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Top 5 Affiliate Sales Techniques

This guest post is by the team at E-junkie.com.

Working with so many merchants and affiliates gives us a great opportunity to see what different bloggers are trying to do to generate sales of affiliate products, and over time we’ve noticed that some strategies work much better than others.

These are the top five affiliate sales techniques we’ve seen work time and time again.

1. Only promote products you’re willing to stand behind 100%.

We had one incident on our site where someone bought something from a third party, didn’t like it, and got so mad that they launched a Denial of Service attack on us!

It’s very common for us to receive emails from people who buy stuff from our merchants but get mad at us for allowing people to sell what they see as substandard products. Initially we used to tell them that this is akin to writing to Bill Gates complaining that someone who made budgeting software using Excel didn’t do a good job, but now if we get too many complaints we just get rid of the product.

We have a certain brand that gets attached to whatever is being sold using our platform, and if a product is bad, people view us negatively, even though we have nothing to do with it.

The same applies to your blog.

Your customers will see very little difference between your products and the affiliate products you sell. They’ll blame you if they don’t like the affiliate product. Only promote products you really love, and are willing to back 100%—or your readers will lose their faith in you.

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

The range of products that our merchants sell never ceases to amaze me. Recently we featured a seller whose product is poo-shaped pillows! No, that’s not a typo: these pillows are colored and shaped like poo.

You never know what will work until you try it out—many times you’ll think about something, assume it won’t work, and move on to something else. Yet the Internet makes experimentation so cheap and so easily measurable that you should give all your ideas some time before you drop them. You never know what will bring you the next million!

3. Reviews work much better for affiliate sales than buttons, widgets, or advertisements.

In Darren’s 31 Days to a Better Blog book, the exercise for Day 28 is writing a review post that includes an affiliate link.

We’ve seen this approach work much better, as far as conversions are concerned, than advertisements, widgets, or buttons on your website. You may drive a lot more traffic to your sales page using buttons, but contextual links in reviews have much better conversion rates.

4. Think of your customer service as your product.

If we see a merchant who offers first-rate customer service, we know that they’re going to be big. There’s so much commoditization in so many industries that it becomes difficult for customers to choose between products, and for merchants to be heard. Great customer service is something that easily cuts through this clutter.

Sometimes people will buy your product just because they know that you will pick up their call or answer their emails. When you put customer service on the same pedestal as your core product, you will see an attitude shift in the way you deal with your customers, and also the way they see you.

5. Don’t lose your customer at the last step.

One of our core mantras is to make our product as easy to use as possible, and we see a lot of other successful merchants do that too.

There are two key ways of doing this: simplify your product, and provide as much detailed documentation as you can on how to use it.

While there are limits to simplifying the product, you can always provide a great amount of detail on how to use your product, or how to become your affiliate.

Leo Babauta’s step-by-step directions on what to do when you want to join Zen Habits as an affiliate are a great example of what I’m talking about.

A user can walk through that whole process without any confusion, and providing such great detail can vastly improve your conversion rates. You really don’t want to lose your customer at the last step just because your instructions weren’t clear. It’s so hard to get people’s attention, and convince them to try your product. Don’t let them fail to sign up just because they can’t understand the directions on your site—that’s the last thing you want to happen.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out any of this stuff—it all makes so sense when you think about it.
The reason why affiliates and merchants fail to follow this advice isn’t because it’s hard to figure, but because execution is difficult. Doing the right thing, day in and day out, over and over for years, is what makes the difference between generating a six-figure income online, and the rest of the blogosphere.

Keep these best practices in mind—but also focus on executing them as much as you can. What tips can you add to this list?

E-junkie.com is a hosted shopping cart and digital service that lets you sell just about anything on your website, blog or social network. Our mission is to lower the barrier of entry in online selling. Our blog is about small business, e-commerce, self publishing and all the awesomeness in them. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Subscribe with us for all the action.

Your Readers Buy Products! Do You Offer Them?

Recently I gave a presentation on monetizing blogs. I talked about how developing your own products to sell to readers can be an effective way to build a blogging income.

During a question-and-answer segment of the presentation, one blogger stood up and said:

“My readers don’t want to buy products! How else can I make money?”

It was a question that I’ve heard many bloggers ask over the last year—and one I used to ask myself.

I once was afraid that if I dared develop a product and promote it to my readers, they’d push back—and push back hard. However when I bit the bullet and did produce a product, I found that my fears were unfounded.

Readers buy all the time—we all do. We buy to survive, we buy be entertained, we buy to learn, and we buy to enjoy our lives.

I asked the blogger who asked this question what topic they blogged about, and she told me that she was a travel blogger. As a group, we quickly came up with 20 or so things that people interested in travel buy (guide books, luggage, accommodation, flights, and more). Her readers were buying products all the time—she just wasn’t offering any.

Readers do buy. Many even enjoy the process and go out of their way to be sold to. My lovely wife is one example: she amazes me with the amount of time she puts into researching and buying products online (she’s an online marketer’s dream come true!).

