Lessons I’ve Learned Failing to Sell a Premium Digital Product

Lessons learned selling a premium digital product
Photo by Anthony DeLorenzo

Let’s see a show of hands: Anyone in the audience tried to sell something online, but failed miserably?

(Here’s to hoping I’m not the only one with my hand raised….)

We launched the Making Web Video that Sells toolkit a while back to a “meh” reaction. This floored me.

I had put so much time and hard work into a product, only to see it flop miserably. I’ll be honest with you: the sales stunk.

It’s a pretty humbling experience to watch something that you’ve poured yourself into for months do a cyber bellyflop.

A Growing Trend

Some Most iPhone developers are noticing that it’s not all popcorn and cotton candy developing iPhone apps. In fact, it’s hard for many to break even. Most iPhone developers are forced to drop their app price down to $0.99 in order to get traction, even though the application cost a lot to make.

It seems that people are content to pay less and less for digital goods, and expect more out of them. Shoot, most of us in our Google-filled existence have come to expect paying nothing for fantastic products. (Read Jonathan Field’s excellent post on the FREE movement.)

For those of us who create digital goods, the future looks bleak.

Or does it?

The Toolkit

We had initially priced at $67, which is what we thought that people would pay for a resource of it’s nature.

But I don’t blame the poopy economy or anyone else for the toolkit’s dismal launch.

The fact is, the poor launch was my own fault.

But before I get into why the toolkit didn’t sell well, let’s get something clear first.

I know people are paying for premium products.

In fact, people are always paying for premium products. Case in point: Apple.

Apple is managing to have another absolutely stellar year in the midst of a recession. Yet compared to other competitors, their products are sometimes twice as expensive. On paper, Apple’s company ship should be sinking. But they’re far from doing that.

Apple easily outsold the competition because they ruled in perceived value.

It’s All About Perceived Value

How much do people think your product is worth? Ask nearly any Mac owner and he’ll tell you that his laptop or iPhone was worth every penny. But was it really? Do you think Apple can justify their much higher pricing?

It doesn’t matter.

Apple could charge three times more than what they currently charge for an iPhone, and if people still bought their products, then that’s what the iPhone is worth.

Value is only perceived. Which brings us back to my selling problems.

The reason that the toolkit did so poorly wasn’t because it was priced too high or too low. The problem was that potential buyers didn’t think it was worth the price.

I did a poor job of conveying value. I didn’t know the first thing about copywriting, and the sales page only showed what the toolkit did, and didn’t focus on how it could really help potential buyers. I did a pitiful job inspiring people, instead only giving them the benefits.

Do I think that the toolkit is worth every penny? Absolutely. I know how many hours Doug and I worked putting it together. It’s a one-of-a-kind comprehensive resource. But until I can convince the buyer that it is an incredible resource, the sales will remain flat.

Irrational Buyers

Most of the things we buy aren’t out of necessity. We buy them because our emotions tell us to. It’s been proven that smells, sounds and other sensory stimuli are the catalysts for purchasing. The senses arouse emotions, and more often than not our emotions decide what we buy.

Armed with this helpful insight, than it’s clear that people will pay for something if they literally feel that it will make them happier, skinnier, or wealthier. Cold, hard logic doesn’t have much to do with it.

So if emotions are writing the checks, then what do we have to do to make the sale?

The Number One Secret to Digital Sales Is…

If you’re going to be successful selling digital goods (or physical goods), you have to inspire people and get them excited about the product.

It’s as simple as that. Sounds simple, right?

Excited customers love what they buy, and in turn share it with others. They’re your best form of advertising.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share my experience struggles trying to sell a premium product. I hope me writing about my mistake will help you if you’re trying to sell a product on the web. Because it can be done, and it can be done well.

Just because selling on the Internet can be difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Learn, adjust, and try it again.

We’ll get the hang of it.

But until we do: Remember that it’s only work. There are plenty of things more important than commercial success of a product. The second you get wrapped up into the success of something you’ve created, that’s when you start making decisions for the wrong reasons.

There are plenty of things that are more important.

Leave a Comment

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Ed Martin November 15, 2009, 5:05 am

    I liked your page for the toolkit, but it does seem tame without all the bold endorsements and the mocked up spreadsheets and the funny fonts and colors and the going fast warnings :)

  • Ed Martin November 15, 2009, 12:05 am

    I liked your page for the toolkit, but it does seem tame without all the bold endorsements and the mocked up spreadsheets and the funny fonts and colors and the going fast warnings :)

  • jasonkotecki October 12, 2009, 6:06 pm

    Thanks for being honest which in turns helps the rest of us.

    And thanks for this:

    “There are plenty of things more important than commercial success of a product. The second you get wrapped up into the success of something you’ve created, that’s when you start making decisions for the wrong reasons.

    There are plenty of things that are more important.”

    Whether we're in a down economy or a booming economy, it's very easy to miss that all-important point.

    • Glen Stansberry October 13, 2009, 11:03 am

      Thanks Jason. It's something that I've had to learn the hard way :)

  • Tammy Camp October 12, 2009, 3:26 pm

    Hey Glen,

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It was a nice read.

    Question: If you know your pitfalls in regards to this digital product, then will you re-launch the product with proper copywriting and give it more enthusiasm to prove your point?

    • Glen Stansberry October 12, 2009, 3:53 pm

      Hey Tammy,

      I don't know about a complete re-launch per se, but I'll definitely improve the copy. It does need some more enthusiasm ;)

      • Tammy Camp October 12, 2009, 4:19 pm

        Hey Glen,

        Let us know what happens when you change the copy. I would love to know the percentages of sales from bad copy to good copy.

        Did you put the product in any affiliate programs such as Clickbank or Digital River?

  • Jason Peltier October 11, 2009, 9:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing your unique viewpoint on this. I have a current client who is developing a subscription-based product and I will be sure to forward him this link.

    Sales copy is definitely worth investing in. ;)

    • Glen Stansberry October 12, 2009, 8:57 am

      Oh man. It's *all* about sales copy. Invest, invest, invest!

  • Armen Shirvanian October 11, 2009, 10:38 am

    Hey to you Glen.

    This point about perceived value by irrational buyers leads me down the path that makes me think of another example I use sometimes. If there are two people and one orange, and person A takes the orange and person B goes hungry due to wanting to share it, person A is able to reproduce and person B is not.

    In the same way, the person creating more perceived value through copywriting methods takes the sales, while the other person who would provide just as much, if not more value, without showing it off as perceived value, struggles and can end up giving up.

  • mrselfdevelopment October 11, 2009, 8:55 am

    Great article Glen….I've never sold anything on-line…but this article is nevertheless impactful as it teaches a life principle…

  • David Turnbull October 11, 2009, 7:47 am

    Great to see your honesty about not achieving what you aspired to. And that's a great point about inspiring customers although I wonder where to draw the line between inspiration and manipulation because I've seen plenty of times where people buy a product just to be apart of the experience. Maybe that's considered kosher but it just seems a bit iffy when customers buy something for the sake of a purchase rather than actual need or want.

    But yeah, I don't want to get into some massive rant. I'm still trying to work out my thoughts on how selling can work within ethics. :)

    • Glen Stansberry October 11, 2009, 9:42 am

      I totally agree. Selling without being manipulative is something that tugs at my conscience too. I want to sell more, but the same time I don't want to feel like I've hypnotized anyone.

      Anyway, those are probably thoughts for another post. Great thoughts.