Knowing what to highlight and promise in your sales pitch is tricky.
You want to give your prospect as many reasons as possible to close the sale, but you don’t want to oversell or misrepresent your offer. It’s a fine line to walk.
You can maintain balance with a tried-and-true technique: under-promise and over-deliver.
At first glance, it might seem like I’m telling you to play it cool when you’re pitching a product or service to a new client. Talk down your offer to blow your client’s mind later.
Instead, this technique entails an honest assessment of the deliverables and value you can consistently provide. It’ll help you develop a highly appealing pitch that doesn’t exaggerate what you can realistically deliver.
This guide will show you what that means and provide examples to help you apply it right away.
Maximizing value in your sales pitch without exaggerating
“Under-promise and over-deliver:” It’s a lesson I latched onto early in my career when learning how to write a sales pitch. It doesn’t refer to under-selling yourself, your products, or services.
Instead, it gives you wiggle room when setting expectations for a client. This technique ensures that you really “wow” them upon project completion.
Developing this skill is tricky.
Imagine you’re on a call with a prospect: You don’t want to misrepresent yourself by undercutting the value of your expertise and offers for the sake of (possibly) impressing your client a little more.
At the same time, you don’t want to hype yourself up too much. That could introduce the risk of exaggerating your skill, quality, or work capacity and deliverables.
For example, consider this snippet of a content writing service proposal:
You’ll get long-form, research-based, optimized web content that’s easy to read, and helps to generate and convert leads consistently.
This statement sets fundamental expectations, letting the client know what they can expect at the most basic level. The language helps establish an understanding of the client’s key desired outcomes. It also inspires confidence by promising that those expectations will be met. But it doesn’t do too much. Had I stated the following, I might have been biting off more than I could chew:
You’ll get long-form, research-based optimized web content that will rank within the top fifty on the SERPs, generate thousands of leads, and convert 15% of them.
What’s wrong with the second example? The offer is too specific and overemphasizes outcomes that are not within the content provider’s control. This doesn’t mean that none of their articles will ever reach the top fifty, nor does it mean they can’t generate thousands of leads.
(The 15% conversion rate is a bit ridiculous, though, let’s be real.)
But without those specific claims, the provider gives themself enough wiggle room to produce content that could yield hundreds of leads with a handful of quality conversions or more. It may not be the “thousands” they’ve achieved once or twice. But it still exceeds the base promise: content that’s easy to read and helps generate and convert leads.
What under-promising and over-delivering DOESN’T do
“Under-promising” doesn’t undersell your service.
It does quite the opposite. By allowing yourself the flexibility to exceed expectations by any margin, small or large, you show clients the full depth of your business’s value on their own terms—instead of constraining their outlook to a few checked boxes.
That said, the “over-deliver” part of this motto lies in the deliverables’ long-term value (while your initial sales pitch might focus on the short-term fundamentals). Once you’ve met their basic needs, you can “wow” them with your promised service or product. Plus, they’ll enjoy everything that comes along with that, such as customer service and a high return on investment.
This dynamic doesn’t put a ceiling on the potential positive outcomes for the client. And it doesn’t put your job performance in a box.
What makes a sub-par sales pitch?
Now, let’s consider a sub-par example of “under-promising and over-delivering.” If I told a prospective client, “My content might add value to your website, but I can’t say for sure,” that’d damage any confidence in my work.
Here’s the problem: Sure, I can’t guarantee that my content will always rank high on the SERPs. But I don’t have to be so vague about its potential performance that my offer comes across as almost pessimistic.
In this case, the tone, language, and focus of my “under-promise” were all out-of-whack. Below is a better marketing pitch that’s both realistic and more appealing:
Search engine optimization is volatile. While no SEO writer—including myself—can guarantee specific rankings, my content will help improve traffic with optimized distribution and consistent page- and site-level SEO.
Finding the balance between setting expectations and avoiding under- or overselling is crucial to onboarding new clients and retaining repeat customers.
Why “under-promise” at all?
What’s the value of under-promising? I mean, you might as well tell your client straight-up how good you are and what you’re capable of.
This mindset can lead you to bite off more than you can chew. I’m not saying you’re not good at what you do. You are, I’m sure.
But you’re not always going to knock it out of the park. And that’s especially true when your client doesn’t follow your service recommendations. Here’s what I mean.
As a content provider, my deliverables’ performance depends on whether my clients follow formatting suggestions, their distribution methods, and website health—among other things. Even if I did happen to produce a high-performing piece for one client, it doesn’t mean I can do the same thing for another. That said, I’d be setting myself up for failure if I went around promising the same blanket results for everyone.
The “under-promising and over-delivering” technique is equal parts wow-ing your client, protecting your business, and saving yourself from the guilt of failing to meet unrealistic standards.
Sales pitch examples of under-promising and over-delivering
By now, you’ve got the idea of under-promising and over-delivering. But how do you apply it? Consider these examples to explore how this technique could be put into practice for your business.