The problem isn’t that blog readers don’t want to buy—they do!

What readers don’t want is to be annoyed.

used-car-salesman.jpgIn my experience, it’s not that you have a product to sell that turns readers off—it’s the way that you promote it that has potential to offend.

  • Readers don’t like to be tricked.
  • Readers don’t like false hype.
  • Readers don’t like bait-and-switch tactics.
  • Readers don’t like finding that they’ve bought a low-quality product.
  • Readers don’t like aggressive and intrusive selling.
  • Readers don’t like being badgered and annoyed repetitively.

I think many bloggers balk at the idea of developing a product to sell on their blogs more because they think that to sell, they’ll need to use the above tactics, and annoy their readers. We’re so used to seeing these techniques practiced by internet marketers that we think it’s the only way.

It’s not.

I love what Sonia Simone recently said in a presentation at Blog World Expo. She said, it’s not about “selling” to your readers—it’s about making them an offer.

It’s not about tricking people—it’s about producing a compelling product that meets their needs and offering it to your readers in a way that represents a win/win transaction. It’s about making the offer in a way that allows your reader comes away from the interaction in a better position whether they buy the product or not.

There’s much that can be written about how to make these kinds of offers (and in many ways, that’s why we developed Third Tribe Marketing), however I think the starting point for many bloggers is shifting their mindset.

The starting point is to realize that in most cases is’t not buying that offends people—it’s the sales techniques that annoy.

PS: Brian Clark provides a good post on offers here.

Online Marketing … Without the Arrogance

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

There are many less-respectable professions than internet marketing, but even today I get a glare—“so you’re one of those guys”—when I’m introduced to someone for the first time.

For many, the word “marketing” conjures images of people whose sole job is to convince others to spend money they don’t have on products they don’t need, using every tactic possible—no matter how sneaky. The business owners I speak to all the time consciously ignore all forms of marketing because of this.

But I’m here to tell you that you can be a marketer without being a die-hard, arrogant salesman, and the secret is simple: you just need to know where the lines are.

Silence or the megaphone?

You or your product may be the very best, most valuable product in the marketplace, but if you sit in the corner in silence, no-one will ever know your name. On the flip side, if you stand in that corner on a box, and scream how awesome you are into a megaphone, everyone will remember you—but as that irritable person who just wouldn’t shut up!

The secret here is engagement. Be ready to start or join a conversation, and be prepared to listen as much as you contribute. Engagement is a two-way street, and it requires you to get out of your cave not just for face-to-face conversations, but in all your forms of marketing communication. Your customers have a voice. Seek it out, listen, and show you care.

The moral: engage, engage, engage!

Over-deliverer or over-promiser?

Do you write, “This product is going to make you a billionaire!” or “I’m going to share with you all my secrets to becoming a six-figure blogger”? These are two very different approaches to tag lines that I’m sure you’ve seen, and it’s not hard to guess which is more credible in most peoples’ eyes.

When it comes to taglines and copy, it’s very easy to overstep the mark. You’re told time and time again to focus on benefits, not features, and it’s so attractive to launch into the most outrageous, fantastical benefit you can—without thinking about whether it has any credibility, or your product can deliver on the promise.

Keep your messaging benefit-focused, but don’t claim to be able to better the human plight forever—unless you’re convinced your product actually does this. Focus on the benefit for the specific problem your product solves, and you’ll be set.

The moral: promise something great—and deliver.

Humble or egoistical?

A company that I believe has walked very close to the line when it comes to being confident in their product, but not egotistical, is Apple. They were brave with their Mac vs. PC campaign, and initially they focused on what the Mac could do that the PC couldn’t—and it was a great success. Over time, as it became harder to find new points of difference, their approach did devolve into an all-out attack on the PC, but they backed off that tactic pretty quickly.

When looking at the brand you project, as well as your products, if you can instill confidence, it can give you credibility. Arrogance will only project insecurities. Darren and Brian Clarke http://www.copyblogger.com/ are two people who are perfect examples of this philosophy in action.

The moral: be confident, but not arrogant.

Marketer or con artist?

In my mind, the difference between a marketer and a con artist is honesty. If you’re being told that the key to marketing success is to lie to your customers or leads, then you’ve crossed a line—it’s as simple as that. There are also laws designed to protect consumers against exactly that kind of behavior.

The moral: honesty is the best policy.

Friends or profit resources?

If you believe that your customers are your friends, you’ll look at what you do as a gift to the world, nothing more. And if that’s truly what you want to do, then no one will question you. The other extreme is to see people purely as resources from which to extract as much cash as you can; you judge their value by how deep their pockets are.

If you want to run a business, you need to be somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Again, it comes down to solving a problem for someone, and more importantly, solving a problem they’re willing to pay for.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people for something you value—money—in exchange for something they value—your product. It’s been happening for a while, and we’re doing okay so far.

