CGW Sales Page Lessons

You may be aware that a couple months ago, I worked with a copywriter to redo the Conscious Growth Workshop sales page. This particular copywriter was a referral from a friend and claimed he could greatly increase the conversion rate of my original sales page.

In the end, however, the sales page he created had exactly the opposite effect. I let it run for about 6 weeks, and the results during that time were utterly dismal.

I didn’t do any formal A/B split testing, but a reasonable estimate based on expected results is that CGW registrations dropped by roughly a factor of 5 while the copywriter’s version of the sales page was online. So despite all the various sales techniques he used, my original no-frills “wall of text” version of that page actually outperformed his version by 5-to-1. That’s no small difference. That’s a lot of money too (in the five-figure range).

And this is especially telling given that his version of the page incorporated some nice video testimonials from previous CGW attendees as well as 3 new downloadable bonuses for no added cost. I created two of the bonuses, and the third bonus was created by CGW alumni. So there was actually even more value for the copywriter to work with.

It’s important to be careful not to overgeneralize from such a limited experiment, but if you couple the actual sales results with the abundance of feedback I received via email, Facebook, Twitter, the forums, and even face-to-face at CGW #3 in May, the big picture is pretty clear.

Overall, it’s fair to say that most of the readers who gave me feedback very much disliked the copywriter’s sales page. They described it as “cheesy” and “manipulative.” Some people downright hated it. Many said they would never buy anything from a page like that, even though this sort of sales page is incredibly common on the Internet.

Now it’s one thing to receive such feedback from people who’ve never attended a CGW and had no plans to do so in the future. That kind of feedback isn’t particularly actionable. But I also heard from several people who attended CGW, claiming that they never would have attended CGW at all if they’d seen the copywriter’s sales page first. That kind of feedback is certainly actionable in my view. I can’t simply brush it off.

Sales Page Fail

Since the copywriter’s sales page failed to perform, the next decision was a no-brainer. I took it offline a few weeks ago.

I replaced the copywriter’s sales page with a modified version of my original CGW page.

I didn’t re-use any sales text created by the copywriter. Since the results were so bad, I figured it was best to just scrap all of it and go back to my original version.

I kept the free bonuses, so those are still there, but I removed the over-hyped descriptions and replaced them with my own, so they’re now described in plain English (or at least my version of plain English).

I also kept the video testimonials. Those were recorded after a CGW by our video guy, so the copywriter wasn’t involved in creating those at all.

Additionally, I added about a dozen photos from a previous CGW, in order to give you a better idea of what CGW actually looks like. These photos were taken at CGW #3 last month.

I still think the sales page needs work, but at least we have a version online that does a good job of explaining what CGW is all about, sans hype, and I haven’t received any complaints that it turns people away. On the contrary, I’ve already received some positive feedback about it, especially with the addition of the photos.

Within a matter of hours of replacing the sales page, a new CGW registration came through, and that person actually dropped me a note to say that he wouldn’t register via the copywriter’s page since he was so turned off by it that he didn’t want to contribute to its stats, thereby risking that I might keep it online. That about sums it up!

Fortunately I didn’t pay this copywriter any money. I probably would have been rather pissed off if I had. We were going to do a trade instead, but since he ultimately wasn’t able to deliver on his grand claims of increased conversions, there was no basis of consideration for any trade. Despite the negative results, however, I probably still would have gone through with the trade, but that deal fell apart for other reasons. Even so, it’s fair to say that just by performing this experiment, I lost a good chunk of potential CGW registrations, and it’s hard to say if those sign-ups will ever be recouped.

Lessons Learned

Despite the overwhelmingly negative results, I’m glad I did this experiment.

I learned that my original sales page for CGW was perhaps not so bad after all. It may not have been pretty, but it was honest and straightforward, and people obviously liked that. I also learned that my Internet marketer friends — who encouraged me to incorporate the same sales techniques they were using — may not be so brilliant after all when it comes to knowing how to sell something like CGW.

What I find especially interesting is that even many of the people who disliked the copywriter’s sales page actually predicted that CGW sales would increase while that page was online. That didn’t surprise me. It seems to be a common perception that such sales pages must be effective if so many online entrepreneurs are using them. But perhaps they aren’t as effective as people assume. Maybe those pages are so popular not because of their inherent effectiveness but simply because so many Internet marketers have been teaching people to make those kinds of pages for years.

The design of such sales pages stems from direct mail, which has a history dating back more than 100 years. Should we still be relying on snail mail sales methods from the last century?

With most direct mail, there’s no personal relationship to speak of, so hard-sell tactics are used to stir up a person’s emotions and push for an immediate sale. The Internet is different though. The online world is becoming more about ongoing relationships, especially with the rise of blogs and social networking. There’s so much stimulation available already that it’s unnecessary for people to buy something to achieve a perceived emotional benefit. They can find plenty of free substitutes to create the same effect.

Provide a genuine benefit at a fair price, however, and hard-sell tactics may be completely pointless.

