Using Webinars to Sell Membership Sites w/ Mike Morrison | #005
There is always that level of difficulty when selling membership sites. The financial commitment alone can turn people off from even signing up, or, if they’ve already joined, can make them leave. Mike Morrison, membership site expert and co-founder of The Membership Guys, found a way to go about this dilemma. He discovered a gap between the membership niche and how to get into it so he and his team built up their own membership site for entrepreneurs of different shapes and sizes to help them sell their products and services.
Using webinars as a medium to sell the sites, he found a congruent conversion sales method of using education to sell even more education. He dives in deep about why webinars are so effective and why he loves membership as a business model. On top of that, Mike offers some great strategies to sell membership, from organic marketing and offering great content to membership retention.
Using Webinars to Sell Membership Sites w/ Mike Morrison
I’m excited about having our guest, Mike Morrison, and with this interview we took a little bit of a different angle than we normally do with talking about webinars. We’re focusing on the product in this episode. Mike runs a site called The Membership Guys and he helps business owners and entrepreneurs build membership sites or information and expertise hubs to sell their products and services.
I reached out to Mike because webinars are such a congruent method to sell membership sites for their customers and I wanted to talk to him and learn a little bit of information on how he uses webinars to sell more memberships for his programs and how his clients use webinars to sell memberships sites. He gave us a lot of information and he talks about why webinars are so effective for this type of product. I want you to focus in and learn from Mike, what his strategies are for using webinars to sell membership sites. We’re going to get a lot of great tidbits and strategies.
Mike, how are you doing?
I’m doing good, Joel. Thank you so much for having me.
I always do a terrible job of butchering up the introduction. I want to pass the ball to you and give us a little bit of background information about where you’re coming from, what you’re doing with The Membership Guys, and let our audience know what you’re up to.
I’ve been around this space for as long as I can remember, running digital agency, online marketing and over the years, I’ve gravitated more towards the type of business and the type of projects that I always enjoyed helping clients with. That was memberships, memberships combine the fun stuff on the technical front, on the marketing, and the strategy side that I enjoy and I love it as a business model. That recurring revenue is the holy grail.
I’ve been working along with my partner with a variety of clients in a whole bunch of markets for years on a one-on-one basis. We were having more and more people coming to us with questions, they want to pick our brains or grab a coffee and how people do. We initially just start trying to find somewhere to send them, go bother this person, go join this Facebook group or pay for this membership.
There wasn’t anybody out there giving the advice in this nation. My partner, Callie and I decided to plant our flag in the sand. We fired all of our clients, not quite as dramatically, but we moved away from working with clients. We plant our flag in the sand as The Membership Guys, we’re big fans of being very literal. We started our membership site about membership sites where we now have hundreds of members in there running variety of different market-based membership sites of all shapes and sizes. I’m having a lot fun doing it.
For anyone out there, maybe they’re just getting started and they might not fully understand what a membership site truly is. Could you give a basic definition of what a membership site is and maybe a couple of different examples of what a membership site is?
A membership site is essentially any website where someone needs to have a registered account in order to access protected content of some form. Typically, if you want to keep the lights on, that will involve that person paying you for access to that content. Technically, Netflix, Amazon Video and all of that sort, they are membership websites. In the online space, a membership site will usually involve some form of eLearning elements, courses, tutorials, live training, webinars and community, either an online forum or a Facebook group, although please don’t get me started on using Facebook groups for paid memberships.
Honestly, that’s a whole other series, let alone a whole other episode. Sites that you see like Lynda.com is a big example of that type of website, probably one of the most successful. It’s usually online courses based around an authority, teaching a special subject, and the $20 to $50 range per month.
What I’m fascinated with about membership sites and a bunch of my clients have launched membership sites with webinars is when you’re trying to get people to join a membership site or a continuity program, it’s a little bit different than selling a one-off training program. It’s funny because when you have a membership site, a continuity, and you say, “It’s going to be $50 a month,” rather than a flat fee of $500 or $1,000 or $2,000, it’s a different mentality because you’ve got a commitment tied to it. Sometimes I find it a little bit more difficult to sell when it’s $50 a month than just a flat fee. What are the different ways that you have tested to sell your membership sites?