The moral: ot’s okay to ask for money, but not to bleed them dry.

Does it feel wrong?

I have a very close network of people who act as my arrogant-web-marketing-o-meter. I seek them out when something I’m planning feels a little wrong. Just the fact that I feel I need a second opinion is usually warning enough, and in most cases, my suspicions are confirmed by a group of people I trust. Because the reality is, if it feels wrong, it probably is.

The moral: go with your gut feel for what’s appropriate.

Don’t cross the line

In my history I’ve done things that pushed the envelope on every single one of these points. Some I regret, some I don’t, but by doing this I’ve been able to more effectively understand the balancing act that exists between being a marketer and being nothing more than an arrogant salesman.

It’s something that you’ll only really understand over time as you conduct marketing yourself, but all I ask is that you don’t let the worst cast scenario prevent you from using online marketing to help your blog or your business grow.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.

Why Your Blog Is Not Going to Make You Rich (Or Pay the Bills)

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

$100,000 a year? $500,000 a year? A million? These are figures I bet most of us think about from time to time. But I’m here to tell you a sober truth—something that you probably won’t like the sound of.

Your blog is not going to make you rich. It might not even pay the monthly bills.

But don’t lose hope yet. There is a (very shiny) silver lining to this article: I am going to show you what you need to do to get up to those wonderful figures. In this post I’m going to give you a few important facts and tricks that my multimillionaire uncle passed on to me; facts and tricks that translate to the blogging world very very well.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ed Callow [ torquespeak ]

The millionaire’s advice

Let’s start this post with the advice that my uncle gave me. When I first heard it I think I probably told him to “go away” under my breath. But as I got deeper into my own business I realized how insanely important the advice had become. Especially because I learned the hard way. Let me illustrate.

My first blog was a fitness blog that I ended up selling for $20,000 after just eight months. Before that time, however, the blog paid my bills with a consistent AdSense income. It wasn’t a lot of money but it met my needs at the time. That was until Google banned it from the search results without warning, and without reason. I woke up one day and my excellent rankings for some super-high traffic keywords were gone. And so was my money.

Right at the moment my uncle’s advice came floating back to me:

You must always have a short-term source of income that pays the bills, two medium-term projects that supplement the income, and one long-term project that’s a year away from fruition. Always.

It is powerful advice that every rich person I know pays attention to (consciously or not). I, however, had totally ignored it in my youthful arrogance. I had put all of my eggs in to one basket and as such I had nothing to fall back on, and nothing to look forward to. I was in trouble.

Applying the advice: diversifying my business

So what did I do? Well I went out and cleaned toilets. I worked at a gym as a cleaner for over a year while I built up a new empire. I worked at the gym in the mornings and then came home and, after sleeping for an hour, plugged away at blogs and my other online businesses.

It was different now. Now I was applying the advice. Instead of just building up one blog, I was working on several while building small product websites. I was also working on ideas for the long-term project so that I had something to look forward to.

And this part is important. As the medium-term projects began to fall into the short-term income category, I created new medium-term projects. The trilogy of short-, medium-, and long-term must always be in play. I am trying very hard to remember that.

Why you need to diversify to be rich and safe

Adidas Pro Model
Creative Commons License photo credit: Julien Menichini

Your blog, as it is today, is not going to be enough to make you rich and safe. Okay, you might get lucky and be the next Huffington Post or Mashable and never have to worry about money again. But the chances are good that you’ll be like me; you’ll have to be smart about your future and your income. And to be smart you need to develop projects: one short-term, two medium-term, and one long-term project.

1. The short-term income

The short-term income is the work that pays the bills while you work on your other projects. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t need to be blogging. It doesn’t even need to be glamorous. Like I said before, I worked as a cleaner at a gym in the mornings. It was one of the smartest business decisions I ever made, because it allowed me to still have a full work day to devote to the other projects, since I worked from 6am to 11am.

It also got me a free gym membership, which, trivial as it might seem, allowed me to work out daily and completely de-stress my system. That is a very important thing to do when you’re worried about money. Lift weights and run. If you just sit at home all day in your own company, you won’t realize how stressed you’re actually becoming.

2. The two medium-term projects

The medium-term projects are those that you’re working on to eventually take over your current short-term income. Remember, it’s a good idea to generate your short-term income from more than one source: the more diverse it is, the better. These medium-term projects should be no more than a year away from turning consistent revenue. They can take the shape of:

  • blogs
  • product websites
  • affiliate websites
  • content creation deals
  • partnerships
  • etc.

As they start to make money, you can put them into the short-term category and begin to create new medium-term projects. Perhaps these will come from your long-term category or perhaps you will see new opportunities that you can place directly into the medium-term area.

3. The long-term project

Your long-term project should be ambitious but achievable. It should be one of those ideas where you sit down and think about how much money it would make if only you could get it off the ground. Well, partner, the money coming from your short- and medium-term gigs is what you’ll use to get this idea running.

