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Do you position your offerings as perfect? Five stars out of five?

It may be true that your customers love you, but by marketing and messaging only the fantastic... you are ironically making it harder for your prospects to make a decision. Your sales cycles lengthen. Your win rates aren't as efficient as they could be. Your biggest competitor is probably the status quo—where the prospect doesn't make a decision at all.

Think about when you make a purchase that you've never made before. You probably read reviews, right? But are you one of those people who reads the negative reviews first, skipping the five-star reviews and going directly to the fours, threes, twos and ones? That doesn't make you a skeptic; it makes you a human being.

As human beings, we have a hard time triggering a decision until we're able to make a prediction, and our brains are wired to know, subconsciously, that perfection doesn't exist.

Some of the largest B2C brands in the world brand display their flaws. Why not take that concept to B2B?

The most successful furniture retailer in the world, IKEA, has created a brand around its DYI experience: You're going to have to find what you're looking for, load the boxes from the warehouse onto a cart lacking brakes, jam it into your car, lug it into your house, and assemble it yourself using instructions in which the only word is some Scandinavian brand name like Svarta.

IKEA is a master of branding its greatest flaw as core to its offering: modern, Scandinavian-designed furniture for a low-cost.

You would never walk into an IKEA with an expectation of full service. You've even emptied your car before you drove to the store in anticipation of a Tetris-style experience on the way out. As a result, although the experience is a nightmare compared with high-touch, high-end furniture retailers, IKEA has been the largest furniture retailer in the world for 14 straight years.

Consider your most recent visit to a warehouse shopping club such as Costco, which has created a brand around limited brand selection and a requirement to buy in bulk. Need some ranch dressing? You'll have one brand to choose from and be required to purchase almost a gallon at a time. Need a toothbrush? Here's a half-dozen! You're required to pay before you even walk in, because membership is required. But you're going to save money!

When you leave a Costco, you don't give a second thought to having someone check your receipt on the way out to make sure you didn't steal anything. The result is that Costco now sits second as the largest retailer in the US behind Walmart—and a 95% membership retention rate.

As a B2B organization, why not own your flaws, too?

The revenue-focused world has celebrated massive top-of-the-funnel metrics. Pour more into the funnel, and more will come out the bottom. Cast a wide net, and the numbers will work themselves out. If we win only 20% of our leads, then we need to make sure we have five times that going into the top, right?

Every lead that enters your pipeline has a cost—investments in time and resources to generate the opportunity, as well as someone to pick up that lead and invest even more time and potential resources. Consider, also, the opportunity cost—the time and effort you could have spent on something else.

Sometimes the lead converts to revenue, stays, and maybe even buys more! There's a return on the cost. However, sometimes there's no return and the customer doesn't buy, so no return on your investment. There's a loss, and it's determined by one primary component: how long it takes you to lose.

There is value in losing quickly

We've known this for more than 100 years. In his 1912 book Ginger Talks, Worthington Holman writes, "Your time is your capital, your stock in trade. It is the only kind of capital that costs you nothing to get and everything to lose. The successful sales[person] hoards minutes and hours as a miser hoards gold. The spendthrift of time is a sure candidate for failure."

As counterintuitive as it may sound, high-efficiency organizations "lose" even before the prospect becomes a lead.

If you want customers who stay, buy more, and advocate, then setting accurate expectations and consistently meeting them wins—even if parts of those expectations aren't great.

What expectations should a customer have in you and your solutions in relation to...

  • Your price?
  • Your product quality?
  • Your product features?
  • Your service?
  • Your values?
  • The buying experience?

In my previous role as the chief revenue officer of a SaaS technology company, we prided ourselves on being the best in the world at our core: helping retailers and brands collect and display ratings and reviews on their websites.

Our competitors had broader solutions. Other competitors served a broader array of industries. We chose to be the best in the world at one thing for one set of customers. If your desires or traits fell outside of our focus, you were qualified out quickly.

Our win rates went up. Our sales cycle lengths went down. We became the fastest-growing technology company in Chicago.

Your job is to help the buyer predict

Consider these sales realities.

1. A prediction is hard to come by when the recipient is having trouble trusting the source

We inherently and subconsciously don't believe anything is perfect. If you're presenting your products or solutions as "all things to all people," you're...

  • Not helping anyone accurately predict
  • Not laying a foundation of trust
  • Driving customers to do more homework or research on their own—or come to "no decision"

2. When we embrace giving up the façade of perfection in order to be great at our core, conversations and relationships are founded on a bed of trust

By branding those positive and negative expectations, you...

  • Draw more prequalified customers, thus spending your resources' time more efficiently
  • Speed customer decision-making, resulting in faster sales cycles
  • Win a higher percentage of the opportunities you work on
  • Better qualify in—which means more accurate forecasting
  • More quickly qualify out—which means losing faster, so you can spend your time on the opportunities you should win, or prospecting for more
  • Make it difficult for any competitor to message and compete against you

* * *

Look at the categories of customer expectations earlier in this article. Which ones are you focused on being the best at? Price? Service? Which ones are you spending less time on so you can be the best at those other categories? Buying experience? Certain features?

The future of sales and marketing is radical transparency. As a result of the proliferation of information, reviews, and feedback on everything we do, buy, and experience, we now have to own our flaws. It's time.

More Resources on Customer Expectations

How to Meet Customers' New Expectations With Tried-and-True Customer Service Best-Practices

How to Meet B2B Buyers' E-Commerce Expectations

Consumer Psychology: Five Tips for Creating Positive (and Reasonable) Expectations

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Expectation Branding: The Value of Losing Quickly and Owning Your Flaws

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image of Todd Caponi

Todd Caponi is an acclaimed author, speaker, and sales leadership professional. His book The Transparency Sale was named Best Business Sales Book by the American Book Awards and Best Sales and Marketing Book by the Independent Press Awards. His new book is The Transparent Sales Leader.

LinkedIn: toddcaponi

Twitter: @tcaponi