There’s never been more competition between online courses than there is today.
These courses are easy to create, widely available, and if you have the expertise, they are highly valuable to the right set of people.
But selling an online course? That can be a bit more difficult.
And for many, it can take a whole lot of time too.
On top of that, if you’re selling an online course, that also means that the competition you’re facing is always on the rise.
But the question is, how do you sell online courses these days?
And how can you automate that selling so you have more time to focus on other areas of your business while growing sales?
Today, I’ll show you:
- The process of how to sell online courses automatically with a sales funnel.
- What elements you need to include in your funnel and how your prospects should flow through it.
- Plus, I’ll share AutoGrow’s tried-and-true online course funnel template that you can download for free and copy it 💪.
Ready to start building your online course sales funnel today? It all starts with this…
What Is an Online Course Funnel?
If you’ve been following AutoGrow for at least some time, you definitely already know what a sales funnel is.
But if you haven’t and you’re landing here for the first time (welcome btw!), let’s talk about what the heck a sales funnel is.
First off, the technical definition of a sales funnel is:
A sales funnel is a series of steps designed to guide visitors towards a buying decision. The steps are composed of marketing assets that do the work of selling, like landing pages and emails.
Sounds simple, right?
Well if you’re still lost, think of the Panama Canal (bear with me…).
To explain, the Panama Canal is made up of a series of locks and dams.
These are sections of the canal where ships can be raised or lowered by filling up or draining out water.
Check it out below.
And with enough locks and dams, you can slowly elevate a ship 10s, 100s, or even 1000s of feet!
So, how does this relate to funnels, you say?
Well, each part of a sales funnel is meant to get your lead one step closer to buying.
Maybe it does so by building trust. Or maybe by answering a prospect’s questions. Or maybe by showcasing a demo of your product.
No matter how it does it, each step inches your prospects ever closer to buying.
Kind of like how ships on a canal are raised inch by inch to get to the height they need to be at on the other side.
So when you’re trying to sell your info product or online course, a sales funnel helps bring in leads, better qualify those leads, and push them ever closer to buying your product.
Why Do You Need an Online Course Funnel?
So now that you know what a sales funnel is, why do you need to know how to sell online courses with a sales funnel?
And the answer here is simple: it saves you an ocean of time.
See, once a sales funnel is set up properly, it practically automates your lead generation.
All it takes is starting up your ads (or whatever your funnel fuel is) and leads start moving through your funnel, getting ever closer to buying what you’re selling.
And for online classes, in particular, that can be a huge deal.
In fact, this ability to fully automate the sales process is what attracts most people to this business model in the first place.
So once you learn how to sell your online courses automatically with the right sales funnel, you can streamline your customer acquisition so that it qualifies and converts leads without you.
And what does that mean for you?
You can put your energies into other activities instead.
Like running your business, developing new products, creating new courses, or even taking a hard-earned vacation—finally!
So, why wouldn’t you build a sales funnel to help you sell online courses on auto-pilot?
The 3 Essential Elements of Any Online Course Sales Funnel
No matter what you’re selling, every single sales funnel has 3 core elements: fuel, foundation, and follow-up.
We’ll get into more of the specifics of each later on in this article.
But for now, you can get a better idea of each element in the online course and info product funnel below.
Let’s take a look at why these 3 core elements are so important for your sales funnel.
- Fuel: A funnel only works when it has traffic moving through it. And that’s what the fuel part of your funnel is for—to drive traffic to your site. There are tons of different traffic sources to fuel a funnel you can choose from. Most of the funnels we’ve built at AutoGrow are fueled either by paid traffic through Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook or they come from a client’s existing email list. But these are definitely the most common.
- Foundation: This is where the bulk of the prospect conversion and qualification happens. Lead magnet landing pages attract the right kinds of customers as long as the core offer adds value to them. Your lead magnet offer should give prospects what they need rather than what they want and this will build immediate trust. For instance, 2-step opt-in boxes let you collect your prospects’ contact information so you can keep nurturing the relationship. On the other hand, your sales page educates visitors on what it is you’re selling. And your checkout page is where the sale finally takes place.