What I’ve come to discover is that it’s all about these long-term projects. The toilet cleaning, the short-term, the medium-term—all this is a method that gives me the finances and experience to get my big ideas happening.

Blog Tyrant is actually a long term project of mine; it earns me no income at the moment, but I have something absolutely massive planning, which will be launched in a few months’ time. At that point, the blog will fall into my short-term group.

How to make it all happen

Picture 020
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian K YYZ

Sure, this approach sounds good, but how do you get it to work? How do you divide your time, and how do you manage all of the different problems that arise during the process?

Here are a few of my own suggestions but I would love to hear any advice that you might have — please leave a comment and let us hear your thoughts.

1. Focus on helping others, always.

The very first thing I want to mention is that you have to focus on helping others. This is both a marketing and an ethical concern.

Why is this important? Firstly, the products and websites that do the best are the ones that solve a need in a person’s life. I talked about this a lot in my article on how to make your blog addictive. Today a lot of products are created that don’t solve a need — instead, they create a new one. Forget it. Help people.

The second reason why this is important is because if it all fails you will have no regrets. And if it succeeds, you will spend your life helping people.

2. Take risks.

When you go to invest money in the stock market, the broker will say something like “the biggest returns come from the biggest risks”. At some point you have to decide whether or not you are a risk-taker. If you want to be making $100,000+ a year from the Internet, you’ll need to take some risks. You need to risk your time, maybe some of your savings, and definitely some of your sleep. But these risks should be managed and controlled — and well thought through. This isn’t like buying a lotto ticket: it’s like making an investment in the near future.

3. Stick to a routine.

Make a routine and stick to it. Don’t deviate from it at all — if you do, sooner or later the whole thing will fall in to a heap. Divide up your day or your week into the different categories. For example, I spend the weekends working on long-term projects, the mornings on medium-term projects, and the afternoons working on my short-term stuff. It works well. It works best when I stick to it.

4. Don’t give up early.

One of the biggest mistakes I’m guilty of is giving up before I’ve seen an idea through. For example, a few years ago I bought a whole bunch of domain names with the intention of creating a little group of product sites to dominate one particular niche. It didn’t pay off right away so I put less and less time in to it. Now, when I look back, I realize that these websites would be making a huge amount of consistent money without much work at all. The problem was that I didn’t keep my long-term motivation in check.

5. Use verticals.

A vertical is a product that you launch to compliment another product that you already have. A good example of this is the iPod, which makes Apple more money from iTunes, product cases, headphones, etc. If you can use your existing projects to help launch new products, you can cut out a lot of the hard work.

Conclusion

Your blog is not going to make you rich unless you diversify. Darren does it, Shoemoney does it, and my multimillionaire uncle does it. If you want to have longevity in any business, you need to make sure you’re diversifying your assets so that you’re not left high and dry if one of those income streams suddenly dries up.

If you have any stories about this approach, or advice on starting new businesses, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

The Blog Tyrant has sold several blogs for large sums of money and earns a living by relying solely on the internet. His blog is all about helping you dominate your blog and your blog’s niche and only includes strategies that he has tried on his own websites. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to his feed for all the juice.

The Dark Art of Product Pricing

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja — a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

One of the most common questions I get asked is how much I’d charge for a given product. I guess the reason I’m asked this so much is it’s one of the hardest questions to answer, but the importance of price should never be underestimated.

Here’s the process I go through when I’m trying to arrive at a product price.

1. Your existing readers

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first product, or your tenth. If you know your audience, you should have a feel for their propensity to pay for things—and to what degree. If you’re unsure about this, look at the sorts of affiliate campaigns that are more successful with your readers. Do low-cost/high-volume campaigns deliver your highest revenue? Or do high-cost/low-volume promotions boost your bottom line the most?

Outcome: My existing customers have a propensity to buy cheap/expensive products.

2. Market perceptions

The general public has trouble valuing things—and brands have been exploiting that for years. But what you need to determine for your specific product is this: is there a market-based status quo when it comes to the price people expect to pay? If you’re selling music, or books, ask if there’s generally an accepted price range for these products.

Outcome: The community perception is that my type of product will be priced between $____ and $____

3. Where it fits in your product/customer life cycle

If this is your one and only product, then this perhaps doesn’t have much of an impact, but typically, products fit into three key life-cycle categories: entry level, standard, and premium. Once you’ve slotted this new product into your product life cycle, you want to apply one simple rule: make the step from entry level to standard small, and the step from standard to premium high. For example, you might offer an ebook as your entry-level product, a webinar series as your standard product, and one-on-one consulting as your premium offering. An example price structure might look like this:

  • ebook $19.95
  • webinar: $49.95
  • consulting: $5000

Outcome: This product is my Entry / Standard / Premium offering in my product portfolio.

