The Most Effective Marketing Strategies for Increasing Online Sales
In this episode, we discuss with Chris Badgett joint founder and head of marketing and sales at LifterLMS what has he and his team have found to be the most effective strategies connected to online marketing in 2020?
Chris started learning about online education on a glacier in Alaska. He’s created courses on everything from organic gardening to woodworking. He is passionate about helping other entrepreneurial educators find success and create an impact.
Intro: Welcome to the WP tonic podcast where each week Jonathan and his co-host interview, the leading experts in WordPress, e-learning, and online marketing. Jonathan, take it away.
Johnathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show its episode 555. We’ve got a great guest friend panelists on our round table show. We got Chris Badgett back. He is one of the joint founders of Lifter LMS. We’re going to be, Chris has been on the show multiple times, but we got a great subject for our discussion this week. We’re going to be talking about the marketing strategies that have worked for Chris and Lifter LMS during this year. It’s been a great year for Lifter LMS. And Chris is going to be talking about the strategies, the platforms that have got the biggest success in explosion sales for his company. So, Chris can you just do a quick 22nd intro for yourself and then I’ll talk about one of our sponsors. Off you go, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Sure, I help course creators create launch and scale high-value online learning platforms, and we help the experts themselves, the teachers, but we also serve the WordPress professionals who deploy these types of sites. We’ve got a plugin called Lifter LMS, and we also have a podcast dedicated to this niche called LMS Cast.
Johnathan Denwood: That’s great. And I’ve got my great co-host, Steven. Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself?
Steven Sauder: Yeah, Steven Sauder from Zipfish.io. We make WordPress blazing fast by optimizing both the code and the servers.
Johnathan Denwood: That’s great. And before we go into the main part of the show and our discussion with Chris, I want to talk about one of our sponsors and that’s Kinsta Hosting. Kinsta is a specialized WordPress hosting provider. They only deal with WordPress websites. If you go and look on the site, a learning management system, not Lifter LMS, and you need extra performance and you will. Kinsta is a great choice and they offer all the bells and whistles. One-click back up, automatic back up, one click to the latest version of PHB I could go on and on. Also great support and a great team! I suggest you go over there, look at some of their clients, not only for yourself but for your clients, if you do purchase one of their plans.
And I highly recommend that you do, please, don’t forget to mention that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show. It really helps the show, and it really helps Kinsta. So on to the interview, Chris. So it’s been to say it’s been an interesting year would be an understatement. I think you’ve been recently public about the kind of cells and the kind of growth your own company has experienced. But what I want to do in this particular podcast is to have an emphasis on what have been some of the marketing channels that you have built upon, or tried out in 2020 that has given you the most growth you feel. So is there any particular channel platform-style that you’ve tried that has surprised you the most about getting more growth and sales?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. To frame it all in, let me just back up and say that marketing is one of the things that I could talk about for a long time, and really, it just comes down to a very simple strategy. I learned a long time ago, so I am not a computer programmer. I do not have a business background and I did not start this company as a techie yet, here I am with a company that’s doing well. There are things in the environment that we can control, and there are things in the environment that we can’t control. But the marketing as a skillset has been, one of the fundamental pieces that, has allowed me to build a WordPress LMS technology company with no prior technical skills. No funding, nothing from complete scratch as a bootstrapper the way I think about marketing. It does not matter if you are a WordPress professional, an agency, a product provider, a retail business.
There are some fundamentals that literally, don’t matter what the business is, that if you follow can help you generate leads and scale-out a company. So the simplest framework that I use for marketing is, falls into three buckets. What’s called inbound, outbound and relationships. Inbound is content marketing more broadly it’s attraction marketing, where you attract inbound leads through lots of different channels and content into your marketing funnel or just into your client acquisition system. Then there is outbound. This is where you go out and you prospect, or you pay for reach on platforms like Facebook, Google, YouTube for you’re going out away from your home base, instead of attracting, you’re doing outbound sales. And then the third, which is very important in the WordPress community and for all businesses is relationship marketing, which is not an I’m going to do this for you so then you’re going to do this for me.
