Broken Promises Kill Ad Agency New Business

I love asking agency principals the question, “What’s the first thing you think of when you think of sales?” The answer is almost inevitably “car” or “used car”.

Last Saturday morning my wife asked me to test drive a car with her. We’ve been talking about what to get as her lease is up in August. She’s been researching, visiting a few dealers, test-driving a handful of cars, and had narrowed her choice down to two models, but was focused on a Toyota Highlander. Before heading out, we agreed we were not going to buy a car today, just test-drive it. Right.

Five minutes into our visit (and even before the test-drive)…

Wife: I love that color! That’s the one I want.

Salesman: It’s the only Limited we have, and we only get one of these models a month…

Hours later we’re putting the final touches on our negotiation. We agreed that the dealer would make the final two payments on our lease and take care of the disposition fee; we just had to agree to the purchase price, which we did after the usual back-and-forth with the sales manager. We shook hands on the deal. The salesman then started working up the paperwork.

20 minutes later, the salesman announced, “Sorry, we can only pay half what we told you we would towards your final lease payments.”

The fun disappeared and what remained were those age-old feelings about shopping for a car: bait and switch, distrust, disappointment, and that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Everything you don’t want your prospective client to feel after wooing them for a long time.

Think about all the different ways a new business person can set expectations and fail to follow up on them as promised:

  • Mail something with a cover letter and promise to call, and never do so;
  • Leave a voicemail and say you’ll call back, and don’t;
  • Send an email and promise to call, and don’t;
  • Have a conference call and say you’ll follow up on Thursday, but you don’t until the following Tuesday;
  • Have a meeting and promise you’ll get them a proposal within the week, but it takes you two.

If you’re on the receiving end of any of these unfullfilled expectations the effect is the same: a broken promise. It doesn’t take many broken promises to kill your new business process.

I left the dealership and got lunch while my wife tried to get the manager to see what he’d done, but he wouldn’t explain himself or budge, so we left. Bad move for them; deal lost. In this economy, with sales down 46%, you’d think car dealers would want every deal they can get.

Let’s be sure we don’t break any of the expectations we set with our prospects.



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