Managing by Expectation

Over the past few days, I have posted my “4 A’s” framework for Managing by Expectation on Linkedin. The LinkedIn Algo can be a fickle beast, so a few people have asked me to put it all in one post; here it is….

In this article, I explore the fundamental elements of managing expectations in sales: Attitude, Activity, Approach, and Achievement. We start with the critical importance of ‘Attitude’ in sales, drawing inspiration from Herb Kelleher’s approach at Southwest Airlines. Next, I delve into the significance of focusing on ‘Activities’, influenced by Bill Walsh’s philosophy. The ‘Approach’ section discusses the ‘how’ of selling, highlighting the need for clear guidance and ongoing training. Finally, we address ‘Achievement’, emphasising the importance of setting clear, concrete goals for sales success. This approach to expectation management is key to maintaining focus and reducing uncertainty in the sales process.


“We hire for attitude, train for competence” said the legendary co-founder of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher.

Without a good attitude, everything else is a non-starter. However, this single line is where most managers leave setting expectations around attitude. The best managers don’t leave the basics unsaid. If being on time is central, then say it; if working two days in the office is something expected, then say it. Don’t just presume what’s important to you will be obvious to everyone.

The best businesses I have worked with set out a charter detailing the key tenets of attitude expectations. The great ones also lay out what the employees can expect from the business in this area too.


One of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read is “The Score Will Take Care of Itself” by the great 49ers coach Bill Walsh.

The central theme to Walsh’s approach is he focused his players on the input, not the output. Don’t focus on scoring touchdowns, focus on running the route correctly. If you execute your inputs right, then, the score will take care of itself.

The same is true in sales. So often, I see salespeople get overwhelmed with a target or quota, spending hours fixating on the numbers. I always do the same exercise, we sit down and take their mind back to a period where they were really executing at a level they think approached their best.

We put the figures to one side and look at the activity.

How many prospects were they calling?

How many calls a day?

How many proposals were they sending out? etc etc.

We set out 5-6 key activities and we put them front and centre, not just of the CRM, but print them out to stick in their workspace. We then manage work together almost exclusively on those activity metrics.

At the end of each day or week, have they been completed?

It’s a binary answer, yes or no. A firm expectation. We can tweak them as we go but we stay focused on the input, the activity…. and the score will take care of itself!


Activity is about the “what”. The Approach is about the “how” and is undoubtedly the most subjective of the 4 A’s. The expectation around approach is how you expect your team to sell, or if you are in sales, how your business expects you to sell the product.

Depending on the role, the expectation setting here can oscillate wildly between reading a set script and not deviating from a more laissez-faire set of guidelines, such as product features and benefits.

Wherever you lay on the spectrum between these two extremes, be clear as a manager as to what you expect. If you are managing well-paid, high-level salespeople where you expect them to sell in their own personal, consultative way, still make sure you give them the tools to do so.

This may be in the form of product training, best practice workshops, or simply sharing stories on what worked or didn’t. Make sure in regular sales review meetings to highlight instances where an approach met or didn’t meet your expectations.

Setting expectations here isn’t a one-off. It’s an ongoing process with continual reinforcement and training.


The final and most obvious one. Set the expectation of what success looks like. Give concrete goals so that there is no ambiguity at all as to how a salesperson is achieving. If you have a business where targets can change as the year goes on, be clear and consistent in your communication as to when and how things may change. Don’t mess up this most basic of expectations.

Human’s like to be in control, it brings calmness and focus. If expectations are broken and changed without notice and discussion, it brings disharmony and uncertainty. Setting expectations in:

  • Attitude
  • Activity
  • Approach
  • Achievement

ensures that everyone is focused on the target, spending all their time and effort moving towards that rather than wasted on worry and uncertainty. It makes meetings and discussions more efficient and effective as it gives points of reference in reviewing performance and setting objectives for the week, month or quarter ahead.

This post was written by BuddyCRM founder, Philip Mayling. Philip manages several sales teams around the UK, including the BuddyCRM team.

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