5 Lessons in Online Sales Funnel Design From a Company with a Free Product


I’m starting to dislike that word.

Because it seems everyone is on the entrepreneur or startup bandwagon these days.

Laid off? You’re an entrepreneur.

Working in corporate? You’re an entrepreneur about to take the leap.

Failed entrepreneur? Get back on the bandwagon, it’s time for round two.

Hell, just by shopping at Staples these days you’re instantly an entrepreneur.

There’s so much “sex appeal” and hype around being an entrepreneur these days, that I’ve just stopped labeling myself as one.

People ask me what I do, I just say “I run a web marketing company in New York City.”

But that’s also why I like writing articles like these. I know most of the people in my audience are serious about strengthening their business and improving their sales and marketing, and they don’t need me to sugar coat anything.

You want the real stuff, you want strategy, and you want tactics (and I love you for it, so keep reading!).

Last week I told you how you can create a quality explainer video for your business for free or extremely cheap. In that article, I talked a bit around the formula behind some of the most successful explainer videos (like Dollar Shave Club, DropBox, Groupon, and more).

This week what I want to do is break down for you how another company whose flagship product is free, made a completely “random” sale to me for a paid product they offer which cost $33 / year.

I’ve broken this mini-case study down into bite size lessons, each with a summary takeaway.

Also, be sure to check out the end of the article where you can pick up a sweet bonus which is an original 33 point checklist I created to help you boost your website conversions.

Fill out my online form.

Lesson #1 – The Timing and Context of a Sale Matter


It was the middle of the day about two weeks ago and I was on the phone with a client. I was pacing around my office as I spoke. When I came back to my computer, I noticed an alert to update my AVG Antivirus software had come on the screen.

I updated the software and then another message appeared. Would I like to take advantage of a limited time offer that would tune-up my PC and make it faster?

It was the middle of the day, just after lunch. My inbox wasn’t overflowing with anytime that couldn’t wait a few minutes so I decided I would check it out. “Anything that can save me a few minutes a week is worth checking out,” I thought. I clicked through and was brought to the landing page pictured below.


(And the bottom-half of the landing page)


Key takeaway: Before you send an email to your email list with an offer or schedule a time to speak with a prospect (or maybe you’re just going to cold-call them), think strategically about the time of the day that you’re calling. What is your target customer actually doing at that time? Is there a lull in their work day?

Also consider his or her motivations. In my case, as a business owner I’m looking to maximize my productivity and save time where ever possible. The idea of making my computer even a little faster is appealing for that reason. For someone who uses his or her computer primarily to watch funny cat videos, the offer is less relevant.

One tactic for getting more data on your target market, deciding what offers are most relevant, and when to make them is to survey them. I’ve done this several times in the past, both for AutoGrow, as well as for my previous startup BlueSkyLocal, where we were going after fast-casual restaurants primarily.

In the past, I used either Wufoo or Google Forms to make the survey.

A common mistake that most people make when crafting a survey like this is that the form is multi-step, so even if it’s short it feels a lot longer.

So if you plan on using this tactic, avoid long forms or making it multi-step in order to get the highest completion rate. Also, pay attention to any patterns you can notice around the time of day that that most people fill out the survey form. This comes into play later on when you’re ready to make the actual offer.

Lesson #2 – Complexity 

I took a minute to browse the landing page I was brought to.

It was simple. In fact there wasn’t much information on it at all. Here’s what worked well:

  • There was a picture of a computer looking “energized” and “fast” because of whatever was on the monitor.
  • The page was clearly branded with AVG so I knew they had made this product
  • The main headline was “Limited Time Offer” with a countdown timer and a clearly labeled buy now button.
  • The text below the fold on the page felt very “light” since there wasn’t much of it. It was easy to skim it over.
  • Each point was benefit focused.
  • There were some trust symbols (awards and high-ratings) in the footer of the page.
  • Finally, the price was very low, which made the decision to click to the next step even easier.

