4 min read

5 prospects you should be aware of

Channel Strategy

Wishy-washy answers. Heel dragging. Elusiveness. Favoritism toward competitors. And, sometimes, downright unethical behavior. We’ve all experienced at least a few of these aggravations while going through the qualification process with prospects.

The real problem, however, is not reacting to red flags soon enough. Instead of taking a moment to ask deeper qualification questions that will straight out reveal if the prospect is legitimate, some sellers push on in the hopes of landing the prospect until it becomes glaringly obvious it’s a “no go.” This is a complete waste of time and energy that could’ve been used on more viable candidates.

So what’s the solution? Learn to quickly identify the prospects worth disqualifying. In my experience, there are five types that set off warning bells. And, despite further questioning, more times than not should be eliminated from your sales pipeline.

  1. The Bargain Hunter

This is the prospect who’s looking but not ready to buy. Ask them questions and you’ll receive vague answers. For example, a shipping client of ours got a call from a prospect who wanted a quote on a shipment. And yet, the prospect didn’t have a date for a pickup or a delivery. He was clearly just looking around and had no intention of doing any actual business.

The Bargain Hunter will also indicate, through answering questions, that they’re considering well-known competitors with whom they have long, successful buying histories. You’re basically the last stop on their list.

Additionally, this prospect:

  • Won’t be clear about why they’re considering an alternative to the company they’ve used
  • Won’t give you access to their buyer
  • Won’t connect you directly to any of the decision makers or influencers

So essentially, The Bargain Hunter is just using you to compare prices and product features with the incumbent. In this case, I would ask again, very directly, “Why haven’t you purchased from your usual company?” If the prospect’s answer is still vague, politely shake hands and move on.

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2. The Heel Dragger

This one is pretty obvious. Slow to make decisions, won’t commit to a timeframe or budget, and keeps saying, “Call me next quarter.” This prospect wants to do business, but there’s no urgency.

The Heel Dragger might not have the right decision maker in place or they simply can’t make you a priority at the moment. Years ago, when I first started Engage, I encountered a prospect whom I kept following up with. Finally, after six months, the VP tells me, “You know, Colleen, I’m retiring this year and don’t want the expense to hit my budget because it will reduce my bonus. This can be a project for my successor.” I don’t remember what prompted his honesty, but his response led me to disqualify the client for the time being and try again the following year. It was also a lesson to ask more questions earlier on.

3. The Moving Target

This prospect hides their key decision makers while you run around trying to find them. If you’re being kept from the buyer, you can’t win the business.

A medical devices client I work with is particularly assertive with this part of the qualification process. He firmly states to prospects, “In order for us to move forward I’ll need to meet with the owner of the company.” If the prospect says no or stalls, he continues with, “I’m sorry. Then we will not be able to submit a proposal.”

It’s very rare he reaches this stage, but in the few cases he does, he’ll explain further that, “We have an ethical and fiduciary responsibility to talk to the person who’s signing the checks.” This usually persuades Moving Targets who are stalling to give a direct answer and can change a “no” to a “yes.”

The lesson here is to make a statement rather than ask a question. When you tell a prospect having the buyer’s name is a requirement, it puts you at a peer level. In other words, subordinates ask to speak to decision makers and peers explain how the process works.

4. The Lost Cause

This prospect comes to you with decision criteria that are clearly written for the competition. Recently a client of ours had a prospect whose number one, non-negotiable criteria was that the product had to be manufactured in the U.S. Our client is an American company that does all its manufacturing in China. In this case, because of regulations, it was critical that the prospect bought something manufactured in the U.S. And there was no way around that. Our client decided to drop the prospect. Why waste time with sourcing and siting when it was clearly the wrong fit?

As soon as something appears to be intended for the competition, ask the prospect about it. More times than not, you’ll probably have to back off.

5. The Shady Operator 

Engage once had a prospect who wanted to pay $10K in cash. Now, this wouldn’t be that unusual for South American or European companies because of currency exchange rates, but this prospect happened to be a fellow Canadian resident. Immediately a red flag went up about the possibly criminal way the money might be acquired. Whether this was a Shady Operator or not, we disqualified them. Better safe than sorry.

If you detect even a whiff of abnormal behavior, be on guard. In one client’s case, a prospect asked if the seller’s daughter was single and “what are you going to do about that?” Another client, a large Fortune 10 company, had a shipping industry prospect with no website, phone listing or credit card history who wanted to pay cash.

Also beware of prospects asking for gifts and favors before they’re even customers – essentially, “Do this and maybe we’ll talk.” Though you might feel pressure to qualify as many candidates in your sales pipeline as possible, The Shady Operator is definitely not worth it. Just think ‒ if you’re uncomfortable when they’re just a prospect, it’ll only get worse when they’re a customer. Simply walk away.

The more you immediately address red flag behaviors of these five types of prospects — asking direct questions up front — the easier and faster the qualification process will become. And you’ll land much more reliable clients who are worthy of long-term relationships.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.