Sales is a Numbers Game: Are You Adding to the Number That Counts?

Every day I hear about failed launches or sales droughts and I want to help. But, most often, these “failures” are the result of lax lead generation and capture.

The biggest misstep I see in microbusiness is making email list-building a secondary priority. There is nothing more crucial to the success of your business than a list of engaged, qualified, and interested prospects.

This is true whether your business is based on a customized services or whether your business is offering more leveraged solutions through programs or applications. It’s true whether you’re creating work on a commission basis or whether your products are sold to wholesale clients.

Unless you have a multimillion dollar advertising budget, you need to prioritize getting email addresses from great prospects.

Every business needs a prospect list and the best (and most trustworthy) prospect list you have at your disposal is the list of people who have deigned to give you their email addresses.

Sales is a numbers game: and here's the number that counts.

List building is important because sales is a numbers game.

Let’s do the math:

I recently completed a launch of a high-end group coaching program. I offered it first to a group of 130 on an interest list and then opened it to my main list, which at the time was approximately 5600 subscribers strong.

We registered 3 from the original interest list. That’s a 2.3% conversion rate on the list. Pretty good.

The other 12 registrations came from the main list. That’s a .2% conversion rate. While it looks abysmal, it’s actually pretty good, too.

The interest list averaged over a 50% open rate on the promotional emails. That’s pretty par for the course when it comes to people who opt in to learn about something specific. Since the change in Gmail inboxes, I’ve been averaging approximately a 29% open rate for emails to my general list.

Think about that. On the best performing email to the interest list, 88 people learned the program was open and 62 people click through to the offer. An offer like this isn’t likely to get better than a 1% conversion rate. That means I could expect about .6 people to register based on the interest group alone!

For the main list, the main direct sales email had a 30% open rate and a 4.1% click thru rate. That means 232 people saw the offer that day. So I could expect another 2.3 registrations.

Great, I’m up to almost 3 whole people!

In the end, we had 15 registrations on this program. We generated about $40,000 in revenue. So, clearly, I had more than almost 3. But the point is simply: with a list of 5,600 prospects, an engaged readership, and solid conversion, I just filled this program. I’m incredibly pleased with the results and the position we’ll be in when the program launches again in February.

But it could have gone very differently.

For another example, when I launched The Art of Growth in January, my announcement email received just over a 40% open rate and a click rate of almost 11%. That means that, from my list, 537 people saw the offer that day. I sold 48 copies on the first day and 134 total over the next 3 weeks. That was a 2.6% conversion rate based on the list size. Though, that also included social media traffic.

You will likely find people who have rocked 100 conversions on a 1,000 person list. Or filled their client roster with a list of 200. And that’s fantastic. But if you’re looking for the ease & scalability of a solid launch, I think you need to count on a different numbers game.

You should figure on 40% open rate, a 10% click rate, and a 2% conversion rate on your offer for an engaged email list. Which means to get 20 sales, you need to drive 1,000 views of the offer, over the course of several emails from a list of several thousand. And, frankly, that’s optimistic.

For a lower priced, highly targeted offer, you might get a better conversion rate. For a higher priced offer, you’ll need more.

These are the kinds of numbers I use with clients to help them set sales goals. But it’s more important to set list-building goals before the sales cycle starts. If you really want to get 20 sales, how many people do you have to have on your list? 500? 1000? More?

I know, this all might be very depressing to those who are just starting out, those who feel like list-building is akin to dental work, and those who just feel like it should be working by now.

I get it. But please don’t be depressed, take action. Re-prioritize. Set goals. And do it now. Don’t wait any longer or pretend you can half-ass this. Because you can’t.

Now, what I’m not saying is that everyone needs to build a 10,000 or 50,000 subscriber list. On the contrary, I believe you need to build a list that is appropriate to the type of business you run.

If you run a business focused on volume, where selling more means making more money and working less, you need to grow as big of a list as possible that is also focused, engaged, and ready to buy.

