Think for a moment about your last unhappy customer. Maybe it was a client who didn't see the results they wanted or a customer who had a bad experience. Without getting defensive, think about the root of their dissatisfaction. Was it that you didn't deliver what was promised or was what you promised unrealistic?
As an experienced business consultant I see issues with client expectations all the time. Businesses don't want to say 'no' to customers during the sales process. They don't want to tell a new potential customer the truth about how long, how difficult or how costly it will be to achieve the desired result. They want to say 'yes' and get the new customer to say 'yes' so they overpromise. Somewhere down the road, your customer will question the promises you made and start to wonder why their expectations haven't been met. The natural reaction to losing clients is to assume the problem was with them-they didn't give you enough time or enough budget and they wanted the world in return, right? But the reality is that the problem may not be your clients'. The problem may be yours and it probably started with some lofty promises made by your sales team to close the deal.
Overpromising might close more sales but it will cost you in the long run. Your business will become a leaky bucket that you will work twice as hard to fill as clients continually drain from the bottom. Retaining more business means effectively setting and managing your clients' expectations. This all starts with the sales team.
You may have heard me say this a few times but it's an important point that bears repeating: You are in business to solve problems, not sell products. If your sales people are focusing solely on your product during the sales process then they are having the wrong conversations. Your customers don't care how great your product is-they want to know how you will solve their problems and to what degree.
Setting and managing the expectations of your clients begins with the sales process and continues with communication during the engagement. Take a good, hard look at your sales and client communication processes and ask yourself: Are we accurately setting the client's expectations? If not, you are setting yourself up for failure to meet those expectations. When I engage with a new business consultation client-especially when I am acting as a sales consultant-I advise my clients to add the following tasks to their process:
1. During the sales process, do an assessment to discover your prospect's problems and then illustrate how you can solve them.
2. Before signing on a new client, identify one main decision maker and define how that person will be involved. How is the decision maker going to lead the process internally?
3. Clearly communicate the client's responsibilities. What do you need from them to achieve success? How are you going to handle it when the client does not deliver on their responsibilities?
4. Define the most common obstacles for success and communicate them to the client before they arise, and communicate with them on how you will get over those obstacles together.
5. Set very conservative expectations. It's far better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa.
6. Evaluate the success and failures with current and past clients to discover where and how you missed opportunities to set realistic expectations. Some great ways to identify improvements in your process include:
• Post-engagement client survey: Ask the client for direct feedback and use the data to refine your client experience.
• Quarterly team review: Get the internal team together and review the entire sales and account management process. Do a post-mortem on every project and identify areas of missed opportunity.
• Create a client process map: Identify the obstacles and define how to deal with them internally and externally and modify the process to reflect the findings.
• Refine client communications: Ensure you are effectively communicating results through regular progress reports, updates, meetings, etc.
Why did you last client leave you? What were their reasons?
By Howard Shore
Photography by Nejron