What you said about the difficulty is right, but it’s not because of the commitment. People, when they see $50 a month, they just see $50 in most cases. If you do have people who are more pragmatic and do think, “$50 a month, that means $600 a year,” usually you’ll have an annual option that is discounted. You typically pay the equivalent of ten months instead of twelve. That serves that sort of a rational thinking. It’s not the commitment that makes it difficult sell. It’s the fact that the $50 price point doesn’t give you much room to play with if you want to use webinars.
This is not to downplay anybody who’s selling $2,000 courses and the amount of work and effort that goes into it, but you can do so much more on a webinar in terms of your sales tactics when you’ve got a $2,000 product because you’ve got a lot more margins to play with. Also the big difference with memberships that makes it difficult is everybody’s going to be in there and that pay is going to be recurring. If you have a member who joins in January who’s paying $50 a month and then all of a sudden in February you start to make all this noise about the fact that people could join for $25 a month, your existing members are not going to be very happy.
You have a lot more limitations and a lot more restrictions in terms of how creative you can be with your sales and marketing strategy. You have to be a lot more transparent in your marketing, which isn’t a bad thing. You need to remember that the people who signed up for your membership, you want them to stick around long term and so you can’t trick, manipulate, and dupe people into signing up in the way that some people may do with the course, because those guys are going to be in your community. They’re going to figure out that you’re not delivering on your promises. We find organic marketing as the bedrock of what you’re doing. It’s a slower burn, but a membership is a slow burn model. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Unlike with a lot of other types of online products, you very much need to be a farmer with your marketing for a membership rather than a hunter. Hit and run and quick marketing tactics don’t work as well for the reasons that I just mentioned. It’s putting out regular and consistent content, creating blogs and podcasts that are useful and finding ways to connect the dots between your content marketing and the content that inside your membership.
If you come to a blog post or someone goes to a blog post, then the natural next step or the lead magnet should move them closer to something that’s in the membership, the opt-in. Get a lead magnet that addresses a problem that your membership solves, that moves them further down, then maybe you do use a webinar that digs into that particular element of what you’re covering your membership even more.
It just becomes this natural pathway. The only roadblock to someone joining your membership is how committed they are to have their problem solved. In terms of your foundation marketing that needs to be and then how you use your sales funnel, how you license like webinars. You can still use a webinar even though you’re not selling a high-ticket item. You just need to realize you have to be more creative. If your offering a special time limited deal on your webinar and your membership is $50 a month and your deal is we’ll give you a 20% discount. As someone’s not going to pay $50 a month, they won’t pay $40. As long as someone’s not going to pay $50, they probably won’t pay $30 and as soon as you get to a point where you’re discounting more than 40% to 50%, then you’re eating way too much into your margin because you’re dealing with such a small amount of margin to play with, you need massive quantities.
That’s when you need to start looking at things and these are things that have worked very well, like introducing perhaps a payment option that isn’t publicly available, like a lifetime membership. If your membership is only available for monthly subscription then on your webinars, you offer an annual option that is larger discounted because when it’s an annual then it becomes mid to high ticket than a $50 a month membership, that’s a $600 a month product that you can play with on your webinar and in your sales funnels and stuff like that. You have to be more creative. You have to recognize the limitations.
You have to remember that any promotion and any marketing you do needs to take into consideration that you have existing members and existing customers who you need to continue paying you, and as such you can’t be offering new customers much better deals than your existing members are getting, or you’ll lose those existing members. There’s a lot more to think about on that front. Certainly, by being a lot more creative you can build that recurring base over time. The best thing about recurring revenue, it continues to grow and grow and grow so you’re not starting from zero every month.
