The Overservicing and Overselling Conundrum

It doesn’t matter how clear your proposal was.

How beautifully designed your scope of work.

How precise your list of deliverables or how well-defined potential results.

You’re going to get clients who seem to have bought something totally different than what you sold.

Whether they didn’t communicate what they needed well, made assumptions about what you do, or asked for things that you don’t have expertise in (yet), it comes up with surprising regularity.

You’ll be tempted to just give them what they want.

If there’s a tiny bit of scope creep, or maybe you’re not perfectly up-to-date on that skill just yet, you can fake it until you make it.


Noooooooo! Don’t do it! Stop right there!

When you do, there are two things that can end up happening, whether it’s because you knowingly took on too much, or because you felt obligated once you started working with someone with more expectations than you expected.

  1. You’ll overservice your clients, costing you your profit margin; or 
  2. You’ll underdeliver because you oversold.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these and how they end up happening.

Kick the Overservicing Habit

First, overservicing.

This is probably the more common of the two because it comes from a really, really good place.

You want to deliver the best possible customer experience, and you want to add so much value that your clients never even dream of working with another firm.

But it can be really, really costly.

So costly that you end up not only losing money and time, but also start resenting your clients and can feel taken advantage of.

You end up working for free and you don’t have the capacity to bring on clients who will pay you for that time…because you’re too busy giving it away for free.

I wish there was only one story I could point to when we talk about overservicing, but if they had rehab for overservicers, I’d have been there.

More than once.

I am a people pleaser and, because of that, the culture I’ve built is full of people pleasers. So we all overservice.

I’m not sure we’ve ever really gotten ourselves out of it, though we are significantly better at telling clients that something is outside of scope and we need a project budget to properly execute what they need.

I can say that because I just reviewed a statement of work for a grand opening for a client, which is outside of our retainer work.

So, yes!

We are getting better at it.

How to Stop Overservicing

Overservicing is easy to get yourself into, but hard to get yourself out of.

To avoid having to deal with it at all, make a practice of creating very:

  • Clear scopes of work;
  • Clear budgets; and
  • Confident boundary setting when a client asks for more than was initially discussed, or that goes outside of your mandate.

You never have to be rude.

Just treat your scope of work and budget as if they are indelibly set into stone unless a new agreement or amendment is mutually agreed upon—and funded.

If your client isn’t in the habit of hearing that from you, it can be a bit jarring for them, but in the long run, you’re helping everyone by having clear boundaries and limits—and by enforcing them.

You’ll be happier doing the work, and most clients have no problem with you making a respectable profit!

When you run an agency, it’s important to make sure all of your account managers are comfortable setting and enforcing these kinds of boundaries, as well.

Many people have been ‘trained’ through past work to overdeliver, and modeling the kind of behavior you want, as well as making it your standard operating procedure will help break them of the habit.

Kick the Overselling Habit

Now let’s talk about the other situation we can unwittingly get ourselves into: overselling.

This one is painful because it comes from a place of confidence and hope, but can really bite us in the backside.

You know you’ve been there.

We all have.

You’re talking to a prospect OR a client.

They’re excited, you’re excited, and the they ask for something that… you really don’t do that much, or that often or that well…or, in my case, at all.

But you want this account or this extended project work.

You don’t want to tell them no.

It would be a major feather in your cap, bring you into a new service area, or financially, make your quarter.  

Here’s how it can play out.

A few years ago, a client who has been with us for, gosh, maybe 10 years now asked for a new website.

But he said he only had $5,000 for the project and asked if we could do it.

Today I would have told him that:

  • We don’t have that capability in-house; and
  • We are not web designers so he was going to have to hire a web firm and pay more than $5,000 for what he wanted.

But I was in that stage of my career where I was learning how to build WordPress sites…so I did it for him.

Dun. Dun. Dun.

I just looked to see how much it cost me to do that for him.

I almost hate to say this out loud.

It was $65,000.

He paid $5,000.

It cost me/the agency $60,000 in time.

And guess what happened next?

They ended up hiring a real web design firm a year later and paying them $100,000 for a new website. 


How to Stop Overselling

Overselling what you can do can look like a way to grow.

But unless you’re doing it very carefully and very strategically, it’s really just a way to get in over your head, disappoint your client, damage your reputation, and lose A LOT (A LOT) of money.

Instead of saying yes to anything and everything, make sure anyone who talks to prospects or clients are clear on what you know you can knock out of the park, what you can do in small doses as you improve and hire more talent, and what you really shouldn’t focus on for the time being.

You know, like building websites.

No one has ever looked bad for saying:

This isn’t our area of expertise. Would you like me to make a referral to a great agency that specializes in this?

Making referrals to other firms makes you look confident in what you DO provide, and you build relationships with people you’re happy to recommend and send leads as appropriate.


It’s a very good thing.

When you do want to expand into more service areas, make sure you’re ready, and that you have the team and talent in place to take your best shot at it.

Starting with a small project, or an internal one can be a really good way to get your feet wet, and one that won’t put your reputation and relationships at risk.

These are both issues that you’re going to run into eventually if you haven’t already so take some time and sit down with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page about what you do and what you don’t, and why.

You might also need to have some challenging conversations with clients, and it won’t be fun but it will be excellent for you in the long run.

Now It’s Your Turn

Have you ever been the one who oversold or overserviced? What’s your story?

Have you ever had a client oversell or overservice you? Did you do anything about it?

The comment are yours…

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich