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Build Trusted Relationships in the Sales Process by Setting (and Meeting) Expectations

Not meeting expectations hurts salespeople during the sales process... and foursomes that don't have a fourth.

Last Friday, I was looking for one more person to round out a foursome for a Saturday golf date. That evening I bumped into an acquaintance, mentioned we needed an extra, and he agreed to play.

The next morning as the clock struck eight, three of us were on the first tee, ready to go.  The friend who agreed to play the night before was nowhere to be found with no message or explanation for his absence.

He stood us up. Behavior like this drives me crazy and it sets a precedent for how he’s going to act in the future.  I’m certainly never going to invite him to play golf again.

Saying one thing and doing another can be devastating to your sales effort. Continually setting, and meeting, expectations is one of the easiest and most direct ways to build the strong, trusted relationships you need to close deals. However, in the heat of the chase – or in the warm glow of a Friday evening – promises are made, but never kept.

Imagine the trust you can develop and the impression you can make if you consistently:

  • Deliver proposals, or other materials, on time (or even a day earlier than expected) – after already discussing what will be included in the proposal and any variables associated with it.

  • Create a step-by-step process and a plan for what implementation or delivery might look like.

  • Ask the prospect what is important to them, what they are trying to do, and what constitutes value to them, allowing you to understand the big picture and set the right expectations.

These actions require good organizational skills and an attention to detail. Unfortunately, a good number of salespeople don’t exactly fit this personality type. Today however this is the new currency for success, especially for complex sales, where building trust allows you to:

  1. Set the agenda. If each encounter goes as expected and the prospect gets what they want, they will let you drive the process – that, in turn, allows you to control the sale, determine the process, set next steps, and take it where you want.

  2. Mitigate risk. Buyers want to be sure they are making the right decision. Unfortunately for them, any purchase decision comes with risk. You can mitigate this risk by providing direction at each step of the sales process. If there are no surprises, you create a sense of certainty in an otherwise uncertain endeavor. Certainty helps eliminate doubt in the prospect’s mind, removing a major obstacle and allowing you to move the sale forward faster.

  3. Be seen as the expert. Delivering as expected demonstrates a certain mastery that inspires confidence in you, your company, and what you are selling. This positions you as the thoughtful and trusted expert as you answer questions, listen and demonstrate understanding, and provide recommendations.

  4. Demonstrate what it is like to work with you. Trusted relationships are built over time, and you can start building that trust during the sales process. When you consistently deliver on what you promise, you demonstrate what it will be like to work with you and your company day in and day out.

However, if you over promise and under deliver – by missing deadlines, showing up late to meetings, setting inappropriate expectations – you lose out on your best opportunity to build trusting relationships with your prospects.

Trust does not come overnight, in fact it can take months, in some cases years, to build, yet it takes only one instance of not following through on your promise to destroy it.

Be mindful of this in your sales conversations and interactions with prospects. Think things through, take the time to make appropriate decisions, and give each prospect the respect they deserve; this allows you to maximize the trust factor.

Take it one step further and think of how you can over deliver in the sales process. I’m not suggesting you sandbag it. I’m suggesting you set expectations that you’re sure you can meet and leave some room for yourself to go above and beyond.

Now if I can only instill this behavior in my missing golf buddy.

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