.

Challenge: Do 1 of the things above for your business. Leave a comment below letting me know how you did.

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17 responses to “The Marketing Behind Our Million-Dollar Online Course”

Mitchell Cohen
February 4, 2019 at 9:58 am

1. Relevant examples and details
2. Organized flow and clean show notes
3. Your overall authenticity

^^My top 3 reasons why I love your content. Thanks for sharing and keep on crushing!

Reply
David Gilbert
February 1, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Fascinating read Noah!

Reply
Simon
February 1, 2019 at 10:32 am

Hey Noah,
Great content as usual!
Just out of curiosity, what is the podcast player you've embeded into the article?
Many thanks,

Simon

Reply
Alex
February 2, 2019 at 3:27 am

https://www.libsyn.com/

Reply
Ryan Dixon
January 31, 2019 at 9:56 pm

Noah, will Monthly1K ever make a return?

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Rob
January 31, 2019 at 6:55 pm

Wow great post! I actually took your course back in 2013. There were alot of struggles along the way but I learned alot from your course especially about growth and also overcoming fears. Thank you so much! It was truly lifechanging. Just got a check for over 6k from a business I started From your course!

Reply
Will
January 31, 2019 at 2:34 pm

Yes. Double yes with chips. This is just what I needed to read!

Reply
Andrew
January 31, 2019 at 10:40 am

Great post. A few questions:
1) Why did you stop running this course? Since It's still there, why not keep updating and running it?
2) What is your total marketing spend as percentage of sales?
3) I enrolled in your class and I really liked the course software. What course platform did you use to create the course

Reply
Noah Kagan
February 3, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Thanks Andrew!

1- It wasn't scalable in the sense we could ONLY make the course so great. And I didn't want to keep being an educator in that way. I preferred to create the tools so people can do it themselves vs the content around it.

2- Not sure what it was but we aimed for < 30 days 100%+ ROI on the spend. 3- We custom made it and spent over a year improving it. Salary wise I think it was $500,000+ to make.

Reply
Gregory
February 3, 2019 at 8:29 pm

I think he said at the beginning that it was Teachable

Reply
Tony Tovar
January 31, 2019 at 10:07 am

Boombastic! What are you, a mind reader?

Reply
Felix Dragoi
January 31, 2019 at 9:19 am

Interesting to see just how much effort and attention you put into this. Both into the course and into this blog post.

If you'd like to share, the only unanswered question might be the emails that you sent out. How much time or effort do they require, as in copywriting quality vs speed.

Looking forward to more content like this.

~ Felix Dragoi

Reply
Shane Pollard
January 31, 2019 at 8:30 am

love it Noah. creating a safe place for people to take that leap and start a business. 4.9 taco's

Reply
Akash
January 31, 2019 at 8:22 am

This is a $1000 education in one blog post. Tip #22 is amazing and something I'll be doing in my courses. Thanks for the inspiration

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Pete
January 31, 2019 at 8:18 am

I'm glad you brought the podcast back!

Great show today! Also, I always enjoy your book reviews, so if you run out of ideas just toss out a book review. IMO your book review perspectives and personal notes about the book lessons are probably in the top 1% on the web. The Jim Rohn review is pure gold!

Take it easy, sleazy!

Reply
Mark Korom
January 31, 2019 at 8:04 am

Hi!

I do not see the comments at this point.

I would like to ask why you are stop selling the course?

Is it because it won't work anymore in this time frame or you have no time for New students?

Anyway if the course will be open any ime, Please let me know. 🙂

Cheers,

Mark

Reply
Tony
January 31, 2019 at 10:34 am

Hey Mark,

Here are my thoughts as to why that happen just based on a conversation Noah and I had about it.

I believe it was because they had met their sales goal and I believe that the course value could only be enhance in a non scale-able way like actually providing deeper coaching or 1:1 sessions which I'm sure Noah might have gotten requests for.

Reply