How many times has a salesperson promised to increase your company’s exposure by 50 percent, double your client list, and quadruple your profit margin? In this age of instantaneous satisfaction (thanks, technology!), many entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are so eager to appease stakeholders and worried about the bottom line that they seize amorphous opportunities and are disappointed with the results.
In my office, we not only keep our eyes and ears open for these types of schemes, but we make sure that we don’t fall into any grey area that would put us in a position to over-promise and under-deliver. Clients often want the best fast. And while we strive to deliver optimum results, we know that keeping our word isn’t just morally right, it’s vital to the health and reputation of the business.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of promises you can’t keep.
Set Clear Goals and Manage Expectations
Let’s say your client wants 1,000 people at their store opening, which occurs on a Friday night in the middle of summer. The space can only accommodate 250 comfortably and legally (always check fire codes!) but she insists the overflow will create a buzz, which will then drive sales. Explain to her that there’s nothing more frustrating to the public than trying to have fun at a great event — from the outside. If people can’t get into the space to experience the opening, why would you send a general invitation to 2,000 individuals? Furthermore, Fridays in the summer are the worst time for press and to get people out and about, as many folks vacation during those months. Instead of a large group, send a targeted invite to key stakeholders and taste-makers who can take the event’s message to their communities and increase your overall reach.
Your guarantee comes in the form of quality, not quantity. It’s your job to manage your client’s expectations accordingly and deliver on a realistic goal.
Use the Right Words
“Promise” is an assertive, solemn word that connotes confidence. Remember the time you told one of your most persnickety clients that you promised to have a major television star participate in his fundraising luncheon? But said star was scheduled to be in the south of France at the exact time of the event? Well, if you didn’t remember, your client surely did, and now he’s made the announcement to all of his associates, colleagues, friends and family in person, over the phone, via social media and in the sky. If you don’t deliver, you’ll be known as the seller of wolf tickets.
Instead, stick to terms like, “the goals are to,” “we project,” “we envision,” etc. While being specific with your projected numbers is standard operating procedure, promising to deliver a person or specific metric is a bet you shouldn’t put money on.
Promise to Do the Work
There are a lot of don’ts when it comes to making promises, but there is one absolute DO: always ensure your clients that you will work hard and smart to deliver the best results for them. Beyond your contractual duties that stipulate the number of hours you spend on their project, you and your team should reassure them that you are committed and focused on fulfilling their goals. Saying things like, “We promise to reach out to city council, the mayor’s office, and the board of directors and confirm attendance numbers” is reasonable and expected, depending on your scope of work.
Be clear, transparent and committed upfront when you conduct your business. And remember the most important promise you have to keep is to yourself — to continue to be better and do better every day.