May 15, 2021

Underpromise and Overdeliver

This is the twenty-seventh in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

I have worked with lots of product suppliers over the years, but two stand out to me.

One was an app developer who gave a fantastic pitch. They wowed us with talk of augmented reality overlays and all kinds of cool features they could build on top of the core functionality we requested. They won the contract. Then began a year of what can only be described as “developer hell”. Despite all their grandiose promises, they couldn’t even build the basic features we wanted to a satisfactory standard.

After months of frustration, we scrapped the project and dropped the company.

The other supplier was a SaaS company who had a habit of promising new features that never materialised. Whenever I chased them up on something, they would steer the conversation onto the next new shiny object they were about to release. Maybe only 10% of their promises ever went live, so I stopped listening to them.

Both suppliers had the same problem. In their eagerness to win business, they over-promised. I don’t think either company was being disingenuous – they would just get ahead of themselves. Most of what they pitched lay on the other side of a bunch of problems they couldn’t quite solve.

All they had to do was tell me what they could definitely deliver and suggest alternative solutions where they couldn’t meet my expectations. Anything they supplied over and above this would have been an added bonus and made me a hardcore fan.

If you want to build a solid reputation that allows you to win long-term business and have fruitful relationships, don’t try to win people over by sounding as impressive as possible. Stick to the fundamentals you know you can deliver, then go above and beyond to surprise people. Under-promise and over-deliver.