Offering a lifetime subscription to a membership is seen as a way to increase sales, but is it a good idea? When can you use a lifetime membership, and when it is a REALLY bad idea?
Selling a monthly, recurring membership seem a little bit tough? And perhaps you’re thinking about selling lifetime memberships as a way to increase sales?
Let’s talk about it.
I have made quite a nice chunk of revenue by selling lifetime memberships to THE LAB. So, I know this strategy can – and does – work. However, there is a bad side to it and it’s something you need to be aware of going in.
Obviously, the biggest draw to the membership site business model is the recurring revenue. When you sell lifetime memberships, you are giving it up.
But, like many things in business, there are pros and cons to this pricing strategy. Let’s discuss…
Customer Lifetime Value – And The Downside Of Lifetime Memberships
In order to understand the potential downside to a lifetime membership, you absolutely need to understand the concept of customer lifetime value.
First, let’s offer a very quick review of something that I talked about in my huge mega-post on blog monetization. In short, there are 3 ways to grow a business. They are:
- Get new customers.
- Get your existing customers to purchase more frequently.
- Get your customers to buy more expensive things (higher transaction value).
Now, I’ve already said that offering lifetime memberships works as a driver of sales. You can definitely get more customers and drive sales by offering them. But, then what?
If they are already a lifetime member, how will you get them to buy more frequently? If they are a lifetime member, how will you get them to buy more expensive things from you?
In short, you’re potentially cutting yourself off from the other 2 primary ways to grow your business. Depending on the what is included in your lifetime membership, you could be capping your customer lifetime value at whatever you charge for a lifetime membership.Depending on the what is included in your lifetime membership, you could be capping your customer lifetime value at whatever you charge for a lifetime membership.Click To Tweet
So, for instance, if you were selling a lifetime membership for $500 and your membership was all-inclusive, then essentially you just guaranteed you can never make more than $500 from that person. Considering that it is usually easier to sell to existing customers than to acquire new customers, you could be hurting yourself by offering a lifetime membership.
But, Here’s The Good Part…
When you offer a monthly, recurring membership, I hope you’re tracking your numbers adequately and have a good idea what your average retention is.
In other words, how many months, on average, does a member stay onboard?
There are a number of things you can do to increase retention rate and keep people in longer, but cancellations are just part of life as a membership site owner.
So, this becomes a math problem. Let’s assume your average member stays for 6 months and you charge $30/month. Your average CLV, then, is around $180. Theoretically, a lifetime membership priced higher than $180 means you’re actually making out better.If you offer a lifetime membership which increases your customer lifetime value past the average CLV of the monthly member, then you're making out ahead by offering a lifetime membership.Click To Tweet
You will always have those prospects which are hesitant to get into a monthly, recurring membership. They like the idea of buying something once and having access to it forever. These people are more willing to secure a lifetime membership. If the price you are charging for it increases your usual CLV, then you’re doing OK to offer it.
What Should A Lifetime Membership Cost?
If you’re going to bother offering a lifetime membership, then what will you charge for it?
Typically, an annual membership will cost about what 9-10 months of membership at the monthly rate would cost. So, if you were charging $30/month for membership, an annual plan might cost between $270 and $300. This is pretty standard.
Pricing a lifetime membership really comes down to what you feel is appropriate and what is proven to convert well. Many people say that a lifetime membership should run between 2-3 years of membership. So, if $30/month is your rate, then 2 years of membership would run $720. Your lifetime price may be in this ballpark.
You may believe that nobody will pay such a rate, but this is something you would need to test out. What you may want to do is make your usual lifetime membership cost a certain amount, then offer it at better rates in certain places in your sales funnel (like one-time offers or limited offers on webinars).
One thing that will definitely increase conversions on lifetime memberships is limited availability. If it is always sitting there as an option on your main sales alongside monthly/annual options, you may find it harms conversion rates.In my opinion, it would be best to offer lifetime memberships either as you standard price scheme, an upsell, or as a limited-time promotion that you run periodically.Click To Tweet
In my case, this is what I do. I do offer lifetime memberships to THE LAB, but I only do it periodically in limited-time promotions or in certain sales funnels as an upsell. I also provide the option to break the lifetime membership into 12 monthly payments. That payment plan converts quite well and, of course, gives you an automatic 12-month retention for that member. Most members will not want to cancel earlier because they’re motivated to complete their 12 payments to secure that lifetime account.