- Follow-Up: Not every online course funnel is going to be perfect (i.e., every lead turns into a customer). And sometimes, leads just aren’t ready to buy today. So they drop out of your funnel. But don’t worry! That’s where the follow-up elements come into play. Made up mainly of retargeting ads and email sequences, these parts of your funnel are designed to bring leads back into your funnel after they’ve dropped out.
Which is Better: Keep It Simple or Get Complex?
So now that you understand the basic elements of an online course funnel, you’re ready to start building yours.
And the first step is creating an online course funnel diagram.
This is the blueprint you’ll use to map out how your prospective customers flow from one stage to the next in your funnel.
We create a funnel diagram like this for each one of our done-for-you service’s clients.
Now, one mistake that a lot of people make when first starting out and creating the funnel themselves is trying to get too complex too quickly.
Let me show you an example.
This is a great funnel example. It’s got all the core elements an online course or info products funnel needs to bring in leads.
And on top of that, there are plenty of added bells and whistles to increase conversions.
This is the funnel you should aspire to create when selling online courses.
But it’s the wrong funnel for just starting out.
Because of the same thing that makes it great: it’s complex. And that complexity means that it takes time to create.
Lots of it in fact.
Building an online course funnel like this can take as much as several months to complete.
That’s why we recommend starting with a simpler funnel like the one discussed in the previous section.
This info product/online course funnel has a couple of very important benefits over the more complex one.
- It takes less time to complete, which means you can start seeing results much faster.
- It’s a less resource-intensive proof of concept. If leads are falling out at different stages here, it’s much easier to plug that leak and remove bottlenecks in a simpler funnel than a more complex one.
- It sets the foundation that you can build on over time. Once leads start moving through your funnel and converting, you can add complexities along the way to further increase your conversion rate or the lifetime value of your clients.
- It lets you validate your market early on instead of spending thousands on a giant funnel for a dry market.
In the end, then, simplicity is the way to go when first building your funnel.
As such, I’ll be looking more closely at the simpler funnel design as we go through the 5 steps of building a high-converting online course sales funnel.
Now, let’s get to it.
Step #1: Lay Your Foundation
The first step of automating your online course sales through a funnel is by developing your funnel foundation.
This includes all the core aspects of your funnel: the lead magnet, the lead magnet landing page, the 2-step opt-in, the congrats + video + sales page, and the checkout page.
Let’s take a closer look at how to create each and a few tips to help you keep prospects flowing through your funnel.
The Lead Magnet
What is a lead magnet?
Well, this is typically the first element of most sales funnels.
And as the name implies, it’s meant to attract new leads and bring them into your sales funnel.
Basically, it’s a small piece of irresistible value that you offer to prospects in exchange for their contact information.
Lead magnets are meant to be high in value, easily consumable, and especially relevant to the audience you’re targeting with your online course.
With a good lead magnet, everyone comes out a winner. Your prospects learn more about a topic they’re interested in.
And you benefit from getting their contact information (usually an email) so you can continue to nurture them until they become a customer.
This contact info is also essential for retargeting ads and follow-up email sequences in case your prospect falls out of your funnel.
How to Create a Lead Magnet for Your Online Course
So, now that you’ve got the basics about what a lead magnet is, it’s time to come up with some ideas for creating your online course sales funnel.
The key elements here are being relevant and being easily consumable.
So no 100-page ebooks. No free 5 week courses. No 3-day 1-on-1 training program.
A lead magnet is supposed to be a quick win for both you and your prospects, so keep that in mind when brainstorming.
There are tons of lead magnet examples to choose from.
But here are a few specifically for online courses to get your creative juices flowing.