But if you run a business that is geared to 1:1 service, customized solutions, or commissioned work, you need to grow a list that supports one sale at a time, understanding that your kind of clients don’t necessarily jump when you “launch.” You’ll use your list to nurture leads and keep them warm until both of you are ready to work together.

Either way, a constant focus in any business is lead generation, ahem, list-building. Click to tweet!

And when I mentioned to Stephanie that I was working on this post, she asked me to address the question of “stalled” list growth. I think this is something every business will encounter. Things are going along swimmingly, maybe you’ve let success lull you into a dream world where everything is just “easy” now… and then you realize you don’t have any prospects. And your list is no bigger than the last time you made an offer.

So how do you jump-start your list growth? How do you attract new leads after a fallow period?

Of course, these answers work for jump-starting the start of a list, as well.

1) Attract the right people.

Consider the direction you’re taking your business. Are you looking for more of the same? (The answer may be “yes, please!” It’s not a trick question.) Are you moving from 1:1 services to scaled offers? Are you looking to shift the perception of your brand? Focus on a product you’ve been working on? Honing in on a new market segment?

Trust me, you don’t want anyone & everyone on your list. Even if your goal is scale, it just doesn’t make sense. Having the “wrong” people on your list skews your data, undermines your understanding of what your customers need from your business, and misdirects your marketing. Yes, the “wrong” people will unsubscribe. But if you’re too busy trying to please them, the “right” people will unsubscribe first.

If you’re using an incentive to attract prospects to your list, make sure that incentive is something people who want (and need) to pay for your services actually want. Taking that idea quite literally, I updated my own email list incentive 2 months ago to The Perspective Map. It’s actually the tool that my clients & I use most often, with the greatest impact, in our work together. Since I want more of the same clients, offering this tool as an optin incentive makes a lot of sense.

Since I introduced The Perspective Map as my incentive in July, I’ve added over 650 subscribers to my list. I know those people are the right people because the landing page for the Map is designed with their specific problems, specific goals, and specific perspective in mind. It’s kind of the point of the whole thing, really…

That means that when I re-launched my coaching program last month, I knew that 650 had not seen that offer. In addition to people who had been considering it from May, I could count on a certain percentage of new people being interested. The Perspective Map was designed to make the most impact on business owners who were right for this offer, too.

2) Get focused.

At this point, I hope you can see just how important list-building is to your business. Even if your goal isn’t volume, if instead you’re aiming for a steady stream of leads for more 1:1 or specialized services, list-building ensures that you can spend less time and energy on sales.

So is the focus of your website building your list? Do you have a way to focus traffic from interviews, media appearances, and in-person gigs onto your list? Is your call-to-action focused on the story that is growing your business?

No, I didn’t think so.

It takes surprisingly little to redirect the focus of your activities onto list-building. You just need to make the intention to do so.

Start by creating a landing page for your optin form. This is a page that’s one & only focus is getting people on your list. Whether you’re espousing the benefits of receiving your weekly emails or sharing what your prospects will learn in your free optin incentive, this page is designed to “sell” your list. It’s like a sales page where the only cost is an email address.

Therefore, it has a similar format. In a recent podcast with Derek Halpern, Mike Del Ponte shared a great framework for any sales letter. You can use this as a cheat sheet for creating this kind of page. He breaks it down into 4 P’s: Promise, Picture, Proof, Pitch.

Check out my email list landing page and you’ll see this basic framework in action. The Promise is in the headline; I suggest that you really can know exactly what your customers are thinking. I describe the Picture from both the before and the after side of things through a series of bullet points. I offer the proof that this is my “go-to tool,” that my work has been featured in a number of high-profile publications, and that a very satisfied customer had something super nice to say about it. And finally, the Pitch is the call-to-action in the optin form.

But I don’t stop at the landing page, the main “action area” of my website is a graphic that advertises my list. All of my bios have been rewritten to direct people here. And it’s the first thing I talk about when I get a chance to tell people where to find more of my ideas when I do an interview.

