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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  July 15, 2013

When Prospects Ask For Too Much

Originally published for RainToday.com

In the heat of the sales conversation, it’s easy to give in to a prospect’s additional requests so you can seal the deal.  A few weeks and a massive train wreck later, however, you learn the impact of not managing expectations up front.

Here are three ways I respond to requests that are easy to promise but set up the project for client disappointment.

1.  See the Innocence

In my younger days, I used to make up stories about why people asked for too much.  My initial reaction:  “This person is smoking crack if they think they are getting all of that for this price point.”

Now that I’m older and have calmed down, I realize that a request for more is not a plot to take advantage of my good nature.  It is simply an innocent request.  Prospects often may not fully understand the difference between our various offerings; they just know their budget and what they need.  This insight has changed not only what I say, but also the tone in my voice.

Now I treat such requests more objectively.  I respond with less judgement and more explanation about why we can’t do all that they want.  I assume folks are reasonable.  (And if they are not, this is a good time to find out.)

Example:  one client wanted me to read his entire book, study his speech (all three versions of it), and help develop content for all of his other programs–all in three months.  I took a deep breath, then explained that because of the depth of the feedback, we could not possible cover that much ground in this format.  Because he was hiring me to go into depth, he was willing to scale back his expectations.  Disaster averted.

2.  Give Options

Maybe it’s my Oklahoma upbringing, but I don’t like to say no to people I like.  I prefer to figure out how to say yes.  To help me with this problem, I offer options instead of an outright “No, and you are an idiot for asking.”  (See above section.)

Some folks need to understand the choices so they can get clear on their priorities.  The key is to explain the impact of those choices.  There are pros and cons to every situation. When we help clients weigh their options, we set boundaries without appearing dictatorial.

Example:  one client was trying to decide between two offerings. She wanted my analysis but didn’t want all of the deliverables the bigger project provided.  After some brainstorming, we learned what she really wanted was market direction based on what I already knew.  That made her a perfect candidate for the smaller program.

3.  Apply Your Benchmarks

Years ago, one of my favorite comedians, Jeff Foxworthy, came out with a comedy routine “You might be a redneck if…”  This structure creates great mental pictures and puts us in the story.  We can use the same format with prospective clients.

I  use this strategy in two situations.

First, I put a list of “this option may not be right for you if” on my program descriptions.  This short trip to the dark side not only gives a heads-up about what to expect, but it also allows the visitor to self-diagnose their situation.  The result:  I get calls from folks who say, “I am a candidate for XXX program.”

The second situation where I use this process is in helping folks decide which option is best for them.  I will use their situation, apply my benchmarks, and then ask a killer question.

Example:  a consultant turned aspiring author needed help deciding between a market assessment and a full-out brand strategy for his book.  After listening to his story, I said, “Well, it sounds like you have a lot of options and are weighing which message would make the best book.  The market assessment is great for that because you find out what it will really take to reach your book goals.  You can decide if this is worth it.  However, if you are already sure that you are writing that book, then I’d go for the positioning project.  So, your key question is has the book train already left the station or are you on a fishing expedition?  If it’s the former, let’s position that puppy.  If it’s the latter, let’s step back and do the assessment.”

Part Personal, Part Practical

Managing expectations is a subtle combination of customizing our work for the client and being practical about what we can produce.  When we can step back and appeal to a prospect’s innocence, give the options, and apply our benchmarks to their situation, we pave the way to great client experiences.

Filed Under: Experts, Implementation, Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.