The design was consistently simple I noticed when the checkout page loaded (although I didn’t like the idea of entering my physical mailing address, especially for a software product delivered straight from the web).

avg-pay-1OF2pay2OF2-avgKey Takeaway: The level of complexity of a landing page should be informed by the context.

For example, a couple of months ago my team and I completed a landing page design for an enterprise consulting company. What we found though, was when it came to organic inbound traffic (i.e. visitors that might have come in through the homepage) the landing page we create performed better than the original design.

However, when it came to visitors who came in from Google Adwords, the page did not perform as well as the original. The reason was the context. People who were clicking on the client’s Google Ads were ready to just quickly submit a form and get a quote for their project. They didn’t need the longer form page with more information on it.

Their objective was different.

In the case of AVG’s landing page and checkout page, I didn’t need a lot of information which is why it made sense for the pages to be simple and benefit focused. I was already familiar with AVG and they had built a reputation in my eyes. This brings us to trust…

Lesson #3 – Trust (and A Personal Touch)

I knew the AVG Antivirus brand since I had been using their free product to keep my computer safe from web-based threats for several years.

Several times I had clicked on to hacked websites without knowing it and AVG blocked them automatically explaining that the websites had been blacklisted because other users had received malware downloads from said websites.

It addition, a few times when my computer restarted, the AVG free software informed me that the startup time had been cut in half because their software automatically optimized it for me.

Basically, I had been quietly using their free product for years without giving much thought to it because it simply worked (and that’s how it should be!). So, needless to say, when I initially saw this offer, I had zero hesitation about clicking and almost no hesitation about buying because I trusted their brand.

However, the trust element was not enough by itself. I needed a bit more clarity (maybe the landing pages were simple enough to get me to click-through with confidence and interest, but too simple to close me 100%).

I saw the 30 day money-back-guarantee on the checkout page which was mentally helpful in moving me closer to checking out, but I still needed more.

I had a question about something with their product and how the annual subscription worked, and it was at that exact moment that I noticed the link to “Start a Live Chat.” I clicked and the window below popped up.



My apprehension was around being billed automatically. I felt risk-averse on this point (most people don’t like the idea of automatic billing, especially on a B2C product).

Being able to voice my concern and seek a workaround with a real person at AVG’s help desk pushed me over the edge into becoming a paid customer.

If I remember correctly, there wasn’t a practical workaround for issue I brought up with their help desk person, but for some reason I didn’t care and make the purchase anyway. Something about taking 2 minutes to “speak” to a real person and expressing the fact that I was about to buy pushed out that last bit of buyer’s-apprehension.

Key Takeaway: People often say the value is in the list. This is incomplete, because the value of your list (of users, customers, prospects, etc.) is based on what kind of relationship you have with them.

  • Do they know you and your brand?
  • Have they received value from you or your brand?

You can have a list of 10,000,000 emails in your target market, but without trust you will only convert a small percentage (if any).

For example, I am subscribed to A LOT (read: 30+) email lists right now of fellow marketers and small, medium, and large businesses that I respect and want to learn from.

Whenever they send an email, the best of them (like Perry Marshall) are laser focused on solving problems for their readers. That’s because they know that once they’ve earned your trust by providing relevant value, you are much more likely to convert on a paid offer.

Finally, I may have still bought this product from AVG eventually without that brief chat with their helpdesk (assuming they used an autoresponder to follow-up and remind me).

Still, I definitely would not have purchased on the spot like I did without that quick personal touch.

Lesson #4 – Loss Aversion


According to fellow a digital marketer, there are three reasons why people buy: Gain, Logic, and Fear. Fear is the most powerful because it is emotional and it part of our “reptilian brain.”

In this case, fear of loss was a key motivator in what got me to the “purchase completed” page above.


For instance, I’m keen on saving money where ever I can, and I didn’t want to lose out on this deal when I saw it pop-up. Sure, it was only 15% but if I was going to buy later I’d be losing those few dollars only because I had failed to purchase it on the spot.