4. Competitive market research

When building a competitive profile, aside from the prices my competitors charge, I document five key items:

  1. Influence of the brand (High, Medium, Low)
  2. Perception of the product (reviews, sales volumes)
  3. Core problem the product is solving
  4. History of discounting
  5. My product’s key point of difference from the competition

What I’m attempting to find with this research is where there is an under or over representation in terms of high/low value and high/low price. You’ll also get a good understanding of the caliber of your opponents’ products in the particular subsection of the market you choose to enter.

Outcome: My product has (high/medium/low) value and a (low/medium/high) price, and my closest competitor is…

5. Defining the real cost of the product

Bloggers often fail to figure out the cost of selling the product. You need to factor in things like transaction fees, the likely overhead of affiliate payments, and, if you’re selling a physical product, delivery, storage and other costs. While you may be likely to sell electronic products, you’re still going to have to pay money for every sale that’s made. How much?

Outcome: On average, my product costs $____ to sell.

6. Correlating feature relevance with customer value

Things can get tricky at this step. You need to make a realistic assessment of how relevant your #1 feature is to the customer problem that your product solves. Don’t get caught adding up the ten different features your product might have—focus on the top one. Then, make a call about the value people put on the solving this problem.

Outcome: My product has a (low / medium / high) relevance to solving the customer problem (___________) and people are willing to pay (a little / some / a lot) to solve it.

Other considerations

Okay so that’s the first stage done. Since you’ve answered some critical questions, you should now have a feel for what the market expects to pay for this type of product, and where yours fits into that spectrum. Now there are just a few more considerations to keep in mind as you choose a price.

Don’t be the cheapest.

It’s easy to start a pricing war by offering the cheapest item, and if you’re after a short term windfall, then it’s and option. But rarely does the cheapest win when if comes to competition.

For me this was summed up when I heard a five-year-old kid say to his mother, “We need to get that one, it’s more expensive, so it must be better”. The innocence of youth — saying what we all think!

Discounting is dangerous.

Lately, many successful product launches have initially offered a special introductory price that’s discounted. That’s fine, but try to avoid any ongoing discounts. It’s actually more advantageous to offer outrageous 50-60% discounts than smaller 10-20% amounts, as the customers’ perceptions of returning value on higher discounts are a lot greater. But if you can, avoid discounting at all.

The smaller the price, the more important it is to get it right.

If you decide on a low-priced product, keep things in proportion! The difference between $5 and $10 is 100%. So if you price your product at $5 you’ll need to sell twice as many to earn the same amount of income as you would if you sold the product for $10. Worse, a product you sell for $5 needs to sell four times as much as it would if it was priced at $20. When working with small numbers, finding the sweet spot is extremely important.

Don’t get stuck in middle.

Those irrelevant middle prices do nothing but cost you money—especially at the high end of the market. If you’re thinking of an $800 price tag, and your product has a unique selling point, charge $999. For a $325 product, go for $399 or $499. Your competition might seem to drive your price downwards, however I’d be working the other way. If you’re competitor is $999 try $1499—as long as you can prove why your product is better.

Throwing caution to the wind

As this post’s title attests, pricing is an art. Pricing can be so hard that sometimes you just need go with your gut, pluck a number, throw it out there and see what happens. Remember though, that it’s easier to drop the price of something than to increase it.

What techniques have you used to price your products? Have you had any pricing disasters?

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja — a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.

Slow and Steady vs the Quick Knock-out: Marketing Fight Night

This guest post is by Barb Sawyers, of Sticky Communication.

In one corner of the ring, we have me,  a new online marketer who has bought into the content marketing philosophy of trust. I hope I can go the distance! In the other corner is the nimble Ninja, who swings fast and furious to end the match quickly.

Who’s your money on?

Experience, backed by the many limited-time offers I receive every day, suggests that Ninja is your best bet.

But let me explain why I think you should place your wager on people like me.

I keep reading advice from people like the Web Marketing Ninja who, in this recent post, applies the traditional marketing principle of urgency. He even advised online marketers to threaten to double the price. At least he didn’t tell them to try the fake scarcity punch, as many hard-liners do.

But what if you’re selling something that’s neither urgent nor scarce? What if you don’t feel comfortable raising and lowering your prices or pulling products off and on the shelves to whip up buyer frenzy? What if you don’t want to look like a late-night infomercial huckster? What happened to all those books and blogs about building online trust?

Maybe the answer lies in the middle. Maybe urgency—and scarcity—can be deployed to provide a little nudge, as long as they are grounded in reality. No knockout punches, please.

What to do if you’re new

So I thought about how I could apply authentic urgency and scarcity without eroding trust to boost sales of my ebook, Write like you talk—only better.

I’m thrilled when somebody visits my site and immediately buys the book. But I think people are more likely to purchase if they’ve read a few of my posts, and maybe scanned the reviews. When they’re in a panic about that white paper or whatever their boss has told them to write, they’ll be back, brandishing their credit cards. I’ve kept the price low enough that people don’t need to wait for a fire sale.

How I fixed my pitch

Still, my approach wasn’t an overnight success. So I went back to my pitch page, ready to apply some advice from the masters.

