Why I’m Over Books Designed as Part of a Sales Funnel

6 min read
Bookshelf, Rant
By: Maddy Osman

I love to read books. Not just articles, but full-length monsters. Sometimes I read fiction to escape into another world, other times I read business nonfiction to pick up on some new skills and knowledge – then share the best insights on this blog. Regardless of the topic, when I read a book, I don’t want to be a part of someone’s sales funnel.

What am I talking about?

Two examples of books designed as part of a sales funnel stick out in recent memory.

Both ran heavy Facebook ads and partnered with industry influencers to promote their books.

The promotions drew people in by offering a free book that solved a common business problem. The catch was that you had to pay shipping – which ended up being more than the cost of the book on Amazon (my gold standard for pricing), and you were also required to give up your email address to access this “special deal.”

While most businesses can tell you their cost per acquisition as it comes to getting prospect emails (usually a few dollars per person, but of course it differs from business to business), both Ray Edwards and Ryan Levesque completely mitigated their costs – instead getting people to pay for the pleasure of continuous sales tactics.

There’s nothing “free” about that. You’re the one who pays.

I’ll admit – I initially got caught up in the hype and also heard from other small business owners who liked the books. I took advantage of the promotional timing – both books were on sale on Amazon for a considerable discount ($5 or less for the Kindle versions), and didn’t require me to surrender my email address in order to read them.

How to Write Copy That Sells was useful to me as I’m an SEO Copywriter, and there were plenty of takeaways. But calling it a book was a stretch. It probably only took me an hour or so to read, which was the first red flag. The second was a call to action at the end of every chapter to join the author’s online course – “FREE” (a $197 value!) until you want the extras he’s pushing, of course.

So whatever. $5 to learn more from an expert may have been money well spent, but it was also a farce. This was not a book in the traditional sense.

But the book that actually got me more fired up and had me thinking about this new annoying practice of writing books designed as part of a sales funnel was Ask by Ryan Levesque.

I bought this one at the nice promotional price of $1.99 on Kindle and stored it away for a rainy day. I’m a member in a lot of supportive freelancer Facebook groups and noticed that someone had posted about the book, and recommended it. I figured that was the push I needed to give it a try, especially since it was only a few hours read.

Levesque starts the book by sharing a health struggle he faced that kicked his butt into gear regarding his business ventures. I’ll admit to being drawn in at that point – it’s hard not to connect with someone who shares their weakest moments.

But that was his only show of weakness in this book. The rest was a series of events in Levesque’s life where he claims he failed, but really achieved something huge. It’s kind of like people in a job interview who are asked the much-despised, “What’s your greatest weakness?” question, and answer with a roundabout positive like, “My weakness is that I try too hard.”

You’d have to read the book (or not, as I would recommend) to see exactly what I mean by this.

