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Marketing 14 MIN READ

Email Marketing Funnel Hacks to Drive More Online Course Sales

Guaranteed, email marketing is one of the best ways to make actual sales from your online course. But it goes more than just pitching your course in an email and sending it to everyone on your list. There are helpful strategies and “hacks” that you can utilize to get the best from your email marketing funnel.

It can be difficult, taking the time to recognize a problem that you can solve, then packaging the solution into an online course with value and knowledge from your expertise only to discover that your target audience isn’t responding the way you expected them to. Yeah, that can be frustrating.

But here’s what you need to know about consumers, it takes quite a lot to convince them to spend their cash, even if it’s for something as valuable as an online course.

Generating leads and nurturing them into conversions can be tough, especially when it comes to feedback and taking decisive actions.

But there are practices that you, as an online course creator can take to convince more of your target market to purchase your course.

Email marketing naturally is a good conversion optimization strategy, with its tendency to generate huge ROI.

Source: Oberlo

By applying these “hacks” to your email marketing funnel, you can further capitalize on the utility of email and boost your online course sales:

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Spread Your Lead Generation Channels

Lead generation is at the top of the email marketing funnel. It’s how you build your email list of subscribers that you subsequently send your content and offers to.

People that subscribe to your list are rightly called leads because they have some level of interest in your business, whether it’s a specific, high interest, or some general curiosity. They submitted their email addresses of their own volition after being prompted to, so they must have some sort of awareness and interest in your business or products.

This makes your leads very likely prospects to buy your offers, and it’s why lead generation should be a vital and very well-planned part of your email marketing strategy.

As an online course creator, there are several ways you could generate leads. The most popular channel is make a blog or website, and then to generate leads by using lead magnets. Lead magnets are essentially incentives you give website visitors in exchange for their email addresses, they could be discounts, or free gifts, or free helpful information, like newsletters.

The way most people get their websites to constantly bring in new leads is by optimizing their SEO and keywords to drive in traffic.

If you’re familiar with marketing, you know websites and content marketing are not the only way to generate traffic for your brand. Bearing this, you should learn how to use other channels to drive more traffic and increase your chance of generating leads.

Social media, webinars, paid ads, and even your email marketing are effective ways to drive more traffic that will become leads.

By increasing your influence on several social media channels, you can direct more people that are already interested in your brand to your blog or website. Afterward, you can make them subscribers with your lead magnet.

Webinars are super effective because they usually recruit leads that have a higher level of interest. While webinars are a way to sell your course outright, they also generate qualified leads for your list. These leads would have higher prospects of converting into sales than regular leads.

You can collect emails through the online forms that people fill before they register for your webinar. For people that failed to attend the webinar or attended and didn’t buy the course, you can send emails reminding and re-enticing them of your offer since you already have them in your list.

You can then always use this high-quality list for your subsequent email marketing efforts or to promote new courses.

With emails, you can use great content and offers to encourage existing subscribers to share your emails or offers to their network or social media. For this purpose, you have to include share buttons or actionable links in your emails. With this, you can have user-generated content, and that’s a big plus in any marketing strategy.

In the end, it’s all about the numbers, and the higher numbers you can pool at the beginning of the funnel, the higher your chances of getting substantial returns at the end of it.

But, of course, what you do in the midst of the funnel will also have a great influence on your turnout.

Choose a Superb Email Marketing Platform

This should be general knowledge, but you probably are not using a convenient email marketing tool that integrates and streamlines all the processes you will need for your strategy. A great email tool will even suggest and offer more effective practices and features to make your job easier, more productive, and more engaging.

From managing your email list to segmenting your subscribers and automatically sending them emails periodically or as a response to their actions on any of your platforms, and more, a standard email marketing tool has you covered.

For your benefit, you must make sure you’re using an email service that’s fulfilling all your needed processes and makes the job easier for you. It doesn’t hurt to opt for further convenience by looking for a tool that offers even better services and cutting-edge features at an even lower price. In fact, this is naturally what you should do, if you want more for less, that is.