People who don’t buy my book today will not die a horrible death. But they could get in trouble with the boss for not finishing that white paper on time or with their loved ones for being stressed and cranky. If their problem is urgent, the solution must be quick.

So my authentic urgency is based on the buyer’s immediate need and my fast-acting solution.

I revised the page to explain that they could expect to start seeing results—in terms of easier, faster, and friendlier writing—as soon as they started applying the three steps from the book. To be catchy, I added that they needed to buy it “before another sentence falls flat.”

Scarcity was more challenging, as I’m not going to yank an ebook that I just started selling. But what if, like urgency, I consider scarcity from the buyer’s point of view?

Products are authentically scarce if they are unique.

My product is scarce because it’s the only one that bases writing advice on something people are already comfortable with: talking. Instead of forcing them to relive high-school English, or memorize and apply 173 tips, as some other books do, it focuses on the big common writing pitfalls to avoid and the most powerful memory-enhancing steroids.

In addition to my concern that extreme urgency and scarcity tactics will erode trust, I don’t think this old bag of marketing tricks always works.

Like many shoppers, I love to find a bargain. But I won’t buy a new dishwasher simply because there’s a good deal this week, unless mine has died. If I need a dishwasher, I will scan the flyers for a sale.

On the other hand, I will respond to a limited-time offer if I’m looking for an excuse to buy those cute shoes or if I’m already looking for an online course like yours. I also go for the specials when I’m grocery shopping—a big expense with two teenagers to feed—but only on items we eat regularly or might like to try.

The limited-time offer, or urgency, gives me a little push. That’s all.

Let me stress that I will not buy your ebook or SEO software because you are threatening to double the price next week or soon as I leave the seminar room or site. I’m too smart for the nimble Ninja. I think my buyers are too.

Like me, I hope they would rather buy one thing they really want than ten things they were pressured into buying.

What’s more, I believe manipulative tactics are for commodities where cheaper is always better, rather than for intellectual property that smart people will talk about around water coolers and on Twitter.

And let’s not forget the ancient wisdom of Aesop and his fable about the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins.

Sustain the success

So maybe the Ninja is going to rack up a few quick knock-outs. If the money is on only one match, I’d place my wager with him.

But if we’re betting on who’s going the distance to maintain the champion title, I think people like me stand a better chance. Then again, I’m not yet a proven online marketing success.

Are you? If so, please weigh in. I have teenagers to feed.

Barb Sawyers believes that business writing should be friendlier, easier and more fun. She blogs at http://www.stickycommunication.ca/blog and summarizes her wisdom in her ebook “Write like you talk—only better, 3 steps to turn good talkers into great writers.”

5 Ways to Monetize Your Blog Without Selling Out

Last week at Blog World Expo, I had conversations with literally hundreds of bloggers about their blogging.

It was interesting to see some of the themes that emerged as bloggers shared their challenges, problems and fears.

One of the recurring conversations that I had revolved around bloggers’ fear of being seen as sell-outs by readers when they started to monetize their blogs.

On numerous occasions this past week I’ve chatted with bloggers who’ve been so scared of the potential reader reaction that it stopped them from adding any form of monetization to their blogs. In some cases, this meant the bloggers were no longer able to sustain what they do financially.

Here’s a summary of some of the reflections I had to those expressing this fear.

1. Be clear about your goals and values.

Perhaps one of the best things a blogger can do in this area is to know where it is they’re headed—or at least where they want to move to with their blogs. Just as important is to have a clear understanding of your values.

Give some thought to these factors, and you’ll be in a strong position to make some good decisions about the strategies and methods you’ll use to reach your goals. You’ll also be in a good place to do some self-monitoring to keep yourself from selling out.

Filter people’s reactions through the framework of your own values and goals, and you’ll hopefully be able to tell whether there’s truth in what they’re saying.

2. Provide value to readers.

I remember the first time I released an ebook on Digital Photography School. I was very nervous about launching it, because I didn’t know how readers would react. I remember hitting the Publish button on the launch post, and expecting a backlash from readers emailing to express how insulted that they were that I’d try to sell them anything.

But the backlash didn’t come.

Instead, I started receiving emails from readers thanking me for the ebook. The lesson I learned was that if you provide something of value to people—something that will matter to them, and help them overcome a problem—they’re often only too happy to buy it.

Not only should your product be valuable, but the interaction you have with your readers in the lead-up to its launch should be valuable too. Among the emails I received that day were messages from readers saying that they’d never bought anything online before. Yet, based on the past interactions that I’d had with them and helped them, they’d felt compelled to buy my ebook.

3. Communicate your reasoning for the charge.

I hope I’m not sounding like I’ve never had negative feedback about releasing a product. At times there have been readers who’ve expressed feelings of resentment or disappointment when I’ve released products.

In these instances, my main approach is to attempt to share my backstory of the product’s release. For example, I remember the first time I put ads on my first blog. By no means was this a play to become rich; I was just trying to make my blog break even.