That pretty much wraps up the pieces of interest in the first section of the book. You can skip ahead to the meat and potatoes of Levesque’s “Ask Formula,” which is laid out in the second section of the book, and has much more value to the reader than listening to him pat himself on the back for his Chinese language prowess, $120k+ all expenses paid foreign job, and seeming unending capacity for #winning. It’s interesting to note that while he was living the high life in China, his wife lived in a 400 square foot apartment in Hong Kong… He quits his job to start his own business, then goes to live with her there and they eventually decide to move back to the US. He talks about how his hundreds of thousands dollars worth of income (as most of his expenses were paid for) are tied up in retirement accounts, and talks about how he and his wife are basically slumming it for the first couple months of building up his business. I think this is his attempt to try and be relatable, but it falls flat when you realize how much money is in the bank (though “tied up”). Anyways, if you can get past Levesque’s difficult to stomach first half of Ask, he starts talking about the formula he’s developed that supposedly can be tailored to work for just about any industry and business situation. I’ll admit that there were several insights about people’s behavior (backed with data from Levesque’s work across multiple industries) from a psychological perspective that I actually can take away and use to make my business better. However, for someone reading his book and trying to actually apply the Ask process he describes, I see it as an expensive and likely fruitless process. The first problem is the need to create not one, but multiple email surveys. FluidSurveys guesses conservatively that email surveys have an average 24.8% response rate, after taking out a few factors that could skew results in the wrong direction. Benchmark and SurveyGizmo have more sobering (and probably more realistic) numbers. Even if you can hit that response rate (or higher), it’s hard to know whether respondents are representative of the whole. As Levesque’s entire process is dependent on email surveys, this can be hard to see past. Levesque asks the reader whether they have an existing email list. If not, he recommends they create a landing page with a compelling reason to complete a survey, for cold traffic. Not only is it expensive to optimize and advertise a page like this without an existing audience; it’s a whole other ball game to get people to take this desired action of completing a survey and giving away personal information. Maybe I’m a cynic, but this doesn’t seem like something the average small business owner could pull off without a LOT of help and advertising dollars. There are a lot of actionable tips in terms of copywriting, but not so much with regards to putting together these email surveys and sequences. Throughout the book, Levesque frequently drops links to his “FREE” bonuses and his paid software solution. Since when do books have links? Apparently since now when we have books designed as part of a sales funnel. Can we take one minute to talk about where Levesque started, and where he’s at now? At one point in the book, he gives the example of a Scrabble jewelry creation guide he and his wife created to appeal to a niche market – What??? How does that have anything to do with following a passion – the reason why he left his sweet foreign job? From this point on, I was scratching my head at this disconnect between needing a level of expertise to find success and create products versus Levesque’s formula that he seems to claim can easily be used by anyone to sell anyone anything. I don’t like that. On a final note, don’t think I’m stupid enough to think that people write books purely out of the goodness of their hearts. We all want to make money to sustain the lifestyles we’ve grown accustomed to. Published books have the added benefit of associating the author with a level of expertise – earned or not. This perceived expertise can lead to additional consulting jobs, speaking gigs, and other positive business benefits. However, these things happen naturally, or at least more naturally, than a book that periodically drops links and calls to action to spend more money. A business book should solve a problem or answer the question it initially provokes in the copy aimed to sell it. I don’t like the idea that there’s more I must learn or buy, in order to get the most out of a book. And this is coming from someone who considers herself to be a lifelong learner. I don’t like the idea of a book with an agenda beyond teaching, and some of the more natural business benefits to the author that I’ve already outlined above. Ray Edwards and Ryan Levesque are two very sharp men who both know their subjects better than we’ll probably ever know ours. But they’ve started a scary process in using their books designed as part of a sales funnel that undermines book publishing as a whole, and takes conversion marketing to a platform I hoped never to see it – my beloved books. What are your thoughts on books designed as part of a sales funnel? Did you get more out of these books than I did? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!
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I ordered Ask when the offer was 100% free, ie. I didn’t need to pay even for th shipping. Given that I haven’t paid a cent, I expected it to be a part of some funnel, not a book in its own right (otherwise, it wouldn’t make any sense for Ryan to give it away).
But I do have a problem with books that are sold on Amazon, and turn out to be a teaser for a much more expensive online program, because you can’t get any practical value from the book (I’ve heard that “Woman Code” by Alisa Vitti is just like that). If you give a book away, then it’s OK if you sell me on your programs. If I paid for the book, then ffs, deliver the value and stop selling!
It’s one thing to have “more from this author” on the last page of the book, but littering calls to action across every single chapter is just… ew.

Nela – I completely agree. If you’re giving me the book (COMPLETELY) free, sell away. If not, deliver complete value! That’s all there is too it 🙂

Maddy,
Thank you for an excellent post. I haven’t read these particular books but I was unimpressed with Edwards. I am a Copywriter but I won’t play that game.
I disagree Edwards and Levesque knows their subjects better than you’ll ever know yours. You know your subject and called them out on their error. That’s pretty good.