Despite the financial sting, I’m actually glad this experiment turned out the way it did. I probably would have been more bothered if the copywriter’s sales page succeeded in a big way. Looking back, I feel I did my best to give it a fair chance to prove itself; I don’t see any evidence that I sabotaged the results. But it’s nice to know that a more authentic approach to selling not only feels better to me — it also appears to be the more profitable route in the long run. It’s nice to know that the apparent conflict between following the path with a heart and making the best financial decisions for my business may be a false dichotomy. It does seem possible to do both at once.

I also hope this experiment will give Internet marketers pause… maybe even scare them a bit. What if their best efforts are only performing at 20% of capacity or less? What if they simply dropped the contrived tactics and instead communicated with web visitors like real human beings? Perhaps the reason they must use such tactics is that the products and services they offer are of questionable value to begin with.

Is it possible that the best sales techniques may actually be authenticity and straightforwardness? Is it possible that all the fancy complexities espoused by Internet marketers could actually hurt sales?

What if you could instantly start earning 5x as much money by removing the technique-based sales page from your website and replacing it with a straightforward, no-frills “wall of text” that explains in plain English what you’re offering and how you think it could benefit people? No pressure. Just say, “Here’s what I’m offering. Here’s what it costs. Take it or leave it.”

I could say a lot more about this, but for now I’ll leave this for you to consider.

July CGW

The July Conscious Growth Workshop is only 3 weeks away. It will be held July 16-18, 2010 (Fri-Sun) at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

Largely as a result of doing this sales page experiment, the July CGW is undersold compared to previous CGWs. We’re at 20 paid registrations so far, which is definitely on the low side. Normally by this point we’d be at 50+ registrations.

We do typically get a lot of last-minute registrations, but even considering that, this will most likely to be our smallest CGW to date. Although that means less income for me, I actually don’t mind this. It means we’ll have a more intimate environment with the potential for more individual attention than at previous CGWs.

Fortunately our costs for doing a CGW are such that even if we don’t get any more registrations, we aren’t at risk of losing money on it. So rest assured that the July CGW is still going to happen.

I’ve had the opportunity to refine and polish CGW a great deal since CGW #1 in October 2009. The overall content remains largely the same, but the way the content is presented has changed a lot over the past year. Many accelerated learning techniques are used to make it easier for you to learn, retain, and apply the material. Best of all, CGW is also a lot of fun. That should be obvious from looking at the photos.

Entrepreneurial Experimenting

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 16 years now, and I know I wouldn’t be doing very well in business if I wasn’t willing to experiment, especially when there’s financial risk involved.

In my first several years in business, I tried to learn everything I could from other people. I essentially did what everyone else in my field was doing. I read books written by experts and followed their advice. Some of their advice worked, but much of it didn’t. Five years later I was bankrupt.

I didn’t give up though. Eventually I started paying more attention to my intuition, and I began conducting my own experiments to figure out what would actually work for me. Often the results I obtained through direct experimentation were practically the opposite of what other people, including the “experts,” said would happen.

For example, one time I conducted an experiment with my computer games business. I did a formal A/B split test where half the people visiting my website would have the opportunity to download free demos of each game I sold, and the other half wouldn’t have access to the free demos. Many people in the field made predictions about which group would produce more sales, but they couldn’t agree. Most people said the free demos would increase sales.

Ultimately the results were completely neutral. The difference in sales was so negligible that it didn’t matter whether I had free demos on the site or not. Sales were not measurably affected either way. That result surprised a lot of people. The benefit to me was that, coupled with other experiments, I learned where to best focus my efforts to increase sales. Other developers potentially wasted a lot of time and energy optimizing things that made no difference whatsoever, whereas I was able to take steps to increase my sales by a factor of 10 over a period of years.

It didn’t take me long to see that I was frequently getting better results by doing my own thing instead of applying the most popular solutions. I realized that a great many respected experts, including lots of published authors, really don’t know what the frak they’re talking about. Their advice was counterproductive much of the time. Many so-called experts simply rehash what they’ve been taught, and as the world of business changes, their advice eventually becomes inaccurate and then obsolete. Yet they continue to preach the same old drivel.

I extend this attitude into my personal life as well. I got caught up following the prescribed path of going to college, getting engaged, getting married, having kids, buying a house, etc. It seemed like the thing to do. But for whatever reason, it didn’t yield the long-term happiness it promised. So now I’m experimenting once again to figure out what actually works for me as an individual. And as usual, there are plenty of people making a fuss about it, proclaiming that what I’m doing isn’t going to work and that I should go back to doing what everyone else is doing.

And they’re still wrong. 😉

Most important of all is this. Don’t copy what I’m doing. What works for me may not work for you at all. Conduct your own experiments to figure out what works best for you as an individual, whether you’re pursuing increased sales, better health, greater happiness, etc.

This is actually something we teach at CGW. It’s part of the 5th principle of conscious growth — becoming your own authority. 🙂