Managing Expectations is a Key to Success in Sales (and Life)

September 20, 2017 John Barrows

Think of the last time you were pissed off about something. I almost guarantee it’s because your expectations were off. For example, if I’m driving into the city at 8:00am during the workweek I expect to sit in traffic. If I hit traffic driving home from the airport at midnight on a Friday night after a week on the road, I’m pissed. We get upset with clients because we expect them to get back to us by a specific date or get us the information they promised us and they don’t. Clients get upset with us because they expect better service or faster response times. Expectation setting is one of the keys to success in business and in life, in my opinion.

I’m about as transparent of a seller as you can get. I don’t like to play games and I don’t like it when clients try to play games with me. I’m also about as direct as it gets when it comes to dealing with clients and prospects. Some people mistake being direct for being rude, but it’s usually because they’re not used to it.

I think setting expectations upfront and then holding clients accountable for what they agreed to is a great way to be direct without being rude. 

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Here are a few ways I try to set appropriate expectations with clients:

1. Communication and Responsiveness Throughout the Sales Process is Crucial

There are plenty of times when a client goes dark on us at some point in the sales process and we wonder where they went. In some cases, it’s legitimate and in others, it’s not. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to tell so we end up getting annoyed and sometimes sending WTF emails that we usually regret. The WTF emails are rude. The way I try to be direct and avoid this situation is by asking the client at the beginning of the sales process what my expectations should be for responsiveness.

It usually goes something like this:

Me: What’s the best way to communicate with you moving forward? Email, text, cell?
Client: Email.
Me: Great. As we go through this process together I promise you if you need something from me I’ll get back to you within 24 hours. What should I expect from you? 24 hours, 48 hours, 1 week?
Me: The reason I ask is because I don’t want to be the annoying sales guy. If you tell me a week is a reasonable amount of time to expect a response from you then I will wait a week.

With this approach, if they don’t respond in 7 days then I can remind them what we agreed to on day 8. That is being direct without being rude.

2. Avoid a “Maybe” or No Response From Your Prospects

This is the worst. You go through the whole sales process with someone and when they don’t want to tell you “no,” they avoid you or just keep stringing you along because “you’re telling me there’s a chance!?” The way I try to set expectations with people and avoid this without being rude is to ask them early in the sales process if they are ok telling me “no.” I ask this question at the end of an initial qualification call and it usually goes something like this:

Me: Thanks for your time and insight today. I’m looking forward to the next steps. I had a quick question for you. As we go through this process if it’s pretty evident to you at some point that we’re not a great fit for what you’re looking for, are you ok with telling me no?

This sounds like a stupid question with an obvious answer but I still ask it because I want to set the expectation with them that I am 100% ok with them telling me no. “No” is the second best answer in sales. No response at all or “maybes” are the worst.

3. Be Sure to Set Priorities and a Reasonable Timeline

I believe these are the two most important things to get during the qualification stage. If I can align my solution to your business priorities, then I can push pretty hard on you to get this done. Same thing with the timeline. If I know there is a specific date you need something by and what the ramifications are if it doesn’t happen then I can push pretty hard and be more direct with you without being rude. By focusing on these two main points in the qualification call you can then document them after the call in an email, ask them to confirm and then use that confirmation as a baseline to work from and hold them accountable moving forward. If they end up going dark on you or missing a deadline, then you can just send them the summary e-mail that they confirmed and ask for time on their calendar to reset expectations.

Hopefully, those examples contextualize what I mean about how important expectation setting is and being direct without being rude. These approaches take some time getting used to if you’re not doing them already. Give some of them a try and let me know how they work out.

Make it happen!

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