The Shame Game

• May 20, 2011 • Comments (1)

pinocchio The Shame GamePointing an accusing finger at the successful internet marketers – commonly referred to as the “Gurus” (it’s more accurate to use the label of “celebrity” but, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll stick with “Guru”) – is not exactly an original topic, but I’ve got a fresh angle from which to fire my self-righteous indignation.

Most rants directed at the wealthy internet marketing celebrities and their obscenely, over-sized mailing lists are too easy to dismiss as jealousy, or piety. I’m not convinced by the argument that all Gurus are inherently evil, self-involved, money-obsessed, unscrupulous, criminals… some of them only became that way after they made their first million. But seriously folks…

Many people who attend a live seminar and get the opportunity to speak first-hand, to some of the successful marketers they’ve only previously had contact with via bulk email, are surprised with how friendly, down-to-earth, and amiable most of these people are. Much of the negative Guru bashing appears to be a by-product of the suspicion that is aroused by some people who, when they see others succeeding where they have failed, make the faulty assumption that something illegal or at least underhanded is taking place.

It’s even stranger when you meet the Guru with the brash sales pages, and the bombastic videos, only to find that in real life he’s quietly spoken and socially awkward. But I’m getting off topic.

Although I believe most guru criticism is overstated and ill-judged, today I’m going to take them to task for a problem that virtually all are guilty of perpetuating, albeit unintentionally.

The Unspoken Truth

If you took only a surface look at the world of IM, you’d reach the conclusion that success is gained in this way:

  1. Create a product and write a great sales page.
  2. Get a good number of Gurus to promote it and generate a six (or seven) figure income in less than a week.
  3. Use the newly created list of customers and leads to make more money through the sale of back-end products and affiliate promotions.

Even if we recognise this for the oversimplification that it is, there are still several large chunks of the story missing; the parts before, in-between, and after the event:

  • The poor product or sales page that sabotaged previous product launch attempts.
  • The thousands of air miles clocked up while attending seminar after seminar to find Joint Venture partners.
  • The sheer physical exhaustion generated by stress and 15+ hour word days.
  • The realisation that the margin between a successful and a failed launch is razor-thin because 80% of the launch sales end up coming from just 2-3 JV partners.
  • The spike in refund requests during the first couple of weeks.
  • The hours chained to the PC while regretting the decision to save money by handling the customer support alone.
  • The stunningly low net profit, once the cost of the launch and the JV commissions have been factored in.
  • The despair when several weeks of blasting copy-and-paste affiliate emails to the newly created list, renders it as unresponsive as a sedated sloth.

Not every product launch experiences every single one of these items. And the smart aspiring Guru, quickly learns from their mistakes and refines their technique. The rest, become the internet marketing equivalent of Rednex.

Although many of the above experiences will be familiar to anyone who has tried to establish a foothold in the internet marketing industry, why are these issues so rarely discussed in the mainstream?

How often do you hear the Gurus recommending that you attend a seminar – that they’re not involved with organising? How often do you hear them talking about the time they overworked themselves to the point of collapse? Why are specific examples of conversion rates and refund rates generally only published when the results are exceptional? Why are reported sales figures always gross rather than net? Why have I never heard anyone talk about the cost of hiring customer support staff?

And my personal favourite: Why are Gurus so quick to reveal the size of their mailing list but hardly ever reveal the open rates and click rates from the emails they send?

Sorry to disappoint you but the answer to all of these questions is NOTHING to do with some clandestine conspiracy to hide the truth. For the most part, the overwhelming silence on these issues is simple because there is nothing to be gained by talking about them, but plenty to be lost.

Generating sales by promoting a seminar as an affiliate is notoriously difficult. Although you will hear some Gurus proclaiming the importance of attending live events, they are never going to have as broad an appeal as digital products and therefore will tend to receive less coverage.

If you make yourself ill by overworking, sharing this fact offers little benefit to the success of your business. Even if you’re swamped with work, not out of necessity or bad planning, but simply because you’re committed and passionate about what you do, this can easily be spun a different way. The current perception is that the successful marketers outsource most of their work and only have to work four hours a week. Revealing any evidence to the contrary could be seen to diminish the perception that you know what the heck you’re doing.

And whenever you get on to a subject that involves statistics – particularly conversion rates – you’re into another “rock and a hard place” scenario.

If I told you, for example, that my lead capture page has a 20% conversion rate, would you consider that to be high, low, or somewhere in the middle? Unless every Guru shares ALL of their statistics, for EVERY project, a true average is impossible to establish with any accuracy.

Let’s be fair. Most of the time, the only reason why anyone is ever going to share a statistic is to establish that they’ve had a success and are a credible source of information. In that scenario, why would anyone want to reveal anything other than their best performances?

Put yourself into this example and ask yourself, honestly, which option would you select?


You run two projects. On average, the first converts sales at 10% and the second converts sales at 60%. You want to attract JV partners to promote a new project that is under construction. What sales figure are you going to publish?

Option #1 – The Whole Truth
“My previous two projects have averaged a conversion rate of 10% and 60%.”

The implication here could be that your new project has only a 50/50 chance of success. What if your new launch turns out to be another 10% debacle? Of course, 10% might actually be a great result, way above the industry average but, without an industry average to hold it up against, it sounds pretty lame in comparison to 60%.

