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Did you question your expectations?

You know when you finish a conversation with a client, or a loved one for that matter, and you realize that you are feeling a deep sense of dissatisfaction?

I’m not talking about anger. I’m talking about that feeling that something was left unsaid by you or the other person. That feeling you get when you wish things had gone another way.

Maybe you didn’t sign the deal with the client you thought was a sure thing.

Maybe, you have a lingering feeling that there was something else going on and you can’t quite put your finger on it. You may have experienced a pause before you moved onto your next activity, as you try to put a frame around that dissatisfaction. You might even find yourself having to consciously cut off the train of post-analysis of the conversation.

So how do we end up with that gut instinct that we didn’t meet our clients’ needs?

In sales, in delivering services, and in your personal life, you may have had expectations that you didn’t examine first before you proceeded into the interaction. How often have you realized days, months or even years later, that you were moving through an interaction believing something was true only to find out that the other person had a very different idea of what was going on? I bet you have experienced that frequently.

At issue is that we humans often go into interactions without checking our own expectations before we embark on our endeavour.

What do I mean by that? Well, take the example of the client who didn’t sign the deal. You thought it was a sure thing – you expected them to sign up.

Did you question your own expectations before you met with them?

Why did you expect them to sign? Did you have proof of the ‘buy signals’? Were you letting your excitement get in the way of double checking that you were prepared and that you were ready to answer THEIR questions rather than what you thought they should know? Did you consult with them that your expectations and theirs were similar and aligned?

Let me give you a different example – an example of challenging interactions that repeated for a couple years, all because I didn’t question my own expectations.

In one of my jobs, I was in a middle management position. The job entailed a lot of coordination between subject matter experts and executives. Part of my responsibilities were to take what the experts wrote and get it into a format that the executives could use. Much of the time there was significant back and forth by phone, email and in person in order to get the needed clarity. Often the topics were way outside of my knowledge areas and there would be technical or industry specific terminology that I wasn’t familiar with.

During the time that I was in that position, I frequently felt a lingering sense of frustration that the same subject matter experts were off base on what the executives wanted to know and how to present the information to them. I expected them to know this stuff and I expected them to write for the executives without me having to redo parts of their writing.

One day in the midst of working through another 1000 words that we needed to reduce to 350, one of these experts asked me how I learned this stuff and if they could learn it too. As we chatted, I realized that I had not checked my expectations! I assumed these brilliant people had been trained or groomed in the past, or else how could they be in the roles that they were in? And it suddenly dawned on me – we had NEVER discussed what executive expectations were around the different types of documents. We had never even talked about what we expected of each other in the roles we were playing out.

In other words, we had never questioned our assumptions and never gotten curious about the other’s viewpoints. We had never tried to work through our own vague expectations to check if they were even reasonable or achievable! I wasn’t the only one who had been feeling dissatisfied and frustrated – turns out some of the experts perceived my role as a block on the road and an obstacle to get over rather than seeing me as a partner.

That one realization and the subsequent conversations about expectations, opened up our relationships and gave us the chance to do some continual improvement around our work flow. It also led to me developing a training workshop which helped my colleagues to get useful tactics from outside of their field AND it helped me to broaden my understanding of their worlds so that I could get better at helping them communicate with the executives.

So how does this story relate to sales and marketing? I suggest that if you are not questioning your expectations about your clients’ interactions with your business, about your sales or service offerings, then that is the reason why you are feeling dissatisfied and not meeting your goals or aspirations. And that is why your clients are not satisfied – and you may not even know it!

Go back to that conversation or sales call that left you feeling dissatisfied, and ask yourself: going into that situation, what expectations did I have? Was I clear on what I wanted to have happen? Did I have assumptions or unexplored expectations that were vague and thus not aligned with what actually happened? Did I have a conversation with the client to learn what their expectations were?

For most people, we won’t check our expectations on every interaction, however, if we want to increase sales, increase retention, and leave clients with a feeling of being WOW’d, then a good first step is really to check those expectations as much as we can.

There is a lot of talk about client-centred design and ‘focus on the client needs’ and similar phrases, but what does that mean?

Here at Mindset Marketing Services, Connie and I are working hard to create an agency that takes the time to check our own expectations and to check in with you to find out what your expectations are as well. Is it a perfect process? Of course not, but we will keep trying with you. Coming into agreement about what we are providing and what you want is critical for us to help you achieve your business and personal goals. We want to build a long term relationship with you so you can depend on us!

So the next time you get that thought or feeling that something doesn’t feel quite right, maybe you can take a pause and think about what expectations you had and how they weren’t met. By becoming aware of those pieces, I’m certain that you will move more strongly towards clarity for yourself, your clients and your business. And maybe you will more frequently be in the habit of examining those vague thoughts before you go into that important interaction!

About Teresa Martin

Teresa has been working with entrepreneurs since 2001 on marketing, communications, websites, business operations and strategy.