3 Tips for Setting Expectations in the Sales Process

Andrew Stanten


In the dog-eat-dog world of B2B, it’s critical that companies pay attention to how they’re setting expectations in the sales process. Their reputation – and their bottom line – depends on it.

For example, I saw an ad yesterday for Lowes’ paint department. “Pick, prep and paint. It’s that simple,” the ad said, showing a customer picking the paint with the help of a Lowes professional; buying the necessary prep materials and prepping the wall; and one stroke, two strokes later, voila! The room is perfect!

I call BS. It’s never ever that easy.

And by painting (pun intended) a scenario that seems so simple, but not having the reality add up to that simplicity, will only lead to frustration and disappointment.

The same thing can happen in B2B. If you’re not properly setting expectations in the sales process, you’re doing it wrong.

You’ve gotta love sales people. Self-driven, solution-oriented, always seeking the win-win. But if you’re positioning your product or service as the perfect solution to your prospects’ needs, you’re doing yourself a disservice. In fact, I think it’s ideal to be a bit imperfect and vulnerable during the sales cycle.

Here’s why:

You get one shot at setting expectations in the sales process. Period.

No matter what you’re selling, there will be engagements that are smooth and customers that are delighted to the point of becoming evangelists for your company and its offering. But, in the real world, things happen.

During the sales process, find the right time to ask your prospect about their recent experiences dealing with a vendor or company such as yours. Ask what worked, what didn’t and what they’d like to see done differently.

Then, share some stories about times when things went exceedingly well – and why and when things weren’t perfect – and how you and your company dealt with it. This honesty will set the stage for candor in all your conversations moving forward, building trust as a byproduct. Win-win.

You need to understand each other’s expectations.

I always say that disappointment is only misaligned expectations. And it’s true. It’s easy to get your prospect nodding if you sell your product or service with enthusiasm, drive and subtle push. A great salesperson can sense hot buttons, key in on them, and play to those talking points, pains, features or functionalities. It’s the courting stage and everything is going to turn out perfect with everyone living happily ever after, right? Well, maybe.

It’s important to recognize the creation and delivery of your product or service can be like a Broadway production – a mess behind the curtain, stage hands running all over the place, nervous actors having breakdowns, last-minute costume repairs, shuffling props.

But what really matters is when curtain goes up – and there’s magic.

Bugs may – and will – happen. Vulnerabilities may surface. Deadlines may get missed. Deployment may be delayed. Scope creep can happen.

When you’re working on setting expectations in the sales process, create a list of the top five to seven things that have gone wrong in the past with other clients and share that with your prospect, along with discussion around how those things were handled and resulted in ultimate success. Ask what your teams can do together to help ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

If you expect nothing to go wrong and it does – you’ll be disappointed … and the prospect-turned-client will be disappointed at best, irate at worst. But, if you expect a few blips along the way, and foreshadow that all will not be smooth sailing at the onset, your new customer is less likely to go off the deep end, enabling you to do your job and deliver an end product to a delighted client.

Your professional and personal credibility is built on being perfectly imperfect far beyond a client relationship.

When you are honest about your product or service, you become believable. When you are believable, it makes it easier for a prospect to favor your offering over the competitions. When you position your solution as unique and talk about it like there is no competitor, eyebrows will raise. If you talk about your solution as flawless, you will be questioned.

In addition to knowing the vulnerabilities of your solution or process, recognizing that there are, indeed, competitors – who might do something a tad better than you – sets you apart and makes you credible. And, contrary to what you may think, that credibility and chutzpah to admit your shortcomings shows character, which makes prospects more likely to want to go into business with you.

Alternately, when you hit someone over the head with double-talking jargon, try to convince prospects that your solution is the be-all, end-all, trying to coerce them into signing a deal, smart prospects will walk away. Those who initially believe you and do sign on the dotted line will be seriously disappointed when they discover your shortcomings on their own – and will be disheartened and unlikely to do business with you again thanks to your cover-up antics.

Taken together, selling successfully boils down to one thing: honesty. If you’re honest about who you are, what you’re selling and what the buyer can expect, you’re building trust.

And creating business relationships on a foundation of honesty and trust will do more for you and your company in the long run than closing a short sales cycle now. Doing a good job of setting expectations in the sales process means long-term success, not ephemeral wins.

After all, the reputation of your personal brand and your company are not just worth it – your success depends on it.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.