Why are 97% of eCourses Failing their Customers?

According to an interview I heard with Seth Godin on the Tim Ferris Show recently, the eCourse industry has a 97% failure rate — meaning, only 3% of people who sign up for an online course actually complete it.

Assuming this is accurate: I knew it was bad, but how the hell could it be this high..? 

Part of our code of conduct in our Manifesto is: “Our Success lies not in the numbers in our bank account, but in the number of transformations we facilitate.”

Could it be that the focus on “making money” has deterred many from the thing that’s most important: helping people get results?

Our team has been having a lot of conversations amongst ourselves, as well as with leaders in the online world, trying to figure out how, where and why eCourse creators are failing our customers.

We really want to understand what it takes to craft the Ultimate Customer Experience that supports the people who sign up for our offerings to actually get the results they paid for (our brand promise and purpose).

The purpose of this conversation is to explore that question: How do we create the ultimate customer experience through our online courses…

So first, let’s explore our theories on why people are failing…

In every transaction that occurs online, each party is equally responsible for their part.

The seller is responsible for being honest, clear in their communication about what the customer is buying and transparent about what’s to be expected. The seller is also responsible for delivering on their ‘brand promise’ (the reason the buyer signed up).

The customer is responsible for doing their homework and making an educated decision of whether the course is right for them based on what’s being presented by the seller. They are also responsible for showing up, doing the lessons and putting what they’ve learned to practice.

Note: As we dive into the next section on marketing tactics, it is not to point the finger at people selling their eCourses. It’s more to bring awareness to what we are doing and how it may be influencing the wrong people to sign up for our courses. We’d love to open up a conversation on how we can use these proven techniques in a way that honours the humanness of every person who comes across our work and may become a customer.

We believe the old-school marketing tactics of using scarcity, manipulation and pressure are causing people to make ungrounded decisions. Here’s how some of those tactics might look and how they impact the customer’s decision making process.

1) They get pressured into buying the course due to scarcity tactics. ie: You have one hour to decide. This is your last chance. This will never be $___ again. So instead of thinking about whether it’s a right fit for them, they hit the purchase button because of FIMO (fear of missing out). Usually when we make decisions based on fear, we end up not following through on what we signed up for because our motivations were coming from an impure place. (we didn’t REALLY want it)

Scarcity is okay, but a lot of those internet marketing types are using what’s called “False Scarcity,” meaning they’re saying they only have five spots left when they actually don’t give a shit how many people buy. Or they say you only have until Saturday at midnight, when in reality their course is on Evergreen (meaning the shopping cart is always open) and they just say that to pressure you into buying.

These are douchebaggy things to do. We don’t recommend it.

2) Manipulative sales copy makes them feel like a chump if they don’t buy your eCourse. Playing on someone’s insecurities by bringing their pain body to the surface and then purposely positioning yourself as the expert or saviour who can take their pain away is a manipulative, dick head move. Sure, it’s great to address the pain and solution, but there are tactful ways that don’t require you to be deceitful and manipulative.

3) Once the sale is made, coaches say, “Well, the rest is up to you” and they don’t actually care if the student succeeds. They simply move onto trying to make their next sale. When coaches blame their students, clients or customers for their failure, this is a huge problem. Sure, if the student is not willing to do the work, then they will inevitably fail. However, it is imperative that coaches and eCourse creators think of every possible way to keep their customers engaged from start to finish.

We must put ourselves in our customer’s shoes and remember what it was like to be a beginner. We also have to think of the transformations, resistance, anxiety, procrastination and growth we had to go through to get ourselves to where we are. How can we create courses that address what’s naturally going to come up as our customer seeks to improve their lives and learn a valuable new skill?

Every single exercise, lesson and supportive document should be cleverly crafted to support our customer on their journey. Giving them a video series with some PDF’s just isn’t enough anymore. We live in the “Age of ADD…” We must be creative to keep people hooked on the journey.