One particular reader started a campaign against me, and accused me of selling out. My response was simply to email him with my story. I communicated how my blog was costing me money each month and that as a newly married guy working numerous part time jobs and trying to provide free valuable information to readers, I needed to find a way for the site to break even. On hearing the story the reader’s attitude was turned around.

Similarly, when I launched the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog ebook, I told the story of how my readers had pretty much demanded that I turn the original series of blog posts into a PDF, and indicated that they’d pay for the content in that format. In doing so I was able to communicate how the idea wasn’t even mine—in fact, it came from reader need.

I also think sometimes people need to be reminded that behind a blog is a real person who needs to find a way to sustain it. In most cases, when you share that information, I think people understand your need to monetize your blog.

4. Monitor your own motivations.

Being in any kind of business will undoubtedly lead you into situations where you’re presented with opportunities to sell out. The reality is that it can be tempting at times.

I remember an instance two years back where I was offered a five-figure sum for a series of tweets promoting a product—a product I’d never used and never would have recommended myself. The catch was that the tweets had to be positive, they’d be written by someone else, and I couldn’t include a disclaimer stating that I was being paid to tweet them.

The situation was certainly tempting on some levels: over $10,000 for a few Tweets!? I could have paid for a new car, or a year or two of my kids’ education with those tweets. But ultimately I knew that it was just a quick cash grab. I wasn’t willing to go there because it didn’t fit with my values, and the motivations I felt for doing it weren’t healthy ones.

5. Be accountable to others.

The last thing I’d add on this topic is that it can be worthwhile to have others who you can bounce these issues off. Sometimes, as  individuals, we can lose a little perspective on the realities of monetization, and the voices of others can draw us back to good decisions.

I regularly bounce the opportunities that I’m offered off a small group of people—family, friends, and fellow bloggers. In a sense it’s a little advisory board (although it’s certainly not that formal!) that I give permission to ask me tough questions, and help me stay on course to achieving the goals and values I mentioned above.

There have been a number of instances over the years when these people have pulled me back from making decisions that, upon reflection, would have seen me sell out.

In a similar way. I think it’s also wise to listen to what a wider group of people are saying to you. And that wider group is your readers. While there will almost always be someone who has a negative reaction to your approach (you can’t please everyone), there’ll be times when there’s a wider feeling among your readers that you really need to hear. At these times, it’s worth going back to your core motivations, and seeing if the wisdom of the crowd is something you need to pay attention to.

How do you stop yourself from selling out on your blog?

Autoresponders on ‘Roids

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

Darren has written a lot about how he has evolved his autoresponder sequences on his blogs. But I want to take this a step further and describe how you can turn a good auto responder into a great one.

Step 1: Segment your subscribers when they give you their email addresses

When you ask users to give you their email addresses, you should keep the process as frictionless as possible. If you can, just ask for the address itself. If you really need to, ask for their name so you can personalize messages—but that’s it.

Given you’ve only got one piece of information, how can you segment your audience?

  • Segment A: Existing Customer: match the email address to your list of orders and see if the person is an existing customer or not.
  • Segment B: Blog Commenter: if you’re requesting people include their email addresses when they post comments, match against that to determine how connected they are to your blog.
  • Segment C: Community Member: if your blog includes a forum, chances are you’ll have a record of user email addresses from your forum signup process. Use this to determine if they’re already part of your community.
  • Segment D: New Subscriber: this is the bucket for anyone who doesn’t fit into the above segments. These are fresh faces to your blog.

Step 2: Tailor an autoresponder for each segment

You’ll probably follow a similar process to the one Darren created here. However, you should create a sequence that’s specific for each segment. For example, you might welcome a new subscriber by sharing with them some of your most popular posts first. Then, you might send them a copy of your latest newsletter. Finally, you might send them an offer on one of your products. Alternatively, you might simply send an existing customer the content they gave you their email for, as they’re already in your sales cross-sell and up-sell cycle.

As a starting point, try to put yourself in the segment’s shoes, and create a process you’d like to see if you were them.

Step 3: Test and refine each segment’s autoresponder

This is where it gets a little harder and, sometimes, a little confusing. It’s time to refine your autoresponder sequence to find that optimal conversion rate for each segment. Some of the considerations you need to take into your testing could include:

  • Sequence of events: e.g. free ebook –> links to popular blog posts –> latest newsletter –> paid ebook
  • Email delivery time: during business hours/outside business hours/weekday/weekend
  • Delay between emails: one month, one week, one day, one hour
  • Email format: HTML, rich text, or plain text
  • Email copy: long or short, informational or sales-focused

Warning: when you’re testing, you can easily get out of control creating variations. For example, if you had three different test cases for each of four segments, you’d have 12 tests running simulations. And if they have four emails each, that would be 48 emails you need to write! I’d start with what you think is right, and over time evolve your approach—just like Darren has.