There are a couple of key things I just want to highlight. I should say that membership sites are a different model and they are a marathon and not a sprint. With a lot of people that I see inside of the webinar space, they want to use that to sell a high ticket and as Mike was saying, you have to think about it differently because this will continue to grow and it’ll snowball and you can achieve that lifestyle design if you set this up correctly. By implementing webinars, you do have to be careful about your existing members. You can’t tick them off because you could lose them very quickly.
It’s worth remembering as well that when someone does join your membership, they still will most likely check out your webinars. They’ll opt-in to your email list. It’s easy to assume that once someone’s past that point, they’re not going to see or pay any attention to how you’re marketing to non-members. Some people will sign up for a webinar thinking it’s a member training and then they see your offer and the next thing they call, “What the hell’s going on here?”
That’s good to know. I never even considered that before, but it makes a whole lot of sense. You can’t restrict your webinar from people. You can’t prevent them from showing up. Let’s pivot a little bit and let’s talk about your membership site with The Membership Guys. Talk about how you sell access to your program using your automated webinar.
We have essentially an approach of having as many open doors as possible. We are very much following that be everywhere kind of strategy, probably because we pulled the trigger on our membership in a pretty short time scale. We only gave ourselves a few months run off between launching our blog of The Membership Guys and opening our membership site. That’s typically not what we recommend to people. We recommend to people to put in a bit more time before that, but because of that short lead up being everywhere, getting visible, producing helpful content in a variety of different formats and challenges at a variety of different levels. Having the blog post and having the podcast, but then for the people that walked in, having webinars that again provide that natural next step in solving someone’s problem. We haven’t gone all in on webinars and that’s not because we don’t believe in them.
We’ve worked with several six, seven-figure memberships that make very highly effective use of webinars. We know what we can do with them. It’s not something that we’ve pulled the trigger on because there are other pieces we want to align, but even so we have a single ultimately webinar. We don’t do any of the trickery about making it appear live or any of that nonsense because I’ve been on webinars, which I’m sure you have too. It’s the middle of July and the first words out of the presenter’s mouth is, “Have you all had a great Christmas?” That was seven months ago. We don’t dress it up. We position it as an online training session. You choose your time. We use a webinar for it. Even without using the additional gimmicks, it gives us a lot to play with.
We don’t make any offer. We don’t have any scarcity whatsoever. We deal that way you’re not supposed to. We say, “This is the price point.” It will be going up probably at some point in the future, but the price you joined with now you lock in for the life of your membership, which should be true with any membership site. You should never increase the price of current members. It converts between 10% and 15% just on autopilot. A large part of that is simply because it’s a very specific need within a very specific segment of our audience and it gives a good test with it. It’s about connecting the dots, very much my philosophy of we start with what’s on our membership in terms of content.
We have a course that’s called Membership Lifecycle Course, which is about how do you get and hold onto members. Membership retention and the whole strategy around how you keep members is as important, if not more important, than how you get those members. We worked backwards from that. From there, we worked backwards and created a webinar, from the webinar we worked backwards and created the opt-in, from the opt-in we worked backwards and created the blog post. Every stage of the funnel is another step towards and another step towards and in doing that it makes it a no-brainer that by the end of that webinar, if you want to actually solve this issue, if you want to improve retention, you join the membership because we only pitch you the part of the membership that is directly related to what our webinar is about.
That’s the other challenge with the membership because a lot of memberships, unless it’s specifically an online course, you will have a variety of different topics in there. You might have lots of little courses, so we’ve got twenty to 30, 60 and 90 minutes on average, long courses in there. It makes it hard to sell because it’s an all-encompassing thing as opposed to something specific course. A webinar is a good way of pitching one specific part of your membership or pitching how your membership addresses the very particular interest or problem that got someone to sign up to your webinar in the first place.
There are a couple things that I really love about what you just talked about. First of all is this open-door aspect of the sale being everywhere all the time. We’re just having as many different arms or spider webs out there to capture them and give them the opportunity to buy, even if you don’t implement scarcity. One of the great things about webinars and using them to sell information, and I preach this no matter if they’re selling a course or if they’re selling a membership site, is that it is the most congruent sales conversion method for eLearning info products because you’re using education to sell education.
