Expectations are ever-present. From the moment we begin each day, we bring our own expectations to each experience and task. Even as I write this, I am influenced by my expectation that it will be completed within the hour.
Our prospects and clients also have expectations. Influenced by our reputation, previous projects or the content of a discovery call, they anticipate a specific outcome.
Numerous quotes exist lauding the business maxim of “exceeding expectations” but the very first step is uncovering these expectations. This is where the skills of storyfinding lead to excellence.
How does storyfinding expose expectations? And how does this impact our relationships with prospects and clients?
The word “expectation” comes to us from 1530s French and Latin, meaning the “state or condition of waiting or awaiting with confident anticipation” and also “preconceived opinions as to what will likely take place“.
Let’s take a relatively common experience of eating at a restaurant. Especially today, after lockdowns and social distancing, this is an experience we likely approach with excitement and joy. Certainly, our expectations include delicious food … but what else? Excellent service? Friendly interactions with the servers? Laughter? Captivating conversations? How does a restaurant exceed our expectations?
If we are fed decent food by competent staff is that enough to bring us back to a restaurant? To refer the restaurant to friends and colleagues?
Successful restaurants, whether they are casual or fine dining, consistently focus on the expectations of their customers. This is what keeps us going back, bringing with us our friends and colleagues.
How do we, as business owners and salespeople, work with expectations?
For example, with one of my largest corporate clients, I work with executives in numerous divisions throughout North America. They each have a vision or expectation of what I will deliver. Uncovering these involves a detailed conversation filled with open-ended questions such as:
- What has inspired you to contact me at this time?
- What is the challenge(s) you want the training to solve?
- How will you know that the training has been successful?
In addition to these pointed questions, I must also remain aware of the executive’s tone of voice and mannerisms. When social conversation is kept to a minimum and the discussion is very fast, I know they are likely overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure to deliver immediate results. While my work is always creative, the expectations in this situation demand a very logical approach with tight deadlines.
And recently, in conversation with a new client, I had a strong and immediate response on how to solve their challenge. However, the manager’s demeanor indicated they weren’t quite convinced of my value. They mentioned that they had been looking for a solution for a long time and had given up hope. While I wanted to immediately provide the solution to the team’s biggest challenge, tone of voice and body language indicated I first needed to earn more trust. Quick delivery of a proposal with a tight deadline to present a workshop on basic communication skills has already exceeded expectations.
How a client shares information tells us as much about their expectations as what they share with us. Bringing all of our storyfinding skills to each conversation is how we can truly deliver excellence.