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Live Events, The Offer Pyramid & The Cult Of Online Business

This offer pyramid is so familiar I can count ten different people and name their offers without really thinking too hard about it. Is it inherently bad? Maybe not, but probably yes. Especially when you add a sales event into the mix, because the more people spend with you (and at an event they’ll spend thousands after airfare, AirBnBs, takeout, and maybe even a VIP upsell), the more they spend with you.

The offer pyramid is all about leveraging the persuasion trigger called “consistency.” Once we’ve made a decision, we’re likely to make another decision that’s consistent with the last one.

In other words, if I buy your program, then spend thousands to attend your free event (which is not really ever free), I’m highly likely to purchase your $10,000 program because it’s further proof that I made the right decision. In doing so, I am affirming the rightness of my choice.

There’s also something called “escalation of commitment.”

Escalation of commitment is a behavior pattern where a student facing increasingly negative outcomes from an investment continues the behavior instead of trying something different. Even when the decision makes no sense, it’s attractive because it aligns with previous investments.

It’s similar to “sunk cost fallacy,” which, in simple terms, is when a person justifies spending MORE money with a coach or teacher, because, well, “I’m already in so deep with this person, might as well stay the course.” (Dr. Michelle Mazur and Maggie Patterson address “sunk cost fallacy” in their podcast Duped: The Dark Side of Online Business. The entire series is worth a listen.)

Have you ever bought a program, not gotten any results from it, but still went on to buy something else even more expensive from the same person? You just escalated your commitment, and we do this all the time.

As a teacher or coach, when you construct a ladder of offers like this, you’re actually intentionally making students dependent on your coaching and programs rather than giving them the tools they need to go it alone.

And live events are a huge part of moving people up that ladder. So let’s get back to the story I’m trying to avoid telling you.

My coach at the time, a former bro marketer and wonderful man I genuinely believe is working at doing better¹, advised me to sell tickets for $97, which I did. There was also a BOGO offer, where you could buy a ticket and also bring a friend too. Honestly, we did so many ticket deals I forget what half of them were.

Get butts in seats. That was the sole focus.

Once the butts were in seats, I could sell them something. Oops, I mean teach them something.

I was far from ready for an event like that. The planning alone took all of the mental energy I had. For every two hours I spent planning the event and crafting that pitch, I spent about 5 minutes planning the actual content. The content was always something I would figure out later. Days before the actual event, I was still scraping together a slide deck and scratching down what I was actually going to say.

The speaker lineup was stacked with people who wouldn’t charge a speaking fee. Would they be good speakers? Who knows?! Let’s find out.

The event itself is a blur. I was exhausted before I ever set foot on stage. I can’t remember what I taught about, which is telling because there are speeches I’ve given just one time that I can still recite verbatim (like the talk I gave at ConvertKit’s Craft + Commerce event, which was a superb event, and nothing like the events I’m talking about.)

I remember music and dancing. I remember people liked the chill out space we set up, where participants could lay on a shag rug in the back of the room and not talk to anyone. We hosted a Pass The Mic night in our PJs, where anyone could sign up to be a speaker. That was really special.

It wasn’t 100% bad. In fact, it was probably at least 30% good. Or maybe more! Maybe I’m selling myself short. I certainly hope so. But most of what I remember is all the problems I learned about afterward.

The second day was capped off with the big $10K pitch to join a private mastermind. I remember thinking to myself, “Everyone will expect a lot of pitching because the ticket price was so cheap. I mean, half the people here didn’t pay anything. I shouldn’t feel bad about this.”

Except of course that most of our attendees had airfare, hotel rooms and a dozen other things they had to spend money on to get there. But I stuck with my story if only because, at this point, we’d sunk so much money and time into the event, it didn’t feel optional.²

People did complain about the pitching. I heard it a lot in the days following the event. Along with some glowing feedback, it must also be said. I’d sat through so much pitching at other events, I chalked it up to “just how things are done.” Like seriously, suck it up people! Pay me the money if you want actual information! (I’m joking, OBV, but this is the underlying principle for content marketing.)

If I could have just one takeback, it wouldn’t be the pitching. It would be the way we ended the event. And before I tell you about that, I also have to tell you that we did not have any people of colour on stage. Between myself, my co-host, our four speakers, eight guest mentors, and three staff members, there was only one woman of colour (who I actually thought was white, so don’t go giving me any diversity cookies).

We closed the event with a call for donations to the charity Village Impact. If you’ve ever attended an event by Jeff Walker, Stu McLaren, Amy Porterfield, or anyone in this circle (or maybe you were at my event), you’ve likely seen this pitch before. If you watch closely, you’ll see people intentionally leave the room, and if you follow them to the back, you are in for an interesting conversation.

I should also say that I have made several donations to this charity over the years. I’ve even been one of the top donors whose name was mentioned from the stage! That made me feel really good about myself. But let the record show: I didn’t have a single Black speaker at my event, and the only Black representation from the stage came in the form of a call for donations to build schools for children in Kenya. Of all the things that happened at this event, this is the one thing about which I feel most ashamed.³

This content was originally published here.