That’s why they work so well even if you do a very lighthearted sales pitch because if they sign up for a webinar on The Membership Guys and they’re like, “I want to learn about growing my membership.” They engage with you and they learn from you. If you give them great content at the end, you basically say, “We’ve only been able to spend an hour together. I’ve been trying to give you as much value as possible, but you should check out more inside of our membership area and here’s the link.” You just got to make sure you capture it. Strike while the iron is hot and the iron gets really hot when you give them great content.
I think people are afraid of trying to ask for any form of action, especially when it comes to the sale, but you are genuinely doing a disservice if you don’t tell people what happens next. I’m sure plenty of your audience are fans of The Game of Thrones and the nerdier ones who read the books like I do, they’re pretty mad at the fact that George R. R. Martin is taking his sweet ass time to produce the next book because we want to know what happens next. When you don’t know what happens next, you get angry and if he dies, people will rage on social media because they have no way of knowing what was next.
You will be doing a disservice to people if you don’t give them the next step, the next chapter. The fact that you said use education to sell education, use content to sell content, use community to sell community, it makes sense. When you’re doing that, people will want that next step at the end of it. Hesitating or viewing it as a sales pitch, it’s not a sales pitch, it’s just this is what happens next. If you want it, it’s there and this is how you get your hands on it. My thought process with any piece of content, webinar, or what have you, is that even if someone doesn’t take the action they need to leave with value, they need to have had a problem solved.
Even if they don’t join your membership on the back of watching the webinar or they don’t opt-in on the back of reading the blog post or what have you, if you still solved a small problem for them, they then associate you with being a problem solver. While the timing may not be right for them right now, in their minds, they have the trust in you to solve the small problems, so they’re going to trust you to solve the bigger problems too.
Sometimes it is just timing. Make sure that you make it clearer and easier what my next step is for people who are in the place to do it right now, but having those open doors so that if someone doesn’t sign up for the webinar, they will see something from you on Facebook the next day within your Facebook group that they are in. They will get an email from you. They will see a new podcast episode pop up. They’ll see you posting stuff on Instagram and particularly with memberships, because it is that marathon, you need to be a farmer. If you’re farming, you’ve got to sow those seeds, you’ve got to get them out there. You’re not just going to stick everything in one square foot area and hope that you grow the most dense crops in the world. You spread them about, you get them all over the place.
I picked up one quote that I’m going to totally call you out on in a very good way because it’s hilarious, but it’s so true. You said earlier, “Don’t make them angry, give them a call to action. If you don’t give them a call to action, they’re going to be pissed at you.”
Don’t leave me hanging. If you’ve just spent 45 minutes or so, blowing my mind with awesome content and it’s clearly not saying that this is all the answers you will ever need about the subject in the same, but this is everything I can give you in 45 minutes. If you only have 45 minutes worth of value to provide, if you can’t provide anything beyond that, then you may need to try something else in life or another stage in life. The assumption is that you will be able to provide value beyond that 45 minutes and so you need to tell me what in the same if you’ve only got one hour for a TV show, you don’t want to be a one off special in business terms. What’s next? What’s coming up? How do I get that? How do I access more of what you’ve just given me?
Somebody has got a membership site, they’ve got $30 a month or $50 a month and they can sell that directly from a webinar and they can do a very lighthearted sales pitch if they give them content. You mentioned before that some of your community members are selling $2,000 courses and then as an upsell they’re using membership sites to get a little bit more. Tell me a little bit about that strategy.
Some of the best ways of using a webinar to sell membership is to try and find an angle that makes it mid to high ticket. That can either be reframing the membership offering in that way or essentially attaching it to an existing high-ticket product, whether it’s a course or a program or what have you. This is something that the guys at Foundr, Nathan Chan, they did extremely well. They launched a course on Instagram called Instagram Domination and it was a $2,000 course. They also found a club membership on the back of that. For anybody buying the $2,000 course, the upsell to that was the first month of your membership for $50 and if you liked it, you carry on your subscription.
