‘Under promise and over deliver‘ is one of the platitudes that I have heard all of my life. It even sounds reasonable until that is you actually break it apart and understand that it is really about promoting a culture of mediocrity!

We know we can deliver by Wednesday so tell the customer we can deliver on Friday and the actually deliver on Thursday and we are a hero!

Right?  Wrong! We are actually cheating our clients and lowering the standards of our own business.

What we need to do is push our abilities. If we can deliver on Wednesday, promise Wednesday and then work hard to exceed ourselves and deliver Tuesday!

The argument for the under promise and over deliver proposal is that by giving yourself room you will never be late and will always reach objectives. In fact it doesn’t work and there are several big problems with this idea.

First, it is human nature that any project will consume the time given.  How many people actually finish a report or a website or anything else early? Most of the time, no matter what the deadline, we struggle to make it. So, by building extra time into the promise we will generally be less productive!

Second, and this is the big one, we are assuming that everyone else is playing the same game.  If most of our competitors can deliver in three days and we promise four days and deliver in three days then what happens when our competitor begins to promise in three days and deliver in three days.  We look weak and incompetent!

Worse still! This approach puts a business in a tenuous position. What happens to an individual business, or even an entire industry when one business decides to permanently exceed expectations?  What happens when a business comes along and states they can deliver overnight instead of two weeks?

Look what Starbucks has done to the coffee shop but leapfrogging a stale industry. There are lots of industries where this is presently happening – moo.com is revolutionizing the business printing industry with amazing quality and fast service.

We only get better when we strive to do what we thought impossible.  When we under stress we get innovative and find a new way and get better! Better to put ourselves under stress than have the competition do it!

In the recruitment industry many companies require eight to ten weeks, or more, to fill a position. We strive to fill a role within two weeks! Why?  Because working that way has made us more effective and has forced us to cut out much of the waste that filled the process.  Why should a brief sit on somebody’s desk for a week or more?

Just get it done!

Imagine the Olympics with a ‘under promise, over deliver’ sports philosophy – would any records be broken? Probably not!

Let’s try ‘We exceed expectations everyday’ instead of  ‘Under promise and over deliver’ and see what that mantra does to the state of our business!


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Wyn Nathan Davis

Wyn Nathan Davis MBA DTM is a London based sales recruiter, sales trainer and sales process consultant. A best selling author and professional speaker. Wyn is Managing Director of The sales Experts. Contact us for more details connect@thesalesexperts.com +44 (0)20 536 5591