Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 30, 2011

Think You’re Meeting and Exceeding Your Client’s Expectations? You’re Fooling Yourself

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,small business — Paul McCord @ 1:53 pm
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Everybody seems to love buzzwords and phrases.  Buzz phrases are everywhere—in our daily conversation, in advertising, and in our business communications.  Someone comes up with a pithy statement that sounds great and the next thing you know, that phrase is on everyone’s tongue.  Buzzwords and phrases take on a life of their own.  To be “in,” you have to adopt the phrase and act as if you own it. 

Nowhere are buzzwords and buzz phrases more prevalent than in the business world.  Businesspeople seem to have a natural affinity for picking up and using the latest buzz phrase.  When someone coins a fine sounding phrase, the next thing you know, you hear it everywhere.

Such is the case with “exceeding client’s expectations.”  That little three-word phrase is everywhere today.  You see it and hear in advertising.  It’s on the lips of almost every salesperson.  It’s parroted by executives from the smallest mom and pop shop to the largest of international corporations.  You hear it in the boardroom, in the sales office, in the customer service bullpen, and the halls of the HR department. 

No matter whom the “customer” is—an internal department, a purchasing prospect, a vendor, a supplier, a distributor, a job applicant, everyone in every department is out to exceed their customer’s expectations. 

A very noble and worthwhile goal, no doubt.

What Does “Exceeding the Client’s Expectations” Mean?
What do companies and businesspeople mean by the phrase?  Ask and you’ll get basically one response:  “giving the customer more than they expected.”

Great objective; but more of what exactly? 

If I give them more hassle than they expected, didn’t I exceed their expectations? 

If I give them a higher price than they expected, didn’t I also give them more than they expected? 

If I give them more red tape then they expected, again, didn’t I exceed their expectations?

The response to the above is “How stupid, McCord.  Exceeding a client’s expectations means giving them more benefit or more service than they expected.”

O.K.  So, how do you do that? 

The typical response is by giving the client a better product than they expected for the price or by giving them better customer service than they expected.  Or possibly its giving them more value than they expected.  Or it could be treating them better than they expected.

I’ll accept that but how do you know when you’ve exceeded their expectations?

Why Companies and Salespeople Cannot Exceed Their Client’s Expectations
Ask how one can know when one has exceeded the client’s expectations and the typical response is “We know what our customers expect.  They expect the product to do such and such.  They expect the product to last for X years.  They expect the product to be available in these colors, with these options.  They expect delivery within X number of days.  They expect to be able to reach customer service in a reasonable amount of time.  They expect . . . whatever.”

That, of course, raises the question:  “How do you know that’s what your customer expects?”

“Because we know our customers,” comes the response.  “We pay close attention to what our customers want and expect, and we aim to deliver more than that.”

I see.  But I must ask, do all of your customers expect or want exactly the same thing? 

“Of course, not,” I’m told.  “That’s the reason we have different models and options.”

That makes sense, as far as it goes.  But what about customer service?  What about the way customers are treated.  What about delivery and other aspects of the sale.  Do all of your customers want the same thing?

“More or less, yes.  As I said, we know our customers very well, so we’ve designed our service and sales process to meet, and to even exceed, those expectations.”

Now, we’re getting somewhere.  So I finally understand what that phrase means.  Exceeding a client’s expectations means you’ve developed a model of your “typical” client and seek to exceed what you BELIEVE to be your typical client’s expectations.  Right?

“Well, you could put it in those terms, but that isn’t the way we see it.”

I’ve got the picture now.  You are shooting to exceed what you believe your client’s expectations SHOULD be, not what they really are.  You don’t exceed your client’s expectations; you shoot to exceed your assumption about your client’s expectations.

Is it Possible to Exceed Your Client’s Expectations?
No.  It is impossible to exceed your client’s expectations the way the vast majority of salespeople and companies do business.  It is simply impossible to do if you are working from your assumptions about the client’s expectations, not what the client’s expectations are. 

Yes.  However, by just asking each and every prospect and client what their expectations are, exceeding the client’s expectations becomes a very real possibility.  Once you know what your client expects, your goal is to give them the exact purchasing experience they want, not the one you think they should have.

Every prospect and customer is different.  Each has their own set of wants, needs, goals, and service criteria.  You cannot know what those are without asking, and if you don’t know what they are, you cannot meet or exceed them, no matter how hard you try.

You Are the Only One Who Can Exceed the Client’s Expectations
Knowing your client’s expectations gives you a tremendous advantage over your competition.

Most salespeople will not ask, consequently, they cannot perform the way the client wants them to.  In addition, most will rely on their company to “exceed” the client’s expectations.  It is impossible for a company to exceed the client’s expectations because the company simply has too many clients with too many different expectations to individualize the sales process.

Consequently, you are the only one capable of doing it.  It is your job to turn the purchasing experience into the one your client wants, not your company’s.  You must become the client’s advocate in the process.

Knowledge really is power.  By taking the simple step to ask your client what their expectations are, you gain the power to give them the experience that will give you the basis for gaining referrals and word-of-mouth marketing.  In addition, if you discover your client has unrealistic expectations, you can deal with them at the beginning of the sales process rather than finding out later, after they have evolved into a real problem.

Do yourself a huge favor—ask.  Not only will it improve your relationship with your client, you’ll see the effort returned in the form of more sales.



  1. […] Think You're Meeting and Exceeding Your Client's Expectations? You … […]

    Pingback by Southern Nevada businesspeople agree diversity key to revival, poll shows | Ways To Make Money — January 30, 2011 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

  2. Good counsel, but if you’d like to know more, there are two other sources worth a visit: 1) a blog,; and 2)a book website,

    Comment by Robert Solomon — January 30, 2011 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  3. Paul,

    “Exceeding customer expectations” is an expression I have been using since I formed my own consultancy in 1994.

    I wasn’t aware that it had become a glib, throw-away line. In fact, clearly I have been leading somewhat of a sheltered life recently, because I have not witnessed its prevalence?

    Let me explain how we strive to exceed our own client’s expectations …

    To begin with, we always take a diagnostic approach to sales team coaching and mentoring, which means a full audit of strengths, weaknesses and ultimately development needs, before we accept the assignment.

    Once the results are revealed and discussed, we are able to agree the outcome our prospective client would anticipate should we go ahead with the assignment.

    If all parties genuinely believe that this project is viable, we charge 50% of our fee upfront.

    We then complete our work over whatever period is agreed, and six months after the end of the assignment, we meet again to assess the results. If we have achieved our mutually agreed objectives, we bill the second 50% of fees – if we haven’t, we waive them (but this has never happened)

    Based on the “over- achievement” %, we are paid an additional bonus.

    So you see, the use of the term “we exceed expectations” has a REAL PLACE, and a genuine place in our business.


    In other words, we share risks, and we share rewards for “exceeding expectations”

    Comment by Jonathan Farrington — January 30, 2011 @ 7:44 pm | Reply

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