It was very much framed as, “Get the course on to the first month of your membership.” If someone’s paying $2,000, they will pay $2,050. That makes it a great upsell, but it makes it a great downsell as well, because there’s someone who can’t afford $2,000, $50 seems like a steal. Having that dual purpose of not making the membership the main attraction and the main offer that you’re making, but using it as a simultaneous upsell and downsell, positions it essentially in the subconscious workings that people go through when they weigh up whether they’re getting a good deal, a good bargain and all that sort of stuff as a matter of buying decision. It makes it a no brainer in both directions. This strategy has been used by some of our members. We’re talking high tech, but even on courses where it’s $400 or $500 and they have either used the upsell or downsell or as a bonus, they’ve included 30 days free membership.
You’re capturing that payment information as long as you’re transparent and clear about it. This is where some of the sketchy elements in the online marketing world ruined it for the rest of us because they will not tell you that you will automatically be re-billed. You have to be very careful about that. Using a 30-day trial, especially if you don’t have a trial publicly available and throwing it in there when somebody is purchasing something else, again, it makes it that no brainer. It leverages the whole risk-reversal approach that Jay Abraham talks about. It’s a 30-day free trial, you’re literally paying nothing. You either pay $500 for this course or you pay $500 for this course and access to lots of awesome stuff. What will it be? $500 or $500? It’s thinking about things in different ways.
Those kinds of strategies, some of the other stuff, the clients that we worked with, it’s something that’s worked very well with them is offering a lifetime membership that was only made available on webinars. These webinars worked well when marketing to cold traffic or in terms of non-members but also to existing members because if someone’s been a member for a year or two and they’re loving it. You go and offer them the option of paying for a lifetime membership. If they were planning on subscribing anywhere then right now that might be where they head up, but it may be that after a year or two they dropped off.
By offering that lifetime value, it’s prolonging the overall member lifetime value to you because what you charged for that is more than they would have paid you had you just had them renew, but you get to use the exclusivity factor to ramp up the scarcity because this lifetime offer is only available for 48 hours and will never be available again and all that stuff. Just thinking about things differently could make this stuff work for you.
I love the upsell option. I’ve got a follow up question. Actually, this is one of the ones that we did, we crushed it with tying in a course plus membership all in one offer. There was no upsell. It was $997 for the course and then if they purchase the course, they got $100 per month discount on the membership. The membership is normally $297 a month, but if they purchased the $997 course, they got $100 per month discount on the membership. I’m curious, because you mentioned earlier that you want to make that membership site transparent and the price transparent for everybody. When you did the $2,000 course and let’s say $50 a month upsell or a downsell, is that price still publicly available or is that special to people who go to that funnel?
It’s publicly available. People are on that webinar and they’ve come into the funnel because of an interest in what that cost is specifically going to be about. Your membership is likely to be a bit broader than the course and certainly in those examples the membership was more broadly online business based. On the Foundr, for example, they were there because of Instagram. These are people who may not have ordinarily come across the membership. They’re sold on the extra value that they’re getting.
Also, if you’re launching a membership as well where it’s only just become publicly available, you can do discounts, especially if you’re launching. You should always have some sort of launch pricing. You can discount the monthly and in fact a friend of mine, Chris Ducker, we’ve been involved in his membership, Youpreneur. He’s opened his doors and he is basically selling a three-month facilitated program with the membership baked into it.
You get X amount as an additional three months of access to the regular membership after that and then from there the recurring kicks in. That recurring is lower than what the regular monthly payments have been. If you’re doing that, you can cut it down too far. As long as you know and you feel comfortable in answering the question from an existing member, likewise, I’m personally paying $50 when I’m paying $60, then it becomes a lot easier to actually offer that sort of stuff. People understand that sometimes something might be $10 cheaper than what you paid for it. What they won’t like is if it’s 50% cheaper and they find out. It’s a recurring theme. It just needs to be the more thoughtful, the more considered because there’s a lot more elements in the mix with a membership site versus selling a more traditional product or services and stuff like that.
