Announcing your course is just the first step. Marketing and selling your cohort-based course is an ongoing, iterative process. This guide offers tried and true tactics for converting interested prospects into paid students.
The guide is divided in two based on the admission strategy you’re employing. The first part considers Applications while the second is designed around Instant Pay. While you’re using either Applications or Instant Pay, it doesn’t hurt to review both sets of tactics.
In this guide, “marketing” refers to everything you do to get students to apply for your course (or reach the payment page if you’re using Instant Pay). “Sales” refers to activities you do once you have a student’s email address but they haven’t yet paid.
Marketing your course
The easiest step in your marketing and sales strategy is simply announcing it to your audience. You’ll likely earn a few quick applications or sales from this step but don’t be surprised if your cohort isn’t sold out on day one.
If you have an audience who previously expressed interest in your course, it’s worth giving them an “exclusive” or “private pre-sale” opportunity for the first 48 hours. Let them know why they’re getting access, how much you value their support, and that they have 1-2 days to secure their seat before you share your course publicly.
Go to where your audience hangs out, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, an email list, or something else.
Twitter threads are often great at grabbing attention and taking up screen real estate. Because likes and retweets give a thread more exposure, it’s your best chance at growing your audience while also getting students.
A dedicated email to your newsletter list is a must. These are people who have signed up to hear from you. Not sharing your course with this audience is withholding an incredibly valuable experience from your diehard fans. When you share this course with them, they’ll be thrilled!
You know your audience best, but consider dropping links to your course multiple times and hosting it as the link in your bio until your course is live. For relevant topics, add an additional tweet “I’m diving into this more in my upcoming course. There are just a few spots left.”
All your email newsletters should include some sort of call-to-action for your course. It can be a simple one-line text link or a standout section of your newsletter. The more real estate you give your course, the higher the chance you’ll convert some newsletter subscribers into paying students.
PR and partnerships
Find audiences you think would be interested in your course. They might be other newsletters, blogs, podcasts or popular social accounts. If you have your own prominent following, whether it’s an email list or social following, offer to promote the publication to your audience in exchange for your course getting promoted to the other audience. Your audience is your asset so use it wisely in your negotiations.
Use paid social ads and search ads to expand your reach to new audiences. Alternatively, you can create custom audiences so your ads only display to your audience, or to people who have already seen your landing page.
Sales for Application Admissions Strategy
Applications are a great tool for screening prospects and ensuring your cohort will be filled with students who fit your ideal profile. When you have a cohort of vetted students, your course is more likely to be a hit since you know exactly the type of student who has joined.
That said, there’s always a trade-off. You need to excite students to apply, accept them, and then encourage them to claim their seat and pay for the course. There are more decisions involved which means there’s more of an opportunity for drop-off.
This refers to your conversion rate. Represented as a percentage, this is the number of prospects who convert into a paying student.
Your application flow should look something like this:
Beware of the melt
There’s a phenomenon that’s well documented in higher education called “summer melt” where students lose the motivation to attend a course or school they previously expressed interest in. The longer you wait to accept students, the lower your conversion rate will be. This happens in online education too. Student excitedly purchase MOOCs only to try the first lesson or two and then abandon it. We see the same in CBCs as well. The sooner you acknowledge, review, and accept a student, the more likely they are to convert to a paying student. If you wait weeks, their interest subsides, their calendar books up, and you’ve lost a previously engaged prospect.
Tactic 1: acknowledge the application
Most of us have applied to a job at some point in our lives. How did it feel when you applied for a job and didn’t hear back? Candidate experience is critical so reach out to your students as quickly as possible to acknowledge you’ve received their application. Better yet, accept them right away!
At the end of May, Maven will introduce automated application receipt emails to let students know their application has been received. This will be customizable and you’re encouraged to make it sound like it’s coming from you.
Tactic 2: accept students quickly
When a student applies to your course, they’re on a high. They’ve invested time and energy into your application and they know participating in your course will cost money too. They’ve made the decision that it’s worth it. This is that first 24 hours where you need to capitalize on their buy-in. After that, as shown above, interest wanes, excuses come up, and students are a lot harder to convince.
Tactic 3: personalized acceptance emails
Remember, students are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for your course. Take a few minutes to customize your acceptance email so students feel seen, acknowledged, and accepted.
Tactic 4: phone calls/zoom calls
Like tactic 3, a 15 minute phone call is often worth your time considering the price tag on your course. Phone calls can be used in different ways:
Dive deeper into a student’s application. This is great for smaller cohorts that depend on a highly vetted cohort.
Acceptance calls. Setup a quick 10-15 minute phone call to tell the student you want them in the course. There’s a reason hiring managers call a job candidate to tell them the good news rather than sending an email. 5 minutes after you hang up with the student, send them a very brief email with a link to pay for your course.
Phone calls make things feel personal. Likely, your prospects applied because they want to hear from you. If you’ve gone beyond that first 48 hours after an application, use phone calls to increase your chances of converting prospects into students.
Sales for Instant Pay Admissions Strategy
Instant Pay is a transaction between you and your student; this is true ecommerce and your course is the product. Instant Pay means prospects have fewer barriers to become students in your course. No application means less effort and energy required, just money. If you have a highly focused audience and have confidence that you’ll attract the right kind of student, Instant Pay is a great option.
Tactic 5: re-engage drop-offs
When a student clicks ‘Join Today’, they’ll be prompted to create a username and password. Then they’ll be redirected to a Stripe sales page where they input their payment information. During this flow, students drop off. This is normal in all ecommerce experiences; it’s called abandoning the cart.
When you have Instant Pay setup, “abandoned carts” show up as Accepted students. It means, they’ve created an account but didn’t enroll (pay). You should reach out to each and every one of these students as soon as possible, prompting them to pay and secure their seat.
“I’m holding your spot for 24hours but then I’ll have to offer it to someone else”
“Complete your enrollment”
“Your spot isn’t reserved yet”
For both Applications and Sales Admissions Strategies
Tactic 6: discounts
This should be a last-resort tactic to get prospects to convert into students. Using too many discounts cheapens your brand and the perceived value of your course. If you are going to use discounts, share the $ or % discount and the coupon code with your Maven contact. They’ll have to set it up manually in Stripe but it only takes a few minutes.
A pro discount strategy is to use a random collection of letters and numbers to make it feel as if the discount code is for one specific person. COURSE10 looks generic and that it’s getting shared around the internet. X67PL89B looks like it was made for a single student and that the instructor went out of their way to make it. If a student receives a seemingly randomized discount code, they’re more likely to use it than a generic code.
Bonus: automate your emails with webhooks
If you’re using your own email service provider, use Zapier to connect Maven with it. Simply set up the automation in Zapier and provide your contact at Maven with a Zapier webhook endpoint where we can send data to. With this setup, you’ll be able to see:
application.received is triggered when a user submits an application
application.accepted is triggered when a user's application status is changed from applied to accepted, OR when a user is added to the system in the accepted state.
payment.success is triggered after a successful Stripe payment