It’s more just investing in high-quality relationships with your customers, your peers, your industry partners. You’re other marketers, other stuff like that. So broadly put, if you develop a diversified strategy across inbound, outbound, and relationships, even if one of those stops working or doesn’t work, my advice is to be doing something in all three of those buckets all the time and start small, start with one thing. So if what’s working for us, and what I find is that companies. Whether that’s an individual or a personal brand or a solopreneur, or a very large company, either way, they tend to have one. One of those tends to be stronger based on the personality of the founder, or the marketer and also their skills, but you should still develop a broad strategy for me and Lifter LMS.
Our strength is in inbound marketing generating leads from nothing, just create doing attraction marketing. Our second strongest is relationships, you know, going to conferences, networking, even doing shows like this. And WordPress is a lot about community. So there’s a lot of relationship stuff. And for me, relationships are just giving as much as you possibly can with no expectation of return, but just investing in people and just the human side of, business. And then outbound. We do, do a little bit of in terms of paid advertising and reach through a boosted Facebook or targeted YouTube campaigns and a little bit of Google ad words, but really, I just use outbound as a way to amplify the inbound that’s already working because that’s my strength.
So if I have a message that I want to get out, I will create the content. I will amplify it through outbound through something like, let’s say a Facebook boosted video, and then, you know, also leverage my relationships in a way that like, how can I make whatever I’m trying to promote also benefit other people. So there’s a lot we can dig into if I were to just, I know you asked for specific strategies, but that is my foundation for.
Johnathan Denwood: Oh, that’s fine. Before but like I said before I pass you over to Steven the intelligent one of the partnership. Sorry, Steven. Has there been one particular, you know, of those three strategies? I would say I don’t know for a fact, but I get the impression that number two paid, you know, paying to get traffic, you haven’t really utilized that. Has that changed in 2020, or is that going to change in 2021? Are you looking at investing more money in paid traffic or is basically the fundamentals of your marketing strategy going to be the same in 2021 as they were in 2020?
Chris Badgett: That’s a great question. I did have a change in paid advertising strategy in 2020 post-COVID, which is that I noticed that Facebook, as an example, got a lot cheaper as advertisers were being more conservative or even canceling their paid advertising, I could get more reach for less money and so there’s that. And then I compound it onto the fact that there’s a thing. If you look at social media and large companies like Facebook and Google, where they are, they will always prioritize themselves. So I learned that with Facebook advertising, as an example, if I put a video, a native video on Facebook and I put no links around the content at all in the description or in the ad or anything.
And then I pay Facebook to optimize it for video views, as an example, I would get 10 to a hundred times the reach of what if I was putting a link in there. So an example would be if I was going to do, I mean, I can reach like 20,000 WordPress professionals for like 40 bucks as an example, but that’s with a message with no link to click on. So this gets into the debate between brand marketing and direct response marketing.
Johnathan Denwood: Oh yeah. That is the thing I’m going to throw it over to Steven now but I’ve got some other questions, obviously over to you, Steven.
Steven Sauder: Yeah. And there’s so much to unpack, but I guess just to like take it back one step, let’s say I have a course or I have a business that I just created and I don’t have any customers. I don’t have a lot of followers, but I have a great idea. How did you start like Lifter LMS? Did you start it with inbound? Like how does inbound work when your reach isn’t that big, to begin with? Like, do you have to start with outbound? Is that the only way to get traffic or relationships?
Chris Badgett: That’s a great question. So there’s a lot of debate now in the marketing world around like the difference between flywheels and funnels. And I’m a fan of like more the flywheel. So in the beginning, a lot of the impact is just small. Everything that we’re doing now is what we’ve always done, but our results that were just much smaller in the beginning. And I learned from Jason Cohen at WP Engine, I just heard a talk he gave around how to start, like what to do in the very beginning, you know, as he was starting WP Engine and doing other companies in the bootstrap model.
He talks a lot about toothing and climbing, which is where you throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks, what a lot of people do is they will, they think they have to do paid because they don’t know, they don’t have anything else in their toolset. They don’t have an established YouTube channel. Nobody follows their blog. They don’t even know who to reach out to or whatever. But what I recommend doing for people at the beginning is to really do that portfolio, the spray and pray method of, I mean, I was when Lifter for you asked when Lifter first launched, and what did we do?
