How to grow a training business: Marketing solutions for your 5 biggest challenges

marketing ideas for training courses

Last month, we asked you what challenges you face in growing your training business and what solutions work for you.

Here are the top five things we learned from what you had to say.

#1 Challenge.  I can’t find enough good training leads.

A large majority of you said that your biggest challenge in growing your training business was finding quality leads and the right decision makers. This is a common challenge for most of the training companies I work with.

They have a hard time buyers with the budget and the need for what they’re selling. Of course, the sales process becomes infinitely easier once you find the right prospect with the need and the budget.

So, what’s the solution?

90% of the time, generating leads costs a lot of time and money. Simply put, you must invest more into sales AND marketing. The fastest growing training companies that I know spend a very healthy percentage of their revenue on sales and marketing. If you’re not spending 20%, then chances are you’re in feast or famine mode and sales is a roller coaster ride.

One shortcut that works for many of my clients is to buy lists of those qualified buyers. You can get these lists from lead subscription services like ZoomInfo and Lead411, but they tend to be limited on training buyers. The list that several of my clients are using that has the most training buyers and is the most well maintained is the one from the Mentor Tech Group.  

#2 Challenge.  My email marketing doesn’t work like it used to.

A big part of a marketing strategy for a training business is email marketing. Many training companies depend on e-mail marketing and getting a good response is becoming more and more challenging every day. The biggest challenge is writing e-mails that prospects open, read, and respond to. Most e-mails barely get a 10% open rate, and much lower click-throughs and responses.

Getting prospects to respond is an art form. However, one way to immediately improve your e-mail marketing is to change your mindset a little. When you write the email, focus hard on just one thing: What is going to get your prospect to reply to your email. Not click-through. Not open. Respond! Try it out. It’s like magic.

Here are some more best practices:

  • Always add value – Self-centered messages rarely work, and they tend to alienate buyers faster than you can say SPAM. Your expensive prospect lists will quickly burn-out and be ineffective. The key to success is long-term nurturing of your list. To do this, you need to add value with every email. Of course that means keeping the sale pitches to a minimum. I like a 5:1 ratio of value to sales pitch.
  • Establish a personal connection – Your emails need to sound like a real person wrote them and not someone from marketing. This is surprisingly hard to do for most people in our field. It makes it easier to think about what you would write if you were sending this email to just one friend.
  • Spend time on the subject line – For some reason, the subject line is usually the last thing we write before we send an email. But, it’s the most important part because if buyers don’t open the email, then nothing else matters. Think of the subject line as the gatekeeper. You don’t have to sell to the gatekeeper; you just need to get past it. So, sometimes a mysterious or cryptic subject line is enough to get an email opened.
  • Text-only emails work best – They are also easier to design than graphics-intense emails. This is counter-intuitive because marketers think that flashy is what gets people’s attention. However, in an email, you’re not trying to get people’s attention. You’re trying to keep them from deleting your email. Flashy emails get deleted first.
  • Do three types of emails – Different buyers prefer different types of emails in your ongoing nurturing campaigns. So, your marketing calendar should mix up
    • Text-only emails
    • HTML emails (for things like newsletters and webinar invitations),
    • and prospecting emails. Keep in mind that the most effective prospecting emails are highly personalized and sent individually.
  • Forward emails – People open forwarded emails at a much higher rate than “original” emails. This is because they don’t look as spammy and they appear to be important.

#3 Challenge. We look just like our competitors.

Lots of you said that your competitors are winning too much of your business. Customers don’t see the difference between you and other training companies who are offering the same courses or training services at half the price.

Fact is, customers can be penny-smart and pound-foolish. Aren’t we all? There’s no point in arguing with them. I’ve seen training companies argue for years with their customers until most of their market share had vanished.

This is a positioning and messaging problem.

What do you do? Create a new playing field. If you don’t like apples to apples comparisons, then become an orange. The trick here is focusing on your customers problems, not on your product. You must identify your prospects real hot buttons and what keeps them up at night and build your services around that.

