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How to Sell Your Online Course on a Sales Call (and Actually Enjoy It)

  • Diane HolmesDiane Holmes

Editor’s Note: If you want to fill your online course, but you don’t have an existing audience, then the approach we recommend is for you to get on the phone (or a face-to-face) conversation with people in your network.

In the video and transcript below, Mirasee Evangelist Diane Holmes shares her tips for carrying out a sales call—without feeling like a pushy salesperson.

Diane shares:

  • How to begin the call (to disarm every person’s natural tendency to build emotional walls to sales pitches)
  • How to remove the pressure from you to make a sale (so you come from the place of being a friend rather than being a salesperson)
  • What to do whether the answer is “yes,” “maybe,” or “no” (be ready for anything and make the call work for you, no matter what the response)
  • How to get started so you build your confidence—and ease—over time (and get over the nervousness)
  • How to use your personality (to build rapport while staying authentic)

“How to use your personality (to build rapport while staying authentic)”

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…and a lot more!

Below is the transcript:

Hi everybody, Raj asked me to do a video about sales and doing sales calls. There were some questions about them at a recent coach’s [office] hours, and so since I do a lot of sales calls I am happy to help. I have to confess that a lot of my calls are more along the lines of answering questions and, at Mirasee, we’re very soft sells.

And so  a lot of times, enthusiasm goes a long way and I want to share that with you right up front that I think that the best thing you can do when you’re talking to somebody is not just be enthusiastic for no reason, although you certainly want to smile and be upbeat, but you want to be enthusiastic for them and what they’re doing.

I have this feeling every time I talk to somebody that I may be the first person who’s ever believed that they could do what it is they want to do and I was excited for them and got on board with their vision. And so that’s a huge gift that I want to show up with and do every time I talk to somebody.

So let’s talk about sales calls because they are different than interview calls. All of a sudden there’s this pressure, we have to accomplish something that’s a goal, and it seems like when you’re not used to sales and you don’t have a really friendly definition of sales, it seems like now we need to get them to buy. And so it’s kind of a forced situation which feels very uncomfortable to most of us.

And that’s not it at all. The only thing that we’re doing is helping people and we’re showing up with something of great value or we would not be doing it.

And when we’re talking to people, we’re only talking to people who are interested. If they’re not interested, we wouldn’t be calling them.

And also we’re completely fine with people not buying. Everybody has their own schedule and their own conflicts and what they’re interested in, and the right moment.

So let me give you an example of a really simple method of sales. I teach fiction writers and so if I was going to do sales it would probably be to friends and people who I know because we’re involved in certain things.

“Let me give you an example of a really simple method of sales: ”

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Beginning the Sales Call

So the first thing I would do is I would say, “Hi, so and so, this is Diane Holmes,” and then I would tell them exactly how they know me because the first thing they’re trying to do is figure out who’s calling and why are they calling me. They already don’t recognize your phone number. And we all get to the point where we’re so protective of sales calls, stuff like that.

So I would say, “Hey, it’s me from West Houston Romance Writers of America. I used to be a member there and I did a ton of volunteer work. I used to do the Emily contest and all kinds of stuff like that, I did write-a-thons in my home,” and all of that.

So then you want to tell them what it is and get that out of the way. But remember to breathe and give them a pause to say, “Oh OK.”

So now they’re on board with you. And so they’re not braced anymore that you’re some sort of police officers’ charity that is sort of a semi-scam thing, but they have a reason to know you. And so then you want to say, “I’m reaching out to you.” You can even say “my old network” because nobody is going to be offended by that, or “my old friends at Southwest,” use it because “I’m not a member there anymore and because I’m teaching a class,” and you don’t have to apologize for this. “And I’m teaching a class I’m doing this really cool thing I just developed where I’m teaching pacing and I know pacing is something that really stops writers from selling. And so I’m getting the word out there.”

Now what I’m doing is I’m telling you exactly what it is I’m doing. I’m also acknowledging I’m getting the word out, so let’s not secretly pretend we’re not getting the word out. You know it’s just an honest conversation.