There are tons of content that we talked about and I’m really excited that you shared your knowledge with membership sites and membership continuity programs because it’s something that all businesses need. I’m glad that you shed a light on the different approaches that you have to consider when somebody goes into launching a membership program and selling a membership program and pricing a membership program because these people are with you for the long haul. They’re building a relationship with you and when they’re getting ready to launch, you have to be considerate and be aware of the long-term play.
There are lots of great information that you shared and I enjoyed the different pricing strategies. You can do the high ticket, which is if you want to use a webinar, it’s great for that or you can have a webinar that stuck on your website somewhere as part of a grander funnel, where it’s this open-door policy that you talked about where you make the offer in a different medium and in a different place on your website.
All of us in the online marketing space, we all think people pay more attention in what we’re doing than they do. We assume that if someone reads our blogs, they also are on our email list, they listen to our podcasts, they’re on our YouTube channel and all that sort of stuff. The truth is someone could be your biggest fan and never sign up in your email list. It could happen, some people don’t trust submitting their email address. I wonder why that might be. If the only way someone can get in your webinar is by being on your email list, that doesn’t mean that that person would never join your membership. It’s the same as if the only way someone could join your membership is by going through your ten-stage funnel.
Most of our members, genuinely about 30%, come direct. They either hit the blog, they see the collection, they click it, read the sales page and join or they come direct from Google, which honestly I can’t quite figure out on our membership because all of our membership site are separate of our content site and all the membership are behind the paywall and yet we get a whole bunch of people just coming from Google, clicking sign up straight away. People come in at different stages, the assumption that everyone starts at stage one or step one of the funnel and then work their way through in a linear fashion and that it should be end roads.
I think Scott Oldford does a very good job of blowing up that concept and showed some people will come in hot, some people will come in warm, some people will be ice cold. His SSF Method is probably one of the best illustrations of that. The same goes for your content. Have your content and your webinar just there for people to be able to register for it, because some people, that might be all they need. The moment they see your site, that webinar looks interesting. They attend it and sign up straight away. They don’t necessarily need read an article to upsell, to three emails to the webinar and all that sort of stuff.
Tell us where my audience can go and find information about your stuff and what you’re doing now.
Thanks for having me on and giving me the opportunity to babble on about memberships. You don’t call yourself The Membership Guys if you don’t love babbling on about this stuff so I appreciate it. All our best stuff is at TheMembershipGuys.com, our membership site is MemberSiteAcademy.com. You can grab me on Twitter, @MembershipGuys, as well and let me know if you’ve enjoyed anything that I’ve been saying.
I know that they’ve enjoyed this content. I’ve enjoyed this content. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation with you. I want to give you a quick huge thank you for hopping on and sharing your knowledge and sharing your content. Anybody who’s considering building a membership site, I highly recommend checking out his content. I read it over the past week. It’s really solid and there’s a lot of great information that you can pick up from there. Go check out his website and connect with him where he gave you the option to do so. Mike, I want to say thank you again.
About Mike Morrison
Howdy, I’m Mike Morrison – one half of The Membership Guys, and along with my partner Callie Willows I’ve spent years guiding the growth of memberships, e-learning businesses and online communities.
Now we run the Member Site Academy, where we teach small business owners and entrepreneurs the skills and strategies they need to build and grow their own successful membership website.
I made my first dollar online 17 years ago, and that was enough to hook me on not only figuring out how the tech gubbins of websites worked, but also how to marry that with marketing strategy to build an actual online business.
I’ve enjoyed a lengthy career, running my own agency and working with businesses of all shapes and sizes – including national brands such as McDonalds, ITV and Ancestry.com – as well as being at the forefront of growing a number of highly successful memberships.
As the host of our podcast, I’m a little fond of the sound of my own voice and I’m partial to the occasional opinionated rant, borne from a passion to help others navigate the murky waters of online marketing.