This is why in the Great eCourse Adventure we have incorporated:

  • A gamified experience that rewards participants for taking action and makes the lessons feel like a game
  • Entertaining video lessons filled with magic, mystery, comedy, great visuals and adventure. Our intention is to make taking the next step on the journey an exciting thing, rather than another “to-do.”
  • All around community support: from our active Campfire (community forum) to our “Buddy System” for accountability, to our weekly coaching webinars, we make sure our students have every opportunity to be supported.
  • Fun autoresponder emails that make participants want to open the emails we send them and click the “take your next step button.”
  • Fill in the Blanks Journaling. Rather than giving a PDF, which most don’t print out and use, we created a whole journaling system that helps our participants be extremely organized AND all they have to do is fill in the blanks for each exercise. It’s simple and unbelievably helpful.
  • Regular customer feedback surveys. We really want to know how people are doing, where we can improve the process, what they love and dislike. We’re constantly improving our creation to meet the needs of our growing community.
  • A sense of adventure. The whole eCourse is made to be an adventure to the top of a snow-capped mountain. So instead of a bunch of boring slide show presentations, we bring people into a new world and take them on a crazy journey where they’re excited to see what happens next. Each lesson on the map is another action step that they have to take on the road to building their ultimate course.

We are constantly thinking of new ways we can increase engagement and if you’re an eCourse creator, you should too!

ABI = Alwas Be Improving: Just because you launched your course, doesn’t mean you’re done building it. Keep tweaking and improving based on participation and feedback.

Now let’s talk about Scarcity vs Abundance in our Approach to Marketing and Competition…

This is a conversation that feels important and uncommon amongst online entrepreneurs. We’ve all been made to believe that there is fierce competition “out there” and we need to outsell (aka: out hype) everyone else doing what we do as a way to survive.

In order to stand out, we’ll generally see people try to appear better, have a more attractive website and claim to have more benefits. This is what leads to hyped up, empty promises which are the root-manipulator that persuade people who actually aren’t a fit for our course to buy it.

What we should be doing to find our tribe and communicate our value is own our unique, creative edge and express the shit out of it!

In our opinion, no matter how good our eCourse is, no matter how much we’ve narrowed our niche down and no matter how aligned the potential customer’s symptoms are a fit for our solution, WE DO NOT & CAN NOT KNOW if our thing is a right fit for them.

There are so many other factors that come into play that dictate whether our course is right or not:

  • What cycle or phase are they in in their life? (dreaming, planning, action, resting).
  • Do they have the time to dedicate to the process?
  • Do they have the attention span or mental/emotional bandwidth to stick it out?
  • Is your personality a match for their’s?
  • Do your core values line up with their’s?
  • Do they have the financial means to sign up right now?
  • Do they want the transformation enough? Are they ready?

We don’t (and shouldn’t) want people who aren’t ready for what we’re offering to sign up. It serves nobody. Success is not when we make the sale. Success is when our customer succeeds. This brings me to the next phase of this conversation…

What if we worked in collaboration with our so-called, “competition?”

The other day we had a long conversation with Devin Slavin from Conscious Webpreneur, who is hosting the Online Course Summit. The call was supposed to be a 20-minute pre interview, but we talked for over an hour. We really should’ve pressed record because the conversation was so rich.

One of the things we discussed was how we could’ve viewed each other as “competition.” Devin has a course on building eCourses and so do we.

He could’ve positioned himself as THE EXPERT of experts in online course creation in his summit, but he chose to invite us and other amazing teachers from the industry to offer many unique perspectives.

Here’s the thing: Even though we’re essentially teaching the same thing, we’re not each other’s competition. The people we are aiming to serve are different than the ones Devin is seeking to serve. Even though we offer a similar result, we’re offering a completely different path. The same is true for what you do and all the people offering similar services.

Some people will resonate with Devin’s path, others will resonate with ours. Those who don’t like our way, we’ll happily refer onto Devin’s work or someone else who is a better fit.

There is NO NEED TO TRY TO CONVINCE people that we are the best solution for them…

Instead, what we can do is create a Customer Experience that gives them a taste-test of the Great eCourse Adventure and introduces them to our overarching philosophy about eCourse Creation so they can decide if we are in alignment.