You might need to refocus the main action of your site on list-building by moving your optin form from the footer to the header or creating a feature area between your logo and the main content. But there is almost no good reason why making a big play for a prospects email address isn’t the best thing you can do.

3) Pay for leads.

Who pays for advertising in the age of social media?

I do.

I’m busy. I don’t like to work all day. I haven’t had the itch to do much in terms of guest posting, telesummits, or even networking lately. So I’ve been driving traffic to my email list landing page through paid advertising.

In the past, I’ve advertised (always free incentives, never paid products) on blogs that fit the audience I’m aiming to attract. But lately, I’ve been buying advertising at Facebook. First, to build up my new Facebook page (I’m late to the party). And second, to gain exposure for my email list incentive.

A hearty portion of the 650 subscribers I’ve added in the last eight weeks has been through this paid campaign.

There’s little point in paying for leads if you don’t have “Attract the right people,” and “Get focused,” down first. But once you do, paying for leads can free up your time, boost your list growth, and bring in the kind of prospects you need to keep your revenue streams humming.

It should also be noted that advertising and social media can work hand in hand. By making sure my optin incentive speaks to my Most Valued Customer and that it’s free training they’re going to want to talk about, I ensure a bigger return on investment through word-of-mouth. I also work in social sharing (like Click to Tweet) to the product page for my incentive.

Bonus: 4) Stick to one thing.

One of the best things you can do for keeping that list growing, getting people to talk about it, and continuing to get open & click rates that drive sales is to stick with one thing per email.

Often, marketers try to jam too much stuff into each email. That decreases the frequency with which they’re willing to send emails, de-incentivizes them toward list-building, and reduces the relative value of each email to their readers. That’s a recipe for disaster, my friends.

When my clients and students switch to one-thing-per-email, they are more excited about emailing their prospects, more focused on building their list, and their readers are happier with each email. And that’s a recipe for success.

As you might have noticed if you’re a subscriber, I send out each & every one of my blog posts as the main focus of the vast majority of my emails. Most of the time it’s the full text of the article and sometimes it’s a teaser or special intro with a link to the article. But the focus is always the article.

I often add a promotional block beneath the article for a workshop, a teleseminar, a program, or a product. I think of those as “reminders,” not the core of my sales process.

When I’m ready to really sell something, I send out a dedicated email.

As an aside, another problem I see with “failed” launches is that the business owner never sent dedicated sales emails to their prospects. You can’t expect to sell if no one knows you have something for sale.

What will you do today?

I trust I’ve made the case for making list-building one of your chief priorities. It’s time to stop saying it’s on your list and time to start doing something about it.

What will you do today to jumpstart your list growth? Tell me in the comments.

Why Don’t More People Buy What I’m Selling?

You’ve got a great product. So why don’t more people buy it? Many of my clients come calling because they’ve had the scare of a launch that didn’t preform to their expectations. It’s not because their plans were bad. Nor was it that the product design was subpar. It might not even be that the messaging or positioning was off.

Often, it’s because the wham-bam-thank-ya-ma’am style launch that everyone from that super successful life coach to the latest iPhone wonder app developers make look highly effective is actually the wrong choice for most new products or programs. There are lots of people out there who would buy your product–if only they heard about it the right way at the right time.

And what you don’t know is…

That blitzkrieg-style launch is actually the final iteration of careful planning, testing, and incremental sales cycles.

Why not everyone buys what you launch right away


Why is this important?

Sure, planning and testing is always a good idea. But really, the reason the initial stages of introducing a new product, program, or service to the public is that there are 3 kinds of good customers and you need to sell to each differently. And that means the majority of your potential customers won’t buy the first time you launch something or because of the same messaging you’d use to get that first round of customers.

To get more people to buy what you’re selling, you’ve got to adapt your marketing and sales approach to each segment.

Moreover, you must sell to each in their own way in the right order.

Stages of Customer Development

Image from The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development


Early Adopters

Early adopters, by nature, want the dirt on the newest things to hit the market. They want to try it, experiment with it, offer suggestions, be a part of the process. “New” and “innovative” are value-adds in and of themselves. Early adopters will work to figure out what untapped benefits are buried within a new product.

