“Thought Bubble” Inflation: The Sales / Service Handoff

Posted by | March 22, 2009 | sales service | 2 Comments

Setting good expectations in sales and tightly managing  scope in services sounds like a great way to fix misaligned customer expectations.  

Much easier written than done. And it's a good start, but does miss a key piece of the puzzle.

As a 3-time VP Sales selling technology solutions to business people, I've spent a lot of time hearing from from the service team how my reps need to set better expectations during the sales cycle.  Services often has a point.  And so I've spent a lot of time more precisely productizing service offerings,  tightening up statement of works, including members of the service team in the sales cycle, creating tools and infrastructure to address the issue and working with reps to be as clear as possible about the what's and the when's.

But none of that addresses the often surprising - and harder to manage -- culprit of customer internal communications. 

Getting the clear solution 'thought bubble' from the reps mind into all the buyers she deals with during a sales cycle is difficult but doable.  The tricky part is when the buying team turns to their implementation / operations / user team - many of whom have not been part of the sales cycle - and tells them what to expect.

The "thought bubbles" that form in these folks minds are of course filtered by what they all want.  They typically aren't spending a lot of time analyzing every last word of your semi-detailed and semi-well written statement of work.  And they have no incentive to expect less than exactly what they need  - regardless of what your solution actually does or what the original scope of the deal is.

Where you might have some "thought bubble" expectation inflation between the rep and the buying team, you often see "thought bubble" hyper-inflation between the customer's buying team and their internal execution team.

And when the client's internal team -- who incidentally are managing the day-to-day implementation -- starts to ask for all kinds of crazy stuff, the services team starts casting the 'stink eye' towards the sales floor.  They suspect that sales must be the source of these crazy expectations.

In fact, sales often isn't. 

Focusing on the sales / service handoff is a great place to focus and deliver sales tools to help tighten up the expectation gap.  And tools like customer welcome letters, sales / service handoff meeting agendas, new customer kickoff agendas, sales / service internal kickoff agendas and  customer relationship and results scoring tools can help (see "The Sales Service Handoff" in our sales resource library).

Training everyone on the sales and service team to be aware of the potential for hyper-inflated "thought bubbles"  and immediately addressing them when they surface is important.  Not immediately resetting these expectations when they are first articulated confirms the client's feelings that these are the right expectations.

This means that the service team trusts that the sales team hasn't set wrong expectations.  Which means that the sales team needs to set the right expectations.  It also means that the service team knows how to gently say "no" and knows when to escalate things within the clients and their own companies when necessary.

Also all things much easier written than done.


  • Wil Bradley says:

    Great article. As someone who has been on the sales side, as an SE, a consultant and part of the execution team, this hits home.

    Setting expectations is key to any type of sale, especially technology.

    Sales definitely needs to have the SE or a consulting rep review SOWs. Involving them at the kickoff meeting may be too late. It might be a good idea to have the SE review technical reqs with the client during the sales cycle. This can be done over the telephone or via Goto Meeting between sales calls. Preventing the unexpected always helps.

    The “bubble” usually bursts with implementation. The customer implementation group runs into unexpected issues or requirements. If they haven’t been included in the buying process, it leads to a “You should have asked us first” mentality. Things go down hill from there.

    Sales people hate it, but I believe including some type of technical review by the implementation group during the sales cycle, can keep the bubble floating to the next sale.

  • Molly says:

    Paul, I love the cartoon illustrating the “thought bubble” inflation. As a sales person and a consumer I’ve had this experience. I never thought about the importance of this gap until now.

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