In this regard, I can’t really recommend a particular top option to you, because there are several awesome ones out there and it wouldn’t be fair to limit you to just one choice because of my partiality.

But I’ve definitely compiled a list of best email marketing services that I think are at the top of the game and would be very beneficial for your purposes. All you need to do is match their price ranges and features to see which works best for you.

Alternatively, you can always use an online course platform that offers email marketing as part of its services. This would offer an even more streamlined and convenient process.

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Properly Segment Your Leads

So you’ve chosen a great tool, and you’ve gathered your leads, now it’s time to put all that to use by sending killer emails to your leads, but first, you’ve got to segment them. But of course, you know this.

What you might not know is how to segment them properly so your leads or subscribers get only the most relevant information pertaining to your online course.

You want to make sure some of your subscribers don’t end up seeing what they don’t need to see. For instance, people that signed up for or attended your webinar might not need to receive the nurturing or starter emails you will send to fairly new and even regular subscribers.

Regular subscribers that didn’t sign up for your webinar might still need to be nurtured with content before you make the pitch, since you can’t automatically assume they’re already interested in your course.

With webinar leads, what you mostly do is send reminder and follow-up emails. The type of emails you send for these leads would still be segmented at a point. The emails you send to people who attended the webinar but didn’t buy will be different from those of people who didn’t attend at all.

For a follow-up email to people who attended, usually you thank them for their participation, add a recording of the webinar and pitch your course. You might add more details and info depending on the nature of your course and your content strategy but here’s a template from ActiveCampaign:

Compare that with this example from the MyOwnConference blog. This was sent to non-attendees:

If the webinar is a session you’re going to repeat at another time, you can attach a link to the next webinar in the email.

With your existing subscribers, you still need to segment them based on factors like their level of engagement, topic or content they show more interest in, their purchase history, and their level of loyalty to your brand.

See? That’s a lot of segmenting, right? But it’s vital if you want your subscribers to only see relevant content. You will get higher engagement that way.

P.S.: Check LearnWorlds’ 3 email sequence templates to launch your online course in 2021.

Use Valuable Content to Boost Your Email Marketing Sequence

Your online course was created with the aim of solving a problem and offering people value, right? (Of course, it had to be). Your course should address relevant topics or areas of learning if you don’t want it to end up as a drain of your money, time, and effort.

Even if you’re tending to a very specific niche, you still have to make sure what you’re teaching is applicable and needed value.

It is with this value-adding ideology that you should start your funnel and launch your online course.

Starting Your Email Sequence

The first few emails you send to your subscribers (yes, first few, you didn’t think you were going to send one course pitch and call it a day, did you?) should discuss an existing problem they might have and also discuss the solutions.

You really shouldn’t pitch your offer with your first email in most cases. Most people would just see you as a money-grabber, or they might not be so invested yet as to want to give you their cash.

The key is to get them invested. And that means making them realize the need to solve a particular problem in their lives, then offering the solution to that problem, with your online course.

The way to do this is to send periodic content that builds up their interest to the point where they click on the “Purchase Button”. This process could take weeks, but don’t worry, it’s usually worth the wait. To do this properly, you need to plan an email marketing sequence that has a starting point and an endpoint. This is basically the spine of your email marketing funnel.

The starting point contains the email that reveals and discusses the problem. If it’s for new subscribers that opted in because you promised them a solution to the problem, discuss the problem and how your brand solves it in your welcome email.

Welcome emails are an important part of your marketing by the way. That’s a no-brainer. You should offer one to every new subscriber, whether or not you’re marketing a course.

Source: Oberlo

How else will they understand your brand and the possible solutions you have to offer? How else will you collect more data about new subscribers and prime them for more subsequent emails?

So, your starting point. Reveal the problem with engaging content, backed up with facts and data when necessary, but not only that, let them know there is a solution. See the content of an email SendPulse sent as the beginning of an email marketing sequence to promote an online course:

Observe how the body of the email is mostly valuable and helpful advice that addresses a problem the recipient seems to have.

