How WPMU DEV Used Marketing Automation To Reach $297,000+ In WordPress Plugin Sales (Template Emails Included)

How does a plugin vendor generate more than $297,000 in WordPress plugin sales? This post takes a look at how WPMU DEV uses automated email marketing to build trust with plugin users and drive revenue. Bonus folder of template emails for WordPress businesses included.
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An image showing the homepage of WPMUDEV.org
Image: WPMUDEV.org

This post takes a look at how WPMU DEV uses Drip, a lightweight marketing automation tool, to build relationships with customers and drive WordPress plugin sales.

If you’re a WordPress theme or plugin vendor, there’s a lot you can learn from WordPress powerhouse WPMU DEV.

While most plugin sellers depend on one-off sales from WordPress.org, WPMU DEV enjoys predictable revenue through its recurring membership, which offers customers access to over 140 Pro versions of its plugins, plus support, for a $99/mo subscription.

Recently, WPMU DEV eclipsed the $297,000.00 mark in plugin sales just from Drip campaigns, and will soon exceed $300,000.00 in total revenue from its efforts in Drip.

An image showing the $297,000 in WordPress plugin sales for WPMU DEV
WPMU DEV’s “Conversions” dashboard in Drip, which automatically updates successful charges for WordPress plugins.

Neil Patel of QuickSprout has called WPMU DEV “an incredible value for money” and Noah Kagan of SumoMe calls them “a team that provides all the help anyone using WordPress needs.”

And yet, there’s one strategy behind WPMU DEV’s success that you won’t see on their website.

It’s really smart use of marketing automation.

In this post, we’ll take a look at what marketing automation is, how WPMU DEV uses Drip to grow its business, and what you can model to grow your own WordPress plugin or services business.

Let’s dive in.

Marketing Automation: What WordPress Professionals Need To Know

 

Image showing a Drip marketing automation workflow

 

The term “marketing automation” is elusive to pin down with a single definition.

That’s because marketing automation encompasses so many aspects of web marketing today: landing pages, email marketing, website activity tracking, and more, making it tough to know what to focus on.

That said, we like Hubspot’s definition:

“At its best, marketing automation is software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon – that is, to nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers.”

Marketing automation lets you sell like Amazon.

If someone leaves your website without buying, you can trigger an automatic email to follow up to see if they’re still interested.

For most small businesses, marketing automation boils down to 3 main pieces:

  • Lead Capture – Using opt-in forms, WPMU DEV collects emails of people who want to learn about awesome plugins
  • Lead Nurturing via Email Marketing – Depending on where they found WPMU DEV and opted in, customers receive a personalized sequence of emails to educate them and build trust. Many of these “marketing” emails don’t sell anything at all, but rather offer advice about how to get the most value from a WordPress plugin.
  • List Management – using “tags” in Drip, WPMU DEV has the ability to segment subscribers by their interests (e.g. “site speed” or “A/B testing”), and send offers tailored to who they are and what they’ve done.

In all, these strategies have helped WPMU DEV build an impressive asset of over 386,000 email subscribers.

Even better, these 386,000 subscribers are people who know, like, and trust WPMU DEV. If you haven’t heard, email is statistically much, much, much more profitable than other marketing channels. That’s because your message actually reaches people where they’re already looking several times per day: their inbox.

According to Marketing Sherpa, 92% of marketers say that email is producing, or eventually will produce, a positive ROI for them.

A graph showing that 60% of marketers claim that email marketing is giving them an ROI.
Image: KISSmetrics

With that out of the way, you’re probably wondering, “OK, but how can I use this to sell more plugins?”

I’m glad you asked. 🙂

In this post, we’ll look at how WPMU DEV has specifically used the 3 strategies above to drive WordPress plugin sales and reach $297,000 in revenue.

Let’s dive in.

Strategy #1: Add an incentive for customers to subscribe right inside your plugin admin page

In most cases, “Join Our Newsletter!” is not a compelling pitch to get people to subscribe to hear from you.

People are overwhelmed with sales messages, and they’re rightly hesitant to give out their email address to some company they don’t know.

And that’s why WPMU DEV’s use of lead capture forms is really smart.