We made YouTube videos. We reached out to probably 15 different WordPress publications about the launch of our product. We were posting on our personal social media accounts. We were reaching out to existing course creators that we could find on sites like Udemy and other places. We reached out directly to the WordPress community. We wrote blogs, we created Facebook groups, we started our podcast, which has almost 300 episodes now, but that first episode you speak into the darkness.
We started our Facebook group, which now has around 8,000 people in it. That just used to be me in there talking to myself reposting content, but you have to get the flywheel spinning. And then certain things take off at different times. Maybe you hit one relationship well, maybe you, like our Facebook group didn’t really take off until there were about 400 people in there.
Our YouTube channel, you know, it was all right. It’s still not even that great in terms of region, the views, and stuff like that, but it’s super niche. So you got to throw a lot at it and see what sticks. And at the end of the day, the biggest lesson, the pandemic has taught us, which is sad, but true from a marketing perspective is when we hear the governments and the news media talking about essential businesses that can remain open this idea of an essential business. I’m not here to debate, what’s essential, What’s not, but what stops, a lot of businesses in their tracks is they are what we call in marketing, a suggestion and not a solution to a burning problem with a clear customer, looking to get a clear result that you can help them with.
So if that stuff in the beginning, like the value proposition of the business itself, is off, and then the ability to form a clear pitch of what it is and who it’s for and the result they’re going to get and how long, and even in challenging circumstances is off.
Every, all the marketing is not going to matter. So there’s a little bit of foundational stuff. And then the fundamentals there, and nobody’s perfect, you know. Like I still, as an established business, have customer avatar issues. Like, I mean, we work with experts, we work with big companies, we work with schools. Like who is Lifter for, I don’t know who’s WordPress for.
Johnathan Denwood: That’s funny. That was slightly the question I’m going to be asking you after the break. You really must have read my mind Chris, which is very easy. So we’re going to go for a break and we’ll be coming back and I’ll be asking Chris a question around what he’s just stated. We’ll be back in a few moments’ folks.
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Johnathan Denwood: We’re coming back. We’ve had a great initial discussion in the first half. We have a great friend of the show. Chris Badgett, the joint founder of Lifter LMS. So, Chris, it was just amazing your last statement. Because that was going to be my question because the biggest struggle I’ve increasingly doubled, 2020 has been a great year for WP-Tonic, you know, it’s just got stronger and stronger. But like you, the biggest problem is, who is my customer, who am I really serving?
And I’ve struggled with that enormous amount. I’m not satisfied, I’ve got a real answer, but you’ve had this by the sounds of things had a similar problem of who it’s really you are serving the best. I think that’s the best way to put it. If you got any insights about how to deal with that and how to clarify, to break through the mist, the fog as I call it to find out who you should be appealing to the most.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I have two things I’ve learned. One of them is just a framework around this idea that if you take care of the ends, the middle will take care of itself. And this is what WordPress itself does, is it’s designed for like a beginner first-time blogger or somebody who wants to put a site up on their own, no code, whatever, like the newbie. Yeah, it’s this incredible development platform that complex developers and companies like ours can come in and build on top of and build these businesses. Or somebody can build a really custom web application for our client with WordPress.
So if you take care when you’re building a product or a service business on top of a flexible platform, taking care of the ends, the people in the middle will take care of them. But if you ignore the newbies or you ignore the power users, it just, it tends to create a lot of friction. And the way I think about software and really any business is that we’re in the friction removal business. So the job of a business, if you’re having a hard time selling or marketing, you don’t have a clear customer.
You’re not, your business isn’t like removing, the friction that people want, removed, and maybe you’re not, you can’t communicate that. So that’s what I would recommend looking at when it comes to your messaging and stuff like that, like, what is the friction? What are we solving here? When COVID happened in essential business, the hospitals need to stay open.