Depending on your strategy, you can discuss the solution over the next email without even pitching your course yet. The idea is to familiarize your audience with the concept and get them invested in it.

You would have to give “free advice” and valuable insights, just like in the example above. This is to build your readers’ trust in your intent and authority as a solution provider. Of course the advice you give would only act as teasers to the main course; your course.

Transitioning Into Your Pitch

After educating and engaging your audience with a few emails, you can then switch into the course pitch. A great way to switch is adding your pitch as part of a solution-oriented content, so that your online course naturally comes in as the ultimate solution.

At this point, you’re at the middle and a very important part of your funnel, the part where most of your subscribers would make their conviction about needing your online course.

This template from LearnWorlds is a good example of how you can smoothly transition from talking about the problem and solution into pitching your online course:

Your next email would continue pitching your course. At this stage you can go into more detail about the features and benefits of the course. You can also reinforce your special offers and go for the hard sale. Don’t be afraid to push your sale. Be direct and intentional about it. At this stage, you’ve motivated your readers enough to the point of realizing they need your course.

Using Q&A and Ending the Sequence

A good way to drive home your sale and reveal important details of your online course is by using a Q&A format. With a Q&A format, you can posit common questions and very likely fears your leads might have and provide answers to them. It’s simply an engaging way of revealing how your course would work for them.

LearnWorlds’ template gives an idea of how a Q&A can be formatted:

You can send a few more emails over a period to remind non-converts and give them more reasons why they should buy your course.

For leads that convert into sales, you still have to send them “thank you” and follow-up emails. This is very important. These emails are a good way to start your new relationship with your new students on a good note, and also send them additional information and materials that will be needed for the course. Your post-purchase emails can act as a sort of personal induction.

What time period you should cover for completing the funnel depends on your strategy, but what is important is that you don’t send all the emails in one day!

Ideally you should avoid sending more than one email per day (although this could be exempted if you’re sending urgent “closing soon” offers) and spacing them too far apart.

Use Case Studies and Reviews

People indelibly want proof. No matter how enticing or convincing your words and concept are, they need to see something that proves to them that you’re for real. This is where reviews and successful case studies of your online course come in.

Case studies would describe how your course was applied to work for a student or a number of students. This can be enough to convince leads to believe in your process.

Reviews are also great in that regard. Positive reviews and testimonials from former students will not only give your course credibility but can also prove how effective it is as your students describe the ways in which it helped them.

Naturally, your reviews and case studies come in close to the end of your flow. They’re meant to finally push through and convince even the most stubborn leads, so they’re usually added with the last few pitches.

Often, they’re the last things leads need to see before finally deciding to purchase.

Personalize Your Emails

You’ve probably heard this several times; personalize your emails, add your subscribers’ individual names to your subject lines. And that is definitely good practice if you’re not doing it already.

Source: Oberlo

But you see, personalizing could go more than that. It’s also about how your emails can be tailored to suit your audience’s specific needs. Of course the needs would be related to a solution your online course provides.

You would greatly increase your chances of engagement and making sales if your leads believe your content was meant specifically for them.

A strategy to utilize specific personalization like this is to use an online survey. An online survey can be used in your welcome email or the emails at the beginning of your funnel.

With these surveys, you can ask a few specific questions that relate to the problem in question and promise to, or immediately offer them a solution based on their responses.

Using the nature of their responses, you can create personalities or prototypes of your leads and further segment your email list based on these personas. Your subsequent emails can then be edited to suit these personas.

This sounds like more work, and it is. But it is usually worth the effort!

Creating engaging content is no longer about bombarding your emails with captivating graphics and media. Both audiences and businesses alike are starting to settle for plain text. For some reason, probably because it seems more trustworthy, plain text content is more effective.

Naturally, you’re required to write stuff that people want to read, but now that you no longer have to use graphics to seem more appealing or to drive home your illustrations, you have to double down on the readability of your content.

Great content has readers reading to the last line, with no sense of confusion and a peculiar feeling of satisfaction.

As an online course creator, you must avoid being the teacher that causes students to grumble when his period comes on. The best teachers make subjects like biology and physics fascinating. So no matter the nature of your course, you really don’t have an excuse for not putting out likable content.

