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Sales Consulting and Training:

Empty Promises

Making Promises You Can’t Keep

“He that promises too much means nothing.”

- Thomas Fuller, M.D. Gnomologia (1732)

All sorts of promises are made to customer at the end of the sales quarter or when individual target numbers are seemingly impossible to reach. Some of these promises can be awfully damaging to a salesperson’s career:

Salesperson: The pricing has been adjusted based on our last conversation and, as you can see in the proposal, we’ve modified the quantity as well.”

Customer: “This looks great.  I think we can do this today… so long as you can have all of the product delivered and installed by the end of this month.  Can you do that?”

Salesperson: “Consider it done.”

Later, in the office…

Salesperson: “I just confirmed the sale of two hundred units of the Airfiltrator 2500 with Senterior.”

Installation Manager: “Congratulations!  That’s a big order.”

Salesperson:  “You bet it is.  There’s only one thing.  I promised the client we would have all two hundred units installed by the end of this month.”

Installation Manager: “You did whatThat’s impossible.  We already have four installations taking place throughout the rest of this month, one of them to Deltacorp, our largest customer.  My staff is already working overtime to try to meet the aggressive schedule and I’m not sure we’ll get those installed in time.”

Salesperson: “But, you have to!?  I promised my customer they would be installed.”

Installation Manager: “I don’t have to do anything.  It is physically impossible for the team to get them installed this month.  You’ll just have to tell your customer.”

Yikes! That’s a terrible situation to be in. How did it happen? The main issue that one can point to is that the sales professional was too anxious to make the sale and ended up making a promise he couldn’t keep. That’s a tough situation – one that can damage or even ruin a customer relationship. Imagine what that phone call will be like. Will the customer be happy? Why not? Well, there’s a word that some people use for those who make promises they can’t keep. Liars. 

The salesperson could have easily avoided the situation by being aware what was truly possible and not possible. In the rush to have a sales order signed in time, the sales person reacted hastily without checking first with the installation manager. A simple call could’ve avoided a great deal of misunderstanding and future conflict. 

We always warn people to not make promises they can’t keep. If you don’t know whether a promise can be kept or know there isn’t a way to keep it, don’t make it. Pushing the potential conflict until a later date in the hopes that everything can be smoothed out is an unwise idea. It may win you some short-term sales but will hurt you in the long run. A customer may even let you get away with it once but don’t bank on it.

Perhaps, the better way to have approached the situation was as follows:

Salesperson: “The pricing has been adjusted based on our last conversation and, as you can see in the proposal, we’ve modified the quantity as well.”

Customer: “This looks great.  I think we can do this today… so long as you can have all of the product delivered and installed by the end of this month.  Can you do that?”

Salesperson: “I checked with our installation manager earlier this morning and the earliest I can have all two hundred units installed is by the middle of next month.  We’ll have the crew out to get them up and running by the 15th.”

Customer: “I see.  I really would prefer them sooner.”

Salesperson: “I understand. I could promise them by the end of this month to have you sign our contract but we would end up not meeting the schedule and would fail in our promise to you. I would rather be straightforward with you and set a deadline we can meet and that will be acceptable to you.”

Customer: “I appreciate that.  I’d rather have it done right and not rushed.  I believe we have a deal.”

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