These are the people who waited in line for the very first iPhone.

Early Majority

The Early Majority are interested in being ahead of the curve with new ideas but aren’t willing to suffer the kinks & quirks of an untested product. They rely on others to test drive a product but then happily buy what is new and trendy.

These are the people who waited in line for the 3rd generation iPhone.

Late Majority

The Late Majority wants what is standard. They don’t want to look like they’re lagging behind but have no interest in being ahead of the curve. They’re happy to buy a product, as long as it has reached a certain ubiquity in the conversation.

These are the people who waited to buy a high definition DVD player until BluRay beat out HD-DVD.

For more on this, check out the book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development.

What does this have to do with your launch?

If you create a shock & awe launch without first selling to your Early Adopters, those Early Adopters won’t buy because they’ll shy away from something that is aimed at the Majority of the market. The Early Majority will be nervous that there isn’t a proven track record for the product. And the Late Majority? Well, you can only imagine how nervous they’d be.

The key to a truly successful launch (over time) is to sell to the natural buying habits of each segment of your market.

Introduce the Early Adopters to a beta version of your product. Offer a limited number of first edition products, seats in a new program, or spots on your service calendar. Let them know why they’re getting the first word (you value their opinion, you’re looking for testers, you want to reward them for their loyalty, etc…) and invite them to buy.

Once those Early Adopters have had their way with your new idea, you can open sales to your Early Majority. They’ll want to see testimonials from Early Adopters and hear about the actual results that group got. They also want to hear a bit about the process you used to create the product and why you’re bringing it to market now.

Finally, the Late Majority will be ready to buy. They don’t want to know about your process or your inspiration; they just want what everyone else is buying. They’ll happily listen to the Early Majority recommend your product. Demonstrate that your product is “standard” and reach out to new markets.

How do I take advantage of these market segments?

Taking advantage of each market segment is a matter of, you guessed it, segmentation. You need to be able to segment your audience by their buying habits so that you can present your offer in different ways as you go.

You might be able to hand pick a group of Early Adopters to sell to via social media or your email marketing service. Just remember that your Early Adopters are probably brand evangelists but not every brand evangelist is an Early Adopter. Many brand evangelists are not customers at all but simply people who buy into your vision and want to see your business or ideas succeed. Early Adopters are the ones who actually buy.

So when you’re picking that initial group, concentrate on people who have purchased something from you recently. Look to your last launch and target those who bought in the first wave. You can also identify Early Adopters in your industry or niche and invite them to try your product or service. Remember to focus the value here around what’s “new” or “innovative” about your product and why those features benefit your Early Adopters specifically. You’ll want to make sure all your messaging is focused on “invitation” instead of sales pitches, too.

Your Early Majority is found in the heart of your list. These are the people who already know, like, and trust your business; they just don’t place as high a value on buying right away. Focus the next stage of launching a new product on your internal network. Use the themes you’ve been discussing in email marketing, social media, and/or your blog to springboard this part of your launch. Affiliate marketing and most media relations aren’t very effective here so don’t spend a lot of time with this. Make a splash but keep it inside the pool, so to speak.

Your Late Majority is found outside your internal network. Here is where joint venture & affiliate marketing, as well as media relations, really work. This is when an explosive launch strategy can create big returns. With everyone talking about your “new” (ahem) thing, the Late Majority will realize your product has become standard (safe) and ready for them to give it a go.

Is there an example I can check out?

Marie Forleo‘s Rich, Happy, and Hot B-School is a great example of this in action. When that program was officially “launched,” the ideas in it were not brand new. The program incorporated elements that had been being taught to Marie & Laura Roeder’s inner circle (read: Early Adopters) for years. The Early Majority (the core of Marie & Laura’s audiences) took the program the first two years based on the fact that those Early Adopters were trusted, high profile members of the online business community.