Finding out what’s important to them takes a lot of digging, but once you’ve done it, you can build your service around them. After that, the product almost sells itself and before you know it, you’ll occupy a playing field all your own.

#4 Challenge. Marketing is overwhelming. Where do I get good advice?

I asked what blogs you’d like to see written about how to market a training company and how to grow a training business. There were three areas where you said you needed information the most: e-Mail marketing, generating referrals, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Fortunately, there’s lots of great information already out there:

  1. Generating Referrals: I like Joanne Black at She is the expert in generating referrals. You can e-mail her at and take a look at her blogs.
  2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The keys to maximizing search engine optimization are,
    • Focusing on the right keywords (By far the most important thing)
    • Building a lot of “evergreen” content around those keywords
    • Getting a lot of linkbacks
    • Investing a lot of time in marketing your content
    • Getting your onsite SEO in order

If you don’t have a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of SEO, which most of us don’t, then I would highly recommend partnering with an SEO consultant. The great ones will save you a lot of time and will dramatically increase your website traffic. However, the great ones are hard to find. For every one of those, you’ll find twenty others who are a waste of money. It’s sad.

I highly recommend Ben Adams from Spiral Media. Several of my clients use him and are extremely pleased with the results. He’s a straight shooter, knows the training space and is extremely talented.

  1. e-Mail Marketing: I haven’t seen any good articles written about e-mail marketing for training companies. I think everyone keeps their secrets close to the vest. Once you find something that works well in e-mail marketing, you guard it like it’s gold. If you want to hear what I’ve learned about e-mail marketing, contact me or go to

#5 Challenge. I don’t know what marketing I’m missing.

Since I don’t know your marketing plan, I don’t know what you’re missing. But there are a few marketing tactics that work consistently for training companies and most of you aren’t doing them enough.

  1. Webinars: There’s almost no better lead generator and awareness builder than webinars. The problem is they’re expensive and take a lot of time to do well. One of my clients ran an average of one webinar per week for several years and each webinar pulled in about two hundred good leads. That’s around ten thousand leads per year. The results were lots of sales and an amazing return on investment. The beauty of webinars is that most of the attendees walk away with a positive brand image of you and retain that for a long time. Make sure you include webinars in your next marketing plan.
  2. Ask for Referrals: It’s the best lead you’ll ever get, but few of us ask for it enough. Doing it right requires a formal system for asking for referrals and doing it at the right time and in the right ways.
  3. Direct Mail: When compared to e-mail marketing, direct mail is crazy expensive. As a result, almost every training company has pretty much abandoned their direct mail and are doing a lot more e-mail marketing. There’s an opportunity here. Less and less training catalogs are being mailed and e-mail continues to get ignored. With less training catalogs out there, your prospects will pay more attention to your catalogs. However, direct mail is tricky and expensive. So, you have to do right and it takes time and patience to show a real return. Something to consider.

It’s refreshing to know that we’re all pretty much in the same boat with the same marketing challenges.

If you don’t have a big marketing budget to work with, read this blog: 10 Ways to Grow Your Training Business without Spending a Dime on Marketing

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about how to grow your training business.

About the Author

Gordon Johnson

Gordon Johnson has been a marketing leader in the corporate L&D industry for over twenty years. His specialty is developing transformative marketing strategies that generate qualified sales opportunities, employing the latest digital marketing channels, coupled with traditional techniques to achieve industry-leading brand awareness, widespread web presence and high-impact value propositions. Other marketing concentrations include content marketing, messaging, social marketing, positioning strategy, analyst relations, events, account-based marketing (ABM), email marketing, customer success and lead-generation. Contact Gordon.

1 Comment

  1. […] After that, then you can move on to the paid stuff. Here’s a blog that covers that in more detail: How to grow a training business: Marketing solutions for your 5 biggest challenges […]

Leave a Comment