You’ve had them in your small business: “prospects” who aren’t really prospects at all. They’re not truly interested in buying. They’re just using your expertise to shop elsewhere, or are looking for rock-bottom prices, or are just seeing what’s out there. In real estate, they have a term for these time-wasters: “looky-loos.” How can you figure out who’s a real prospect and who’s not?
Looky-loos eat up a great deal of your limited time. They want to learn what they can from you and then move on. And they’re not just individuals—big corporate prospects can be looky-loos too. You can use a whole lot of your resources in meetings and preparing bids and proposals, when all they’re really trying to do is get your ideas.
After “wasting” your time with even one or two of these tire-kickers, it’s easy to get cynical and become too brusque or even rude to prospects that might turn out to be very profitable, paying customers.
Figuring out how much time and energy to spend on prospective customers is a delicate and difficult balancing act. Realistically, you have to be responsive—and above all, polite—to all potential customers. But there are ways to limit the amount of time, money, and effort you spend on dead-end shoppers.
Here’s how to separate real prospects from looky-loos and perhaps turn some into paying customers:
1. Be specific in your information, on your website and marketing materials. Most prospects actually will decide whether you’re a good fit before taking up a lot of time. Let’s say you sell and install floor tiles. The more specific you are in your description, the more likely you’ll have the right kind of prospects contact you. Do you specialize in commercial or residential? Do you only serve a specific geographic area? Do you install counter tops as well as floors? That kind of information enables prospects to weed themselves out before calling you.
2. Ask questions of the prospect. In professional salesperson terms, this is known as “qualifying” the prospect. By asking a few simple, non-intrusive questions, you get a sense of how serious the prospect is.
Some potential questions:
— What’s the scope of the project?
— What’s the timeframe for the work to be started and completed?
— How soon will you be making a decision on a vendor?
— How many bids are you getting?
— What other alternatives (not competitors) are you considering? (In the floor tile example, for instance, you might ask, “What other types of floor coverings are you looking at?”
— What are the most important considerations in your decision—price, quality, convenience?
Questions like these give you a better sense of whether a prospect is ready to make a decision, whether you’re a likely choice for them, and how much time you should spend.
3. Create a sense of urgency. It’s human nature to put off making choices until the last minute, but that often puts your business in a crunch. If you can, come up with truthful, positive ways to encourage customers to make a decision quickly — “I’ve got an opening in my calendar in two weeks but then I’m booked til February,” or, “I can get a discount on materials this month.”
4. Be cautious of prospects who want TOO much information. Some prospects use proposals as a way of getting free consulting services. This is true of both small customers and Fortune 500 companies.
5. Don’t get star-struck. It’s easy to get excited if you’re approached by a large or well-known company or customer. Don’t lose your judgment. Such customers often take up more of your time, take longer to make decisions, and expect highly competitive bids. Sure, it would be nice to have the biggest company in town or the star of the major league baseball team on your customer list, but is it worth it if you don’t make a profit (especially if you can’t use their name in your marketing)?
6. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. It’s easy to get excited about a prospect, especially if it’s a big one. So, keep a lot of balls in the air, and remember, a deal isn’t really a deal until the check clears.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on February 12, 2020