And so then I could say, “And I’m running this pilot which a pilot is like a small test because I really want to know if this works. And so I’m looking for some especially friendly students who would love to get in on a great course at the ground floor and be part of it as I develop it and deliver it. And so I’m really wondering if if you’re interested in pacing and if this is a problem for you and if you could use some help.”

And so what I’ve done is I’ve actually switched from “here’s my information” and it’s just a little bit like I haven’t told him any of the details. I’ve switched into “Hey, this is a problem. And do you have this problem?”

What If They Say “No”?

And this allows them to respond and if they say to me, “Diane, I don’t have this problem I’m good,” then I would say to them, “OK cool. That’s awesome. Do you know anybody who would really enjoy learning more about pacing? Who this could really take them a lot further, anybody who’s struggling?”

And then you just see if they can refer you. If the answer back was, “Oh yeah, that sounds really good.”

What If They Say Maybe?

Or maybe they would be hesitant.  Right. And sometimes like tone of voice—we are really sensitive to it—so maybe they’re like, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe.” Or maybe because I’m asking them do they have that problem with it and they’re like, “I don’t know.”

This is a chance for me to give my expertise, which is, “Let me tell you what pacing is. Pacing is how gripped the reader is and so you if you ever get feedback that your story is; people aren’t quite interested, the characters they’re just not coming to life, they don’t finish the story, you’re having critique partners come up with all kinds of random feedback and it conflicts a lot. That’s often a really good sign that it’s actually a pacing problem. It’s not character, it’s not plot. It’s not craft a fiction. It’s actually craft a pacing and I can help you fix that.”

And so I’ve just given a tiny bit of what it is that I do.

And let’s say that they come back and they’re like, “Well, I don’t know, I might be.” And so I would say, “OK well let me just tell you briefly [cause I wouldn’t give a lot of information] it’s going to be a four-week course I’m going to sell it for [I’m making up something here] 197. But right now what I’m going to do is because it’s a pilot and I need a lot of feedback, and so in exchange for feedback I’m going to sell this for $97. I’m going to take on 10 students so that I can really devote a lot of time, they’re gonna get a lot of coaching for me and a lot of feedback on their writing. And so if that sounds like something you are missing right now is that aspect of getting a lot of feedback on what you’re doing and making some progress, maybe this is the course for you. What do you think?”

And again I would really listen and see what they think and I’m talking to another writer who actually is interested in what I’m talking about.

Otherwise it wouldn’t be so easy to do. And so they say, “Yeah I’d really like to know more about this,” then I would give them a few more details and then I would say, “Would you like a spot in my pilot?”

And maybe they have to check their budget. Maybe they need to talk to a spouse, maybe they need to check their calendar. I don’t know that very many people can truly say yes on the spur of a moment without checking a calendar.

So I would say, “OK perfect. I’m going to fill this by Friday and so can you let me know by Friday so that I save you a spot if you want a spot,” and that’s it.

Or maybe it’s, “I’m going to start teaching on Saturday. It’s a Saturday morning class so it doesn’t conflict with work. And so if you could let me know on Friday if you want a spot then I would love to have you aboard. I know that we’re going to really take your writing further,” and that’s it.

Turning a Negative into a Positive

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So let’s back up a little bit and discuss how this applies to a “no” situation. And so let’s just say that the answer I got is you are interested. And do you have this problem and they’re, “No I really don’t know anybody, no I don’t.” And I’m like, “OK, cool that’s no problem. I really appreciate you talking to me. Thank you so much for that. And I’m just really testing the waters with this class. So do you have any feedback as far as whether you think people in your chapter are interested in this topic or are other writers here?”

And then I would pause and see if there’s any feedback. There are a lot of times especially since I’m not really grilling here, which can feel a little tough, “Can you tell me why you’re not interested?”

But sometimes that may feel a little tough for you and so I want to give you an alternative method around that. And so they might say, “Well I don’t know, we all get to a session and all our classes are free. And so I just don’t know if they’re interested in that.”

