I’d like to rant a little bit about setting expectations with others. It is vitally important in any business, and I’ve seen a lot of heartache that could’ve been avoided had the expectation been set properly upfront. William Shakespeare actually said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
Because of the nature of my business (essentially a third party resource and service to our hotel partners), it is an essential part of our business to help form realistic expectations. Notice that I said “help form.” I believe in listening to the client to understand what it is they anticipate first, and then I like to be very candid with them about what is realistic. If we can’t meet somewhere in the middle, then it’s probably not a good gig for either of us. I didn’t always do this in the beginning. I was so confident in our service that I wouldn’t really touch on expectations. I could get the clients very excited, but I neglected to taper that excitement with a small dose of reality like…it could take some time before you see the results, or your team will have to put forth some effort in order to make this project work. I mean simple things, really. I learned my lesson hard and fast.
I see similar scenarios with our hotel partners all the time. A Sales Manager comes back from a sales call with a large business opportunity, and needs to explain the situation to the Director of Sales. A Director of Sales meeting with their Regional or General Manager explaining the sales team’s quarterly goals. A General Manager meets with ownership to explain the state-of-the-hotel and progress of the team. These internal conversations happen daily, and it’s common for us to witness a struggle between players to communicate effectively. It is especially commonplace when business is soft, as impatience grows.
How I see it, there are three mistaken ways some go about setting expectations:
1. Selling the Dream: Some sales professionals tend to get so excited about an opportunity that they start to look a tad too far into the future before really digging into the need of the client. They start to see assumed dollar signs and their estimates of the potential revenue go through the roof. In their excitement, they get everyone else around them totally pumped up about the opportunity. Unfortunately, there may be a few pieces of information they are neglecting to mention in order to not cloud the enthusiasm. Or, perhaps the sales person just doesn’t know yet that there are some things the client kept from them. Do yourself a favor and scrutinize the business opportunity thoroughly, and be certain it’s worth shouting from the rooftops about first. Nothing hurts credibility more than to have to pull back the reigns after your boss has just bragged up the opportunity to ownership or corporate.
2. Low-Balling: At the other extreme, I’ve seen some completely downplay situations thinking this will help them in the end. They don’t want anyone to get excited about the opportunity, because if it doesn’t happen they might look bad. People might question their ability to close. This can be counter-productive, because before you make that sale and surprise them…leadership may be thinking about what they need to do to find someone that can turn things around.
3. Just ignore it: Probably the most common one I see is professionals that just ignore expectations altogether. They ignore because they either don’t understand the significance or they don’t know how to communicate the reality effectively. Maybe they are afraid of sounding too positive or too negative, so it’s best to just let everyone think what they want to think and deal with the consequences later.
So, there is a pretty simple solution to all of this:
1. Gain an understanding of what your audience expects. Ask the General Manager what their ideal outcome might be. Ask your Director of Sales to sit down and plan out your goals with you for the account, or your market segment. Ask the client what their ideal meeting would look like at your property. You need a benchmark. The mere act of asking will also gain credibility with your audience. It shows you care.
2. Reflect on what you believe is realistic. You may need to get others involved in this part of the process. It’s important to really think through this, as sometimes we tend to jump to conclusions quickly and move so fast that we miss a key element. Take a breath and think for a bit before you agree to do something or try to change someone’s mind.
3. Present a realistic expectation using facts, examples and honesty. I preach fact-based sales strategies when we conduct hotels sales training. You can use the same techniques internally. It’s difficult to argue the facts. Examples help you set the stage and give visuals to what you are saying. Honesty and candor are vital in maintaining your credibility, and it invites open dialogue.
4. Follow-up and continue to get temperature readings throughout the process. Are you still on the same page on quarter and half-way through whatever process or project you are setting the expectation for? It’s really easy for busy people to forget, and change their expectation midstream. It is up to you to keep things on track through consistent and open communication.