The Myth Of Under-Promising In Sales
By Bob Zupanek
The old saying goes that you should under-promise and over-deliver. The wisdom, at first glance, is sound: You are usually better off going beyond a promise that you know you can keep instead of making a commitment so grand that you fall short.
If you commit to this philosophy, however, you end up presenting less than your best during the sale. The challenge here becomes a battle between getting the attention of prospects during the sales process while at the same time establishing reasonable expectations for the client.
Sales wants to “wow” the prospect. Meanwhile, client services wants happy customers, so they might be more inclined to prefer under-promising and over-delivering. And it can sometimes feel as if these two goals are at odds with each other! As a result, we start to fall back on silly philosophies like “under-promise and over-deliver.”
If you under-promise, here is what happens:
- The prospect never learns what you are really capable of doing.
- You look inferior to the salesperson who is confident enough to present their best.
- You look like the knock-off option in comparison with the salesperson who is willing to say anything for the sake of making the sale.
This is not a new challenge by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a persistent one. No matter how many years we are in business, we still face it today.
We have to know exactly what we do, what we can reasonably promise and what challenges a client might experience with one of our programs. If someone from our sales team promises something that we can’t deliver, it doesn’t take long for client services to walk down the hall with a page full of scribbled notes: “You promised the client we could do what?”
Despite the competitiveness of our industry, we know that we can’t allow our sales process to drift into the fantasy world of over-promising. Yes, we need new clients to grow, but short-term growth should not come at the cost of client retention. A client who feels duped will not stick around, so over-promising to get the sale is shooting yourself in the foot.
But if you under-promise, you shoot yourself in the other foot.
We have to admit that, as strange as it might sound, selling our best is surprisingly difficult to do. On some level, we might be afraid that our best isn’t good enough, so under-promising becomes our security blanket against disappointment. If you don’t get the sale, you can always tell yourself that the real quality of your work didn’t get rejected.
This is a cop out. Under-promising does as much damage to your business as over-promising.
Base your commitments on your best. Here are some ideas for getting started:
- Know your strengths, and build examples of those high points into your sales process.
- Keep a record of the results you’ve delivered for past clients so that you can set realistic expectations for new clients.
- Keep the lines of communication open between your sales team and your employees (if you have them) to ensure that what you’re pitching can actually be delivered.
- Challenge the sales side as well as the service side of your business to grow and evolve in parallel and to learn from each other. Each side is likely to encounter opportunities for growth that influence the other.
- Be upfront with prospects about the risks and potential pitfalls while at the same time communicating your plan for addressing them.
- If you are taking on a new challenge, be sure to build exploration, experimentation and regrouping time into your budget so that you can adjust to a new discovery without sacrificing profit.
Be confident in your best, and build your sales process around that confidence. Delivering on exactly what you promised will be refreshing for any client who has dealt with an over-zealous sales person in the past. In nearly every case, your upfront honesty about the realities of a situation will set you apart from the rest of the pack.
Bob Zupanek is vice president of operations for The PT Services Group. He previously worked for PNC Bank, where he was sales and service manager for its outbound call center. Bob may be contacted at [email protected].
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