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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  September 01, 2007

How To Screen For Dead-End Prospects

Originally published for RainToday.com

All that branding work is finally paying off. The calls and emails are coming in from prospective clients interested in your services. Time to celebrate? Not so fast.

High-ticket professional services require more effort to qualify and close. You want to spend the most time with your ideal prospects who are ready to make a buying decision, while continuing to nurture future possibilities. You don’t want to spend time and resources exploring dead-ends.

Below are three kinds of potentially hazardous incoming calls and how to deal with each.

Exploring With Travelers And Roamers

Exploring can be fun. You meet a wide variety of people and learn a lot. In professional services, there are two kinds of tourists: travelers who come home eventually, and roamers who hop from place to place.

Your job is to figure out, as soon as possible, into which category your prospect falls. The former are doing due diligence and will make a decision. The latter don’t actually do anything more than think, plan and dream with other tourists. They can suck the life force out of any schedule. The problem: you usually don’t know who you are traveling with until the trip is well underway.

How to spot: Both are pleasant and easy to talk to. The key difference is in their commitment to make a buying decision.

Travelers show a bias towards action. They more clearly communicate what they want and when they want it. Their conversations have an agenda. They want to know enough about you to make a decision and act.

Roamers show sincere interest in your services, but won’t commit to making any kind of decision. They mistake conversations for action. They either have no process for deciding or use such a complicated process that they will never decide.

Travelers will consider questions about making a buying decision legitimate. Roamers will balk at first, and will run or even attack if you try to pin them down.

What to do: Have your staff take the call and ask for background information before scheduling the initial meeting. Check out the prospect’s history: most travelers have a track record of successful trips. Roamers have a more “fluid” background, with very few results.

For the travelers, have the initial “get to know you” conversation and agree on a timeline for a decision. For suspected roamers, probe a little more. Have your staff ask about making a decision. If they can’t decide to decide, put them on an email list and let them come to you when they are “ready.”

If the roamers call back, your assistant will ask if they are ready to act and when. If they balk, put them off. Either they will go away or they will get ready, all without your direct involvement.

Falling For Stars And Strugglers

Have you ever checked out a prospect’s website and had your heart race? You can see their potential so clearly and just know you can help them get there.

It’s a lot like falling in love. But there’s a problem in paradise; their blind spots block your vision. They may not be able to see what you do.

Everyone has blind spots, and there are two approaches to dealing with them: the stars will break through and move on while the strugglers will erect a shrine and stand guard. The former you can work with. The latter you have to let go of, and quickly.

How to spot: Both have a lot going for them. One key element defines the difference between stars and strugglers: the degree of discomfort they are willing to feel to get what they want.

The stars are open to change because their ego is not involved. They realize that they don’t know what they don’t know. They want the result more than they want the blind spot.

The strugglers don’t like rain during their parade. Their blind spots are tied to a bigger issue. They either don’t believe they can pull off what you’re suggesting or they are too afraid to try. It’s a fight you will never win.

What to do: Again, check out their history. Stars have lost before and survived. Their hard knocks have smoothed the rough edges and they are on the upswing.

Strugglers haven’t gotten over it. It will be difficult for them to see past their current situation. In the initial conversation, find out what the “next level” looks like to them. Ask, “What are you willing to do to get what you just said you wanted?” Listen closely to the answer. Then test the waters. Ask, “What if I told you that it would take XXX to get the result you just said?” This will point out a blind spot.

Stars will be curious and ask for more information. Give them the information they need and continue the sales process. Strugglers will shoot the messenger (that’s you) rather than face the challenge head on. Get out now and be thankful for the heads-up.

Detailing The Problem And The Pleasure

The third type of inquiry is a moving target. Either the prospect has a problem that they are finally dealing with or they have a dream they are now ready to pursue.

The problem-solvers have had enough: they tried a variety of solutions and nothing has worked. Now they are coming to you. The dream-makers have reached a crossroads: they have a “fire in the belly” and are eager to act. They think you’re the one.

Both sound motivated to buy, so you’re tempted to devote your schedule to them. The question: are they really ready to move?

How to spot: Both have a story and want you to hear it. The problem-solvers are running away from something: either an imagined fear or a problem that’s already happened. They want it avoided or fixed. As soon as possible, thank you very much.

The dream-makers are running towards something. They have been successful in one area and want to expand on their achievement. Or, they are between adventures and had a “aha” moment. They want to seize the window of opportunity before it closes. They have a need for speed.

What to do: Don’t buy into their urgency. Let them talk for a while then drill down to the details. Listen to the language: How do they tell their story?

If the problem-solvers are in blame mode, run away. They are looking for a new target. They also may not have the resources to work with you, so prepare them for sticker shock. The “we’ll work with you when we get the money” day never comes.

As for the dreamers, look for concrete plans and ideas. If they haven’t thought the vision through, they may need more education. Put them on your “send article” follow-up list and check in later. They also may not be as serious as they sound when details come to light. Test them by explaining possible next steps and see how they react. “Wow, you’ve given me a lot to think about” is a typical “I’m not ready” response.

You Must Choose

Every inquiry is a compliment. It’s a sign that all your writing, speaking and networking is working well. But don’t let the flattery clog up your sales schedule. Be grateful and gracious to all, and focus on who is really ready to buy. And watch your close rate soar!

Filed Under: Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.