As an example, let’s look at WPMU DEV’s popular plugin, Membership 2, which “transforms your WordPress website into a fully functional membership site.”

An image showing Membership 2 in the WordPress plugin directory.
Membership 2 in the plugin directory

After people download and install Membership 2, they visit the plugin admin page, which looks like this:

An image showing the Membership 2 plugin admin page
Membership 2 plugin admin page

This simple opt-in form has pulled in tens of thousands of leads for WPMU DEV.

Why?

Because WPMU DEV gives people a reason to sign up.

If you sell WordPress themes or plugins, you can do the same.

The question you need to ask is:

What do your customers really care about? What’s their bigger ‘why’ behind using your product?

For the Membership 2 plugin, people want to turn their WordPress website into a fully functional membership site… but what they really want is a successful online business.

For the SMUSH plugin, people want to reduce the file size of their on-site images, but what they really want is a blazing fast website that boosts SEO and converts more visitors into customers.

You get the idea.

To create your own incentive like WPMU DEV, figure out what your customers really want, then create a free, 1-page resource that aids them in that goal.

You can model the friendly copy that WPMU DEV uses for SMUSH in the backend of your plugin’s admin page:

“You’re awesome for installing WP Smush! Site speed isn’t all image optimization though, so we’ve collected all the best speed resources we know in a single email – just for users of WP Smush!”

An image showing the SMUSH plugin admin page
SMUSH plugin admin page

From there, subscribers automatically receive a single email, delivering the free resources that WPMU DEV promised.

“It’s set and forget. We haven’t even done anything with it, and now we have 38,000 email subscribers.” – Bjørn Seaton, WPMU DEV

An image of the campaign “Smush Free followup” in Drip, showing that 38,767 visitors have subscribed. When people subscribe, Drip triggers a followup email with the goods.
The campaign “Smush Free followup” in Drip, showing that 38,767 visitors have subscribed. When people subscribe, Drip triggers a followup email with the goods.

For many entrepreneurs, building an email list is seen as a “nice to have.” For WPMU DEV, it’s an unfair advantage.

That’s because now, whenever WPMU DEV has a new plugin related to increasing site speed or SEO, they can launch the plugin to their list and get hundreds of downloads and reviews in a matter of days (which, in turn, shoots up their ranking in the plugin directory).

That’s the power of an email list. When you have an audience, instead of slowly climbing up the ranks, you can stomp into your new category like an 800-pound gorilla.

And just in case you need any more convincing, here are some more recognized experts touting the benefits of email over other marketing channels:

Key Takeaways:

If you don’t currently offer an opt-in incentive, add that to your plugin’s admin page. Use WPMU DEV’s copy for inspiration, and use a marketing automation platform to give away your best stuff to help customers.

For a separate plugin, WPMU DEV takes marketing automation one step further—by giving users an entire free “mini course” that runs in the background and turns free users into pro version customers.

Let’s take a look at how.

Strategy #2: Educate people on how to get the most value from your plugin with a 5-part “mini course”

Have you ever gone to activate a new plugin in WordPress, and seen the giant list of plugins you forgot you installed?

So have your customers.

That’s why WPMU DEV’s “mini course” strategy is so effective for turning free plugin downloads into paying customers. Especially for plugins that require a lot of configuration.

In essence, an email mini course is a series of helpful emails (usually 5 or 7 days) designed to educate, persuade, and nudge people to get value from your product or service.

Like this:

  • Day 1: Thanks for downloading the plugin!
  • Day 2: Helpful tip
  • Day 3: Helpful tip
  • Day 4: Helpful tip
  • Day 5: Benefits of upgrading to the pro version

With the Membership 2 plugin, WPMU DEV knows the importance of getting people to actually use the app and imagine the benefits of upgrading to the pro version.

“Membership 2 is a large plugin. We wanted to educate people with a 5-part email course, to help them take action.” – Bjørn Seaton, WPMU DEV

To create the mini course, WPMU DEV used Drip’s email copywriting service, which helped WPMU DEV re-purpose existing blog content into short, actionable emails.

However, you don’t have to pay an email copywriter to create an email course. Just look at your most commonly asked questions, and turn your answers into 4 or 5 short training emails.