Johnathan Denwood: I’m sorry to interrupt there Chris, I’m going to throw it over to Steven in a second, but the only problem with that comes to my mind is like, it would be the same for you as for me, you got to learn, you got the people starting. Who are looking for maybe where they should be, but it doesn’t always work out. Does it, Chris, they should be looking at the quickest, easiest platforms, technologies that will enable them to get their first calls up and running as quickly as possible. But also consider how easy it is going to be to improve the offering and be able to alter the offering as you learn more about their customers.
And then you got maybe people on SAS platforms that have got very similar to e-commerce. They might’ve started with Shopify, but they have functionality, which Shopify can never satisfy in SEO key functionality. So they look at something like WooCommerce that they’re very different types of people. So how do you choose which one you’re going to focus the most on? Is it by looking at your analytics, is it by antidotal, you know, feel about who’s going to buy the most, you know, fundamentally that’s the key question who are the people that are going to buy the most from you, is it not?
Chris Badgett: I can answer that in one-word positioning. So this is the book by April Dunford called Obviously Awesome. So if you have a business and you don’t know what your position is, and you really haven’t nailed positioning your business, like, why is WordPress or WooCommerce positioned? How is it positioned in contrast to Shopify? How has the Lifter LMS positioned in contrast to Kajabi? I have a person, I was just in an email exchange this morning with somebody who is pulling their hair out, overthinking, if it can and cannot wait to get into WordPress, but there are also people that come into WordPress that should be over on Thinkific.
So it’s not a zero-sum game where somebody has to lose in order for somebody else to win. We call this the infinite game. What’s more important is that you, as a business owner, figure out where your position is in the market and you tell that story. Now, when you have a flexible platform, I learned from one of my business mentors, his name’s Dan Martell, that he has a strategy called the Bowling Pin Strategy. We’re going to focus on one customer for now. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to sell to the other people. It doesn’t mean like next year, we’re not going to change what the main headline says on our homepage or whatever.
So for us, as an example, your question Jonathan was like, do you go after who you would make the most money with? Not necessarily because I’ve been on the phone with university tech departments. They don’t care. They’re just like, I want 10 of them, but then I have to get on the phone with their legal department. I need to get on the phone with their, all these different departments, their lawyers calling. And I love seeing Lifter inside universities. It’s actually in lots of universities, but when the IT department, or when the legal gets involved, it gets complex. It turns into an enterprise sale.
So what I realized with Lifter and just for positioning the bowling, the first bowling pin, you want to go after the people where you’re going to make the most money, that’s going to be the easiest to sell to, which is where, you know, the example I was providing as a high maintenance prospect. And then they’re going to naturally get high levels of customer success without taxing the support team. So there’s, basically, there’s a certain type of WordPress professional that is actually our, you know, main target market, if you will.
Does that mean a want to be, first-timer make money on the internet person is not a good fit? No. Does it mean that somebody who is frustrated and they’re already moving on a SAS is not a good customer? No. Does it mean that like a speaker who’s on the speaker circuit and tired of, like sleeping on planes and then COVID and everything shouldn’t come over to work for us? No, they already got a WordPress site, they should just plug-in Lifter and recreate their business virtually, and all those people are our customers. But you know, for the past year, we’ve really been focusing a lot on the WordPress LMS professional.
We just did a really great webinar. So that’s marketing content and building relationships with Go WP which leads a group of WordPress professionals and agencies. And I did a presentation about how to build a WordPress LMS agency in the fastest, in five hot niches within the online education market. So that is an example of me, marketing to a very clear customer in a win-win sort of way. So that’s what it’s all about.
Johnathan Denwood: Well, over to you Steven.
Steven Sauder: Do you think there’s a negative side effect to switching up those pins that you’re targeting? Like a lot of times, like, okay, I’m going to go after this person and then like, you start trying to create that inbound flywheel sort of thing, but that takes time. So then you’re not seeing results right away. So then you’re like, oh, well, maybe it’s a different person, you go after that. Like, how do you weigh that decision on who to go after? How long do you go after it? So you decide is it working or not working. How do you like, make sense of all that?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a great question. One piece of advice I got, again from one of my business mentors, Dan Martell during COVID, especially when it first hit, like I’m talking in like, April-ish like website, traffic, sales, everything was just like going way up. And I was like, what do I do? I have this bowling pin I’m focusing on basically like this ideal customer profile, this customer avatar, whatever you want to call it. But I’m like I’m getting all this stuff from all these angles. And he said to Fisher-Price it, which just means to, it’s okay, change your strategy, generalize it while you’ve got all this.