And what that tells me is she’s not somebody who really is interested in taking classes. So it really has nothing to do with me or my class at all. Or maybe what she says is, “Well  so-and-so just came to our chapter and just talked on this topic.”

That’s really interesting for me because what that tells me because I know that my material is unique that when I talk to her and delivered my topic I didn’t make it sound unique enough.

And so next time I talk to somebody, she’s already said no so I’m not going to try and talk her into it. But the next time I talk to somebody, I probably will make double sure that when I talk about my topic I’m going to say, “I went on a quest for three years to figure out pacing because everybody’s advice was wrong. And when I looked at it and it was everything from write shorter sentences to break your chapters in half, it was crazy stuff that I know there are phenomenal books that have long sentences and long chapters and it has nothing to do with that. And so I read everything there was on it and I ended up in my class developing my own framework that allows you to spot pacing right on the page so that no matter what is going on, no matter what you get in a critique, you can look at the page and you will know exactly what is going on and if it’s a pacing problem and exactly how to fix it.”

And then if I explain it that way, probably they’re going to get right away this is something unique and since somebody is out there already teaching pacing I need to make sure I got that. So that’s how you learn from every call how you’re going to handle the next call.

One thing I didn’t talk about is I almost always start with “Is this a good time?” because they may be reading their kid a story, they may be out shopping, you never know because you’re most often calling a cell phone anymore. Everybody I know has given up their landlines.

And so the first thing I get is an agreement that this is a good time. If it’s not a good time, then you just say, “Oh OK, no worries I don’t want to keep you. What’s a good time to call you back?” and get them to tell you a good time.

But if it is a good time then you’ve gotten that buy in that at least they’ve got two minutes for you. And so the way I would start that is, “Hi, this is Diane Holmes. You know me as a former chapter member of West Houston I was active for years. I used to run the Emily and did all kinds of volunteer work there. And is this a good time?”

So that’s what I would say. And then so I’ve gotten them, OK this is a good time. I would tell them, “Here’s why I’m excited, here’s what I’m doing (my topic).” And now I understand how to say it a little bit better so that it sounds more interesting.

And again I would just ask the question and leave some pauses. “Do you have…  is this a problem you’ve seen in your writing or that you suspect that you have?”

And then allow them to say something and as soon as they are saying yes or something along those lines, be their friend. This is about being a human being before it is about selling.

And so they might say, “I just got a contest result back. Oh my God it was terrible.”

I would just go on and say, “Oh I am so sorry to hear that. I’ve done contests and you can get crazy results and you can also get some really hurtful results so I’m really really sorry to hear that. Did their feedback, did you feel like it indicated a pacing question?”

I might engage them a little bit about their topic. There’s a reason they brought it up in the first place. And then I would say, “Well I have developed a course because this whole topic is such a passion of mine that I am developing a course. This is what I want to do. I’m so excited about it.”

“I’m just talking like a friend and talking as if they’re in my living room. ”

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And you can tell I’m just talking like a friend and talking as if they’re in my living room, if I ran into them on the street and I’m saying to them why I’m excited. And then again you would say, they’re probably talking about the contest, I might refer back to that and say, “What I know from this because from my pilot is that the power you gain when you really understand pacing and you really know that it’s true and craft of writing issue and a pacing issue you will be so surprised at how your contest scores change.”

So I bring it back to what they say and what they’re interested in, especially if it’s something they’re worrying about right now.

And so then I would ask them, “Would you like to be part of part of my pilot [maybe this is pilot number two since I just referred to a previous pilot]?”

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What If They Say Yes?

sales-call 5

And hopefully they would say yes.

I would say, “Wonderful,” and give them some details. “OK. Here’s how it’s going to work. We’re going to have however many sessions, they’ll be held at this time every day. Don’t worry if you miss it because there’s going to be a recording so even if it’s my first pilot was eight sessions long. And so of course there are going to be times that people can’t show up.”

