Selling 101 – Managing Customer Expectations [Sales]

This article was published by Social Sales Training & Strategies and curated by Closer Spot. Be sure to check out other Closer Spot news and advice to help you win more business.

I can’t speak for you but, I am all about expectations! As a salesperson, I want to set realistic expectations for my clients and then … always exceed those. As a customer, I expect the salesperson to set realistic expectations for me and then, at least meet those. Exceeding them is the icing on the cake.

Most of my expectations revolve around time. When can I expect … ? The time specified is generally not that critical. Meeting that deadline is. If you cannot maintain your commitment to me for whatever reason, and you proactively share that with me along with a new expectation date, I’m generally good with that.

There is, however, a caveat. If I have to contact you regarding a past due date, as opposed to you contacting me before said date occurs … you will likely not be seeing any future business from me. If I do this to a client … I likely will not be … The sword cuts both ways.

Would you like to know what is the leading cause of buyer’s remorse? Unanswered questions …
  • “What happens next?”
  • “When can we expect to get started and completed?”
  • “Will they really perform as well as they have represented themselves?”
  • “Did I make the right decision?”
And, all of these are tied directly to … expectations.

Setting expectations

I’ll give you a real-life example. My background was in the electric sign industry which is custom manufacturing. There are a large number of stages that are involved when buying a sign including the design phase, approvals from municipalities and property owners, as well as the actual manufacturing and installation of the finished product.

I put all of these stages in writing along with projected time frames to complete each and I reviewed these closely with the customer. Most had no idea of how complex, or time intensive, such a project would be. Sixty days from start to finish was generally an average round number. However, if a permit variance was required, this could extend this project by months depending on the municipality.
Customers loved this! There was a clearly outlined, step-by-step process with goal dates for completion at each stage. As an added benefit, they had a solid understanding of when they would have to give me the go-ahead if they wanted to see their signs installed on-time (most often prior to store opening).

They also recognized that they had certain responsibilities in making decisions (for example, design) in a timely manner in order to keep things moving forward on schedule. Everybody wins!

Managing expectations

There is nothing magic in managing expectations. You do what you said you would do and when you said that you would do it. Simple, However, if something goes sideways, and it always will, you are the one who brings it to the customer’s attention and not the other way around. If you are running behind and miss a date, the customer is thinking and they are not thinking good thoughts.
Early on in my career I would go into a panic whenever a problem would arise. I was paralyzed by fear and that prevented me from informing my customer of the problem or delay. I was afraid to call them because, they would chew my ass out when I did. And, when they called me to find out why the delay, they did just that.

Later on I determined that my original way of doing business, in this regard, was not yielding the desired results. I then made it a point to call the customer right away and well before they would have any inkling of any difficulties. To my amazement, nobody ever yelled at me. I was hooked.

Exceeding expectations

I have always maintained that one of three outcomes will be the result of any concluded transaction. You customer will walk away feeling that …
  • Expectations have not been met or …
  • Expectations have been met or …
  • Expectations have been exceeded
The first needs no explanation. You are dead and done and doing business with this customer again is a very remote possibility. Your one saving grace is that most of your competitors, and this is a sad statement of the customer experience these days, have probably failed as miserably as you have. Maybe you failed less miserably.

Meeting expectations is a neutral experience at best. You might get a shot at future business but, you will likely be competing for others for that opportunity. Referrals are unlikely. You don’t have a customer. You have someone who bought from you … once.

Exceeding expectations will earn you future business and referrals and will likely mean that you will not have to compete for either. Now you have a customer and, if you continue on with your winning ways, for life.

Going back to earlier in this article, I mentioned that dates were not as important to me as my expectations of whatever date. Of course, this is not always the case but, I am date driven regardless.
I always quote longer time periods than needed and I always finish early. In the rare exception (I got hit by a truck), I am always the one to call the customer. Thus, expectations are consistently exceeded. I do everything that I can to deliver more than what was contracted for, let alone, expected.

How about you? Do you have any tips, or stories to share, regarding how you deal with customer expectations?