And then circle back later to go back to your core customer and focus on a new one, so it can kind have ebb and flow. It’s not like it’s all or nothing decision. So in that case, when I got tons of interest from no clear customer, I just, you know, generalize the marketing and what I was doing. But then later, as things are more stable and things are calming down and people are figuring out, you know, I’ve been focusing more and more on the WordPress LMS professional, but because WordPress is flexible, we’re always going to have, like, it’s a powerful tool.
You can make a lot of things with it. There’s always going to be a little bit of like a collection of customer profiles. So there’s a difference between a customer profile and what in marketing, ideal customer profile and what we call segments. So it’s okay to do segmentation and have like, so for us, we have experts. We have people who build sites for clients, and we have businesses and institutions that are using LMS. Those are our segments, and we have tons of marketing across all that broad basket.
It’s just that the 80, 20 of it, is focused on the ideal customer profile. So it’s not like, a hard science, it’s more of an art. It just helps you focus when you’re like, man, there’s just so much, there’s an infinite amount of marketing you could do and videos you could create and blogs, you could write.
So 80% of the time makes it for that current customer profile. And the other thing too, is you have to instrument your business or your product or your service so that, you know, what’s working and who’s coming. ‘m constantly looking at like, when people buy Lyft or what’s their email address. Oh, what kind of business is this? Oh, okay. We’re getting more and more test prep companies, maybe we should create some test prep marketing, and maybe we should help WordPress professionals build sites for test prep companies. I mean, that’s a niche. So yeah, it is.
Steven Sauder: I don’t even know, what is test prep? That is quite the niche.
Chris Badgett: Test prep is just where people like, prepare for the MCATs or the SAT, or to get their pilot’s license or to become a nurse or whatever. Like there are all kinds of test prep, niches. And those companies like when they launch on WordPress and Lifter, they do very well and this is a good marketing thing. If you have test prep or you have continuing education to keep a job, like you’re a surgeon or a pharmacist, or you need to have ongoing continuing education these companies do very well because their customer literally has to take this in order to keep their job so that there’s friction there that’s real, and there’s a deadline.
And as long as they do the fundamentals, right, those businesses are easy to market and scale. And because they have a clear customer like pharmacists in Ohio, talk about targeting like a Facebook ad with that kind of specificity, it’s just very easy. The problem is we call it the expert’s curse, where people just in courses, and online education, they get so passionate about something it’s really hard to focus. It’s a big problem in our industry.
Johnathan Denwood: We’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show, the 30 minutes goes quickly. Hopefully, Chris can stay on for another 10, 15 minutes. You’ll be able to watch that bonus content on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. You’ll be able to see the whole interview, plus the upcoming bonus content. I’m going to be asking Chris more specific questions about paid advertising and what is the bigger picture? What is the purpose of Lifter LMS? So Chris, what’s the best way for people to learn more about you and what you’re up to?
Chris Badgett: You can just go to lifterlms.com and check us out there or listen to our podcast, LMS cast.
Johnathan Denwood: That’s great. And Stephen, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to.
Steven Sauder: Head over to zipfish.io, run a speed test, see how fast you can make your site run.
Johnathan Denwood: I’ve got to say Steven and his team have been really helping us with some client work. Plus they’re helping us with the WP-Tonic website, go over to their website, and try out their speed optimization services. We’ve been delighted with the help Steven and his team have provided us. I can’t highly praise Steven, much more really. We’ll be back next week with another great guest, another great conversation. We’ll see you soon folks.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the WP-Tonic podcast, the podcast that gives you a dose of WordPress medicine twice a week.
Every Friday at 8:30am PST we have a great and hard-hitting round-table show with a group of WordPress developers, online business owners and WordPress junkies where we discuss the latest and most interesting WordPress and online articles/stories of the week. You can also watch the show LIVE every Friday at 8:30am PST on our Facebook WP-Tonic Show page. https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/