Controlling Customer Expectations

By Lain Ehmann

“There’s a saying: It’s better to have an angry customer than a happy prospect,” says John Robert Confrey, author of No Seminars in Foxholes: Practical Selling for the Real World Professional (Xlibris, 2003). “The far better thing, obviously, is to reset customers’ expectations.”

But controlling customer expectations – and controlling your own tendency to promise the sun, moon and stars in order to get the sale – is easier said than done. Here are Confrey’s tips for walking the balance between reality and creative salesmanship.

Know what the issue is. Sometimes, says Confrey, customer satisfaction has less to do with your ability to meet any particular demand and more to do with how your customers feel. Maybe you can move up the delivery date; maybe you can’t. But if you tell customers you’ll do your absolute best to meet their requests, often that’s enough. “It’s really how they feel about your effort,” he explains.

Know what you can control. Your customers want the buttons to be red instead of blue. If you can make it happen, they’ll sign your largest order ever. But make sure you know what you can promise and what you can’t before you clench your teeth and say: You got it! The ability to change certain factors, such as specs, delivery dates and so on, might be determined by someone who hasn’t stepped foot inside a customer’s door in the last 10 years, such as an engineer. Instead of making a promise you can’t deliver on, commit to what you know you can control. Namely, that you’ll do everything in your power to make it happen.

Know your comfort level. Rare is the salesperson who has never engaged in a little creative storytelling. “Salespeople must be able to stretch the truth, to use a brand of truth most favorable to their position or find other employment,” says Confrey. But how far you stretch the truth depends on your comfort level. There’s a large gray area between putting a spin on things and lying. Over time you’ll learn where you feel most comfortable. “It’s a little bit experience, a little bit skill,” says Confrey. “That’s part of the art and science of sales.”

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