How to Succeed at Managing Expectations

Listen to the podcast:

How to Succeed at Managing Expectations

Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play.

Amy Woodall, a Sandler trainer, talks about her best practices for managing expectations. Whether you are setting the first appointment with a prospect, setting clear guidelines for delivery, or just talking with your co-workers or spouse, setting expectations can be the difference between success and failure. Amy shares attitudes, behaviors, and techniques for setting clear up-front agreements with others.

Learn how to succeed at managing expectations

Mike Montague:Welcome to the How to Succeed Podcast. The show that helps you get to the top and stay there. This is How to Succeed at Managing Expectations. Amy, welcome to the show. Tell me a little bit about managing expectations and who should be paying attention today? Why are we talking about this?

Amy Woodall: This topic, it just has come up so often when I’m on site working with clientele. It usually comes in the form of complaints, whether it’s a complaint from another department saying, “Oh, the sales people. They promise this to the customer, and that to the customer.” Maybe it’s a complaint about accounting or marketing, or maybe it’s the complaints that they’re receiving from their customers that they feel so frustrated by? What it all whittles down to is the expectation that the customer or maybe a colleague has. It’s not necessarily an alignment with how things are going to play out in the long run. I think that the basis of most arguments even with spouses, it truly comes down to a difference in expectation.

Mike Montague: Yeah. I think there’s a lot to unpack there, but you hit a couple of buzz words that are on my pet peeve list. One is marketing when we talk about traditional marketers. They’re shouting, “This is the greatest deal ever.” I was like, “Really? 10% off a sponge is the greatest deal ever?” It just sets up bad expectations, but sales people can do that as well by promising everything to get the sale and then leaving customer service on the large or like use it even at home with a spouse or something. It could be a lot of tension created because somebody was expecting to go out to dinner and the other person was not. Suddenly, there’s pressure and miscommunication. I think this is an interesting topic and hopefully, we can unpack it a little bit so that people can get some help, and be happier, and enjoying more success.

Amy Woodall: Throat punch a little less. That’s the goal, right? A little less throat punching in the world.

Mike Montague: Let’s talk about attitude. Why is attitude a key component of managing expectations and what’s the, maybe some bad attitudes? What would be a good one to have?

Amy Woodall: I think we often take our own knowledge for granted. We come and see with situations with the attitude of they know as much as we know. It’s typically subconscious. We are so smart within our world, within our industry, especially if we’ve lived in it for long enough, that we have accumulated mass amounts of industry-specific knowledge. But, we fail to have those conversations with a customer, a prospect, maybe even another department because we just assumed that we’re all on the same page. That really can create some tension down the line, some frustration. That is what often builds up the silos within organizations, and different departments start to work independently, rather than working together and effectively towards the overall mission of the organization.

The attitude that we need to have is one of “Hey, maybe they don’t know everything?” or an attitude of curiosity at the very least because we certainly take our industry knowledge as common knowledge. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of us. If I start to talk to somebody in the tech world and they start to use terms like Gigabyte, I have no idea what that means. It goes right over my head. My eyes cross, always had my expectations maybe that my internet is going to move at the speed of lightning and that means that it’s going to move at a snail’s pace. I truly do not know. We’re setting the relationship up for failure in the very beginning, if we don’t get on the same page as to what’s going to happen, where my expectations are, and everything in between.

Mike Montague: I think that’s brilliant because a lot of people assume that everybody else knows what they know or we work from our best guess. We have to go, “Well, everybody knows that you shouldn’t do that.” That’s where a lot of the miscommunication happens and expectations as you’re thinking, “Based on everything I know, the answer should be X,” but based on everything they know, the answer should be Y. What’s the ideal attitude then? Is it curiosity or is it just not making any assumptions and trusting but verifying everything? What are some things we can do to get better at it?

Amy Woodall: I think those two go together for sure. I have a model that the customer is not always right, but it’s usually our fault when they’re wrong because we didn’t really spell out to them how things work on our end. It’s not the customer’s job or even another department’s job necessarily to understand how things operate in your day to day life; but it is our job to let people know how it may affect them whether it’s with the timeline, whether it’s production. I mean, there are so many things that pile in on top of this. To be very explanatory, I think having the commitment to ask tough questions sometimes or dig deep in that relationship to make sure that there is full clarity because our reality is, you’re right, are based on our past experiences.