Option #2 – The Whole Truth with Qualifiers
“My previous two projects have averaged a conversion rate of 10% and 60%. The 10% conversion rate, although lower than my other project is still pretty good considering the ticket price is quite high. Please also note that, through split-testing, I have improved on the original 7% conversion rate, and expect to push this even higher over the coming months.”

Now a third of your prospects are thinking, “Huh. He’s just making excuses.” Another third are thinking, “What?! You mean at one point, you were only hitting 7%?” And the rest are thinking, “This email’s way too long… DELETED!”

Option #3 – Broad Strokes
“The combined conversion rate for my two previous projects is an average of 35%”

This simplifying works a little better, but it denies you the opportunity to reveal the impressive sounding 60% statistic.

Is it any wonder, that most opt for the more impressive, but still accurate:

Option #4 – The Highlights
“My previous projects have seen conversion rates of up to 60%.”

This option is factually accurate and demonstrates that you have had at least one previous success. The previous options may be more complete in the information they provide but they invite an unfavourable comparison with every other Guru who sticks with Option #4.


Like it or not, only a masochist would insist on publicly sharing every failure, simply to get the kudos of being brutally honest. Sure, holding yourself up as an imperfect specimen might make you appear more human, but it might also make you appear to be a failure. The minority who recognise the normalcy of your combination of success and failure don’t need to be reminded of the fact, and everyone else will incorrectly assume that your judgement isn’t to be trusted.

Unless it’s to make a favourable comparison to their current status, no-one wants to report failure, or even something that could be interpreted as such. It’s entirely understandable, and even reflects good judgment, but unfortunately it leaves too many aspiring internet marketers with an unbalanced view of their progress and what constitutes success.

And here is the real problem…

Those new to the industry that have yet to make a single sale will be in awe over the marketer that nets a couple of thousand dollars during the first week of a product launch. But the marketer, rather than enjoying the flush of his first success, sulkily compares his haul to the $100,000+ takings that Guru X announced last week. Guru X had two failed launches, and four mediocre efforts before his spectacular six-figure launch, but there are few who know about it.

So where does that leave us?

The general perception of internet marketing may be hopelessly unbalanced but, while the Gurus are partially responsible, there hasn’t been a deliberate attempt to mislead and I would hesitate to even suggest that they should be expected to try and do something about it. Frankly, is isn’t really their problem. Most successful internet marketers got to where they are by stubbornly refusing to let their failures hold them back, and they have no reason to feel ashamed of this.

The real purpose of this article is to request a little perspective from everyone (me included) who has yet to realise all of their online marketing goals.

If your net profit from a project is small, remember that ANY profit places you head and shoulders above many other businesses, online or offline. Instead of comparing your income to the vast sums of money that others have experienced, draw a comparison with where you were one year ago, or two years ago. Recognise where you’ve improved and where you might have lost your focus. Remember, as long as your project is making a profit, achieving more traffic, improving conversions, or a combination of the three, will ensure you make forward progress.

If you’re working yourself to exhaustion, don’t add to the stress by labelling yourself a failure. Recognise that proper resource management and successful outsourcing takes time to accomplish. Cut back on ongoing projects and focus on the one that is most profitable, or has the most potential. Realise that not every hiring decision works out and persist until you find the right people to work with.

There are few mistakes you can make, or failures you can experience, that haven’t already been encountered by someone else. Learn from it, shrug it off, and move on.

Last but not least, just in case the above hasn’t already gotten me into enough trouble, the next time you attend a seminar with a live Q&A session, try asking one of these questions:

  • What was the difference between your gross profit and net profit for your last couple of product launches?
  • What’s the best and worst open rate you’ve experienced when sending an affiliate promotion to your mailing list?
  • Approximately how many hours do you work per week, on average?
  • What are the most disastrous results you’ve experienced with a project or product launch?

If the Guru being interviewed has any sense, they’ll tell you that those questions are impertinent, too personal, and that it’s unreasonable to expect them to answer. And they’d be right.

But if by some miracle you get an open, honest answer, what you learn may prove to be tremendously reassuring.

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Category: Articles, Entrepreneurialism, Success

About the Author

David Congreave began working online in 2001. He is now an SEO and Internet marketing consultant, a writer, and an editor. He lives and works in Leeds, UK with his wife, Leanne.

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Comments (1)

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  1. John Reed says:

    A SPOT-ON and well laid out perspective David!

    I have only met about 15 to 20 Marketers who would probably qualify for that much maligned title of Guru, and I liked most of them!
    There are a couple of others who are the type of person who would trample on their Grandmothers to get to the top, but that’s the same in ALL walks of life.
    Gurus/Marketers etc, we’re all from the same race, and that’s a human trait which pops up in a certain number of us (unfortunately).

    What I do strongly dislike are the totally over-hyped product launches of the type that have proliferated this year…… a L – O – N – G video with a rant about the scamming awful gurus and their continual lies about magical push-button software that doesn’t work …… and then a pitch for something that costs peanuts, right in the middle of that same field (which usually then provides neither the software or a workable system)!!

    “GGGGGGGGRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrr” as my 3 year old grandson would say!!

    OK, back to some Niche and Keyword research now, after another dose of Lemsip, Honey and Brandy to help clear this awful cough and cold……… I think some Guru has slipped me a VIRUS!!


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