When Lifetime Memberships Could Work (And When To Be Careful)
A lifetime membership makes perfect sense in any situation where the content is pretty much set from the beginning. For instance, if you were selling a course, then lifetime access is pretty much a given. They get access to a certain amount of material, perhaps a certain period of ongoing support, then that’s it.
If you are selling a course that is pre-determined, then lifetime membership is assumed.
When your membership includes ongoing support, that’s when you need to be careful with lifetime memberships. If you’re promising things such as:
- Regular workshops or office hours
- New releases every month
- Pretty much anything on an ongoing basis
… then you need to really think things through before offering a lifetime plan. You could very well end up with members who have paid you once, but are expecting support and new content from you 2-3 years later.
The motto here is… be careful what you promise.
If a major benefit of your membership is ongoing content that is going to be somewhat demanding on your time, then you need to take this into consideration before offering a lifetime membership. Either charge a high enough rate that you’re OK with it, or don’t offer a lifetime plan.
One other option could be to charge an annual maintenance rate. I’m part of a membership where their annual rate is actually quite expensive. I was offered a lifetime membership during signup as an upsell and I took the offer. However they charge me a fee of around $100/year just to maintain things. Mind you, the actual lifetime plan costs about $4,000 at the time.
Lifetime Memberships As A Sales Tactic?
Here’s where I could still see a lifetime membership making sense for a true membership site which offers ongoing value…
- To help launch a brand new site. You can use a lifetime offer to help drive sales and kick off a new site. However, so as not to kill off your lifetime customer value, I would place a strong limit on it. Either limit it to a short time period or potentially by the number of accounts you will allow. Definitely don’t rely on it.
- To bump up your customer lifetime value. Know your numbers. If you offer a lifetime plan that sells well and obviously brings in more revenue than the usual monthly member, then this will increase revenue for you.
- To drive new memberships (or re-activate past cancellations). But this comes with a huge “but”. If you’re going to do this, then you need to have a funnel in place that takes into account the future. In other words, if they take you up on this lifetime option, you need to have other things to sell them so that you don’t screw up your LTV.
The big motto I hope you take away from this is…Don't offer lifetime memberships without a strategy.Click To Tweet
The growth of your business depends on increasing lifetime customer value. If you have no other offers to make and you “give away the farm” for one lifetime membership, then you’re killing your CLV and it will harm your business in the long run.
And, that actually hurts your customer, too. You won’t feel motivated to deliver your best to them if you feel like you’re doing it for free. OR if you’re so busy constantly trying to get new members to sign up that you forget about the old ones.
Oh, one more point…
Lifetime Memberships So As To Avoid Recurring Billing?
Some people find it difficult to sell recurring memberships. They think their prospects are hesitant to get into a recurring billing situation. And the lazy way out is to give them a lifetime option. One payment and they’re done.
But, I contend that the issue isn’t that selling a recurring membership is difficult. The problem is usually the offer itself and the fact that you haven’t done a good enough job of showing the VALUE of your program over and above what you’re asking them to pay.
All of us are actively being rebilled monthly for things we value all the time. Our electric bill, our cell phones, our web hosting, our email list hosting… the list goes on. Many of us use Amazon Prime, Netflix or other such services. We’re OK with recurring billing, but the thing we’re paying for has to be more valuable than what we’re being asked to pay.
In the world of membership sites, lifetime memberships are often the marketing equivalent of competing on price. Low-ball the price and you think people will come to you or give you a chance. But, it is lazy marketing and it only works for so long.
The answer is to revisit your offer and truly make it more valuable than what they’re being asked to pay.
So, In Short…
Yes, there are indeed times when you can make more money by selling a lifetime membership. There are downsides, though, and they need to be things you think your way through before diving in head first.
Done correctly and in the right circumstances, lifetime membership sales can be a nice revenue driver for your business.
For more information on selling recurring memberships, go read How To Sell A Recurring Membership Site Subscription.