Here’s the outline of WPMU DEV’s mini course:

An image showing the campaign “Smush Free followup” in Drip, showing that 38,767 visitors have subscribed. When people subscribe, Drip triggers a followup email with the goods.
The campaign “Smush Free followup” in Drip, showing that 38,767 visitors have subscribed. When people subscribe, Drip triggers a followup email with the goods.

“We talk about Membership 2, but we also just want to help people build their membership site. Throughout the emails, we casually mention the paid plugin. It’s more soft selling.” – Bjørn Seaton, WPMU DEV

In Drip, you can see monitor how many free users are converting to paid plugin customers as a direct result of these emails. For WPMU DEV, the “soft selling” approach works.

Over a recent period of 30 days, this 5-part automated mini course turned 1.8% of subscribers into paying customers. With an email mini course, you should aim to convert 1-2% into customers.

An image showing Drip analytics for WPMU DEV
In Drip’s analytics, WMPU DEV can view statistics for the past 30 days, 90 days, and the lifetime of their email mini course campaign.

How To Set Up And Automate Email Mini Courses That Drive WordPress Plugin Sales

If you don’t currently offer an opt-in incentive, add that to your plugin’s admin page. Use WPMU DEV’s copy for inspiration, and use a marketing automation platform to give away your best stuff to help customers.

Now, not every WordPress plugin is a good fit for a 5-day email mini course.

If your plugin is simple and solves a very small problem for users, then you might opt to only send one email (like the Smush free website speed resource email described earlier).

However, if your plugin helps users with something more involved, like building a membership site or running A/B tests, then an email mini course is a fantastic opportunity to build trust and sell more paid plugins at the same time.

Either way, the most important part is to collect leads. When you do, you’ll have an email list that lets you to go from a modest portfolio of plugins that pays the bills… to a WordPress empire with high-ticket clients and recurring streams of revenue.

That’s exactly what WPMU DEV has built.

Strategy #3: Offer High-Ticket Products and Services To People Who Already Love Your Plugins

Let’s face it:

WordPress site owners have problems. (And we mean that in the nicest way possible.)

Case in point: Dan Norris built WPCurve from an idea into a fast-growing $70,000+/month recurring sales machine with one value proposition: “Imagine never having another WordPress headache…”

An image showing the WPCurve homepage.
Image: WPCurve.com

Here’s why that matters to plugin and theme vendors:

With WordPress-related keywords like “WordPress plugin” and “Wordpress help” yielding a mind-boggling 37 million searches per month, there’s no shortage of people who need help. And out of those 37 million, there’s an ocean of potential customers who will pay a premium to work with a trusted expert.

For WPMU DEV, services are a big piece of their future strategy.

By offering SEO scans and tailored recommendations, WPMU DEV increases its average value per customer.

Here are a few ideas of campaigns you can launch to your audience:

  • announce a new productized service that’s in your wheelhouse (for a premium price)
  • invite your audience to do a 2-month test pilot of a new plugin to gain valuable user feedback
  • give a 30-day free trial for a plugin… and gently offer the pro version at the end of the 30-day trial

The possibilities are endless.

Conclusion (And Free Email Mini Course Templates To Help You Get Started)

If you’re a developer selling WordPress plugins, it can feel like an uphill climb to cobble together enough one-off plugin sales to free up your time and stair-step your way to freedom.

Oftentimes, the math just doesn’t work. You’d need to write 10 plugins to attain the kind of success you want.

Marketing automation can change this. When you capture emails, nurture leads with mini courses, and convert customers to higher-ticket offers, your WordPress business can grow quickly. WPMU DEV is proof of what’s possible when you build a list of customers who know, like, and trust you.

To help you get started, we’ve put together a Google Drive folder of fill-in-the-blank email templates just for WordPress theme and plugin vendors.

The folder includes 5 templates for your “free resource” email, mini-course, and proven language we’ve tested that drives WordPress plugin sales.

Click here to access the free bonus email templates accompanying this post

Rob Walling
Rob Walling
Rob Walling is the co-founder of Drip, a lightweight marketing automation tool. To learn more, check out his free 7-part email mini course:  Why Marketing Automation Is The Future Of Email Marketing.

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