You’ve got a likely prospect taking your calls and asking you questions. It seems like you’re home free, and a sale should be imminent. But hold the phone. The calls, emails, and questions continue. Maybe a meeting or two as well. Time passes, and the sale seems no closer than before. Welcome to the world of time-wasting prospects.
Here are four kinds of prospects to be on the lookout for, and some ideas about what to do when you find them.
- Looky-LoosLooky-loo prospects are the ones who are “just looking,” although they often don’t reveal that important fact. They have no real intent to buy, at least not now. They will browse your website and call or email with a dozen questions, just out of curiosity. If you do business in a public office, hold open houses, or give free demonstrations, they will stop in and take up your time.
- Price-ShoppersThe price-shopper cares about nothing more than getting the cheapest deal. If he told you that in your first conversation, it wouldn’t be so bad. You could spend a few minutes politely quoting a price, and move on to greener pastures. But often the price-shopper doesn’t reveal his goal until you’ve spent time on a presentation, proposal, or multiple conversations.
- Tire-KickersTire-kickers want to try before they buy; demand proof for every claim you make, then remain indecisive for weeks or even months. They may ask you for multiple quotes, proposals, or references, want to go over the details with you “one more time,” or keep seeking your professional advice while never committing to hire you.
- Foot-DraggersThe foot-dragging prospect appears promising at first. She insists she wants to work with you, and may even seem eager. But then she wants all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed before signing on the bottom line. First she has to review your pricing, proposal, or contract. Then the folks she has to consult always seem to be unavailable. Hearing back from her takes three times as long as it should at every step. Meanwhile she asks you to keep time open for her project or schedule.
How to Cut the Time-Wasters Short
- Try to qualify your prospects in the first encounter. When they start asking questions, reply with, “I’d be happy to discuss that with you. Let me ask you a few questions first, so I can give you accurate information.” Questions will vary depending on your business, but here are a few possibilities:
- What is the nature of your project or problem?
- How soon do you need to have something done about it?
- Are you speaking with other professionals about helping you with this?
- Do you have a budget in mind?
- What information will you need to make a decision?
- Create a standard reply that answers the most common questions prospects ask and welcomes further contact to discuss the specifics. When you receive an email inquiry, send your standard reply rather than spending time writing answers to a list of questions. Offer instead to talk by phone to address the prospect’s needs. Serious prospects will be happy to take your call, while many time-wasters prefer to email back and forth.To respond to voice mails, ask callers for their email address in your outgoing message, and send your standard reply before you call them back. That way they’ll have answers to many questions already in their inbox. When they don’t leave an email, ask again if you don’t reach them when you return their call. If they won’t give you an email address, they probably aren’t sincere.
- If you get a lot of price-shoppers, consider posting your rates on your website to deflect prospects who can’t afford you or want you to underbid someone else. Or include in your website copy a statement like: “I’m not the cheapest, but I deliver quality work on time.” A clever version of this I’ve seen graphic and web designers use is: “You can have it cheap, or you can have it fast, or you can have it good. Choose any two.”With corporate, nonprofit, or government prospects, be alert for signs that they are soliciting multiple proposals just so they can hire the lowest bidder. Ask for a meeting to discuss their needs before replying to a Request For Proposal. Prospects who are seeking quality work will typically agree to this; those who are price-shopping often won’t.
- Set reasonable limits, communicate them, and then stick to them. It’s sound business practice to do this with your clients, so why not start while they are still prospects? Let them know you’ll be happy to revise your proposal once, but then you’ll ask for a decision. Offer to meet with them once to determine their needs and once to present your solution, but request that further discussions be focused on the details of getting started. The most desirable prospects will respect your professionalism.
- Stop time-wasting prospects at the source. Pay attention to where the prospects who waste your time tend to come from, then try to stem the tide. A caterer I know cancelled all her paid ads when she discovered they only produced price-shoppers. After attending one of my classes, a chiropractor began to remove tire-kickers from her mailing list. She deleted anyone who attended more than one open house without making an initial appointment.
- Consider the “opportunity cost” of continuing to woo prospective clients who keep kicking your tires or dragging their feet. There are many other opportunities you could pursue with the time you have to spend trying to close a deal with reluctant prospects. Never promise to keep time open on your schedule to work with a prospect who is unwilling to make an equivalent commitment to you. And never agree to start work until you have a firm agreement about how much and when you’ll be paid.
If it starts to feel like you are being jerked around or disrespected, you probably are. Be willing to walk away, even when the prospect tries to tempt you with the promise of future business. Once you’ve identified a time-waster, stop wasting your time on him.