A Few Examples of Lead Magnets
The QC makeup academy offers a variety of paid courses where students can learn the finer points of cosmetology and makeup application.
Course prices range from several hundreds of dollars to thousands for the full tuition.
They’ve chosen to create a number of free workshops where visitors to their site can get a taste of the teaching quality that QC provides.
After the workshop is over, attendees are continually nurtured so that they return and purchase a full course.
Of course, there’s also the almighty coupon. Internationally known guitar creator Fender also sells online guitar training courses—makes sense, right?
And in order to bring prospects into their funnel, they offer a one-time 20% off coupon for any annual plan.
Offering an immediate discount to any of their packages is a great way to capture contact details and help prospects see the value of their courses.
2-Week Free Trial
Free trials are a great way for your prospects to directly see the value of your course because they’re getting an actual snippet of what you’re offering.
The Family Handyman DIY University offers a 2-week free trial of their courses right at the top of their homepage for maximum visibility.
And once the trial expires, leads receive follow-up emails to get them to come back and make a full purchase.
The Lead Magnet Landing Page
Alright, so you’ve got your lead magnet ready.
Well, now it’s time to get people to actually use your lead magnet with a bit of salesmanship using a landing page.
A lead magnet landing page is essentially a page that’s designed to sell your prospects on the benefits of downloading your lead magnet.
And in order to do that, you’ve got to have:
- Copywriting that’s designed to persuade your prospects that they need your online course-related lead magnet.
- Eye-catching design that keeps them on the page long enough to be enthralled by the copy.
We at AutoGrow have written before about what makes a landing page great at converting.
But here are just a few elements that most landing pages should have to create sky-high conversions.
- An enticing headline that’s clear about the value your lead magnet is offering
- Definition of the problem your prospects are facing (be sure to hit those pain points!)
- How your lead magnet helps solve that problem
- Testimonials and social proof
- Direct calls to action to get your prospects to click
The 2-Step Opt-in Box
What is a 2-step opt-in?
Basically, this is when the form fields for putting in contact info (name, email, etc.) only pop up after clicking the CTA button.
Here’s how it looks on an Instapage webinar.
And after prospects click the play button, they’re brought to this page:
This simple extra step helps ensure that visitors are committed to attending the webinar.
On top of that, it also ensures your emails have a lower chance of being marked as spam.
But be sure to use action-oriented copy that’s clear about what to do next.
This is pretty important.
And in fact, we’ve seen conversions jump by as much as 152% just by changing the language on an opt-in to be more action-oriented.
Check out the example below from our Proven Sales Conversion Pack to see what I mean.
See the difference?
With just this small change, this realty company saw a massive 152% increase in conversions!
The Congrats + Video + Sales Page
Your next step to sell online courses with sales funnels is the creation of a congrats + video + sales page.
Now, up until this point, your prospects have only engaged with your free content.
They’ve downloaded or signed up for your lead magnet thanks to your high converting landing page.
But they still aren’t ready to completely buy from you yet.
And that’s okay! Because facilitating that transition is what this page is all about.
This is the page your leads will head to next after downloading your lead magnet offer.
Here, you should create a few lines of copy that accomplish 3 things in particular.
- They congratulate the lead on downloading your lead magnet (“Great job taking the first step!” or “You’ve made a smart choice!”)
- They imply that while the lead magnet is great, it isn’t the entire solution to their problem (“However, there’s so much more you can be learning” or “But the journey has only just begun.”)
- They point to your online course as the ultimate solution to their problem (“Now it’s time to take the next step” or “Let’s take it to the next level”)
Then, it’s time to get on camera!
Yup, not many people like to do it, that’s true. But adding a human element (like your face!) to your page can really help boost conversions.
In your video, try to hit each of the 3 points mentioned above (congratulate, say there’s more they can be doing, introduce your online course as the solution).
And if you’re looking for guidance on how to create a winning video, there are 4 points, in particular, you should consider.
After that, it’s time to get to your sales page.