Now unfortunately I’m not sure of any email services offering this level of depth when it comes to allocating people to certain lists based on their customer profiles (if someone knows of one, let me know). So you might need to have something custom-created for you to take an email address, decide what segment the user fits into, and assign that person to the appropriate list. However, a little investment up front can pay huge dividends in ongoing reader-to-customer conversions.

Even if you’re only getting a handful or subscribers each day, putting them through a focused autoresponder program that’s been tailored to them will, without doubt, increase your conversions.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing more of his tips undercover here at ProBlogger over the coming weeks.

How to Use Storyselling to Boost Sales

This guest post is by Johnny B. Truant, of JohnnyBTruant.com.

When I was in high school, I witnessed the most impressive sales job I have ever seen.

One afternoon, the entire student body was called to the auditorium for an assembly. Nobody knew what the assembly was about. We were just told to attend.

The presenters were two guys, dressed casually. As they began, instead of telling us why they were there, they started telling us jokes. They told us a few stories, too—funny stories involving their own families (who were as clueless as our own, since we were teenagers and knew everything), and stories that empathized with us about how ridiculous school was and made gentle fun of our principal and teachers. We liked these guys. They thought like we did. Their stories were interesting and fun. We settled in and relaxed.

We stopped caring why we’d been called to the assembly. Someone had made a mistake and had booked pure entertainment, but we weren’t about to complain.

Halfway through the presentation, the mood of the two guys up front changed. It was like a sneak attack: it was on us before we knew it was coming. Suddenly, the presenters were talking about AIDS. And abstinence. And how it was bad to drink a lot and do drugs. It was all the stuff that adults usually try to talk to teenagers about—the stuff teenagers usually roll their eyes at.

But we weren’t rolling our eyes. We were listening. We’d been transfixed.

Instead of saying AIDS was bad, they’d tell us about the girl who we’d met in one of those funny stories toward the beginning of the presentation, and how she got sick after contracting HIV and died.

Instead of telling us not to drink and drive, they told us about the kid we’d heard about earlier, but now the tale turned to him being in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after being hit by a drunk driver.

When 1200 high school kids filed out of that auditorium at the end of the assembly, nobody was jaded, skeptical, or mocking the message we’d been told. Most of the kids who streamed past me were silent or crying.

Those presenters came to our school to sell us on the idea of being careful, and making smart choices, and staying safe—all ideas that teenagers usually aren’t even a little bit interested in buying from well-meaning adults and parents.

But because they did their selling through stories, we’d bought it all.

Persuasion starts with a story

When you blog, you’re often trying to convince people to do something. You want them to start reading the post. You want them to read until the end of the post. You may want them to buy a product or a service, or sign up for a newsletter or RSS feed. You might want them to leave a comment, take a survey, or be convinced of your point of view.

To convince readers do anything at all, you have to sell them. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is through a story—I call it “storyselling.”

Stories are disarming. Stories interest people on an entertainment level first, which causes them to lower the guard they usually have in place to keep people from pushing things onto them.

Back in high school, at that assembly, we didn’t want to be told anything contrary to what we already believed to be true. We were having fun, and nobody knew better than us what we should be doing. Teenagers are the hardest people to convince of anything—the hardest sale any presenter will ever try to make.

But these guys succeeded because they entertained us first. They got us to drop our guards. They got us to like them, and relate to them. And after they’d done that, when it came time for them to “sell,” we were defenseless. We never had a chance.

Four ways to sell your ideas (and products) with stories

Want to give storyselling a try? Here are some things to keep in mind as you do so.

1. Tell a story that demonstrates a need for what you’re selling or advocating.

The goal of storyselling is to cause the reader to recognize a need for a certain course of action (or a certain product or service) through allegory. Rather than explaining rainforest destruction, tell the story of your trip to stripped plots of land. Instead of outlining features and benefits of your new workout plan, tell the story of how you used to be overweight and how you developed the workout that got you thin.

2. Show, don’t tell.

Always try to lead your reader to conclusions by demonstration rather than by beating them with brute force persuasion. You know who was great at this? The ghosts in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. They didn’t tell Scrooge about how his life would stink if he kept doing what he was doing. Instead, they took him there and let him see it for himself.

3. Keep it relevant.

A common mistake with this approach is to string out a long tale that may be a great story, but which never gets around to selling the product or idea at hand, or loses the audience before it does so. You always have to keep your main “selling point” in mind, and keep bringing the story back to it. It isn’t just a story—it’s a story that shows the reader why they should do X or buy Y.

4. Be honest.

Everyone has a real, true story, and every product or movement has a reason for existing. Somehow, you became convinced to get involved, so it’s your job to pull that desire and motivation out, and to use your own story to convince others. There’s no need to make anything up—the truth always sells better.

Give storyselling a shot the next time you’re looking to persuade. No matter what you’re selling, you may just find that telling a tale will get you past the skepticism of many more readers than a bulleted list of benefits will.

Johnny B. Truant is the creator of Storyselling 101. (He also builds websites.)