One of my Titans Mastermind members recently asked me to meet with their expert copywriting team (20 + strong) to discuss some of the core marketing principles I write about in my book, Overdeliver: Build a Business for a Lifetime Playing the Long Game in Direct Response Marketing.
It got very real, very quickly, since this company was a friendly competitor of the company I helped build through the 80’s and 90’s (and through 2015), Boardroom Inc.
When I say it got “very real,” they knew all about me and my history…all of the wins and all of the learnings (i.e., euphemism for failures) that comes with the territory while toiling in the wacky world of direct marketing over four decades.
Yikes! I was on a hot seat. This would be way more than just a casual conversation.
There was one question in particular that got under my skin (in a good way) …since it enabled me to reflect on the biggest “learnings” from my career at Boardroom:
What was Boardroom’s biggest mistake? What could you have done differently that would have allowed you to still be the biggest privately held DM company today?
Considering that the company asking this question is the largest privately held company today in our industry, I could not bluff with my answer…nor did I want to.
The answer was fairly simple:
My biggest regret was that we never had any kind of “ascension marketing” at Boardroom …that is, all of our newsletters and books sold for approximately the same price ($29 to $39) …and we never scaled the business by selling higher priced, more specialized products.
I guess you could say “shame on us” …but as I thought about it a bit more, it was less shameful and more educational.
Still a big “miss” …but not tragic.
In spite of this omission from our marketing strategy, we still were able to scale the business in a big way…from under $5 million in the mid 1980’s to a height of over $150 million in 2005-2006.
So, why was it a “mistake” (that we never created anything but $39 products)?
For one thing, we left a lot of money on the table.
But as I will lay out for you here, that seems less important now looking back despite being something that should have been considered.
After all, we had a huge database of customers with lots of interests in niche areas who would have paid a lot more for products (and services) that we could produce (i.e., high ticket offshoots of our core newsletters and books).
But my mind was racing as I continued answering the question.
Despite the fact that we never got into the world of ascension and higher priced products, we created a database of millions of customers buying multiple $39 products…and more importantly, millions of those multiple purchases were renewals of an initial product (whether a newsletter or a continuity book).
You’ve heard me before on this:
Marketers sell subscriptions; editors sell renewals
As I continued on the hot seat with this in mind, with the big kahuna of direct marketing staring me in the face waiting for an explanation, I defended myself (without getting defensive if that’s possible), and took the discussion to another level.
I still regret not diversifying into higher priced niche newsletters, books, courses and other information…but the way we focused on the second order (and third and fourth orders), even more than the first order, made up for a lot of the shortfall…and it is still a model to emulate, regardless of price points.
My regrets are more about not reaching more people with our life saving content than simply “leaving money on the table.”
In fact, I learned from Dan Sullivan, the top coach for entrepreneurs in the world, that, “Money is about the past…your resources, your relationship capital and your wisdom are the only true assets that are forever and will always be on hand for the present…and the future.” Wise words to live by.
Back to marketers not being able to “sell renewals”—how could we simply bank on renewals while not having any price point on new business higher than $39?
I chalk it up to a few things:
- The quality of the products we offered and sold
- Customer satisfaction
- Leading with value constantly
- Being consistent and congruent with our overall mission
- Always being in sync as we went from a promotion to the delivery of the product
At Boardroom, when selling our flagship newsletter Bottom Line/Personal, our control offers always led with confidence and value…as many as 6 free issues before the potential subscriber had to pay…and with the match of promotion to the newsletter, along with this intense sampling, we were setting ourselves up for great pay up…and even better renewals.
Subscribers and buyers knew exactly what they were getting up front (we sold our books with a “bill me later offer” as well) and it was like a religion for us to deliver on every promise we made along the way.
This model works in any business…for anything…whether products or services.
How about dentistry for example?
“Dentist marketers” (sort of an oxymoron) need to get new patients whether they like to “do marketing” or not.
Rarely do they initiate marketing campaigns but the ones who do…well…get more patients.
Funny how that works.
The ones that don’t can still have successful practices–word-of-mouth and referrals are a “marketing campaign” of sorts…and dentists tend to find a way to get new patients mostly by this method…and also having a good location where there are many mouths that need filling(s) and can tell others. 🙂
Of course, the ones who participate in mastermind groups for dentists (or mastermind groups where there are other service companies as members, sharing their wisdom with each other) will make them the most successful dentists in their area.
That’s a topic for another day…and the P.P.S. of this post.
What about the “renewal” of a dental patient which only an “editor” can sell?
In a dental practice, the “editors” (i.e., deliverers of the service) include the receptionist, the hygienist and the dentist…all creating an experience that is more pleasant than scary (or painful) …so they can create a barrier to switch to another dentist…and create patients for life.
And this is repeatable in any industry whether you are selling products or services.
It’s much easier to keep a customer than get a new one…I know you’ve heard that before…and whether they pay more with each purchase (of a product) or more with each visit (of a service), the key is that there are additional purchases and each buyer/customer/client is not a one off.
I guess what I’m saying (in my non-defensive way), higher price points and ascension are (very) nice things to have in your marketing toolbox…but it’s not everything.
