Managing Expectations

Gaetan Giannini

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It is a reasonably excepted fact among marketers and educators that business has undergone an evolution in the past century. This evolution as often been described as a movement from the production concept (this is the Henry Ford, make it and they will buy philosophy) to the selling concept (here we assume that customers don’t buy, they are sold to, so the emphasis and accountability were put on the sales forces, unfortunately resulting in the beloved “hard-sell”) to the marketing concept (where customer is king). Now, most marketing executives and professors will claim that the majority of Western companies practice the marketing concept. Unfortunately, under the acid test of the recently sluggish world economy many companies have shown themselves to actually be selling oriented. This occurrence is a survival response based on the fact that companies find it hard to focus on the long term when they are on the verge of starvation in the short term.

This latent tendency to be sales focused coupled with companies’ insistence on paying sales people for performance (i. e.commission) has kept “salesmanship” alive and well. Don’t gasp, because I think that deep down we all know this, and quite frankly, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not bad if used and managed properly, that is, and since we are never going to escape the need to do sales on some level, let’s explore.

The most worn salesmen cliché is of the used car salesman selling cream puffs and delivering lemons. What makes this model wrong? It is legal for a salesperson or company to use some hyperbole when promoting its products. It is also a known fact that most products and services are not the best in their given industry. The title of best can only go to a handful. What’s wrong is that the promise, or expectation, far exceeded the deliverable. Now, before you say, “Well we don’t do that!” Take a look at what you do do. Look at your brochures and website. Listen to what your salespeople say. Very often we will find that the enthusiasm about a product or service or the need to sell more has a company inflating the expectations of the customer – many times without being conscious of it.

So, what can you do? Simple, under promise and over deliver. Let potential customers know exactly what they are getting and what to expect. How should they prepare for the use of your product or service? What are the potential down sides? Now you can move into how you are going to assist in the acceptance and use of the product or service, and once they have the product in place, subtly reinforce the benefits they are getting for choosing your brand. This may seem strange to many seasoned salespeople, and might even be surprising to some customers or prospects, but using the intelligent principle of managing expectations will allow a company to benefit from the positive, short-term effects of the sales concept, while keeping the long-term focus of the marketing concept.

Gaetan Giannini is the Department Chair and Assistant Professor at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa. He is also an independent marketing speaker and consultant. He can be reached at 610-606-4666 x 3427 or


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