We often falsely assume that everyone else sees the world exactly the way that we do, which I think you and me, and probably a lot of listeners have learned over time, unfortunately, is not the case or maybe, fortunately. We would probably be doomed if we were all the same. I think those two do go hand in hand. Just genuine curiosity and the attitude of, “Hey, look. They might look at the world differently than I do.”

Mike Montague: I think part of that is slowing down too, especially for sales people. Anybody that’s trying to accomplish something, it’s usually that sense of urgency that is good for accomplishing goals, but it’s bad for communicating because we just assumed again that everybody knows what it is. We don’t slow down, or we don’t want to slow down even if we know that person is wrong to slow down and take the time to explain why they’re wrong and why our number is correct, right?

Amy Woodall: Yeah. We miss those cues, definitely. I think people will … It’s right in front of us. I believe that level of awareness, I liken it to buying a new car. If you ever brought a brand-new car, you drive off the lot, and you start driving down the road. What do we start to see? “Oh, there’s a car just like mine.” You drive a little bit further, and you see two more cars exactly like your brand-new car, and inevitably, all of us end up saying these words, “No one has this car, and so I went out and bought it, and now they’re everywhere.” Fair enough?

Mike Montague: Yeah.

Amy Woodall: The truth is it was there all along, but it was just never important enough for us to have it come into our reality. I think these miscommunications and this idea of setting up false expectations, they’re happening right in front of us, but we’re kind of oblivious to them. Taking the time to kind of repeat and talk about the future, that’s where things get in the way. Maybe things are perfect right now. We shook hands, we close the deal, but we didn’t paint a picture of what this relationship with the customers going to look like in the next months. What are your expectations and what you’re going to receive? When there’s an issue, which inevitably there will be because there’s not a company out there that doesn’t face some sort of challenge at some point in time. Here’s how we’ll deal with it. Here’s who you call. Just spelling out exactly how that relationship is going to move down the line is truly magic in the long run for customers, colleagues, etc.

Mike Montague: Awesome. I think we have moved to behavior a little bit already here. What comes to mind when you think of behavior for this? Are there goals, plans, actions that we need to take on a regular basis to get better?

Amy Woodall: I’m a fan of taking baby steps, and I think if we give ourselves the task of trying to change all at one time. It’s difficult to do because old habits die hard. The challenge would be, Mike, the challenge I would give listeners is to pick five relationships right now that are important to you. Those could be ones in the business world, but potentially, it’s a leader or another, a colleague. It could be a customer, a prospect, a spouse. Pick five relationships and set a time aside where you can sit down and do a check in and simply say, “You know, it just dawned on me that I don’t think we sat down and had a conversation of are things going the way that you would hope they would? What can we potentially do differently? What would you like to see happen in the next month?”

It’s never too late to realign those expectations or make sure that you’re on the same page, because you’d hate to get a month, two months, or a year down the road and find out that customer went away because they were disappointed by things that they didn’t get out of the relationship. Shouldn’t that conversation be had now?

Mike Montague: Yeah. I think that’s great. One question came to mind for me is, do I let them? If I’m going to be wrong, do I want them to be wrong high or low? Personally, I love setting a low bar and low expectations because then I succeed and I look good; but I know a lot of people are driven by high expectations, and stretched goals, and things. Do you have any thoughts on which one’s better?

Amy Woodall: This is a little attitude in a way too, the attitude of underpromising and overdelivering. Consistently underpromise, overdeliver because you look like the hero in the long run. I worked with a lot of manufacturing companies, and one of the challenges that they can face is production time, shipping time. They’ll get a lot of difficult customers who call in, and the way that I’ve taught them to manage those expectations, whoever happened to get that phone call is to let them know. “We’re going to put this on the truck today by 2:00 PM. Sometimes, these products can get stuck in customs, and when that happens, it can add an extra day or two. While shipping, they say it comes at this time. I just want to let you know that in a worst case scenario it might not be until next Thursday.”

I think if we paint an ugly picture for people, when it happens, they’re prepared for it. When it shows up on Tuesday rather than Thursday, they’re relieved. I think delivering that information early and often, makes you look like a good person in the long run because you told the truth. It’s the right thing to do. That is beautiful, the statement from your end, should we go high or low? Always underpromise.