I still wish I had it while at Boardroom, but we did quite nicely without it.
Back to the dentist: Cleanings four times a year for 10 years might not be as lucrative as root canals, bridges, crowns etc. over that time…and having those other “high priced services” are important to make available (which we didn’t have at Boardroom) …but they are not necessarily a requirement if your “basic” product or service gets as close to a 100% renewal rate as possible.
Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum–or a business that is not built for a lifetime… but rather for the next 10 minutes.
I heard a top copywriter speak at an event recently saying that he worked on a very successful product …and the metric for “success” was calculated based on the $10 million in sales from first-time buyers.
But then he added this ditty:
“The response was off the charts…we crushed it…even though we had a 50% refund rate.”
I don’t know about you, but this is not a business model I could ever endorse no matter how much money you can make (and eventually keep) on the first order…when there is little chance of procuring a second order, much less getting these customers into a high integrity ascension program.
And no matter what kind of ascension program you put in place for the 50% who bought and didn’t refund (assuming some will still buy from you), it is a business built on sand.
I learned a valuable lesson from not having any kind of an ascension program at Boardroom…but the lesson was not to turn everything I do now into a “pop up, cross sell bonanza” because I’m still not obsessed with garnering every last dollar from every customer.
I understand that this is my model, not yours…but I believe it is instructional no matter how much you plan to move people through your funnel of products or services with higher prices.
In fact, I love leaving money on the table if by doing so I can reach and teach more people.
It’s not a sales prevention program but rather a sales retention program.
When I left Boardroom in 2015, I understood what I learned by not implementing an ascension program in my first 34 years in marketing…I didn’t do it, I regret it, but I was still paying close attention to the model.
Once I launched Titans Marketing, the lesson took shape, but it was not a direct line to an ascension program.
Understanding it enabled me to create a “descension model.”
Having 34 years of resources, relationship capital, and wisdom upon leaving Boardroom made mine a top-down model.
I began with a $20,000/year Titans Mastermind group which filled up to capacity fairly quickly…then I created Titans Master Class (at $11,500/year) …and then went “low ticket” with Titans Xcelerator (at $2,000/year with the ability to reach a lot more people).
Then I created lots of one offs to compliment the subscriptions/memberships and renewals to my groups which led to a solid multibuyers list, at lower and higher price points, all based on recency, frequency and total money spent (RFM):
I learned to do all of this from my learnings at Boardroom (you can call them mistakes if you like)…and used that knowledge to create a business that will last for my lifetime.
And it will be a business with a consistent and congruent mission (with a bit of obsession sprinkled in) of bringing the best direct marketing education I can create…regardless of whether I’m charging a higher price to a lower price buyer…or vice versa.
Whatever your journey is or will be to get to a business that will last for your lifetime, I Implore you to be an “editor” as much as a “marketer” every step of the way…because quality beats quantity every time, and that goes for quality of your products and the quality of the people you attract.
I believe that being an editor, even more than a marketer, will enable you to reach and teach more of the people you really want to hang out with…with more happiness and satisfaction playing a long game.
Of course, feel free to charge more money as you increase value…ascend away!
After all, why should you imitate my biggest mistake? 🙂
P.S. My good friend Mike Capuzzi made me aware of a new book written by his good friend, Dominic “Slice” Teich, who is a decorated F-16 instructor pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
His service to our country includes 69 combat missions and 2 deployments to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
For the past year, Mike has been donating his time helping Dom with a special book project.
Single Seat Wisdom shares the stories of 20 men and women who have protected America as fighter pilots in our military and the book is not just for pilots and people connected to the military…far from it.
I consider it a “guidebook” for business owners, entrepreneurs and anybody who considers themselves a peak performer.
Even marketers and copywriters! 🙂
Here are three reasons to buy a copy of this book during its initial launch, which began on Veteran’s Day, November 11th—none of which have anything to do with me getting anything except satisfaction:
1. For the next week, both the print book and Kindle version are going to be available at a discount on Amazon.
2. Each chapter is packed with excitement, emotional ups and downs and wisdom from this group of elite warriors.
3. Beyond all the great ideas, inspiration and motivation found in Single Seat Wisdom, you should know that 100% of the book’s profits are being donated to the Anna Schindler Foundation, which provides support for families fighting childhood cancer.
P.P.S. Whether you are a marketer selling subscriptions, an editor selling renewals… a dentist looking for more patients or looking for a formula to keep more of the patients you’ve got already…or you are a marketer, copywriter or any kind of entrepreneur who wants to dive deeper into the world of ascension, descension or any other marketing model…Titans Xcelerator is the mastermind group for you.
It’s virtual, interactive, affordable (with over delivery at every step) …so click here to see what it’s all about.
You’ll see that it is currently closed but if you sign up for the waiting list today, you will be the first to be alerted when we open seats up next month…and just for acting today and getting your name on the list, you will receive an additional discount and an extra bonus.
You are already in my online family…now you can spend a lot more time with my intimate family of Xcelerators–the best and brightest marketers and copywriters on the planet.