“If you sell information products, are you responsible for your customers’ results?”
Often people look at this very simplistically and blame the sellers of information products for all kinds of unethical things. For the most part, the same things apply to coaches, consultants, and even many normal products and all sorts of services, but I’ll focus on information products in this article.
The lack of clarity on what you’re responsible for also makes people accidentally create misleading marketing and unhappy customers, so they’re to blame in part, too.
When you know the things you have to consider, you can make promises in your marketing without worrying about what people might misunderstand.
And at the same time, you can make sure you get almost no refund requests.
No course creates results on its own.
Let’s say you buy an online course that “shows you simple things you need to do to be able to run a marathon.”
Roughly put, there are three things you can do next:
- You don’t go through all the materials in the course (maybe you forget, don’t have time for it, or have other priorities).
- You go through the entire course, but you don’t implement what you learned.
- You go through the course, do your best to implement everything you learned, and ask for help from the seller if you don’t understand something.
What if each of these options leads to hardly any results? Is it the seller’s fault?
In the first two options, obviously it’s not the seller’s fault…unless the course was so poorly structured and/or confusing that it was unreasonably difficult to follow the instructions.
If the things you learned were reasonably well explained, the lack of results is clearly caused by the fact that you didn’t use what you learned.
Of course, implementing some things can be difficult and take a long time even if they’re simple.
For example, if you haven’t run much, you would expect to spend several months or even years implementing what you learned before being able to run a marathon.
But when it comes to marketing (and many other things), plenty of people don’t see it the same way.
Growing a business isn’t easy for everyone.
Some people feel that if something isn’t easy (in business), it isn’t worth doing.
At the same time, they spend huge amounts of time on their business overall. But if they had to spend a lot of time on a specific task, that’s too much. (Of course, many people have no issue focusing on the things that actually make all the difference.)
I think the reason for that is that many people have said, “it’s easy and fast to build a business and everyone can do it.”
Of course it’s not “easy,” and there’s no way to guarantee it would be “fast.” And not everyone has the motivation etc. to do what they would need to do—even if they learned what they needed to do.
But many people—on some level—believe that building a profitable business could be easy and fast. So, they forget to think of what’s realistic when they buy information products.
You (as the seller) can’t consider fringe cases.
What about the third option?
What if you go through the marathon training, do your best to do everything you learned, ask for help if you don’t understand something, and still don’t get any results after months of practice?
Is that the seller’s fault? Does it mean the course was bad or a “scam?”
If a large majority of people who do all the work don’t get results, the course is probably bad. And if the seller knows that, then it’s a scam.
But there will always be fringe cases. No information product—or anything else—works for everyone.
For example, no matter how great the marathon training method is, it might not work for someone who’s 97 years old. Or someone with only one leg. Or someone who develops significant joint pains when they start exercising.
Looking at marathon running it’s pretty easy to see what are “fringe cases” or obvious limitations. Some are predictable (e.g., age or number of legs), some not so much (e.g., joint pains after running more).
There are fringe cases and obvious limitations in just about every context. But when it comes to business, many people just don’t think about those.
For example, what if someone tries to sell a mediocre product with lots of really good alternatives and competitors? What if someone tries to sell a car that’s otherwise good, but its windows don’t close?
The marketing system could be really good. But if the product is clearly not as good as other options, how could the marketing compensate for that?
I think that’s obvious. There’s no reason to even mention that. Everyone should be able to understand that if they’re trying to sell a clearly worse product than others, then product development/improvement should be their focus—not marketing.
But that’s not nearly the only thing that might be wrong.
What if you tried to charge outrageously high prices for something people can easily get elsewhere at a reasonable price? Or what if you tried to sell something very few people would ever want? Or what if you work in an industry that has unusual legal limitations on marketing?
These are all situations where even a great marketing method would likely fail. You wouldn’t blame the seller.
And as the seller, you wouldn’t feel the need to mention those situations. You wouldn’t mention any other things that obviously limit the potential results either.
Sometimes people forget to think of what about their products or business might be an obvious limitation. And then they might blame the system for the lack of results. You just can’t realistically do anything about that.
Things you should mention.
Think about your target customers and consider what might limit their chances of getting the results you promise.
If there are clear, common limitations that aren’t obvious, point them out in your marketing.
For example, if you sell a marathon training system that only works specifically for women, tell it, so men don’t get disappointed. Don’t worry about the fact that it doesn’t work for 97-year old women.
As a general rule, be friendly, respectful, and realistic in your marketing.
In this context, “friendly” means that you warn people if there are some typical limitations that they probably won’t think of. “Respectful” means that you don’t treat them like idiots by pointing out obvious limitations to what your product can do. And “realistic” means that you set realistic expectations of how much work it will take to get results, what pre-requisites there are, and anything else a potential buyer should know to be able to make an informed decision.
As long as the people who go through the entire course, do all the work, don’t have some unusual or obvious limitations, and ask for help if they don’t understand something get results, your product is good.
If you’ve never (or almost never) heard of someone matching that description who wouldn’t have gotten results with your information products, you’re doing a great job. Don’t let other people’s shortsighted opinions affect you much.
Are you responsible for the people who don’t take action?
