Shared Expectations: Transforming Business-to-Business Relationships for the Long-Term

Shared Expectations: Transforming Business-to-Business Relationships for the Long-Term

The Challenge

Client relationships can always be improved. Maybe it is building trust with a new client; struggling with a current client who is dissatisfied with your work; or trying to energize a plateaued relationship. In all three cases the more you know about your client’s expectations and priorities the more successful and efficient you will be in building a stable, profitable, long-term relationship.

The current economic climate only magnifies this challenge of maintaining and improving client satisfaction and loyalty. Many clients are increasing their demands for value in the services provided and may be more critical of services received. What worked two years ago to maintain your client relationships may not be enough today. The result can be frustration, mistakes, and lost opportunities for additional business for you, and disappointment for your clients.

You are not alone! Business-to-business relationships are challenging, complex, and require effort to maintain. Fortunately there is a very effective way to quickly focus on those aspects of the relationship that are critical to both you and your client and move forward to a more robust and profitable relationship. It is called Shared Expectations.

Shared Expectations

At the conclusion of a recent session the client thanked their team and the facilitator for a very successful session and then commented that: "This is probably the single most powerful tool a client and an account team can use to change the direction of their relationship." And this has proven true time and time again over several hundred sessions, whether the relationship was solid to begin with or had much room for improvement.

Shared Expectations is a structured program that assists a company and its clients to build a stronger relationship based on a mutual understanding of expectations and a common plan to exceed those expectations. This is accomplished through a facilitated dialogue in which the participants outline their expectations of one another, and then collaboratively build action plans to accomplish their desired outcomes. The Shared Expectations session is an investment in the future of the relationship and requires a shared commitment to open dialogue, joint problem resolution, and continued partnering to achieve business goals. The session will enable, transform, and accelerate business relationships.

These facilitated five- to six-hour sessions involve:

  • an open, honest conversation
  • clear and effective communication of expectations and priorities
  • an understanding of the current and desired levels of performance relative to the expectations and any gaps in performance that exist
  • where gaps exist, development of a collaborative action plan, or "roadmap," to close the gaps to meet and exceed expectations
  • a process for, and a commitment to, regular reviews of progress on the action plan

Most sessions involve a working lunch and include eight to fourteen participants.

Outcome and Benefits

The most significant outcome of a session is a more robust, open client relationship based on a clear understanding of the client’s priorities and business goals coupled with a jointly-developed plan to effectively support those priorities and goals. The plan enables you to focus on what is important to your client and support them more effectively. No Guesses, No Missed Opportunities. Teams also develop "scorecards" or other measures of "success." The facilitator is responsible for compiling the session notes – usually 8 to 10 pages – for all participants as a record.

Other benefits teams will highlight from their sessions:

  • Increased revenue
  • Improved client satisfaction
  • More effective communication and clarity of priorities and process (less "hassle")
  • A proactive relationship where planning occurs on a regular basis resulting in a solid outlook for future business

In sum these sessions are substantial, productive efforts that produce significant and lasting results; they truly change relationships!

They are not:

  • Finger pointing and yelling sessions, but collaborative, proactive, structured events focused on moving a relationship forward
  • Focused on problems, but on learning from past challenges and improving the relationship, processes, and communication
  • A warm, fuzzy, cookie cutter approach. The sessions are tailored to the needs of each client and situation in order to produce maximum benefits
  • A one-time event. The dialogue that begins in a session becomes the way to communicate on a regular basis

The process works in a wide range of circumstances between a business and their clients, a business and their supplier(s), or with internal groups, and is successful for two basic reasons:

  • First, it is a collaborative process that very effectively leverages a team’s need and desire to work together. This ensures a high degree of commitment to follow-through and success.
  • Second, the structure assures that participants focus on their goals in working together and their needs in the relationship, rather than rehashing the past. It provides a robust, efficient process to build a concrete plan to move forward together.

Process Steps:

  1. Session planning: One or more short planning meetings with you to understand your goals for a session and to answer any questions you might have. Determine whether a call with the client is appropriate prior to the session. Finalize schedule, attendees, location, and other logistics.
  2. The session itself: Usually five to six hours – including a working lunch – of engaged, productive conversation about what is important and a plan to make sure it happens.
  3. Session Follow-up: Six to eight weeks after a session the facilitator will hold a 30 minute call with the two key participants to get feedback on their progress, discuss any new challenges, and seek comments about the session. Also discuss the need for an additional session in the future (many teams build additional sessions into their action plan).

For more information about Shared Expectations read the Wolf in the Workplace Business article titled "Securing and Enabling Business-to-Business Relationships for the Long-Term".


The Shared Expectations process has significantly improved business relationships around the world. Over one-third of the Fortune 100 have used the process, often several times. It creates lasting, successful business relationships that drive business results.
Why not let it change your client relationships too?


About Wolf Management’s lead facilitator: Hans Muessig has facilitated over 200 Shared Expectations sessions – nearly 50 globally – over the past six years. Shared Expectations is one component of Hans’ expertise in sales and service effectiveness, customer relationship management, and organizational effectiveness. His broad and detailed experience with clients across multiple industries and regions of the world allows Hans to bring many insights to the challenges of maintaining robust, productive, profitable relationships.


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