Your Company Made a Promise It Can't Keep. Now What?

Last Updated May 24, 2011 1:50 PM EDT

I recently received a question from a reader via email:
"What happens if you do not deliver on a deal as promised? Has that happened to you? If so, how did you deal with that situation?"
This happens to all of us. Every company falls short of its promise at some point.

As to my current business, we have fallen short a few times. On one occasion, I met with the president of the company we were working with. Honestly, his organization had a share in the failure of the program, but that was not important.

Together, we were not being successful.

At the beginning of the meeting I handed him a check for all of the fees that he had paid so far. I said, "Let's start on even ground, here's your money back. This doesn't cover your investment of time and effort, but it does return your fees. Now, let's figure out if there is a way for us to go forward or not, but I don't want the money to be the question. It's yours if you decide you don't want to go forward after we have spoken. If this is all you wanted from our meeting, then it is yours with my gratitude for giving us the chance to work with you and for what my company has learned through this."

Taking the money out of the equation changed the conversation entirely. We worked through the issues, re-set mutual expectations, and decided to keep working together. He gave me the check back. He didn't have to, and I wasn't expecting it. However, if he had had to fight me for the money, we would not have worked through issues and re-engaged.

My baseline answer to approaching a situation when your company is falling short is:

1) If it's a small problem, fix it and don't make your problem your client's problem by including them in the discussion. This only works if the problem is small.

2) If it is a big problem, then you have to tell them. Tell them quickly, tell them with a plan as to how you are going to make it right and give them a schedule of updates so that they can be kept in the loop at each step of resolution.

3) You have to be aggressive in your overcommunicating during the period of resolution. Call every hour if necessary to tell them every incremental improvement that is occurring and each additional step your company is taking to fix things.

4) Immediately schedule a "process review" session internally to improve how you do things so that you can get better.

5) Schedule a "process review" session with your client to improve how you work together and also to discuss what steps you have taken in your internal process review.

You don't always have to act as dramatically as I did when I passed that check across the table. However, you always have to act. Failing to deliver in the way you promised is always a problem, but failing to do anything about that failure is always a disaster.

Read More Chief Closer: