Business Growth & Strategy

Help Your Team Recover From Overpromising to a Client

Help Your Team Recover From Overpromising to a Client

While speaking at a recent event, one of the attendees raised a great question. He asked, “What if you realize that you have indeed overpromised to a client on what you can deliver?

When faced with a difficult situation, you might make the mistake of trying to hide the facts from your client. That approach rarely has a good ending. When you make a mistake, take ownership and communicate honestly. Clients realize that “stuff happens”. You will often be rewarded for how effectively you address setbacks.

Help Your Team Recover From Overpromising to a ClientThere are many situations that may have put you into an uncomfortable situation with your client. Here are common scenarios where you may need to recover after overpromising to a client. The most important thing to remember is that the sooner you can reset expectations, the better.

Sales Said “Yes” When they should have said “No”

You have a solution that requires 2 months to deliver. During a sales meeting your customer says “If you can deliver us a solution in a month, we’ll sign a contract with you today.” Your sales team member (who just might be your lead sales person) says “Absolutely.”

In fact, in the past under different circumstances, your organization was able to deliver a solution within a month. But, you know it is likely to take two months for this client’s solution.

In this scenario, you might suggest that your sales person say to the client, “I want to ensure that we are all on the same page. I know we’ve delivered within a month in the past. Other projects have taken closer to 2 months. I’d hate for any delays to impact your organization. I’d like to know we all have the same expectation of 2 months, knowing we’ll do whatever we can to shorten the schedule.  Would that be OK?

Unless you are delivering the ball for Times Square on New Year’s Eve, a short delay is often not a deal killer, as long as you manage expectations up front.  One of the 2014 Sales Trends I predicted ties to honesty, so you may as well start early.

What Sales Said Was Accurate Until Someone Else Messed Up

Perhaps your team set the correct deadline and expectations. However, your solution depends on the work of others. Perhaps you depend on regulatory bodies, strategic partners, or suppliers. An attorney might be adversely impacted by dastardly acts of the opposing counsel. A home renovation company might be on track until the flooring supplier misses their delivery schedule.

In each of these situations, the most natural thing to do is throw the other party under the bus. I was at a restaurant recently where the food was delayed. The waiter said “The kitchen has no clue what they are doing. It’s not my fault.” Having heard that statement, I was not exactly inclined to dine there in the future. In fact, I was dubious about staying for the remainder of our meal. If you throw your own team under the bus with the hopes of making yourself not look foolish, it just doesn’t work. I call this the boomerang effect.

In this scenario, you might say to the client, “We felt we had planned for potential delays, but I guess we did not allow enough time. We are doing everything in our power to get the issue resolved, and as soon as we know with certainty the revised schedule, we’ll communicate with you. If we uncover other alternatives, we’ll present any credible options to you for consideration. What else could we do for you?”

How To Prevent Overpromising

When your organization overpromises to a client, you run the risk of putting your entire business relationship at risk. The worst outcome would be ultimately not meeting the client’s expectation of time or deliverables.

The 2nd worst outcome would be that the client realizes it is unlikely (or impossible) for you to deliver. Just to be clear, neither outcome is a good one.  It helps if you proactively work to prevent overpromising in the sales process.  As a leader, you can help your team to avoid overpromising with 2 simple steps:

1)   Encourage your team to focus on the client’s goals instead of the sale. If you help the client focus on their goals, you will always find yourself on the same-side of the table with them.

2)   Explain that “Let me get back to you within the next day to confirm with our implementation team” is a great answer. Clients realize that you may need to check with others. When the competition blindly answers the same question, your care in ensuring accuracy will be rewarded.

In our upcoming book, Same Side Selling, my co-author and I discuss a principle called “pre-selling objections”. Pre-selling objections is when you are up-front with the client about issues that almost always arise towards the end of the sales process. You bring up the objections when you can control them, instead of waiting to react defensively.

This method can help you get around situations where you get caught off guard and accidentally (or intentionally) overpromise.


When you or someone on your team makes a mistake, remember to take ownership and communicate honestly with your client. Your candid conversation will go a long way toward making the client feel comfortable.

When you make a mistake and masterfully resolve the issue, you often can end up in a better position than if you had executed without anything bad happening. This is not to suggest that you should intentionally mess up. Rather, when something goes wrong, don’t run away. In fact, if handled properly, you might end up in a better place than you imagined.

It’s Your Turn

When did someone overpromise, and then make it worse by not taking ownership of the solution?

Category: Business Growth & Strategy Sales


Avatar About the Author: Ian Altman

Ian Altman, CEO of Grow My Revenue, LLC, is a speaker, author, and strategic advisor. He brings energy and humor, backed by research and real…

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  1. Encouraging an alignment between the sales department and the service team can help reduce the risk of over-compromising. While increasing sales numbers is good for business, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your resources (and take away from your current client base) to deliver on a project for a new client just to make the sale. When the whole team is on the same page, it is easier to keep the balance between sales and service.

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