November 21, 2021

During the Titans Xcelerator live call this week, we got into a lengthy discussion about “renewals” and “repeat customers” based on my post last week, “Selling a billion dollars’ worth of products…$39 at a time.” 

The gist of that post (if you didn’t read it) is that successful direct response businesses come in many flavors…and one thing they don’t have to have in their bag of tricks is an ascension model (i.e., starting with low ticket products and services and then moving buyers, clients, students into higher ticket products). 

It’s a solid, useful model but not mandatory. 

But focusing on the long game–through renewals and continuity—can often trump charging higher prices…or at least they should work in tandem. 

To continue this discussion, I want to share two examples during my career…one is current and one is from the 1980’s. 

Both seem relevant despite being totally unrelated…and hopefully you’ll see the connection like I did…and when you do, we will be friends for life (if we are not already) 🙂 

The first is about a 100% renewal rate being a positive result and the second is about a 100% renewal (or success) rate being a negative result.

When a 100% renewal rate is a good thing 

Saying you’ve got a “100% renewal rate” always has to be a good thing, right? 

Not necessarily. 

Marie Forleo, entrepreneur, innovator and founder of “B School,” teaches in her course that knowing who is not your ideal customer is as important—even more important—than thinking everyone can be your ideal customer…that is, trying to be everything to everyone, can lead to disappointing a lot more people with your offer than intended. 

Kind of like garbage out/garbage in: Selling your vision to folks who will be tire kickers for a year (or reject you outright) and ultimately be more trouble than they’re worth. 

While these tire kickers are bothering you (and those in your special world) they become more of a disruption with an annoyance factor that far exceeds any money you make from them. 

Those annoyances include leaving after they bleed you dry with excessive neediness and requests. 

And there may be some who will cause you bigger problems with the membership at large when they spread their poison to others in the group. 

My Titans Xcelerator mastermind is not overly selective (i.e., if you’ve got around $2,000 a year to spend on it you can get in…no interview needed); but what has happened over the 2 years it has existed is that it has become selective based on how I sell it, deliver it…and renew it.  

How I sell it: I make it available only to folks who can benefit from it…and that is not as much of a “Duh!” as it sounds.  

I explore the potential universe of members through direct engagement (email, live events, virtual events, podcasts and asking existing members to suggest new members) …and while anyone can join, I don’t explore in places where there’s superficial interest, and explore only in places where there’s an enthusiasm to invest. 

I look for investors in me and my stuff…not interested bystanders. 

Many of you might be saying, “That’s a prescription for sales prevention” …which it is. 

Why shouldn’t I go for the biggest possible audience and weed it down from there? 

My madness here, as I said in last week’s post, is yet another beneficial way to leave money on the table. 

Read on. There is a method to my madness.  

How I deliver it: With multiple entry points inside Titans Xcelerator, (live calls, a private Facebook Group, email engagement, a physical version of all the digital content available) …and a “Netflix model” where members use what they want when the want it (and need it) …and constant reminders on how to access each of those entry points…members either love it or can leave it. It’s hard to find anyone who is wishy washy when their renewal comes due. 

That’s just how I like them to be. 

In the words of Greg McKeown, author of the landmark book, Essentialism, after a year in Titans Xcelerator, I want my members to have only two choices: 

“Hell yes!” or “No.”  

How I renew it: As I wrote last week, marketers sell subscriptions, memberships, first visits etc.—and it is the “editors” (the content providers, those who deliver the offering or service) who actually “sell renewals.”

But we really don’t sell them on renewing…we remind members what they received during year one, what they will miss in year two, and how much we love having them as members of our family. 

That’s how I see it. 

I also give them renewal bonuses—but alas, a renewal bonus at the end of the day is…well…just a bonus. 

It’s not the thing that will ultimately get them to renew. 

It’s what you delivered during the past year that will tell the renewal story…and whether it was a match to what you promised initially.  

The renewal results as I embark on year three of Titans Xcelerator

First year renewals were (and are) close to 70%. 

Whether that’s a good number or not is not as relevant as whether I have created a membership for the long haul, free of constant one member leaving for every one arriving. 

And now that I just began renewing the charter (first year) members for a third year (“renewals of the 70%”), the second time renewals, as of today, for a third year of Xcelerator, is at 100%. 

I’ve even renamed them from “second time renewals” to “Rejuvenators” since that’s a more descriptive term of who they really are: Members who have new vigor and energy to begin a lifelong journey with me. 

That sounds so much more meaningful than a three-year member doesn’t it? 

Of course, detractors will say that having a 100% renewal rate simply means I didn’t cast a wide enough net initially to find more first-time members. 

Their calculation assumes that a wider group of first-time members would have renewed at much less than 70% (and reducing the second time renewals below 100%), but it would also mean that I’d ultimately have more cash in the bank with that lower overall renewal rate. 

And those detractors may be correct. 

But at what cost? 

Back to Marie Forelo’s premise: The wider net will tend to bring in more members with less commitment, and my experience with human beings who become my customers, clients or students (which is probably similar to Marie’s) is that when they are not aligned with you, they tend to complain more, whine more, refund more leading to them becoming higher maintenance members…which comes at an additional cost (in money and sanity). 

Without making a long-term investment with their heart, their mind…and eventually when their renewal comes due, their money…who needs them? 

That’s why, for me, a 100% renewal rate on top of a 70% renewal rate is just right.

When a 100% renewal (success) rate is a bad thing 

During the go-go 1980’s when direct mail was king, I was the prince of list selection and segmentation. 

