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Valuable Lessons-Learned From My “Completion Challenge” Refund Experiment…

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Why I gave back $1mm+

In 2016, I launched an experiment called the “Completion Challenge” and offered it as a part of my two primary courses… “List Grow”, and “7-Figure Sales Presentations”

Simply put, the Completion Challenge was an unprecedented offer that went like this…

“If you complete the course and complete your business or sales presentation based on the program within 12 months, I would give you 100% of your money back.”

To my knowledge, no one had ever been willing to make that kind of an offer before because there’s obviously a lot of risk involved on the business owner’s end.

So why did I do it?

One of the biggest challenges that comes with selling knowledge or experience through highly detailed courses, is the low completion rate by customers.

You can have the most comprehensive and highest quality product on the market, but once a customer buys the course, it’s up to them to consume the content and take action.

If they don’t, they’re not going to get the results they desired.

So I asked myself how I could align everyone’s interests, and create a win/win.

I believe that if you help a customer achieve a break-through and a result, they’ll become a customer and fan of yours for life.

But in order to experience that breakthrough, they need to do the work.

So the Completion Challenge was a giant carrot to encourage my customers to do exactly that.

“Do the work, and there’s a prize waiting for you at the finish line.”

From my perspective, the Completion Challenge created several benefits…

1: It served as an irresistible offer in the sales presentation, and I’m sure that this offer increased sales conversions.

I have no idea by how much because we never ran a split-test against the same presentation without the Completion Challenge, but I’ll just say it’s a safe bet that a lot of people purchased those courses because of it.

2: At the end of the day, I want to create successful students because that’s the key to long-term success in any industry, including this one. If I can help them achieve their results, they’ll become a life-long customer.

3: Students who get value and a result from the program tend to send in testimonials. More testimonials means more social proof, and more social proof increases sales, creating a positive feedback loop.

4: And obviously the customer wins because they get the knowledge, and a working business or sales presentation for the very first time, along with 100% of their money back.

In other words, they get all of my knowledge, and a complete and working business asset… For free.

As you can imagine, this experiment worked out really well for everyone… At least for a little while…

Here Are The Numbers...

In 2016, 142 students finished the Completion Challenge which equaled $196,177 in payments sent. 

In 2017, 332 students finished, which came to $481,689 in payments. 

In 2018, 237 students finished, which totaled $308,656 in payments. 

The last time we offered the Completion Challenge was in September of 2018, which meant those students had until September 2019 to do the work and apply for the reward. 

In 2019, 74 students finished, totalling $79,305 in payments. 

All together, we had 785 students complete the programs and we sent out a total of $1,065,827 in Challenge Refund payments. 

Now in the first two years, this all worked out really well as you can see and hear straight from my customers themselves…

Watch These Video Testimonials And You’ll Get A Real Idea of Just How Powerful And Meaningful The Completion Challenge Was To People… 

But Then In 2018, It Turned Into A Train Wreck... 

One of the biggest land-mines every business owner will step on at one point or another, is “confirmation bias”.

When we start to see consistent sales or results from a marketing campaign over an extended period of time, our brains automatically assume that this pattern will continue indefinitely.

For example, if you’ve been making 10 sales a day, every day for two years, you have no reason or evidence to assume that trend will stop or change.

Well the Completion Challenge worked out beautifully for everyone involved, until a few things DID change.

The first thing that changed was the cost to acquire a customer through Facebook’s ad platform.

In 2018, business owners like myself suddenly saw our cost-to-acquire a customer increase by 200 to 300%.

In 2016 and 2017, we could consistently acquire a $1,497 customer for $300 to $500.

In 2018, that number jumped to nearly $1,000, so we simply stopped advertising the program.

During all of 2017, I was quietly working on the SelfMadeMan.com platform and classes as well, which launched in March of 2018.

And then in June of 2018, less than 90 days after launching the platform, I suffered a massive health crisis and brain injury.

At the time, no one had any idea what was wrong with me. All I knew is that I physically couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, and I couldn’t work. My body and mind were rapidly deteriorating.

I went from laying in bed awake all night with non-stop adrenaline spikes shooting down my legs, to laying on the couch all day, to suicidal.

I’ve covered this story in detail here, but I spent the next 10 months in this condition until a new doctor discovered that toxic mold and gotten passed my blood-brain barrier, and was literally decomposing my brain like a piece of food.

My ability to work came to a stop.

I managed to keep the podcast going once a week, and occasionally sent out a few recycled emails from previous promotions, but that’s all I could manage to do.

By this time I’d I stopped all paid ad campaigns and product development, and I was simply focused on survival.

And That’s Where The Completion Challenge Came Back To Bite Me…

The Challenge offer works great as long as the variables remain steady.

Did I expect my cost to acquire a customer to suddenly increase by 2-3X? Nope.

Did I expect to suddenly go from working and healthy, to dealing with a life-threatening health crisis for the next year? Definitely not.

But I still had 12 months of exposure to customers who I’d offered the Completion Challenge to, and I’d need to honor those.