After a bit of trial and error, we found that putting our sales pages directly on our clients’ congrats/video pages is a fantastic way to reduce funnel friction and keep leads from dropping out.
On top of that, we also use our patented 10-point sales page template.
This template helps us hit all the necessary points for creating maximum conversions.
We can’t give away all of our secrets but here’s a quick look at what your sales page should include to get leads enrolling in your online course.
- Eye-catching yet clear headline that defines your course’s value
- Identifying pain points in your target audience
- Presenting your course as the solution they’re looking for
- Outlining the features and benefits
- Social proof and testimonials
- How does it work
- Price anchor
- Risk reversal
- Hard CTA
The Checkout Page
Last but not least in the foundation is your checkout page.
After leads are sold on your online course being the solution to their problem, they’ll head to the checkout page to make their enrollment official.
But don’t be fooled: your job isn’t done yet.
If your checkout page is confusing, unappealing, or just plain annoying, leads can still drop out.
Added to that, there are a few other tweaks you can use to increase conversions even more.
In fact, we even use them on our own checkout pages.
See if you can pick them out below.
Do you see them? Let’s see if you caught them all.
- Testimonials – Adding testimonials to your checkout page helps keep your leads trusting you up through their enrollment. And adding faces (as we’ve seen) gives even more credibility.
- Trust Badges – See the two trust badges below the “Get Started” button? They may not seem like much right now but in reality, trust badges can go a long way towards making your leads feel secure. Here are just a few to consider using for your checkout page.
- It’s all one page – This one is a biggy. The more friction you add to your funnel, the more likely prospects will be to drop off. One example of friction is forcing leads to go through multiple pages before buying. It’s actually why we’ve started combining our sales pages and congrats pages (remember?). But it’s also a valuable lesson for checkout pages.
Step #2: Plug Your Online Course Funnel Leaks With Follow-Ups
Alrighty, now that you have your core foundation for your online course sales funnel solidified, it’s time to optimize it and plug up a few leaks.
Now, while nailing the foundation of your online course funnel is crucial, the follow-up can be just as important.
Because a lot of the time, leads simply aren’t ready to buy right away.
It takes a bit of nurturing. A bit of finessing. And a bit more work on your part to convince them that your online course is the one they’ve been looking for.
Now, let’s look at the two main types of follow-ups: retargeting ads and email follow-ups.
The Retargeting Ads
Retargeting ads are one of the best ways to get your prospects back into your online course funnel.
Here’s how it works.
- A visitor arrives on your website, and a cookie is set on his or her browser
- The visitor leaves the website without taking action
- While browsing other websites, like Facebook, Youtube, or any other website that serves banner ads, ads from your website will be shown to that cookie’d visitor, hopefully drawing them time click and come back to your website.
Sounds pretty cool, right?
There are a few tips you can follow to ensure your retargeting ads are bringing the right leads back to your page.
Below are 3 of the best we use for the digital marketing tasks we get done for our clients:
- Retarget users that spend the most time on your site to maximize ROI
- Offer unique discounts
- Cross-sell with similar products or upsell with a higher tier course
The Email Follow-Ups
Then there’s the email follow up. Email is without a doubt the most effective form of marketing.
How effective, you say?
Well, in a survey from Smart Insights, marketers chose email marketing as the most effective channel for converting leads into customers.
And despite what some have claimed, it most certainly is not on its way out.
In fact, email marketing has held steady literally for decades as one of the most powerful weapons in a digital marketer’s arsenal.
The purpose of email follow-ups is to educate prospects about the value of your product while enticing them to come back and check out your online courses.
And at AutoGrow, we use a specific formula to accomplish just that.
We call it the “VACuum 3-email sequence.” Each of the 3 emails tackles a different goal.
- Value – This first email is meant to communicate the value that you and your online course offer. How, you ask? Well, that is up to you. What does your course cover? How does it address your audience’s specific pain points? What are some of the main takeaways from the course?
