13 Mar

Using urgency to increase sales

One of the most common mistakes I see in product launches is the potential customer is not given a reason to buy right now. Without that motivation, the purchase can be put off for a later time.

That later time could be “this afternoon when I have more time” or “after my next paycheck comes in.” I’ve even failed to make a purchase because my credit card wasn’t readily available at my desk—it was upstairs by my bed.

Purchases are fragile. Even when the customer has made a decision to buy something really small, like a 30 second walk to get your credit card, can be enough to make it never happen. Amazon knows this, that’s why they store all your past credit cards so that you can check out as easily as possible. They even have the one-click checkout to remove every possible barrier.

It’s tempting to think “well, if the potential customer doesn’t buy now, they’ll come back and buy later.” Unfortunately for you and I that is often not true.

If they aren’t on your email list (meaning you can contact them and remind them) then they may never think of you again. Plus, there’s a big difference between thinking about your product, and dropping hard earned cash on it.

To maximize sales, the purchase needs to happen on your timeline. Not the buyers. Adding urgency is the way to do that.


A story

I live 30 minutes from a great ski mountain. Unfortunately I don’t go very often. Lately I’ve gone twice a year at most (which really bothers some of my friends who love skiing, but live hours from good mountains). This year I decided I wanted to go more often and to buy a season pass.

Every year Bogus Basin (the local ski area) offers a season pass sale where you buy it in mid-February and can use the pass for the rest of this year and all of next year. All winter my plan was to buy that pass. When the sale came, I wasn’t so sure. Would I really go skiing enough to make it worthwhile?

Eventually I decided yes, I would. Unfortunately the best sale had ended ($229!) and tickets had increased to $259. Since I wasn’t on a Bogus Basin email list I missed out on the best deal (I’m sure if they sent a reminder email or two they would have gotten me to purchase earlier).

I was on the fence again, but I knew that in another week the price would go up again, and I reasoned that $30 wasn’t much of a difference in price, so I finally went for it. Really it was the pressure of knowing that each time I delayed I would have to pay more for my season pass that added enough urgency to finally get me to purchase.

If the pass had always been full price (about $400) I never would have purchased. If they had just run the first sale (that I missed) and jumped right back up to full price, I never would have purchased. But having the price keep increasing the longer I waited was enough to finally get me to complete the purchase that I had already decided to make.

On Tuesday this week I used my new season pass to go snowboarding for a couple hours. It was great!

Types of urgency

When selling products online there are three main types of urgency you can use:

  • Discount the price
  • Add a bonus
  • Limit sales

Each one is a different method—and you can combine them for even better results (though don’t overcomplicate things)—but what’s important is that you give a reason to buy right now (or in the immediate future) and not put it off for later (i.e. never).

Discount the price

This is what Bogus Basin did with their season pass and it is the easiest way to add urgency. I’ve done this with each of my book launches where I offer 20% off in the first 24-hours. People can wait to purchase later—and many do—but saving $10-50 is enough of a discount that it motivates a lot of sales.

A sale is the easiest method since you only have to change the price, rather than create new content. Though be careful with the discount you choose: too small (5-10%) will be insulting and not incentivize purchases, and too large of a discount (50%+) will cause you to miss out on too much revenue.

There are probably many people on your list who will purchase without an extra incentive of any kind. So if you discount the product you are losing revenue from those guaranteed sales. There is also a risk of lowering the perceived value of your product since it is now available for a lower price.

If those two reasons bother you then consider adding a bonus rather than running a sale.

 Provide a bonus

A bonus is something extra that you add for anyone who purchases during your launch period. So just like a sale, it should expire (otherwise it doesn’t add urgency).

The best bonuses contribute to the value of the product. If you are selling teaching then a good bonus would be to offer some of the implementation as well. In a book on building your first iPhone app, you could include sample code as a bonus.

Pat Flynn routinely adds bonuses to any of his affiliate offers. When he is an affiliate for Bluehost he offers training on how to setup a WordPress site. As an affiliate for Opt-in Skin he offers some of his own templates. Each of his bonuses add value to the main offer.

Tim Grahl, the master of book launches, talked about how they offered branded notebooks as a bonus for preordering the book. They looked really cool, but didn’t help drive sales. And on top of that, they were expensive and a lot of work. You don’t want to offer completely unrelated products as bonuses.

What can make a good bonus? Try any of these:

  • Webinars
  • Extra videos
  • Behind the scenes interviews
  • Code samples
  • Design files
  • Plugins
  • Templates
  • Guides

Be careful to come up with something that is high quality since a mediocre bonus won’t motivate sales.

For more on what to choose, read this article from Pat Flynn.

One issue I have with bonuses is that I don’t want to go to all the work to create new content, only to have it go out to a small portion of customers. Content is so much work to create that I want everyone to get it. And in order for a bonus to add urgency you need to take it away.