Mike Montague: Is it tough, though, when you’re in sales, and the other people are overpromising? I think that’s what a lot of people struggle with as well. I don’t want to say Tuesday when everybody else is promising Friday. Then, I’ll look like the one that is less competent even though I’m the one that’s right. How do you deal with that?

Amy Woodall: Whatever is in truth with what’s the possibility, that’s what you should go for. When I deal with internal communication issues or internal customer service issues, typically it’s the communication breakdown is what that salesperson promises the customer they can deliver, and what the actuality is from inside the company. I can tell you. There’s so much frustration and just head butting that happens around that, because the perception is, well the sales person is just telling the customer or prospect whatever they want to hear. Then, we all have to scramble to make it happen.

Always, go along the lines of what’s possible and making sure that it’s possible before you promise it. Having that consistently passed down from department to department, once you sell it, it would be great if that sales person could call the customer service team, or the project manager, or the engineer, or whoever is handed that account next and say, “Here’s the expectation of the customer. How magical for them to have some level of consistency in communication.”

Mike Montague: I like that. I think we’ve gotten in the technique a little bit too because we’ve talked about how to have these conversations a couple of different ways already. When we talk about technique, what comes to mind here? Do you have any tips or tricks for us?

Amy Woodall: I have a little acronym that I use but bear with me, because it’s not an actual word. It’s AURM. I was never good at spelling, but the technique goes like this. The first thing you’re going to do whether you’re sitting down with the prospect. Maybe it’s that list of five that I put the challenge out to create, is the A stands for ask. You ask driving questions. Ask for what they want to see happen in the future. If we’re not painting a picture of the future, if we’re not talking about the expectations, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. It just means there is no possibility for us to meet them, much less exceed them. A pet peeve of mine, or companies in their tagline, or in anywhere on their website it says, “We exceed our clients’ expectations,” because as a consumer, I have never been asked what my expectations were in the relationship, never. Never has the cable company said, “Hey Mrs. Woodall, what are your expectations as a customer for us?” Just no one, does it? It’s hard to exceed something that you don’t know.

The first step is A, ask. The U is understand. Simply by asking doesn’t mean that we’re going to have a full understanding of what that looks like. The understanding is asking probing questions that go within that. Restating that information back to them, just making sure you’re digging as deep as possible. The R is realign. People will have unrealistic expectations because they don’t understand your world through and through as you do. I’m going back to that attitude piece earlier. We take for granted how smart we are. When the customer is wrong, it’s our fault. It’s because we didn’t take the time to realign those expectations into what the reality is that we’re experiencing. The M is manage. It should be an ongoing active thing. This is not a one-time conversation. Anytime that there’s an agreement made between two people, there should be a little digging deeper as to what they’re hoping to have happened in the long run. The technique that I utilize, teach it, and practice myself is AURM, Ask, Understand, Realign, and Manage.

Mike Montague: I like it. For me, the big one is the asking part. It’s getting started because even if it’s something that you are expecting outside of work. What came to mind for me is my wife always gives me trouble for not emptying the dishwasher. I always respond with, “Well, did you ask me to redo it?” Because if you asked me and I didn’t do it, then I’m a jerk; but if you just expected me to do something that I didn’t know I was supposed to do, then that’s not my fault.” At least that’s what I tell myself.

Amy Woodall: I think every married person out there has been in trouble for something that they didn’t know they did. Especially, you can get the cold shoulder of, “You know what you did.” You’re thinking, “No, I don’t.” I have that learn that too. I put my husband in that position. Mike, you are not the only one. I have come home from a long business trip or being out of town, and my expectation was the house would be clean because he should know that after traveling, I don’t want to come home and clean the house. When I walk in, and that wasn’t done, I felt like I had earned the right to be upset. Truthfully, I didn’t. If I had simply asked him, there is no doubt it would have been done. I’m sure that argument is being had right now in a few thousand homes across America.

Mike Montague: Yeah, and I guess you’re smarter than I am because you use yourself as the example and I used my wife. Besides that, I think we’re always going with that is that ask is if you’re the one who is trying to deliver in a business environment, you should ask what they expect. Also, if you’re on the other side of the coin, you can’t be afraid to ask for what you expect to happen because those people can’t mind read, either. The responsibility is really on both sides.

