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🎯How to create amazing customer outcomes without confusion and unpredictability.

Discover the secrets of managing certainty in sales


Hey there! As we plunge into the vibrant hustle of summer, I bet many of you are knee-deep in closing deals and chasing quotas.

Overpromising to seal the deal might seem like a fast way to close the deal. But let's pause and think about it.

This week, we're cracking the code on how to ace the delicate art of expectation management.

So, why is it so vital for your long-term sales success? Buckle up. We're about to find out!


 The Impact of Overpromising: A Reality Check

In a world where customer loyalty can be fragile and easily lost, overpromising and underdelivering can alienate even your most dedicated customers.

Setting Expectations: Your Magic Wand for Sales Success

how satisfied are your customers?

Is "Act Now, Apologize Later" Worth the Risk?

We've all heard of the "Act now, apologize later" sales approach, right? It suggests that salespeople can dangle grand promises and then swiftly patch up any damage caused by broken promises with a simple 'sorry' and some quick fixes.

The problem? It's a shortcut that often leads to disappointed customers, and trust takes a nosedive.

I remember working with a peer who frequently promised what couldn’t be delivered. His attitude was, “It’s engineering’s job to code for my sins.”

Do you have a seller lurking in your business with this attitude?

In today's fast-paced world, customer loyalty is like thin ice - it can crack under the weight of broken promises. Overpromising and underdelivering can make even your most loyal customers consider jumping ship.

 The Impact of Overpromising: A Reality Check

Let's break this down with an example from a popular reality show, Selling Sunset. It’s a show my college-aged daughter convinced me I needed to watch with her.

In an episode of Selling Sunset, Oppenheim Group co-founders Jason Oppenheim and Emma Hernan missed out on a lucrative $20 million listing.

The client expected Jason to be present at showings, but when he didn't, the client felt their business wasn't valued. A crystal-clear expectation left unmet had far-reaching consequences.

SALES TIP: A helpful sales technique is to ask clarifying questions and then seek confirmation by using phrases such as "How does this sound", "What do you think", or "How do you see it"?

What are the consequences of overpromising and underdelivering?

  1. Loss of trust - trust is easily lost and hard to earn. Creating a trust deficit can be impossible to overcome, so try to avoid it completely.

  2. Reputation damage - ask Jeremy Cooperstock this question. He had a negative experience flying on United Airlines, and he created untied.com, which was later rated as one of the top corporate complaint sites (United’s team worked to scrub it off the internet, but it’s never really gone, as I illustrate in my link). The point is, it’s easier to spread the word and damage the reputations you work hard to earn.

  3. Reduced loyalty and increased churn mean your sellers have to work harder.

  4. Demotivated workforce. A morale booster when companies don’t deliver what they promise. Future employees go to sites like Glassdoor and Reddit to see if you are worth their time.

The New Rep Conundrum

 Now, let's walk in the shoes of a new sales rep, with the shadow of a much-loved predecessor looming large.

I had a sales rep who left to start his own business. We discovered he had a habit of offering generous discounts. Now, the clients, used to these great discounts, equate the size of the discount with the value they bring to the company. Getting traction with our new AE without upsetting the customer was hard, and we had to recalibrate value from square one - step by step.

The Power of Expectation Management

Encounters like these underline the absolute necessity of managing expectations. It's a vital aspect of the sales journey. At the heart of expectation management lies a key concept: managing certainty.

So, how do we do that? Say hello to the Certainty Triangle.

Introducing the Certainty Triangle

As part of my SPARK sales transformation program, I've designed multiple models, including this one. So far, more than 50 sellers have utilized this model, which has yielded positive results in enhancing customer alignment and sales opportunities. In fact, 82% of users reported increased opportunity size and speed.

a page from the SPARK transformation playbook

Each corner of the triangle represents a fundamental element influencing certainty: Product/Service, People, and Process.

Right at the center of this triangle is a bullseye - the sweet spot, the ideal level of certainty we're aiming for. The uncertainty shrinks as you move from the triangle's edges toward the bullseye.

Product/Service Certainty

This corner ensures customers understand the features, benefits, and limitations of what they're buying.

Process Certainty

Here we're talking about the sales process. Customers need to know what to expect, from the first hello to the final handshake, and even what happens after the sale. Think about taking your customers on a journey. You need a map and signpost important steps along the way.

Creating a simple mutual action plan, a clear email or a detailed project plan encourages clear communication around your process.

People Certainty

This corner focuses on who does what. Customers should know who their go-to person is for help - be it technical support, billing queries, or product-related concerns. Large teams need to know who everyone is and what they do. Create a visual business card with all the resources your customers can access. They will appreciate the clarity.

To manage expectations effectively, you've got to operate within this Certainty Triangle. The goal is to cover all bases to drive uncertainty toward the bullseye.

Tips for Navigating the Certainty Triangle® and Managing Expectations

 So, how do we slay this Certainty Triangle beast and emerge as expectation management champs? Here are some pro tips:

  • Set Clear Expectations - Let's kick off with Process certainty. Be clear about what customers can expect - timelines, deliverables, outcomes. By laying everything on the table, you're preventing misunderstandings and ensuring everyone's on the same page.