The reverse effect will happen. People are more savvy than Edwards or Levesque realize. This is a glaring error on their part. They should know this if they’re any good at what they do. The ‘sales funnel book’ will fade out after a while. Just like the clickbait headlines, no one clicks on them.

We are all lifelong learners, but that’s what makes life interesting. 🙂

Joan – you’re absolutely right – I might have given them too much credit! I think their books have more appeal to someone completely foreign to a topic than those who are deeply immersed in it, such as yourself.

And I hope that you’re right about people being more savvy than they realize. I’ll be crossing my fingers that this practice of sales funnel books ends soon 🙂

Ryan Levesque is 100 percent a scam artist and I wish more would speak about it. I paid 10k for coaching in his groups and he does understands very few business verticals when it comes down to it and almost single handedly took mine down with pointed advice that was entirely wrong. I wish less people would get duped by this guy. He is no good and I’d run the other way

I haven’t yet heard from someone who’s actually worked with Ryan Levesque — thanks for sharing your experience.

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to share my experience with Ryan Levesque.

Full disclosure: I have both of his books, bought his masterclass, and have paid for his coaching program.

To this day, it’s one of the only programs that I can directly attribute to helping my business.

It’s a shame Shar wasn’t able to enjoy the same results.

I’ve been around the block with quite a few of these marketing/business gurus and I’ve got to say Ryan’s one of the more ethical and value-driven ones.

When it comes to surveying for copy, I’ve had much success with it, getting people telling me it’s like I was describing their problems with their words. And the truth is, because of my persistent surveying, I kind of was!

Even getting 10 hyper-responses from people in my target market was enough data to capture interest and attention.

On the flip side, the chief complaint I’ve heard about Ryan is:

He sells A LOT.

And I agree fully that he does.

He’s even willing to alienate and get unsubscribes for it. It’s actually something that he teaches.

He has a $2000 masterclass that has some of the best production value of any online business course I’ve encountered, as well as hours upon hours of nuanced content about the Ask process and how to implement it.

This includes a 3-month Facebook accountability group run by advisors where you can get your work critiqued and engage in regular Q&A about the process.

At the end of this masterclass?

… An upsell into his coaching program which will be going for $20K starting in 2021.

I’ve also attended his 3-day event, AskLive, where he shamelessly does back of the room sales from stage to his Coaching program.

But there’s also around 10-12 hours of straight-up value every day with a ton of guest speakers and student success stories.

What’s interesting is that he himself does the hard selling for the company. He doesn’t have a crazy team of closers with the ABC mentality of old.

Everyone else on his team in my experience, even on the initial discovery call for the coaching program, uses a plain features and benefits approach with no hard sell.

As far as using books to sell, I don’t see anything unethical about creating literature meant to sell in the same way I don’t see anything unethical about creating literature to push any agenda.

I can understand that you don’t want to have to have your safeguards up when digesting a book, and if the market agrees with you, book funnels will die out. (On that note, it’d be interesting to test if books for pure value vs. books that sell have better success attaining greater customer lifetime value.)

It’s kind of why I have an adblocker on my browser and how I wish highways didn’t have billboards.

I don’t really see either of those ever going away, and if book funnels work, I don’t see that happening either.

It might just be a reality that we have to manage.

Sorry to just now be approving this, Terrance! Dealing with a bit of inbox overload right now.

Really appreciate your take on the situation.

I think that sales is such a personal thing and you kind of have to lean in to whatever works for you. As you say, for Levesque, he always seems to have an upsell and he’s not afraid to push it out there.

I don’t think that this particular book was devoid of value, I just couldn’t personally get over all the shameless sales upsells to truly enjoy it. And speaking as someone who really enjoys a good book (it’s my goal every year to read at least one book a week), this affects my ability to pay attention and learn something new. In other words, it’s just a bad user experience.

But obviously, Levesque’s tactics work for some and there’s no shame in that game! Just not for me. 🙂