Amy Woodall: Take responsibility for your happiness. At the end of the day in a work day, you’re going to be frustrated because someone didn’t come through with their end of the deal within your organization or from a customer’s standpoint. Then the only person to blame is us. I think, practicing take responsibility for your happiness. That’s magical word in life.

Mike Montague: Anything else you want to add on this subject or help us tie all of these together, attitude, behavior, and technique, and make sure that we get really good and stay good at managing expectations?

Amy Woodall: Yeah, and I think they all intertwined on some levels too. I mean, they just go so well together. When all of these are combined and consistently practiced throughout an organization, I see magic within this, whether it’s a 60-person company or a 10,000 plus person company. Having this consistency and language, and passing along this important information gets everyone on the same page. I mentioned earlier, working towards the same goal rather than everyone feeling like it’s us against them, and this department is this. I think pointing and blaming happens on all levels in all organizations, even great organization.

I think being committed to practicing the AURM that we mentioned earlier, having the belief of we’re going to over explain if we need to, just to make sure we’re not missing anything. Practicing those things can shift the communication within an organization. When people are communicating effectively, it has a positive impact on culture. When there’s a positive impact on culture, people don’t leave as often to go work for other companies. When people stay and there’s less turnover, revenue increases, and customers stay. I mean all of this is a domino effect. I think bringing it all together has a lot of power if you’re committed to it.

Mike Montague: Sounds good to me. Once again, we’re talking with Amy Woodall. She is a Sandler trainer from Indianapolis. I love our first guest bio question here. How do you define success because it’s really about what you said as the expectations for your life and what are you chasing after? How do you define success?

Amy Woodall: It’s funny how those change as you differ in age. I think in my 20s, success was money and a certain kind of car, a certain kind of house. As I’ve gotten older, I think success is having absolute self-awareness. Just taking absolute control of those situations, and self-accountability, and understanding inner strength and weaknesses. For me, that feels like a very successful place to be.

Mike Montague: What was your biggest lesson learned along the way?

Amy Woodall: I think it’s the opposite of that. I have been in management, and I was a terrible manager because I thought that everyone liked to be led the way that I like to lead, which was just tell it like it is and get stuff done. I wasn’t particularly empathetic. I had to learn lessons the hard way by losing employees and friendships. It didn’t work. Maybe that’s why self-awareness is so important to me now.

Mike Montague: If you had a superpower and an origin story about how you got that, what would it be? What do you lean on when you need to be successful, or you’re trying to win?

Amy Woodall: Gosh, I hate to be redundant, but I think it’s self-reflection. I mean, I know that goes with self-awareness. Truthfully when I come up against an obstacle, taking a deep breath, utilizing my prefrontal cortex rather than the limbic emotional brain, and just being inquisitive with myself. I think it’s realigning my expectations in some sense too. That seems to give me clarity on what is the right next move, or just taking emotions out of it, utilizing logic, and taking accountability.

Mike Montague: What’s your favorite Sandler rule?

Amy Woodall: No mind reading.

Mike Montague: That is always a good one and very applicable here today. I’m not sure it needs much explanation there.

Amy Woodall: I was going to say, “Do you? Because I can.”

Mike Montague: That’s true, maybe I was mind reading. Based on setting expectations, let’s wrap everything up for everybody. What’s one attitude you would like people to have leaving the podcast?

Amy Woodall: I don’t know.

Mike Montague: One key behavior you would like them to do?

Amy Woodall: Constant curiosity.

Mike Montague: The best technique to use?

Amy Woodall: Ask, ask, ask.

Mike Montague: I like it. Anything else you want to add?

Amy Woodall: Thank you for having me on and the only thing I would add is I hope somebody finds something helpful within this. If nothing else, they sleep on the couch one last time in the next week.

Mike Montague: I like it. Amy, thanks for being on the show. For more on this topic, you can follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter at Sandler Training or get any of our free resources at As always, you can subscribe or leave us a review on iTunes or Google Play. Thank you for listening and remember, whatever you are, be a good one.

The How to Succeed Podcast is a public and free podcast from Sandler Training, the worldwide leader in sales, management, and customer service training for individuals all the way up to Fortune 500 companies with over 250 locations around the globe.

If you would like to learn more about Sandler Training, contact a local trainer:

Find white papers, webinars, and more in our free resources section of our website:

Register online for the Sandler Summit:

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a 5-star review on iTunes!