A satisfied customer is a loyal customer. Sales Leaders create loyal customers by managing the buying experience, being proactive rather than reactive and becoming known for fulfilling expectations rather than merely fixing mistakes.

The difference between fulfillment and follow-up is illustrated by this fictional conversation in my latest book, The Sales Secret. The exchange is between a new sales rep named Adam and his wise mentor, Abe.

“Let’s say you have a client who expected a delivery, and it’s late,” Abe said. “You probably told your client a standard lead time. He procrastinated and ordered too late. Guess what: It’s your fault. You end up jumping through hoops, involving an entire organization in the fire drill, wondering why you didn’t just get the order a week or two earlier. It’s frustrating. Agreed?”

“Yep,” Adam admitted with a smile. “That’s happened, but not just to me. Most salespeople in my company spend time putting out fires.”

“It’s a common mistake. You tell the client it will take ‘three to four weeks.’ The client hears three. You really want five and he gives you two!

“You had no chance to get the product on time,” Abe continued. “Fulfillment was destroyed in the presentation phase. You should have told your client the specific date you needed to get the order. So putting out fires is good follow-up, but it’s usually wasted energy.

“Fulfillment happens proactively when you realize there are ways to avoid many problems before they occur. In this case, fulfillment would have been to tell the client he needed to give you five weeks in order to avoid problems later on.

“Follow-up can be fulfillment or putting out fires, depending on how you handled the early stages of the sales process,” Abe said.

“Fulfillment is a satisfied client who never dealt with a fire in the first place. Make sense?”

How can you fulfill expectations?

1. Work backward. Instead of giving your clients lead times, tell them when it is time to order. The next time your client asks, “What is the lead time on those windows?” respond with a question and statement of your own: “When do you need them? Tell me that and I’ll make sure you have them on time.” It is much easier for you to manage expectations about deliveries when you are able to manage the scheduling process.

2. Use late deliveries as learning moments. The next time you have a client screaming at you because the delivery was late, use it as a positive selling moment. Accept full blame for the error and then leverage the situation by telling your client that you’ll work differently with that customer in the future to make sure the same mistake is avoided. Then go back to tip No. 1: Work backward.

3. Manage your organization’s scarce resources effectively. These days, every dealer is running a lean machine. You don’t have time for errors and cleanups. So take responsibility by communicating with everyone inside your company about client expectations, order details, and ways to work within your organization’s rules without creating special efforts for your team members.

The difference between sales success and failure is your ability to create loyalty in your clients. You do that by managing expectations and ensuring you can fulfill the promises you make. Do this, and it will be easier to attract new clients, because confidence in you will grow and your reputation will soar.

Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sale of building materials. His latest book, “The Sales Secret,” is now available. To order it, go to www.buildingleaders.com, call 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at rickdavis@buildingleaders.com.

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