The last two launches of the program focused heavily on affiliate marketing and brought in a whole new audience to the brand. That affiliate marketing also turned off a whole slew of Early Adopter and Early Majority community members because, while on the surface it was annoying to see the same marketing message everywhere, below the surface these segments didn’t like that the program had become “standard” and ubiquitous.

The launch of the iPhone is also similar. The first and second generation iPhones were produced in limited quantities, largely marketed to early tech adopters, and sold only through one provider. Early adopters are willing to jump through those kind of hopes to get the hot, new thing. Later generations, were marketed more openly and produced in much larger quantities. Finally the last two generations saw not only larger quantities produced but many more sales channels added to the mix. For a large segment of the smartphone market, the iPhone is standard.

What to do next

The summer is the time when many businesses are putting the final touches on new products or programs to launch in the Fall. If you’re wanting to make a big splash later in the year, this might be the perfect time to get your Early Adopters involved. Don’t keep the lid on your big project, devise a way to sell an early prototype of your product, program, or service to Early Adopters and invite them to start working with your ideas pronto.

Use their feedback to make the jump to your Early Majority in the Fall. Plan a launch that relies on internal communication and word of mouth referrals among your own community. Then, consider relaunching in the Winter, casting a wider net to catch your Late Majority.

If you’re in a different part of the sales cycle, adjust accordingly.

— PS —

If you’re looking for more strategies for launching, check out this Forbes article that featured some of my best advice on the topic. I offer ideas on why a launch didn’t go as well as it could have and what to do differently next time.


Nailing an Incremental Launch: Why It Takes Less Than You Think

I understand the power (and profitability) of a wham-bam-thank-ya-ma’am launch. But in my own business, the approach tends to be more incremental. The launch process is less orchestrated than improvised.

Just like a jazz musician has a set of chords and rhythm section to create a melody over, I have a message, a set of skills to teach, and a process for making an impact. The actual beautiful music of the launch happens when I listen closely to what’s happening around me and adjust on the fly. A blue note here, a change in rhythm there.

And, often in improvisation, “less is more.”

The key with any launch – but especially an incremental launch – is not to hit your audience over the head with spectacle & showmanship. You’ll earn many wows but few dollars. Your potential customers should not say, “Wow! That’s fascinating. Never thought of that way before. …Now what do I do with this?

Instead, you want to leave them saying, “Ooh! Gimme more!

It’s actually about editing. Your tendency is to over deliver. You want to wow your audience with the depth & breadth of your knowledge. You want to prove that you have something of value to offer. Who are you really proving it to?

So you pile it on.

And your audience is truly wowed. Blown away, even.

But then what do they do? You’ve given them ideas, but no action. You’ve given them perspective, but no results.

The goal of your launch is to not to prove that you have the goods but to demonstrate that you deliver results. The easiest way to deliver results is to pick one tiny lesson that teaches your audience something that is immediately applicable. They take that lesson, apply it to their own world/work/life, and can see the results right away.

Their results become your sales process.

Results are like sweet potato tortilla chips: you can never have just one.

Your customers are going to want more. And they’ll know where to find ’em.

If you can create one result, one distinct step forward, for your potential customers, you’ve crossed a psychological boundary. Saying “no” to your offer now feels like a loss, not an equal choice. They’ve already claimed one small outcome. To say “no” to your offer, they’re denying themselves more outcomes.

Here’s the simplest launch checklist you’ll ever find:

1) Choose a single experience that allows you to deliver a clear result.
2) Edit that experience so that your customers can apply it to their world/work/life immediately.
3) Offer that experience for free through a tutorial, ebook, teleclass, or live demonstration.
4) Explain the results your customers can expect.
5) Ask them to report back with their own results and create a system for them to do so.
6) Make your offer.

As your offer & launch evolve, you can repeat this process over & over gain. That’s why it’s an incremental launch. You can offer up many different pieces of the puzzle – each with their own distinct results – without giving away the whole picture.

That makes launching a learning process for both you & your customers. And that’s always a good bet.