Great Expectations: How to Say What You’ll Do – and Do What You Say

It’s not the size of the ring that counts. It’s the consistency
of the cash flow.

Meeting – or exceeding – customer expectations is at the heart of
true, lasting success in sales. When we fail to meet those expectations,
however, there can be a high price to pay, regardless of how strong
the relationship is between you and your client.

When expectations aren’t met, trust is broken, opportunities are
missed and sales can be lost, all despite the countless hours of hard
work that were put in to almost making something happen. That’s why
it is imperative to complete a full analysis of the customer’s situation
during the sales process, in order to understand fully what he or
she wants – and to be absolutely upfront about your ability to deliver

If a customer’s expectations are unreasonable or impossible, you
owe it to yourself, your company and the customer to say so. While
this may initially rock the boat, customers who are serious about
doing business with you – and who want to build a long-term, profitable
relationship – will sincerely appreciate your honesty, and will likely
be even more willing to work with you to establish more reasonable

Be clear, thorough – and honest
Shared expectations produce greater harmony and more sales – period.
When establishing expectations at the onset of a project, be as thorough
as possible, and be prepared to adjust as needed.

For example, if you find the customer asking for something you simply
can’t deliver, try some of the following to set the right expectations,
right from the start:

  • "I’m not sure we can provide the product you are
    looking for at that price. If we can’t, does that mean it’s
    over between us?"

  • "That colour has been out of stock for weeks and I know
    that I can’t get it for you on this order. Does that mean we
    can’t go ahead?"

  • "I don’t think we can meet your delivery schedule.
    Knowing that, does it make sense for us to move forward?"

In addition, be clear about what your customer can expect from you,
as well as what they can’t. Tell them what you can deliver instead
of what they are asking for. Tell them that if ever you are unable
to fulfill a request, you will always let them know either upfront,
or the minute you realize it yourself.

Set the bar for consistent performance
Remember the old adage, "under-promise and over-deliver?"
In sales, this isn’t just a falsehood. It also sets an expectation
that you might not be able to keep up with in the future.

When you under-promise and over-deliver, you set the bar for what
the customer expects you to deliver at a whole new level. What you
"over-delivered" becomes the new baseline, and when you
aren’t able to meet this new standard consistently, your customer
will end up feeling confused, disappointed – or betrayed.

For instance, say you get a customer to place an order by promising
them a large price discount if they buy before the end of the month.
You’ve made a sale, but what happens next quarter or next month when
they need to reorder? They’ll expect that same discount again,
and if you can’t give it to them, they’ll simply wait until
the end of the month, when you’ll be feeling the pressure to sell
and will be more likely to cave on the price.

To build a consistently profitable relationship, there’s no point
in delivering better, faster or cheaper than your original promise
if you know that you can’t do it that way again the next time. It’s
better to simply say what you are going to do, and then do it exactly
as and when you said you would.

Saying "No" and keeping the relationship alive
Setting the right expectations sometimes means having to say no. Most
sales people are afraid to say "no" to their prospects and
customers. Why? Out of the mistaken fear that they will lose a sale
if they don’t always say "yes."

In fact, no fear could be more unfounded. In sales, saying "no"
doesn’t have to be a relationship-ender. Instead, you just need
to find a way to say "no" so that your customer realizes
how he or she will benefit from your truthful answers.

Try some of the following techniques for saying "no" effectively,
while still keeping the sale alive:

  • "I would like to say yes to your desired start date.
    I’m afraid that if I do, I won’t be able to deliver this
    on time."

  • "I am not able to make it Tuesday at 2:00PM…are
    you able to meet at 10:00AM instead?"

  • "I would love to say that I can get you the proposal by
    Friday. I am concerned that if I promise you that, I won’t
    be able to receive the proper input from our product specialists
    as you requested."

  • I would love to tell you that the product will be delivered
    by Friday. There is a good chance that it won’t. Could we agree
    on a Tuesday deadline?

These statements do not guarantee that the customer will be happy.
Nothing does. But they do offer benefits to the customer as well as
to you. Plus, they are far better than the alternative: failing to
deliver what you promised, falling short of your customer’s expectations,
or submitting shoddy work on time.

Remember: anything other than the truth erodes trust, and makes your
word seem worthless.

Come clean about the past
Finally, if you’ve had a track record of not keeping your promises
with a customer, it’s time to come clean.

Admit to the customer that you haven’t always kept your promises.
Yes, really. If your customers have been on the receiving end of your
unfinished, late or incomplete work in the past, your candor in admitting
the problem will be the first (and best) step toward rebuilding a
long-term relationship with them.

The bottom line is, you can’t have a trusting relationship with a
customer who doesn’t have confidence in you. Trust is built through
consistent behavior over time. So after you have come clean about
not keeping your promises, you must commit to keeping your word in
the future, every time.

If for some reason you are unable to keep a promise, let your customer
know as soon as you do. Only in this way will they come to believe
what you say, and be prepared to accept your word at face value.