In addition, they really took the time on every single page (again: EVERY SINGLE PAGE) to hammer home the point that if the product wasn’t satisfactory for some reason, I could get my money back within 30 days, no questions asked.

Key Takeaway: All potential customers are risk-averse. In your own sales funnel, it’s important to address as many of those underlying objections as possible. The money-back guarantee is pretty standard, but successful companies use it because it works.

Using something like a time-sensitive discount also plays on someone’s sense of “loss aversion” and as long as you don’t do it with every offer you make, it works.

If you use it too often, people may become skeptical about the sincerity of your offers, especially if they notice that you make the same offer with the same time restrictions more than once (which means it really isn’t as time-sensitive as it appears).

Recently I’ve noticed some marketers are abusing this tactic. For example on WebinarJam.com, there’s a countdown timer on their offer to save 40% off the normal price of their product.


It’s a “Limited time offer” as the header of the website states.

The only trouble is that it isn’t limited at all. The website ALWAYS has this on their homepage whenever I visit it.

Marketing like this gives us all a bad name, so if you’re going to pull the “fear lever” in the design of your sales funnel, be honest about it.

Lesson #5 – You’ve Got to Deliver.


It’s a shame really.

Although AVG pretty much hit every the nail on the head when it came to closing the sale with me for it’s PC “tune-up” product, they ended up losing me as a paying customer almost immediately.

After I completed the purchase and installed the software, I restarted my Windows 8 PC and was welcomed by a “black screen of death.” In other words, it just kept loading and never fully started up. I tried everything I knew, but ultimately had to jump on my back-up PC to figure it out.

Turns out this is a common problem with tune-up software as there was a popular video on YouTube explaining how to fix the problem: restart the computer in safe-mode and turn off the software.

Disappointed, and unwilling to dig deeper to try to get it to work, I emailed their support staff and got a refund.

Key Takeaway: Make sure your product or service delivers on what is originally promised. Test with multiple customers under multiple conditions. If it doesn’t work for one customer, chances are that it won’t work for many others.

Ok, so this seems obvious but it’s true. This is the reason why products and service businesses who do almost no marketing are able to succeed via word-of-mouth referrals.

The fact that the damn thing works should be the basis of all marketing! Not the other way around.

Conclusion and A Bonus

Thinking back on it now, I’m actually amused at how easy I was to sell to.

You’d think as an expert in custom sales funnel design I wouldn’t be such a “softee” for a timed-discount offer. Apparently not! That just goes to show you that the landing page and web design tactics I’m teaching you here each week actually work–even it the prospect is fully aware of it.

In conclusion, whether you’re designing a new offer around your product or even your primary sales-flow, remember:

  • Timing (when the offer is made) and context (i.e. how some arrives on your intial landing page) matters.
  • Keeping it simple is helpful, so long as you are super clear on the benefits, and…
  • Simplicity is also a good strategy for your landing page assuming that the prospect is arriving on your website in a mindset of “I trust this brand / person, so I’m curious to check this out…”
  • Including an FAQ section can increase your sales. In case any objections that a customer has aren’t covered in the FAQ, you can also include a “fail-safe” which can come in the form of an 800 customer service phone number, or a pop-up chat widget.
  • Feel free to use loss aversion tactics to play on a prospect’s fear (i.e. timed offer) OR to mitigate their fear of loss (30 day money back guarantee). Just make sure to be honest about it, especially in the former case.

Ok so here’s a bonus for you that I think you’ll like. It’s a 33 item checklist that’s I’ve used to increase conversions on some of our clients’ landing pages. One or two of these tactics can easily double or triple your conversion rate, and this list has over thirty of them.

Some of them are “aggressive,” maybe controversial by some standards, but every single one of them work.

You can download that list for free here or by entering your email below.

Fill out my online form.

PS – If you liked this article, please leave a comment with your feedback and share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus. As always, thanks for reading. See you next week.


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