YMI Consulting

Under-promise and over-deliver? Stop.

One of the first things B2B salespeople are taught: Under-promise and over-deliver. It seems like a solid strategy –who doesn’t like it when their Uber arrives two minutes earlier or the flight lands half an hour earlier? The idea that the way to exceed expectations consistently is to under-promise results is inherently flawed in two ways: First, it ignores the human need for predictability, and second, it diminishes trust.

Predictability: the basis for sustainable business.

At a high level, Wall Street rewards predictability. Investors make decisions based on patterns and expectations. Yes, your company crushed earnings this quarter, can investors expect the same next quarter? Volatility is risky business. The same applies to business relationships. A business relies on their vendors to deliver on expected outcomes, whether those outcomes are delivery expectations, quality, or return on investment. The people making purchases from their vendors attempt to mitigate uncertainty through predictability. For example, if a vendor consistently tells the client that delivery is 10 days, but the product typically shows up within 5-7 days, the client will predict the next product delivery to be within 5-7 days.

Why is that bad? First, the product may be part of a larger project and the client tells the team on the project to expect delivery 7 days after the order is placed. Resources are scheduled to begin work on the day of delivery and other parts of the project begin as well. If the product is received 10 days after the order is placed, the resources remain idle for 3 days and the project is delayed. That is a tangible impact, as labor resources are expensive and when productivity is lost, money is lost.

Trust: the foundation of business.

It’s simple, stop lying to your clients. Under-promising is in effect not telling the full truth. Vendor salespeople that continue to hold back information (or add days to delivery) to protect themselves from potential fallouts create a perception of untrustworthiness. Clients will begin to think: what else is the sales rep holding back? Is there a promotion or discount that they’re not disclosing? Doubt in the business relationship creates an opportunity for competitors to bid on the business.

Build trust by being a partner in predictability.

Salespeople get in the habit of under-promising because their span of control after the sale only reaches so far. Break that habit with transparency. It is okay to tell a client: I don’t know. It is better to tell a client that there are unknowns. However, take that opportunity to build trust by working to uncover the unknowns and become more predictable.

Also, gain a competitive advantage by becoming part of the process. Ask the client about their expectations, then go further to understand the impact of the purchase. What is the timeline? Who are the resources? And (this one is big, as it leads to future business) how will this impact upcoming projects? As a salesperson, help the customer build the timeline for the project, while communicating with the sales operations, delivery, and people involved in delivering services. Trust will grow as stakeholders from both sides interact and agree on results.

The business relationship will grow stronger when agreed upon results are delivered –nothing more, and especially, nothing less. Well, a mug and a ‘thank you’ card won’t hurt.


Breaking the habit takes sales coaching and establishing accountability behaviors. Let’s talk about your sales process!

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I Get Things Done. Let's grow your business together!
I Get Things Done. Let's grow your business together!