  • Make it Personal - Next up, focus on People certainty. Get to know your customers' unique needs and preferences. When you tailor your strategies to them, customers feel seen and heard.

  • Honesty Always Wins - This can't be stressed enough: honesty is always the best policy. 535% of customers in a recent sproutsocial survey said this was the most significant factor influencing repeat business. This hits home with Product/Service certainty. Spell out what your product or service can do and what it can't. Don't dangle the carrot of false promises.

    Source: sproutsocial

  • Stay in Touch - Keep those lines of communication with your customers open throughout the sales process. This way, you're ready to tackle any concerns or roadblocks that might pop up. This is a home run for both Process and People certainty.

  • Keep Your Promises -  When you consistently meet or even exceed the expectations you've set, you're not just hitting the bullseye in the Certainty Triangle. You're also laying the groundwork for lasting relationships.

  • Be Real, Not Perfect - In a world obsessed with perfection, being authentic has its charm that’s always worked for me, just like one of my mentees discovered: by cutting themselves slack and being original instead of perfect, they connected more effectively with their customers (read the details in ASK JOE).

Overpromising: A Speed Bump on the Road to Success

Overpromising might seem like a quick way to hit your targets, but it's a roadblock. It chips away at your credibility and strains your customer relationships. Setting clear expectations, personalizing experiences, being honest, and following through on your promises, you'll stand out from the crowd and build solid customer connections.

To All You Sales Leaders Out There

As a sales leader, you should create an environment that promotes transparency and trust. Provide your team with the tools and training to fully understand your product or service. Encourage them to enhance their skills in setting and managing expectations, and steer them away from the 'Act now, apologize later' mindset.

To Our ICs on the Front Lines

Don't shy away from authenticity. It's okay if you don't have all the answers right away or things don't go perfectly. What matters most is effective communication, realistic expectation setting, and delivering on your promises.

OK - here’s a special shoutout to Saurabh Vijay, a Microsoft seller who epitomizes someone who knows how to set expectations. He was recognized by his customers for his team's quality and leadership in winning customer satisfaction daily. He has taught me some valuable lessons in this area - and we will get him to share more in an upcoming newsletter.

Remember, your customers are also human and appreciate honesty and authenticity. (Check out my Ask Joe section for more).

 Wrapping It Up

As we wrap up, let's remember our Selling Sunset lesson. We might not deal in million-dollar real estate, but the principle is the same. Managing expectations and, thus, managing certainty is as essential as the product or service we're selling.

Overpromising might get you a quick win, but consistently meeting and exceeding expectations. Now that's the key to a long-term partnership.

Grow and be excellent this week, and here's to mastering the art of managing expectations in your sales process!


Q: What is the Certainty Triangle®?

A: The Certainty Triangle® is a concept developed by Joe Paranteau that represents three fundamental elements influencing certainty: Product/Service, People, and Process. The goal is to manage these elements to achieve the ideal level of certainty (the bullseye in the center).

Q: How can I set clear expectations in sales?

A: You can set clear expectations by being upfront about timelines, deliverables, and results, understanding your customers' unique needs, and communicating these. It would help to be transparent about what your product or service can and cannot deliver. Don't feel you must cover for engineering or deficiencies in your offering. If you can't help them, then move on. Better to exit early than compromise later.

Q: What role does authenticity play in sales?

A: Authenticity can help you connect more effectively with your customers. In a world that often prizes perfection, being genuine and authentic can make you more relatable, building deeper relationships with your clients.

Q: How can my overpromise harm sales in the long run?

A: Overpromising can harm your credibility and jeopardize customer relationships. When you overpromise and underdeliver, it erodes trust and can potentially turn loyal customers away.

Q: How does communication contribute to managing expectations?

A: Open lines of communication can help address any concerns or challenges that arise promptly. Regular check-ins and updates ensure the customer is well-informed and any deviations from the expected plan can be addressed in real-time.

Q: How can I manage expectations when replacing a well-liked predecessor?

A: Start by understanding the current expectations. Then communicate any changes in approach or policy clearly and empathetically. Also, continue delivering excellent service and be open to feedback. In time, you will establish your rapport and trust with your customers.

Want to Get More Insights?

 Are we feeling pumped and ready to take on the sales world with newfound skills in expectation management? That's what we love to hear!

For more insights, tips, and strategies, click the link below and step up your sales game. Stay confident, stay genuine, and remember that clarity is a powerful secret to sales success!


In keeping with the theme of clarity, a sales rep I mentor was chatting about a tough customer situation. He wasn’t aligned with them, and his expectations held him back.

It happens sometimes.

Perfection is the enemy of progress.

After talking through the situation, he shared that he appreciated my book. I don’t advocate for “cookie-cutter approaches,” but I love teaching people about success frameworks. We discussed some ideas and settled upon a key element designed to permit him to be human-failable and prone to mistakes.

It’s a shift in mindset. You don’t need the slickest presentation because it’s not about you. It’s about the customer.

Here’s how the call went:

Sometimes, we need to manage our expectations as well. 😊


RunwayML came out with their new Gen2 model. RunwayML is an amazing video editing tool. If you are not using video in your sales, it’s becoming easier to represent complexity with video.

In this video, I wanted to see what it would represent if I asked it to show data engineers working on a large language AI model.

click to watch the 4-second video generated from the text


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