Inconsistent sales communication hurts not just the sale itself but has knock-on effects for your product and operations teams for years into the deal.
The most recognizable brands in the world aren't tattooed on our brains because they have the best logos and taglines, the best advertising, or the most original color palette; but because they are consistent. A certain check mark can only be Nike. A pair of golden arches can only be McDonalds. It's impossible not to think of these brands when someone drops a "Just Do It" or an "I'm Loving It" into the conversation.
Humans learn through repetition, so if a brand wants to be remembered, they need to keep coming back with a consistent visual and verbal story. When a brand delivers the same branding at every interaction, they begin to feel like an old, dependable friend that we’ll trust to advise and help us.
Ditto with business. When you have the enviable reputation of being a business that delivers on its promises, it gives you both credibility and leverage. Clients want you, and they're willing to go the extra mile. On the other hand, nothing is more distressing for a client than trying to work with someone who is inconsistent throughout all of their communications.
The Biggest Irritants
In my experience, the biggest irritant is when we deny what was said in previous conversations. Hands down, nothing erodes the client's confidence faster. We often aren't denying what was said, but the context in which it was said is where the difference lies in both parties' minds. This brings me to the next irritant: selective listening. The reason for that contextual difference is that we often practice what I call 'keyword listening'. The client only needs to say the omnichannel experience and we're already planning what their UI would look like, all the while missing the details of the ask.
Another irritant that I've played an active part in myself, is when we as leaders contradict what our sales reps have said. I know. You were trying to salvage the situation. I was too. But in doing so, I have often jumped into the conversation without all the context needed… and then I've made things worse. Yes, there were times I salvaged the deal, only to commit my poor product teams to far too many late nights and weekends away from their families. Not an endearing trait, I can tell you. Of course, these are also the deals where the customer basically treated me as an escalation point for years into the deal, which was very, very unfair to the operations leaders.
How Inconsistent Sales Messaging Hurts Sales
Any kind of inconsistent sales messaging screams lack of care, and that's when the client is being generous. At worst, they think of you as incompetent. There are 4 key ways in which inconsistent messaging hurts you during a deal:
Loss of credibility. Now that the customer's trust is shaken, they will mistrust everything you tell them. In practical terms, this translates into multiple demos, meetings, and endless discussions on SLAs, and these deals take forever to iron out and close.
Loss of leverage. They've heard different stories throughout the sales cycle. They'll believe what suits them best, possibly costing you revenue and profit. Often, this isn't the part that hurts the sales teams, but the product teams and operations teams who have to manage the fallout we sales folks create.
Increased tension and conflict. They've caught you on the wrong foot, and they mistrust you now. Be prepared to be pitted against every other group involved in the deal: 'this person' promised you could deliver X within Y timeframe, are you saying you can't? On repeat. Oh, joy.
Loss of negotiation capital. When a client is willing to work with you, they want the deal to go through, and it shows. Once their trust is shaken though, you're dealing with a team that is wary and mistrustful, and doubts everything they're being told. It's an uphill climb, where it was once a smooth ride.
Prevention is Better
While it is incredibly hard to walk it back once customer trust is lost, there is plenty you can do to avoid inconsistent messages in the first place. For me, these take the shape of three best practices I've polished over the years.
Set rules of engagement: decide who will talk to whom in the customer organization and about what. No one likes to admit (particularly in front of a client) that they don't know something. But this way, there is neither guilt nor shame! Your team efficiently hands people off to the right person the moment the conversation veers out of scope for them. No more guesses ventured.
Context is king: An omnichannel solution can mean very different things to a marketer, operations, and to technical teams. We've made it a practice to know who we are talking to and what their pain points are, and then we respond (and commit solutions to) only to the specific business use case under discussion. My team is also really great at documenting every discussion before the day ends.
Standardize messages: My sales reps are never going to become omnipotent on my ever-evolving product. I don't expect it. I look for ways to support them, in context, and in the room when they're presenting. Especially when it comes to demos, which can be very nerve-wracking when the customer decides to explore areas that are new to the sales rep. Standardized messaging takes the heat off of the sales rep - they know what they can default to, and are happy to take down questions that they can answer in greater detail offline or in subsequent great demos.
No matter what we do, we're never going to get it 100% right. That's just the nature of the beast. But there are certain guiding principles that my team abides by, which allows them to recover well when they misstep with a client. For one, I encourage them to demonstrate honesty, in all interactions, at each level. It's the one strategy that has yet to backfire long-term. Second, we are thoughtful - both with each other and with customers. Putting ourselves in their shoes, with empathy, has helped us find solutions for customers, discover niches for ourselves, and it has helped us create and maintain relationships with real depth. Third, we build agreements. We start from a place of yes.