There are a few things you’ll notice right away when comparing the under- vs. over-promises. Namely, the latter is immediately and excessively specific. These types of promises often arise from standout case studies that show above-average results.
Naturally, you’ll want to show off your stuff. But consider what was different about those particular cases. Did everything go to plan? Was your client more cooperative and engaged than the average person? You might have even had more resources and time available.
Consider everything that wasn’t in your control for your standout case and how external factors may have influenced it. Now get rid of those elements and focus on the aspects you know you can provide and achieve, no matter what. You now have the foundation for an under-promise that doesn’t undermine or exaggerate your service or product offer.
Getting into the mindset
One crucial part of mastering a great pitch with this technique is understanding that you’re probably not—or will not always be—the best.
You have got to let go of the need to be #1. Understand that your biggest selling point will always be YOU. You have a unique point of view, style, customer relations approach—everything.
Every business owner, salesperson, or service provider must face this reality at some point in their careers. For example, a freelance video editor may lack a specific type of software that’s ideal for smooth 3D animation.
The client might consider a competitor with this software as better on paper. But they could find our freelancer more suitable due to their positive reputation with past clients, unique art style, or faster turnaround times. The client may have first sought out specific assets, but the total value of the freelancer’s service was more important.
In this way, the freelancer didn’t need to over-promise about how they’re the “best” in the industry. They just needed to be unique and provide quality services consistently.
The value of being intermediate
Remember that there is value in being intermediate.
Don’t fall for the hype that pressures you to raise your rates and oversell the value of your offer. Not everyone deserves or needs to make $10K per month, myself included. And I say that as someone who has been web content writing for seven years now.
You’ve got to be real with yourself. Think, “What can I realistically offer—and confidently provide—this client on a regular basis?”
This discernment will keep you from overcommitting or overstating your professional experience level. It also provides a basis for the short-term fundamentals mentioned earlier. Consider anything beyond that “over-delivery.”
Plus, clients aren’t always looking for the most advanced service providers or partners. Some companies prefer linking up with professionals-in-progress. This gives them the opportunity to grow together.
I’ve experienced this first-hand, with a client who has been with me for roughly two years. The value of our partnership grows exponentially, building each time I apply new techniques and lessons to our work together.
Further, many prospective clients and customers see intermediate-level service providers and business owners as more flexible than those further along in their professional journeys. This opens up countless opportunities for creative collaboration. As a bonus, you have plenty of chances to learn and experiment with new techniques.
Intermediacy can be pivotal in helping you to be confident in and comfortable with your under-promises. You can live up to many of the same offers that your competitors can without the added pressure of having to blow their minds every single time.
What happens if you over-promise and under-deliver?
We can’t talk about under-promising and over-delivering without discussing the opposite.
It’s almost inevitable that at some point—no matter who you are or what your industry may be—you’ll talk up your deliverables a bit too much.
Exaggerating your offers and selling points can get you into serious trouble. For one, you might be toeing the line of “stretching the truth” when you knowingly misrepresent your professional capabilities.
It’s like those fast-food commercials. Sure, we know that McDonald’s can produce a fine-looking burger. But we also know that the ones in commercials are beautified with fake cheese, spray-on shine, and glued-on sesame seeds. They’re all fake replicas of that one-in-a-million burger that a customer looks at and says, “Wow, this looks tasty!”
That’s what you’re doing when you over-promise and under-deliver. You’re stretching the truth of one stellar success story and trying to apply it to all your future work. Since so much of sales and service success is dependent on customer behavior and experience, this will inevitably set the customer up for disappointment and you for failure.
How to get out of trouble when you oversell yourself
Over-promising and under-delivering don’t have to be so bad in the long run. Heck, this misstep doesn’t even have to be bad in the short-term. That is, as long as you know how to get out of it.
When you’re walking back over-promises, prioritize honesty and integrity. You can do so with grace (without embarrassing yourself) and while respecting your client. Here are two examples of proactive and reactive language you can use to mitigate the potential backlash from exaggerated sales pitches.
You can’t guarantee that your customer won’t react harshly or negatively to your attempts at mitigation. But you can minimize the damage by avoiding over-promising entirely or having options available to resolve sub-par deliverables.
Create your best sales pitch by under-promising and over-delivering
Developing a successful sales pitch is tricky. You’ve got to strike the perfect balance between a strong, high-value offer and realistic expectations. These two are not mutually exclusive. But a bad pitch can make it so.
Your best option is clarifying what you can realistically deliver and leaving room for even more value—whether that comes in the form of stellar customer service or a high ROI for your client.
So, what does that mean for you? Review the above examples and write down your most consistent outcomes for past clients. Use those elements as the foundation for future sales pitch ideas. Consider what additional value you could add to the pitch without exaggerating or risking inconsistency.
Pretty soon, all your clients will be impressed with your product or service that’s always better than expected!