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It’s a common problem businesses face — the sales team promises more than the service side can deliver. This happens for a variety of reasons, from wanting to drive up revenue to underestimating the time it actually takes for a product or service to be delivered. Whatever the reason, it ultimately hurts your enterprise and can implode your market reputation. 

Here’s how businesses get caught in this trap, and what you can do to avoid it. 

The Peril of Over-Promising

Implicitly or explicitly, every business makes a promise to their customers. If you’re selling physical products, for example, you’re agreeing to stand behind their quality and replace them if they’re defective. If it’s a service, you’re telling your clients you can provide that service at a certain level of quality in a certain timeframe. 

And all of that is fine — businesses should always stand behind what they offer and approach the customer relationship in good faith. Things become complicated, however, when your enterprise makes promises it can’t live up to. 

Maybe your sales team promised it could deliver the finished product in a week, but you really need three because the service team doesn’t have the resources to deliver any sooner than that. Or you took on more orders for a certain product than you actually had in inventory. Over-promising is seldom done on purpose but inevitably leads to under-delivery, poor customer service, and dissatisfied customers.

The Sales-Service Disconnect

Many organizations see the sales team’s job as just to sell, without considering how it affects other departments. They’re focused on turning leads into customers, and that can conflict with the service side of a business. If the two departments don’t communicate effectively, they won’t be on the same page as to what should be delivered, or when. When that happens, the sales team brings in more work than the service side can take on. That means projects may be delayed, get rushed, or fail to meet quality standards. Taking on too many projects without the staffing to complete them can also mean projects get completely lost.

Bad communication between sales and service also creates misunderstandings about capacity. If your staff doesn’t all have the same information about what a realistic timeline looks like, or know exactly what is needed in terms of staff and hours to produce or deliver a product or service, you’re going to run into trouble. Your service team will not be able to deliver on the promises your sales team is making, and the sales team might not even know their promises aren’t feasible. 

The specifications of a project and the time frame for delivery should be clearly laid out for both the sales and service team, no matter what the project. Both departments should know what they can realistically accomplish and what the client wants. Miscommunication or lack of communication prevents that from happening and makes your organization look unprofessional.

Side-by-side comparison of how information flows in a company with good processes versus one without those rules in place.

This disconnect ultimately impacts the customer experience. They don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes — all they see is that they aren’t getting what they were promised. And dissatisfied customers don’t stick around. So what can you do to maintain the quality of your customer service while remaining realistic? Create, document, and enforce processes for both departments.

Implementing The Right Processes

Your enterprise needs a strong framework of procedures and processes to operate from that covers every aspect of its operation, including sales and service. There should be processes for onboarding, training employees on new technology, procuring equipment; everything down to the day-to-day tasks like scheduling time off. 

In the case of the sales-service disconnect, processes facilitate communication and cut down on overpromising to potential customers. They act as both guidelines for managing customer expectations and for how the departments inside a business interact. And that’s because they help both sides understand something critically important: capacity. 

Writing up processes for sales and service requires there to be an understanding of capacity. How many people does it take to do this job? How long does it take those people to finish their work so that it can be delivered to the client or customer? Say it takes three people working 30 hours a week for three weeks to complete a project. Sales needs to know that so it doesn’t promise that it’ll be finished in a week and a half. This is true of companies that sell both physical products and services. 

Your processes should make it absolutely clear what you can and cannot promise. Back up these guidelines in your customer interactions with case studies if you have them, to show that you were able to meet previous clients’ needs with those exact processes. When it comes to the customer, processes should include elements like the number of check-ins they can expect, how the deliverables for a project will be relayed to them, and communication channels between them and your staff.

For internal processes, include things like guidelines for interdepartmental communication and set times for check-ins with relevant departments on projects. Build your processes so that people need to talk to one another. It’ll prevent information silos and everyone will be on the same page. That will increase efficiency, decrease confusion about the final product, and ultimately result in more satisfied customers. 

Finding the Right Balance

Processes around sales need to balance the needs of the customer, and the needs of your staff, and take into account the desires of stakeholders to a certain degree. Finding that balance can be difficult, but it’s necessary.

To reiterate: sales processes should make sure the sales team never overpromises in order to close a deal. Overpromising can lead to taking on too much work because the service side of your business gets backlogged trying to fill impossible requests. Knowing the capacity of the service department will put less stress on them by preventing that situation altogether. If you find you’re still running into capacity issues, consider whether it’s time to hire more people to deal with the workload.

Like your enterprise itself, processes should be living documents that are never truly finished. As you hire more people or find more effective ways to conduct business, your processes should change to accommodate that. There will be some situations, like the global pandemic, that are totally out of anyone’s control. But outside of those, your goal as a business leader is to try and operate as efficiently as possible whenever possible.

At Bellewether, crafting clear and effective processes is just one way we help businesses be their best. Curious to know more about how we can help? Contact us today to learn more.