Well, I Never Said That…

We buy, and we sell, results. Sure, sometimes there is neat and shiny stuff wrapped around those results, but usually there is a byproduct beyond the thing itself that we’re after when we decide to make a purchase. When you buy a Ferrari, you buy the notion that you can drive a 12-second quarter mile. You buy that heads will turn in the town square. You buy that chicks will dig you. I know how that last statement sounds, but it plays to my point (I suppose for the record, I should say that women buy Ferraris too*).

Whether that outcome is bigger earning potential, lower costs, a better way of doing things, or some sort of enhanced perception by others, salespeople convey results with every product, and customers assume the salesperson’s responsibility for some of the details therein. If you buy a car, and the next day it fails to start, whose face pops into your mind? The salesperson.  He or she has nothing to do with the starter system or its repair, but you bought a car with expectations, and you want to hold responsible the person who set them (whether it was specifically set or not). And a common knee-jerk reaction is to call and ask the salesperson, “What are you going to do about it?”

Of course the salesperson himself is not going to do anything.  So let’s turn the table.  When we are the salesperson, how do we avoid making promises we aren’t actually making?  How do we get the customer to understand that we aren’t the software expert, or the database architect, or that we won’t necessarily be the builder or manager or fixer of what it is we are selling?  Well, here are a few ideas:

  1. Ask and listen. Listening carefully for those expectations as your customer mentions them, maybe even casually, is a start.  Anticipating what may come from their expected patterns of use can be very handy.
  2. Highlight others. Introduce the others who might be involved in the future (account managers, service superstars, etc.) and tout their stellar care.  It’s a selling point.
  3. Don’t let the cement dry around their expectations.  Your sales process is probably ongoing and constantly reinforceable (that’s a nice word for repetitive), which gives you opportunities to gather growing agreement, and keeps you responsible for molding their assumptions as you do it.  Take advantage of the chance to strengthen your delivery of what they need by further understanding it.  And go back to step 1, and repeat.

S. Anthony Iannarino gives some great tips on correcting such expectations in his video Owning Outcomes, Not Transactions (and if you’re not already, you might want to keep tabs on his blog, Sales 3.0).  In it, he explains how to tactfully retain ownership of the client while you hand off the situation appropriately.  Keeping this conversation in mind before it happens might just keep everyone happier when expectations make you have to apologize for something you might not have explicitly promised.

* No they don’t.  While sports car purchases are often decided upon by couples, the actual buying and owning of the sports car is overwhelmingly a male pastime.  

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