Limit sales

Last fall Brennan Dunn and I taught a workshop in London. In order to keep it small we capped attendance at just 25 tickets. Being able to say “Just 25 tickets available!” was a great way to add urgency. But the more tickets that sold, the easier it became to sell the remaining tickets. When we announced there were 7 left, then 5, and so on they sold even faster. People who were on the fence had to make a decision quickly once they heard there were so few left.

There are two ways you can limit sales:

  1. Quantity sold: “10 tickets remaining”
  2. Sales closing: “5 hours remaining”

Limiting the quantity sold is a very powerful form of urgency since it pits each potential buyer against each other. You don’t know how many other people out there are waiting to buy, so the offer may be gone before you have a chance to buy. Whereas when the sale closes at a specific time you know you have up until 2 minutes before that time to decide.

I don’t like limiting the quantity on products where there isn’t a good reason to. It just doesn’t make sense to me to limit an ebook (with infinite copies), but it does make sense to limit tickets on a workshop so that each person has time to interact with the speaker and have their questions answered.

In the same way it makes sense to limit copies sold on any product that involves your time. So if you offer a base package of $500 that includes the course, but then also have a $1,500 version that includes personalized advice from you, then it makes sense to cap the quantity on the top package, but not on just the course.

Closing sales after a certain amount of time is a great way to add urgency, but without having to discount the product. The way it works is you launch the product, take as many orders come in, and then close it at a preset time (e.g. 48 hours later). In order for this to add urgency everyone has to know that the product won’t be available after the closing time.

The downside is that if people miss your urgency window, they can’t buy from you! Which, of course, is the point. You’ll just cut off the long-tail of sales that usually follow a product launch—though hopefully most of those will be pushed up into the launch window.

This works well for products that you plan to launch periodically (like my upcoming Mastering Product Launches course) that won’t be open for purchase just at anytime.

Planning the launch window

Whichever of the urgency methods you choose to use, you need to do it in a small window. I’ve seen launches go on for a week or more and I just don’t find that works well to compel people to buy. The entire point of using a sale or bonus is to add urgency, so if you say “We have this really great bonus if you buy anytime in the next two weeks!” it gets put into their “Okay, I’ll deal with that later” pile. If you give someone two weeks to buy, they’ll wait 13 days. It’s the launch equivalent of Parkinson’s law:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Except in this case the work is making a purchase, and it will be put off until you give a really good reason that they shouldn’t put it off anymore.

So when it comes to planning your launch window, I think shorter is better. 72 hours is the longest I would go, but I tend to keep it even shorter to something like 24 hours.

Sending reminders

Urgency doesn’t work if no one knows about it. The entire point of adding an urgent deadline is so that you can remind subscribers that the deadline is fast approaching. You do this by email. During a 24 hour launch sequence I will usually send at least two reminder emails:

  1. About 6-12 hours before the launch closes
  2. Then another an hour before the launch closes

I think you can send one more email for every additional day your launch is open for—with the caveat that any additional emails must be educational, otherwise you risk annoying your readers.

Which is best?

The best method is going to depend on your content and your goals. I’ve used launch sales with a lot of success, but I am trying out different methods. Some people say bonuses don’t work, others say sales are a terrible way to go and offering a bonus is the only logical option. Plenty more stick to just time-limiting the entire offer and launching a couple times each year.

You need to try out a few methods and see what works best for you, your audience, and your product.


An update on the course

If you’ve been following closely you know that I have a new course coming out on March 25th. The topic? Mastering Product Launches. Thousands of people have taken my free email course on the topic and I get asked more often about product launches than any other topic.

I think that’s because people know the launch is where they have more leverage than any other time in the product’s lifecycle. With a decent list (anything over 1,000 subscribers) a good launch means the difference between breaking even on the product and making $10,000!

This video course shot and edited by a professional team and I take you through the exact strategies to execute a successful launch. In addition I have some really great interviews with launch experts, as well as break down of each of my own launches.

Here’s a photo from setting up the studio:



And since this post is about urgency, I’ll let you know what type of urgency I plan to use for this launch: limiting sales. Not the quantity, but the length of time the product is available for sale. So it will launch on March 25th, be available for 48 hours, and close on 27th. After the launch closes it won’t be available for at least another few months.

Alright, I’m back to working on the course! Don’t forget to subscribe below if you aren’t already on my list.

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9 Responses to “Using urgency to increase sales”

  1. Nathan,
    Will you also be covering product creation in this course? I think many of the people will also be interested in this.

  2. Awesome post Nathan!
    I really appreciate the info, and when I launch my product I will definitely use these tactics! =D

  3. I just modified a campaign to reflect a little more urgency. I hope that impacts sales over time. Thank you for that Nathan!

  4. Tried this technique last week during an info session I had for my Lean Product Development Course (femgineer.com/learn/lean-product-development/) and it worked like a charm! Got 9 people to sign up immediately resulting in $9K in sales.

  5. Awesome post Nathan!

  6. […] I covered each one in detail last week in my post on using urgency to increase sales. […]

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