How to close more leads without making them feel pressured.

If you’re new to selling online courses (or selling anything, really), you may not know what sales funnels or pipelines are, not to mention what the “buyer’s journey” is all about.

Briefly put, when a person goes to make a purchase, they pass through various stages of a sales cycle—from discovery of a product, to assessing various options, to making a final decision.

The length of time a sales prospect spends in each stage of the sales cycle varies, from very short impulse purchase to long, draw-out cycles that can take months to years for high-stakes decisions. Descriptions of the process vary, but the bottom line is that making a sale is about more than just catching someone’s attention.

It’s about informing them, showing them the benefits of your service, making the case for your product over a competitor’s, answering concerns or hesitations they might have, and finally landing the sale.

This last stage is often the trickiest. You can have a whole cohort of curious customers on the fence about singing up for your course, but still run out of business before you can convince them to take the final step.

In the past, sales processes gained a bad reputation because the pressure to close a sale can push some customers away—or make the regret their purchase even if they do buy. Recently, a lot of content marketing has focused on earlier stages of the sales process by providing leads with more information to help them feel confident about their purchases.

However, at some point you do still need to close a sale, and finding that delicate balance between a well-placed nudge and a shove that may send them running can be tricky. Here are four subtle ways to sell online courses by closing more leads.

1. Offer a payment plan.

You want to sell an online course for $1,500. That’s a lot of money, and there’s a chance that a lot of your audience won’t be willing to pay that much up front.

However, chances are, if you’re charging that much for a course, it’s the kind of course that will take a few months to complete. In that case, splitting the course into, say, 5 monthly payments of $300 each lowers the barrier to entry for learners.

Payment plans also make it easier to raise the price of your course. After all, if someone will pay $300 a month for your course, surely they’d be willing to pay $325?

There’s another added benefit to payment plans, and that is predictable revenue.

If you’re only offering your course as a one-time payment, you may never know when your next check will come in. Right now, you’re anxiously checking your revenue figures, wondering if you’ll hit your sales targets for the month, but tomorrow you could suddenly land one or two more learners! Income is hard to predict, and that makes it difficult to make smart business decisions.

On the other hand, if your $1,500 course payment is spread out over 5 months, it locks in that income stream over a reliable period. You can make better-informed business decisions, and sleep easy at night knowing what your next paycheck will look like.

2. Limit enrollment periods.

There are several good reasons to limit the enrollment period for your course. For one, if your students require more one-on-one time, or if certain course elements require group projects, limited enrollment helps regiment your classes so that they progress at similar rates.

But when it comes to closing sales, enrollment periods have the two-fold effect of creating scarcity while raising urgency.

These are similar concepts, but not entirely the same. For instance, a sale period might create urgency, but the product supply remains stable even once the sale ends. On the flip side, clearance racks are full of scarce items (growing scarcer by the day), but aren’t necessarily urgent unless there’s a sale involved.

When it comes to online course sales, it’s easy for many buyers to procrastinate. Because the course is digital and available at any time, they can keep putting the purchase off every month.

Limiting the enrollment period by either capping the class size (creating scarcity) or setting fixed term dates (urgency) shuts down this procrastinating instinct and helps close sales.

3. Create a tripwire course.

The concept of a tripwire course is fairly straightforward: offer a smaller, low-risk sale, and use that to create larger sales opportunities down the road.

If a learner has hesitations about paying top dollar for your course, tripwire content helps them get a taste of what your full course might be like.

For instance, a buyer may have questions about the quality of your course, or they may be anxious about your teaching style. A small micro course helps them assess your program so that they can judge for themselves if you’re a good fit for their needs.

Many first-time online learners also have hesitations about their time commitments, the mechanics of online learning, or their dedication to completing a course. By engaging with your tripwire course, they can grow familiar with the online format before making the full commitment.

4. Offer course tiers.

Similar to the tripwire idea, course tiers create two (or more) levels for your users to access when they sign up for your course. Typically, these would be a “basic” level and a “premium” level.

The trick with course tiers is to balance what you’re offering at each level with the pricing so that learners don’t feel ripped off.

If someone signs up for your basic course but can’t access enough features to get their money’s worth, they may feel their investment was a waste and they’ll be less likely to upgrade to premium service.

On the other hand, if the premium service doesn’t offer enough bonus features or content, your learners may feel like the upgrade isn’t worthwhile, or if they do upgrade, they may quickly revert to basic subscribers.

That said, the great advantage of a tiered course is that it allows instructors to open their courses to untapped demographics. If you started with a basic course and then found ways to upgrade it: congratulations! You’ve successfully upsold your content.

On the other hand, if you started with premium content and then found a way to sell a streamlined package, you’re now reaching wider audiences at a more affordable rate.

Always Be Closing (but don’t make your learners feel like a mark).

It’s a long-held rule that the ABC of sales is to “always be closing.” But if you’re too focused on the sale, you could lose a dedicated user for the long term, even if you win a short-term sale.

Your learners shouldn’t feel like they’re being hustled when they sign up for your course.

That’s why the best closing techniques focus on lowering the height of that final hurdle rather than raising the stakes. The purchasing decision should become easier, not more intense.

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