Tactical Bridge Building (or Why Your Customers Don’t Trust You)

bridge

Image Credit: Nicolas Raymond

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.  Read the original copy here.

Commitment.  It’s a word we in the business world use a lot when talking about our relationship to our customers, but, like most corporate jargon, it can lose its meaning after a while.  What does it really mean to be committed to your customers; and, how often are we guilty of failing to follow through on our promises?

As a consumer, how many times have you heard “100% money back guarantee” or “satisfaction guaranteed” only to have to perform a logistical song and dance to seek remediation on such guarantees?  How many times have you purchased a product or service because of a promise of a certain timeline, price, or future improvements, only to find that your expectations did not align with the actual delivery?

Don’t over-promise and under-deliver.  A huge mistake made often by sales teams and executives alike is to constantly say ‘yes,’ whether the answer is really ‘yes’ or not.

YES, of course we can deliver that in half the time we normally do!

YES, of course I can sell this to you at a fraction of our strategically selected market price if that will convince you to buy today!

After all, we want to be the go-to choice for our customers, so why not promise them everything they want?  Well, the frank answer is: your company likely cannot deliver on that promise.  And now, you’ve put yourself, your company, and your customer in a losing situation.

A key lesson to keep in mind when developing your sales strategy is the necessary balance between cost, quality and speed:

Graphic Credit: Colin Harman

When you’re trying to close a deal, it’s easy to accidentally oversell and overcommit to what your (engineering, operations, product…) teams cannot reasonably deliver.  When your fairy tale promises do not come true, not only have you put yourself in a bad situation where the customer does not trust you to follow through (meaning no future for your relationship), but you’ve likely left your customer in a bad situation where they look unreliable to their supervisors and their customers.

So, how do we avoid this situation?

Avoid vagueness.  Work closely with your internal teams to determine the parameters and explicit deliverables of the project.  Share the details of your commitment (avoiding vague marketing lingo), including expected timelines, any associated costs, and realistic dependencies with your customer to manage their expectations.  As I mentioned in a previous post, your customers are reasonable people.  If you can set appropriate expectations from the beginning, your customers are less likely to feel disappointed by working with you, even if your proposed offering takes longer or more money than they’d originally budgeted.  When you embark on a project together, they know what’s coming and can plan accordingly (instead of having to adjust mid-project when your unrealistic commitments do not come to fruition).

What if my competitors are able to promise better pricing, quality, or timeliness?  Chances are, your competitors have the same operating limitations that you do (suppliers, pricing, development turnaround…) so you should not be putting yourself at a huge disadvantage by being realistic about these things.  If you are truly trailing in one of these areas, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your competitive advantage and your market position.  What value do you bring to your customers that other companies in your industry do not?  Maybe you can increase your efficiency to reduce costs.  Maybe you need to improve the quality of your product.  Maybe you can find a way to reduce time to delivery.  These are operational issues that need to be addressed well before you are sitting at the negotiating table.  By focusing on the natural advantages built into your business and your product, you can be sure to make promises you can deliver on.

Once you’ve established your competitive advantage, stick to it.  Highlight your strengths, but don’t lie about your weaknesses by promising things you cannot deliver.  By laying the foundation of your relationship with concrete details and working to bridge the gap between your customers’ expectations and your company’s ability to deliver, you are creating a relationship based on trust and a true commitment to your customers’ satisfaction.

After all, once you convince a customer to cross the bridge you’ve built, it had better hold up or they’ll never come back.

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