How to under-promise and over-deliver

23rd August 2017
Åsa Magnusson

Hey, do you ever feel like everyone is throwing demands at you, and that you’re struggling to meet high expectations and tight deadlines?

Join the club.

Most marketing professionals share that experience.

But what if we are in fact creating the majority of this pressure ourselves?

Let me share a story with you.

A few years ago, I worked in a marketing role where one of my responsibilities was to identify and book industry events and exhibitions. The sales team would typically play a big part at these events, by engaging with visitors on the day. This meant that they would need to be involved in the decision and planning process for these events.

I had one such event coming up, and I needed the Sales Director to sign off the decision to take part. I gave plenty of notice, but couldn’t get a decision. Pretty soon, time started running out.

I knew I needed to do a great of work in preparation, so I set a cut-off point two weeks before the event.

The deadline came and went, with no decision in sight, so I pulled it from the calendar. The same day, I got called in to see the CEO.

“Why is this event not happening anymore?”

“Well,” I said, “I set a deadline for preparing it, but didn’t get commitment from Sales. Now, it’s getting a bit late…”
“Late? The event is a full two weeks away! Surely, there should be plenty of time to make it happen? This is an important event. We need to do it. I’ll make sure Sales commit to it. Just get it back on the calendar.”

At this point, I felt slightly exasperated. Did they not understand how much work was needed to make the event successful?

The answer was NO. They didn’t.

In the eyes of the CEO and the Sales Director, there was no urgency. As they lacked an understanding of the amount of work involved, they expected me to deliver as good a result with two weeks’ notice as I would with two months’ notice.

Set the bar in the right place

In this example, I ended up working ungodly hours to make sure the event was planned and executed properly. I was devoted to making it successful. Mind you, some of that hard work was pure self-preservation, as I knew that I was going to be judged for the outcome of the event!

On this occasion, I allowed the situation to cause me quite a lot of stress. If I could do it all again, I would have set the expectation lower.

Rather than work twice as hard under the time pressure, I should have changed some of the success factors.

  • “That new brochure we’ve discussed? It may not get done in time.”
  • “Those fancy giveaway gadgets? Sorry. You’re getting Haribo bags.”
  • “That guest speaker you wanted? We can’t book them at this short notice. But here’s Jimmy from the R&D department!”

Communicate processes

Whenever possible, I always encourage people in any business role to be more transparent about what they actually do. People around you will typically not know what’s involved in creating a result – they just look at the result itself.

Sales need to understand your challenges, just as you need to understand theirs. Be clear about what you can deliver, and what they can do to help you achieve a better result. If they don’t understand why you need several weeks to plan an event, explain it. Make it crystal clear.

By sharing the ways in which they can help you to help them, you will incentivise their behaviour. The more slack they cut you, the better results you can give them. Simples!

As the old saying goes: It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver, than the other way round. We should never be afraid to ask for more time, more resource, more support, and more buy-in, if the end result will be better for everyone.

You and Sales are on the same team. Keep building collaboration bridges, but don’t allow anyone to expect more than you are capable of delivering. A great way to set reasonable expectations is to make sure you always clarify…

  • What do they want?
  • Why?
  • How much of that can you live up to?
  • And when can you reasonably deliver it?

Good luck!