On average, we had $30,000 per month in CC redemptions come in. Now that’s fine as long as you’re still acquiring new customers and revenue, but that turns into a real problem if you’ve turned off those marketing campaigns.

It becomes an even bigger problem when you’re unable to work and replace that income.

Now this brings me to the most important lesson from all of this, and it’s why I wanted to share this story with you…

By the time I was 9 months into my health crisis, it was still undiagnosed, and things were only getting worse.

I had no idea what was wrong me with yet, and I was starting to get extremely scared.

I was scared that I’d never be able to work again.

I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to take care of my son, and I was scared that I won’t make it through the next year.

Money was being drained from the bank account at an alarming rate…

Medical bills, alimony, child support, payroll for three employees, rent, and the normal costs to keep the business running like tech, book-keeping, legal, tax prep, etc… Totalled around $45,000 per month.

Add in $30,000 per month in Completion Challenge Refunds, and I was bleeding $75,000 in cash per month, without any stable source of income.

At This point, I Had No Idea What Was Going To Happen To Me, So I Had To Make An Incredibly Difficult Decision…

I decided to put a hold on all Completion Challenges refunds until I was back to health.

“Anger is the result of unmet expectations.”

If you stop and really think about that for a minute, you’ll understand how profound it is.

When you or someone else is angry, it’s because they had expectations that were not met.

Well I’d set the expectations of the Completion Challenge for the customers who’d purchased my products, so I knew that some of them would be angry when those expectations had to be changed.

After 15 years as a business owner, I can assure you of the following…

You’re going to mess up.

You’re going to set expectations that you won’t always be able to keep no matter how good your intentions are.

And you’re going to disappoint people.

Why? Because you’re human, and shit just doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it to.

But how you HANDLE that situation is what matters most.

And the key to handling any kind of situation like this is honest communication.

Be transparent with people, and do your absolute best.

Let them know what’s going on and why, and how you’re going to take care of the situation moving forward.

The majority of people out there are understanding, have empathy, and will be cool about the situation because you’re communicating openly with them.

So that’s exactly what I did…

I personally emailed each person who completed the Challenge and let them know two things…

1: That I am dealing with a serious health challenge which is my top priority.

2: And that I will honor the Completion Challenge as soon as I’m back to health.

Here’s a copy of one of those emails so you can read it for yourself…

By May of 2019, I’d met Dr. Shippy and she’d discovered the toxic mold infection.

By August I was feeling much better. I was able to think again, and was getting enough sleep at night to function during the day.

Now that I felt like I’d turned the corner, I put all of my focus back to honoring the promises I’d made to my customers…

And I’m Happy To Say That Every Single Outstanding Completion Challenge Refund Was Paid In Full By September.

Promise kept.

Now that I can look back at this grand experiment with some hindsight, here’s what I would have done differently…

What I Would Have Done Differently...

1: I believe that some kind of Completion Challenge is important. As you heard in the videos above, it absolutely worked to incentivize people to purchase the course, to consume the content, and to do the work.

2: I would not offer a 100% refund over a 12 month window. You never know where you or your business will be a year from now, and you don’t know how many people will complete the work and take you up on your offer. That kind of unknown liability is far too dangerous to incorporate into a small business.

Instead, I would think about offering a trophy or plaque like ClickFunnels does, or I would offer a live event for them to attend. People want recognition as much, (or more), than they want money.

3: Have an additional product or service to offer the individuals who do complete the work.

Looking back, I should have offered a live workshop or put together a Mastermind group for those who finished the Challenge. I didn’t because I was completely focused on launching SelfMadeMan, and this was a huge mistake on my part.

This is incredibly important because I lost far more than the $1,065,827 in Challenge Refunds…

Why?

Because I spent an average of $500 to acquire each of 785 those customers.

So not only did I send back 100% of their money, but I also lost an additional $500+ out of my pocket that I’d spent to acquire their business in the first place.

With 785 people, that’s an additional loss of $392,500, which brings the total cash outlay to -$1,458,327.

If I’d had an event or Mastermind Group in place to offer those 785 people, I would have covered that liability in full, and likely produced a substantial profit.

4: Always do the right thing.

Again, I can’t stress this enough… You’re going to make mistakes in business. You’re going to bite off more than you can chew, and unexpected challenges will arise when you least expect them to.

Be honest, be transparent, and keep your promises no matter how long it takes you to do so.

The people who had to wait an extra 3-4 months to get their Challenge Refund weren’t happy about the delay.

But today, every single one of them knows that I will always keep my promise to them no matter what, and that’s something incredibly rare and valuable in itself these days.

It might be hard to do in the short-run, but that’s the key to success in the long run.

So that’s my summary and lessons learned from the Completion Challenge experiment…

Thank you for reading, and if you’re a customer of mine who received your Completion Challenge Reward, I’d love to hear about your experience with the program in the comments below!

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About the Author:

Mike Dillard

Creator of The Mike Dillard Podcast

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