And so you’re going to say, “Don’t worry if you can’t, I have tapes. You’ll have the videos you’ll have access for a full year.” And then do some of the pieces that are really delightful that really will delight them and for writers, it’s giving feedback and so I would tell him a little bit about this. So you create the value then. Then tell them the price. And then ask them, “Would you like a spot?”

And hopefully if they say yes you’re going to say, “Wonderful, I’m going to sign you up right now so here’s what’s going to happen,” and then invite them on that journey. “I’m going to send you an e-mail. And in this e-mail, there’ll be my PayPal links that’s super easy. You can just pay that way have you done that before. [Not everybody’s done PayPal so I would say to them] you don’t have to have a PayPal account. You can use your own credit card but you just use my PayPal link and enter your credit card. So it’s super safe. And then as soon as you’re signed up you automatically are sent a welcome e-mail so that you’re in if you don’t get that just e-mail me and I’ll be looking for you. I’m going to do three e-mails before the class starts because I like to do a warm-up to set you up for success. And I’ll tell you everything that you need to have ready this is going to be a phenomenal adventure and I can’t wait. So thank you so much for taking time. And I’m just going to go send that e-mail right now.”

And that’s it, that’s the end of the call.

So we’ve talked about no’s, we’ve talked about maybe’s, we’ve talked about yes’es. You can see that as I’m talking it’s so conversational. I’m talking to a good friend and I talk that way even if I don’t know them personally because I would be talking to people who I know somebody who knows them. Right. That’s why they’re they’re being called.

And so I believe that my friends of the friends of my friends are my friends and I want to treat them in that way. I want to invite them into my world and so whatever your personality is like and however you teach, the personality and the way that you teach, this call should not be separate from that.

And so if you’re somebody who is hysterically funny then your call should also have that sense. If you’re somebody who is really straightforward and very factual and gentle then your calls should also have that. Just because the end goal is sales from our perspective and changing people’s lives—because that’s what sales is about—it doesn’t mean that it should be separate from anything that we are and our own personalities.

I hope this has been helpful in giving you just a ton of confidence in how to handle the call, how to feel at ease in the call, and just know that the first time you do this to somebody who you know really well who is likely to receive the call well, and just light up at the fact that it’s you. Make it easy on yourself, and then every time you do a call you get more at ease and are more at ease and more at ease.

Just set that intention because if you don’t, what I’ve seen happen to people is they’re really nervous and they never leave the nervous place. And so what I want you to do is to practice being at ease because that’s where you want to be. Practice knowing that they’re delighted to hear from you because what you’re talking about is something they’re interested in.

Practice knowing that if they say no it’s ok, you can still support them in doing that, and maybe a year from now they’ll think, “Wow, I really wanted to take that class. I need it now.”

And so it’s a long-term relationship you’re building with them. And this is just one small piece.

These are your friends, your future friends, your students, they’re people you will spend time with. All right. That’s it. I will talk to you guys later. Hope this is helpful. Leave me some comments let me know, OK. Bye.

How do you feel about making sales calls? What do you find most challenging about selling your course on the phone?

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5 thoughts on How to Sell Your Online Course on a Sales Call (and Actually Enjoy It)

Cathy Pelham

I loved your advice on this great topic. You presented it in a way that was clear, concise, and easily integrated. Thanks, Diane.


Cathy, Thank you so much for your kind words! 🙂 I hope this is helpful to you when it comes to selling your pilot course. 🙂

Natascha Crundwell-Uberbacher

I am busy with the Course Builder’s Laboratory and came across your blog. I am hate making these kids of calls but like your super tips. Cant wait to try them


Such an excellent presentation, Diane. Thanks so much for this. It’s really helpful, and removes about 90% of the anticipation nervousness most peole would have in this situation…. The remaining 10% of adrenalin is probably good for keeping the blood flowing to the brain! 🙂


LOL Love it, Edna. You’re right about the 10% of nerves. It keeps you focused.

So glad this was helpful and that it resonated with you.


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