- Authority – The second email should demonstrate to prospects why they should trust you. This email is ripe for testimonials and social proof stats (20K students, 15 years of experience, etc.). But it’s also where you really hammer in the idea that you are an expert.
- Call-to-Action – This last email is the hard sell. Forget about the frills and pleasantries here. It’s time to tell prospects exactly what you want them to do: enroll in your online course. Urgency, scarcity, and clear CTAs are key for getting your audience to respond here.
Step #3: Find Your Funnel Fuel
Last but not least, it’s time to fuel your funnel! As I mentioned before, without any traffic, all the work you’ve put into perfecting your sales funnel doesn’t mean a thing.
So the question is, how do you bring traffic into your funnel? And even more to the point, how do you bring the right traffic into your funnel?
Well, there are two ways in particular to consider: paid ads and using an existing email list.
The Paid Ads
When it comes to paid ads, there are ups and downs.
- Paid ads let you immediately send traffic to your website or landing page. With other funnel fuel sources like content marketing, it takes a while to get your systems in place and start seeing traction. But once you turn on ads, the effect is almost instant.
- Second, there are a lot of different platforms to choose from, each with their own perks and pitfalls (we’ll get into those in a sec). And that means you can use the benefits of each to your advantage.
- They cost money! The price varies between platforms of course. But no matter which one you choose, you’ve got to shell over a bit of dough to get started.
- It can be tough to master these platforms to target the right prospects.
Now, let’s quickly go through the main platforms you can use for paid ads. There are plenty of others to consider. But these are what we at AutoGrow consider the main 3.
- Google – The unquestioned King of Search, Google is by far the most popular paid search platform. HubSpot points out that this platform alone receives an estimated 70,000 queries every single second. Every second! There are a few things you can do on this platform specifically to generate leads on your first try.
- Facebook – Facebook is the king of social media advertising right now. It’s especially cost-effective compared to other platforms, it has super powerful targeting abilities, and it boasts literally more than a billion active users.
- LinkedIn – More of a professional environment and feel than the other social media platforms, LinkedIn is great for free organic B2B traffic. Sponsored ads are also available for businesses looking to get in front of the right people.
The Existing Email List
And finally, there’s the option of using your existing email list as the main source of fuel for your online course funnel.
If you’ve been following digital marketing best practices, you know that building a robust email list is key for selling your online courses.
Because email marketing has one of the best ROIs in the industry.
How high of an ROI? Well, just check out the graph below.
Email marketing has a whopping 400% ROI! That’s $40 earned for every $1 spent.
That’s higher than any other marketing channel.
So, why this huge disparity?
Well, email marketing is the most direct channel to your prospects.
You can place ads. You can create great content. And you can hope that someone stumbles across your page.
But only with email marketing are you able to speak directly to your leads.
Some listen, and sure, some don’t.
But in the end, it’s a much more intimate and personalized way to reach out to your online course’s future enrollees.
So there you have it!
I hope these 3 steps have shown you how to sell online courses using a sales funnel.
First and foremost, make sure that you have the right sales funnel structure in place (choose simplicity over complexity when first starting out).
After that, start building out your sales funnel’s…
After you’ve started seeing some good results, you can add in layers of complexity to optimize further.
You can even add tripwires, upsells, or higher-tiered courses with a higher price point once you’ve built up enough trust with your prospects.
The sky’s the limit!
So now go forth, and start selling your online course automatically with a sales funnel.
And of course, if you need any assistance along the way, I’d love to get your digital marketing tasks off your plate.
AutoGrow is like project management software but with proven pros (copywriters, designers, developers, strategists…) ready and waiting to get work done-for-you.
Now tell me something.
Do you have any other sales funnel building tips for online courses? Have you come across any other online course sales funnel tips that have helped you get results?
Let us know in the comments below!
And as always,
Keep AutoGrowin’, stay focused.