And my mentor, the king of kings, was Dick Benson (author of the out-of-print landmark book, Secrets of Successful Direct Mail, which remains timeless, and you can download a PDF at when you buy my book…just sayin’). 

I worked closely with Benson as my consultant for more than a decade, earning my PhD in “Lists” in the process. 

I developed an intricate system and worksheet for list research to get the most out of every list we mailed—and the highlights of that system are outlined in, “Guilty until proven innocent.” 

If you read it, you might wonder how I ever picked and mailed a list that didn’t work…in this area of marketing, calling me anal retentive would be the ultimate compliment. 

But there were lists we researched in depth, mailed the perfect selection, and they still didn’t work. 

That’s the way direct marketing works sometimes. 

However, on one mailing for one of the books I was marketing, I tested 18 new lists for the first time and lo and behold, every one of them worked (with “worked” defined as the ability to pyramid an additional quantity to mail based on the test result). 

I couldn’t wait to receive an apple, a gold star or maybe even a Nobel Prize from Benson when I told him that every list we tested worked. 

His response surprised me and gave me one of those lifetime marketing lessons:

“If all of the lists you tested worked, you didn’t test enough lists.” 

The theory is obvious: If I scored with every top tier list, how many in the next tier would have worked as well? 

Probably not all…but despite many of those lower tier lists not working, every one that does work is a new universe to mail and a potential windfall opportunity. 

Here’s where a 100% renewal/success rate (i.e., the ability to continue on a list) is definitely a negative since every other test list not tested is a potential lost opportunity.   

To summarize, let’s compare the thinking about a 100% hit rate on lists being a bad thing with the example of Titans Xcelerator’s 100% renewal rate being a good thing. 

In the Xcelerator membership example, every additional potential member I could have gone after in “lower tiers” of qualified prospects may indeed be a lost opportunity…but in the game I’m playing, I see them as potentially damaged assets for the long term. 

They might deliver a short-term cash injection but they can just as easily end up being more trouble than they are worth. 

It’s a form of sales prevention that comes with headache prevention too (if they end up complaining, whining, and/or refunding) …and fewer sales with fewer headaches leads to higher retention and overall contentment inside the group. 

That’s the happy outcome I’m looking for. 

Lists, on the other hand (as opposed to people), don’t complain or whine, they don’t ask for refunds and once you pay for them and test them, the more that work for you, the better. 

That leads to testing more lists (outside of your core market) with lower risk and higher upside. There’s no upside to make every list work. 

People, on the other hand (as opposed to lists) come with a lot more baggage, which makes testing people a much different proposition. 

You can still test more people (not in your core market) for your products or services, but be aware of the higher risk of pain and suffering in doing so.  

I have always said that “lists are people too” …but now that needs a qualification…they still are…but not all the time. 🙂



P.S. I received a question from a copywriting student this week who wanted to know:

Should I include a P.S in my blog posts? What do you do?

It’s a simple question with a bunch of angles…and I gave him everything I had…I always Overdeliver.

And it seemed appropriate that this multidimensional answer belongs nowhere else than in a P.S. 🙂

I am curious if any of you have any additional (or contrary) thoughts on the use of a P.S. in blog posts, emails or anywhere else.

Those of you who are regular readers of my Sunday blog know much of my philosophy already…but here’s a look behind the curtain for everyone else…I am no Wizard…just answering a question.

  • There is a rule of thumb with sales letters (and I will extend it to blogs for the purpose of answering this question) that a letter should never go out without a P.S.
  • However, “never” is a strong word…and you should never abide by always never…ever (more on that below).
  • If you take a look at my blog page here, you will see I use a P.S. around 95% of the time.
  • With my blog, I use the P.S. for “selling” but it’s always a “soft sell” with references to the P.S. inside the blog post if the topics are related.
  • The goal for me is that I want a separation of “content” and “sales copy”… and this is the way I do it…which tends to lead to higher open rates and engagement because my online family knows that on Sunday morning it’s all content for the most part…with hopefully a lesson based on my 40 years in direct marketing…and a P.S. that might talk about a product, a book, an event that I take no money for (i.e. I work as a non-paid affiliate)…and the offers are always related to direct marketing education. 
  • I document these rules of the road in my “welcome to my online family email” when people sign up for my blog.
  • This is a distinction from many blogs and most e-newsletters which move in and out of content and sales copy–which is certainly effective. I just don’t do it that way because after a while it can get tiresome (and confusing) when you don’t know what to expect from a blog that lands in your Inbox…but that might just be me. 
  • My goal, whether you want to read me or not, is to be consistent and congruent. And long (which may affect how much you want to read of me). 🙂
  • I sometimes don’t include a P.S. to see who notices…and that is a way to get engagement when readers ask me, “why no P.S.?” If you ever did that, you know I respond with, “you are a true student of the craft”.
  • The lesson here—and with everything else with a blog like mine–is that engagement rules and it is the most important metric (yes, even more important than open rates)…which leads to a deeper relationship with your readers…which may lead to a sale…or not. But you can’t sell anything without engagement. In blogs, e-newsletters anything: “Everything is not a revenue event but everything is a relationship event.”
  • Engaging with subscribers about a non-existent P.S. is one way…. asking them questions is another…sending them a survey is another.
  • The short answer to the question is “YES” to using a P.S. in a blog (and P.P.S.’s. P.P.P.S.’s and even P.P.P.P. S’s–4 Ps was my all-time high) …and the more you can relate the P.S.’s to the content of the blog, the better.

P.P.S. Note that I didn’t relate the P.S.above to this blog post…but I did ask you a question to encourage engagement…and you can be sure that I will never turn my answer into a high pressure sales pitch. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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