Something our team is exploring to help with creating a deeper connection with our audience is…

Creating deeper, more meaningful, value-providing ways that allow our audience to get to know us better so they can make a more educated, grounded choice as to whether or not our programs are a fit for them. And I’m talking about more than just your usual 3-videos in a launch sequence…

Instead of doing the Jeff Walker style of launch (2-3 weeks), we’re doing longer, 2+ month launch processes (see article on how) where we focus our energy on cultivating deeper relationships by mediating meaningful conversations and giving people many different styles of experience to familiarize themselves with our style, quality and approach.

We’ve Called it the UCSE 5000 (the Ultimate Customer Sales Experience 5000).

Our platform is essentially a blog site, mixed with a launch funnel sequence (video series) with exercises, and a sales conversation all in one. We made our website a “choose own adventure” kind of experience. You should take a look.

It feels less like a sales process and more like an adventure. If people love the taste-test we’ve prepared for them, then we know they will love the paid version even more.

Unlike most “freebies,” we don’t even require an email for people to have access to them. We are operating from the Give-Give approach, meaning give value before asking for anything (even an email address). We want people to want to learn from us, rather than bribe people to explore working with us.

Something about the “give me your email and I’ll let you get to know me” approach feels so outdated and backwards. 

So in closing (for this article anyways), I leave you with this final question to ponder…

What is more meaningful: making a sale or transforming someone’s life for the better? We’re committed to transforming lives and to supporting our customers to make the best educated decision as to whether our offering is the right fit for them. If it’s not, we’ll happily refer them to someone who is a better fit, even if it’s our ‘competition.’ Why the hell not?

We hope reading this alternative perspective has inspired you even more to dig deep, own your uniqueness, treat people how you want to be treated, rather than like a “lead” to be sold to (can’t stand that term when referring to people) and to not be a douchebag.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this conversation if you’ve read this far. If you have any ideas or solutions for better ways to market and sell our offerings, then please share below.

Leave a Comment:

Ed Herzog says April 10, 2016

I listened to a webinar the other day in which the presenter said the completion rate of online courses is only 2%. He then went on to say that he had found a way to triple that with his course. So I’m sitting there thinking…”wow, a whopping 6% completion rate!”. But as you said, many people simply don’t care. They have their money and the rest is up to you!

    Bradley Morris says April 10, 2016

    Thanks for sharing this. Wow, a whopping 6% success rate. To me, that is hardly something to brag about LOL We are definitely stoked to amp up those percentages. The whole purpose of creating courses is to transform people’s lives. Too many are treating it like a “get rich quick and easy” business strategy and I will admit, it crossed my mind when I first started on the journey of building online courses. But the more of myself, my heart, passion and creativity I put into my creations, the more I want to help others get results. Thanks for reading and sharing Ed!

Fabian says April 15, 2016

Love your philosophy for eCourse creation. I will use that for my own courses.

Mike Allison says November 4, 2016

Here’s the problem the way I see it. There’s just too many greedy people out there who are happy to take advantage of the Internet to scale everything up so they can generate as much revenue as possible.

If we were to look at sports as an example, does the team owner simply hand the players a manual and a bunch of videos and tell them to go through everything on their own time and expect to have a winning team?

That’s ludicrous to even think about. Every team has a coach or coaches to work with the players. Why? Because that’s a key to team success.

If the most highly skilled athletes in any sport you choose to mention need and have coaches to work with them, why would we think that the online learning industry should be different?

Especially when the vast majority of people purchasing online courses are not likely highly skilled and trained. So anyone who’s providing online learning without providing real, live, one-on-one and group coaching to help the purchasers of their products complete them and get results is never going to achieve a high rate of course completion and thus results for their customers.

So you may as well end the conversation right here if you’re unwilling to provide real coaching for people. Because without it, you’ll never get the completion rates up to any real level to be proud of.

    Andy Freist says March 3, 2017

    I’m totally with you on this. There is one level where you can provide more 1-on-1 support in a premium package, or what we are doing is making the course super affordable with a focus on building community and providing the coaching in a more scalable manner through group webinars, forums, etc. It’s been working great and the upside is that once you get a good base of students and new ones coming through often, it keeps the community alive and helpful without needing to be the only ones being helpful. Students love helping other students, and it has proven to be helpful to the one giving help as well. It’s definitely a win-win-win situation!

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