The Danger in Selling What You Can’t Deliver

November 1, 2009

vintage-842337_1280The H1N1 vaccine shortage is a big ole sales SNAFU.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an agency of the U.S. government, just sold us a product it can’t deliver. The vaccine shortage has left thousands anxious, confused, or just plain annoyed.

It’s also left a lasting impression of failure. Good thing the CDC is not subject to the whims of shareholders or market competition.

I wish I could say business has never made the same mistake.
But I’d be lying. Look no further than the recent Popeyes and Kentucky Fried Chicken debacles for proof.

Imagine. You spend loads of money, time and effort convincing customers your product is a MUST-HAVE. Convinced your product is something she can’t live without, your customer reaches into her pocket for the money to buy it.

Then, disaster strikes. You don’t have the product in-stock!
Worse, you don’t know when your next shipment will be in. You can’t deliver what you just spent time and money selling.

Now, how do you think your customer feels?
Duped, anxious, irritated and angry.

Soon, you may be feeling the pain too.
Not only did you waste marketing dollars and lose the sale, you lost a customer. You lost future business. You lost an advocate for your brand, one who might have told others why they should buy your product. You lost credibility.

And, the crisis management consultants you’ll need when your customer blogs and tweets about her experience to her 45,000 followers is going to cost you too.

But isn’t it common sense to sell only what you can deliver?
Yes. And no.

Yes, it’s common sense for a business to forecast intelligently and manage product inventory. But, when it comes to delivering services, it’s not uncommon for companies to underestimate their ‘inventory’ needs.

Chalk it up to a pervasive bias from which we all suffer: the tendency toward overconfidence and optimism.

How can you turn danger into opportunity?
Being aware of our biases is a first step.

Being conscious of the dangers of overpromising and underdelivering can help you more honestly assess capabilities, and then sell results you know you can deliver every single time.

After all, reliability breeds repeat customers. And repeat customers spend more. And more money…well, you see where this is going.

Admittedly, what I’m proposing here isn’t brain surgery. But, these days, being able to deliver what you sell seems to be as difficult as finding a needle in a…errr…doctor’s office?

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