Fear and Limiting Thoughts

Limiting thoughts had my software company stuck on a sales plateau.

Everything else was going well. Clients loved our software and our support. We could count the number of refunds per year on one hand and still have fingers left over. I was fortunate to have a few minutes with a mentor to discuss the issue. I summarized the situation and asked for his suggestions. He zeroed in on my comment about being able to count the number of refunds on one hand and asked me what seemed like a rather disconnected question.

“What are you afraid of?”

The question surprised me, because I didn’t think I was afraid of much at the time. In the last few years, I’d bought the assets of a now-dead software company, left an exceptionally comfortable job, turned the product and client base around, moved the family and the business to Montana, hired people to grow the company, and the business continued to achieve what I expected of it… except for that rate of sales growth thing. There wasn’t much that I thought I couldn’t do, so I was a little surprised by the question.

He said “Look, you act like that number of refunds is a badge of honor, and it tells me is that you’re afraid to hear ‘No’, or ‘Sorry, this isn’t a good fit for my needs, I want my money back’ from a prospect. You need to go home and sell harder. Stop focusing on refunds.

He wasn’t suggesting that we become that high pressure sales company that no one wants to deal with. Instead, he was suggesting that we take steps to attract and sell to a broader range of people – without limiting ourselves only to those at the top of the ideal prospect list. In other words, we were (perhaps implicitly) trying to sell only to the best possible prospects because we knew they’d buy and never ask for a refund. In retrospect, it seems dumb, but businesses sometimes do dumb stuff that seems like the right thing to do at the time. Put another way, we were taking away prospect’s opportunity to succeed with our product at a time when they were barely beginning to realize what they really needed.

Think of it as the sales equivalent of “the teacher will appear when the student is ready“, yet the teacher is hiding.

Limiting thoughts = Focusing on the wrong thing

In part, we were focused on refunds because there was an investment in time to get these prospects rolled out and working (only to have them decide the software wasn’t for them). In part, it was an ego thing. Our retention rate year over year was in the 90+% range. Refunds were almost unheard of and we were too proud of that.

We started selling harder, looking for those people who were starting to realize they might need what we made, rather than limiting ourselves to the people who needed it or else simply so we could point to a lack of refunds.

That’s the real reason for this discussion: Identifying limiting thoughts that hurt your business.

We saw the refunds-per-year as something to minimize, not realizing what it was doing to our sales. You might have a similar limitation about sales bonuses, for example. Imagine that you pay a one percent bonus for every dollar over $75k in sales/month, and the average monthly sales your salespeople produce is $80k. Yet there’s this one “troublemaker” who always hits $130k, with regular jumps to $140k or $150k. Your bonus structure is capped at $120k and you refuse to pay bonuses for the amounts over $120k in an effort to keep costs down, or because the cap has “always been that way”. You think you’re saving money, but the reality is that you’re doing what I was: Losing sales due to an artificial limitation.

The salesperson who never sees a bonus on sales over $120k is going to stop working when they hit $120k, or take their sales skills where they are appreciated/paid for. How many dollar bills would you put into a machine that returns $100 each time you insert a dollar? I suspect your answer would be “As many as I can”, unless “saving money” is your limiting thought. Bonuses on sales work like that machine.

Is your business limited by fear-based artificial barriers you’ve created?