If this means having to work on your diction and description or getting a professional freelancer to write for you, then you have to do what’s necessary.

One tip you can use for engaging content is by using stories. Interesting, relatable stories that depict the point you’re trying to make or the message of your email. It doesn’t matter if they’re fictional, as long as they are realistic events and very applicable in real life.

Your Subject Line

One thing you must watch out for is your subject line. It’s literally the beginning and end of your email. It could make people open your email with anticipation, or simply ignore it. So make sure it is catchy and the type of thing that will pique people’s curiosity.

It’s not just about it being catchy however. Your subject line has to directly address what the email is about so it’s not misleading. This is a subject line that will be hard to ignore but still captures the essence of the email:

You can test your subject lines with A/B testing to determine the most effective subject line for you. What you’ll be looking for are email open rates. Your email service provider should have a feature that makes you conduct this test easily.

Making your content interactive basically means including things they can click, or things that give a level of communication when clicked.

CTA buttons, which are necessary anyway, are interactive agents. They also help your readers to make decisions that lead you closer to your goal.

An interactive content you can use, despite the plain text craze, is video. This should really depend on the type of your content, and if it seems particularly helpful to drive home a point, then don’t hesitate.

Videos are, and still remain one of the most effective ways to solicit action.

Source: Oberlo

Optimize For Mobile

If you haven’t been including mobile as part of your email marketing strategy, now is the time to change that.

About half of internet traffic comes from mobile phones, so there’s a very high chance a lot of your leads would open your email through their phones.

Imagine their disappointment, and consequently yours, when they discover it’s not a very convenient experience.

You can run tests to check how your emails perform on mobile and use an email service provider that allows you to create optimal mobile experiences.

Your font size, subject line length, preheader text, header, the size and visibility of your CTA, and media (if you’re using any) are things you should generally check and optimize for when considering mobile.

You can choose to use a scalable or responsive design for your mobile version but a responsive design is the advisable option, as it sets all content elements nicely in a way that is intuitive and more convenient for users.

A scalable design just trims your desktop version to mobile size. As you might be guessing, that won’t be very convenient or encouraging.

Mobile is not the only alternative digital version, so you should make sure your email is well optimized across all devices. You don’t want to lose potential sales just out of pure neglect.

Use Urgency and FOMO

Telling people, “This offer is closing in the next 4 hours” is going to be more effective in causing them to take action than telling them “This offer is closing soon”. That’s the element of urgency, using set deadlines for your offers to motivate your leads to make purchases.

You can start adding the urgency at any point of your pitch, but adding it in your first pitch is more agreeable when it is utilized through a time-sensitive discount. Time-sensitive discounts and limited special offers are generally very effective ways to trigger your subscribers’ fear of missing out (FOMO) and spurring them into taking immediate action.

You need to familiarise yourself with phrases and words that trigger urgency so you can use them in your emails, like this “last chance” email template from LearnWorlds:

You can increase the tone of your urgency to boost more conversions when the discount or offer is nearing an end. It is in these periods that sending more than one email a day would make sense. You can send these emails to remind your subscribers as the hours tick off on deadline day.

Be careful that you don’t send too many urgent reminders in one day or you might defame your brand. Sending 2 to 3 a day is fine and these are usually only on the last day.

Sending urgent, countdown to deadline emails usually drives more sales, so it should be a necessary part of your strategy.


The world is becoming more exposed and people are becoming more aware of the need to acquire value. Due to recent events and the rapid advancement of digitization, more and more people are taking their educational practices online.

As a result, the e-learning industry will only become more lucrative in coming years. It is only natural that you as an online course creator benefit a lot from this trend.

But this can only be possible if you employ the right marketing to promote your brand. By using email marketing, and applying the strategies discussed in this article, you would have put yourself in a better position to make the most of this momentum.

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Anastasia Belyh

Anastasia Belyh is a 3x serial entrepreneur with a deep passion for digital business models. She started FounderJar and Cleverism.