Obviously, people who don’t take action don’t get any results. It doesn’t matter how great your product is.
But some people think that you, the product seller, should be held responsible if people don’t follow through after they get your product.
I think there are two separate things at play here. One is the fact that you can’t control other people, so you can’t force them to follow through or get results.
The other is that you can choose to care about making it as easy as possible for people to follow through.
Someone recently sent me an email saying (I’m paraphrasing), “I asked [four very well-known marketing professionals who talk a lot about how much they care about their customers’ success] if they know the overall success rate of their customers. Most of them said that they aren’t even interested in how many people go through their courses after buying—and none of them shared any numbers.”
I think you should be interested in how many people follow through. But that’s just my ethics—not some law or objective truth about what’s ”right.”
So, if only very few people even go through your information products after paying for them, I think it’s irresponsible not to consider if there’s something you could do to make it easier for people.
That said, remember that depending on what you sell, you should expect very different follow-through rates from people. Just about everyone who buys a house will move there. But just about no one who buys exercise equipment uses it.
If even just 50% of people who buy your big information products go through them and implement what they learn, you’re way above average. You don’t need to settle for that, but it’s already much higher than average. (Of course, a short ebook will have a higher consumption rate than a 6-month course.)
You aren’t responsible for the results of people who don’t take action. You can only do your best to make it easy for them to go through your product.
I choose to offer free personal support with at least most of my information products. I do that to make sure the people who do their best don’t get stuck because they don’t understand some small detail or how something applies to their unique situation.
Sure, I also think of ways to make the courses as easy to go through as possible. In other words, I try to minimize the need for personal support by explaining things clearly within the courses, so people don’t have questions they would get stuck with.
I’m not saying you have to offer free personal support.
Rather, it’s my way of acknowledging that there are unusual situations that I couldn’t have accounted for when creating a product, so some people need to slightly modify the steps to make them fit. It’s also a way to acknowledge that my courses aren’t perfect—some people will have questions while implementing what they learn.
As an additional way to make my products better and easier to go through, I almost always first offer a ”beta” version of a new course.
For example, at the time of writing this, my sales funnel course that teaches how to build a “Painlessly Simple Funnel” is a beta course (it’s not available at the moment). It simply means that I expect people to have some questions that I need to answer personally. I’ll answer those questions in the course itself if/when I create the final version of it, though I might still offer personal support, as well.
So, I think you’re responsible for doing your best to make your products easy to go through. But you aren’t responsible for people who don’t even try.
Refund request reasons are revealing.
There are always people who ask for refunds—that’s not exclusive to information products. And the refund requests can be a great indication of how well you’ve done your job.
If you often get refund requests where people say that the product wasn’t good enough, there’s probably something you should look at.
But if the closest thing to a complaint you’ve ever heard is something like, “The audio in one of the bonus resources wasn’t cleaned of occasional audible breaths, so I won’t even look at the actual course materials. I want my money back.” you don’t need to worry about it. (Yes, that really is a nearly-verbatim quote from a customer.)
You shouldn’t listen to people who evaluate your product without doing their best to go through it and implement it.
Of course, if they point out that going through the product was difficult despite their genuine effort, you need to think of how to make it better.
When you don’t exaggerate or make unrealistic promises, 99% of your (very infrequent) refund requests will be along the lines of, “I’m really sorry about this, but I don’t think I’m going to have time to start the course now. I know I could get great results if I did…I’ll probably buy it from you again when I can give it the attention it needs.”
Sure, you can wonder why people who know they would get good results from your course don’t feel like they have the time for it (if it happens a lot). But you can’t do much about family emergencies, moves to foreign countries, or serious illnesses that keep people from taking action.
What if people don’t buy without great promises?
Unfortunately many industries are plagued by unethical people selling their products with bloated and misleading promises. This is maybe most prominent with information products.
And that can make other similar products seem less valuable.
For example, you can easily find plenty of exercise programs that are sold with the idea of ”guaranteed six-pack in 4 weeks.” So, if you sell a similar product with more realistic promises, some people will buy the other product.
But most people are smart enough to understand that the bloated promises are just that—bloated promises. And many of them will buy from you specifically because you’re honest.
As long as the results your products can help people get are desirable, you can make plenty of sales. And you’ll have many more happy customers than you would if you got skimpy on the ethics department.
If you struggle to sell a good product because your competitors promise even greater (and often unrealistic) results, you just need to figure out what makes people want your product. And then point out those things in your marketing.
When you know how to differentiate yourself and your products effectively, it doesn’t matter that you have larger and better-known competitors. They’re even likely making some mistakes you can benefit from if you know where to look.
If you don’t yet have an effective, targeted marketing message that makes your target customers want to buy from you, try this free exercise now.
It helps you see what are the most likely things to make people want to buy from you, so all your marketing can focus on the most effective ideas. No need for anything misleading or exaggerating ;-)
Many people have been very surprised by which of their ideas are most effective—even when they’ve been in business for years/decades already. So, unless you’ve already tried the exercise, you might be missing something very valuable without realizing it.
When you’re done with the exercise, share this article with someone you know who sells information products, so they can breathe easy knowing that they’re doing their part. And they won’t get many refund requests anymore either.