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How to Separate Tire-Kickers from Paying Customers

How do you sort through the tire-kickers who will never buy from you to find the real customers who will? Liz Ryan explains how.

If you have your own business, you already know that you don't have unlimited time to spend with tire-kickers--people who will never buy from you, but want to pick your brain for hours nonetheless. If you have a sales team, they don't have time to waste with tire-kickers either.

You have to figure out quickly which people are worth your sales time and which should be sent a catalog and sent along their way. Growing up, we were taught to be obliging and helpful. The urge to please is ingrained in many if not most of us. The problem is that if you aren't using your live sales time talking with viable prospects, you're not only wasting your time but also weakening your own sales muscles.

Here's an easy way to separate tire-kickers from real customers with real needs. Claudia is a graphic designer with her own business. She has a website, but people call Claudia night and day anyway to ask about her experience and pricing. Claudia isn't the cheapest graphic designer around (why would she want to be)? She needs to establish that a prospect has enough need--enough Business Pain--to be willing to pay her fees.

One day Claudia's office phone rings.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING!

CLAUDIA: State Street Design, this is Claudia!

SOMEONE: Oh hi, Claudia, this is Naomi Johnson from Expert Coders. Do you have a minute? I have some questions about your services.

CLAUDIA: Sure, Naomi. What's your situation?

NAOMI: Well, my situation is that my boss asked me to compile a spreadsheet of graphic designers for a design project we're thinking about.

Claudia is a business owner. She doesn't have time to sit on the phone sharing information that is already available on her website, in order for someone's assistant to create a spreadsheet that may get a ten-second glance.

Claudia has to know if Expert Coders is serious about its design need.

Can she get that information from Naomi? She's going to try.

CLAUDIA: Sounds good, Naomi. Did you have a chance to check my website? I can give you the URL.

NAOMI: I have to get this spreadsheet done today, so rather than poke through your website looking for information...if you could just spend ten minutes with me on the phone that would be great.

Claudia's time is not free. She's got to find out whether Naomi is for real before she starts gushing information. CLAUDIA:

Let me ask you a quick question Naomi, just to save your time--it sounds like your plate is full today. Does Expert Coders have a budget for its design project?

NAOMI: Yes, I think about $500.

Claudia's basic corporate identity package costs $2500 and she doesn't take projects as small as $500, even for her best clients. She's going to brush Naomi back today.

If somebody with decision-making authority at Expert Coders wants to talk business with her in a two-way exchange rather than a "fill the spaces on my spreadsheet" exercise, that's a different story.

CLAUDIA: Okay, that's great information, Naomi. Thanks for that. I'm probably not a great candidate for your spreadsheet in that case, because my fees are out of that range. Luckily there are tons of designers in town...

NAOMI: But one of our Board members suggested you to my boss. I have to have you on the spreadsheet!

New information! Someone is going to be looking for Claudia's name on the vendor shortlist.

CLAUDIA: Hmmm. Your boss--is he or she available to talk with me for a minute now, by chance?

NAOMI: Let me see. Yes, he is! His name is Frank Blake. I'm going to transfer you.

RRRRING!

FRANK: Frank Blake!

CLAUDIA: Hi, Frank! This is Claudia Harrison from State Street Design. I was just talking with Naomi about your design project. Do you have a minute to fill me in?

FRANK: Sure, thanks for asking! We're a tech firm obviously, and we have some client meetings coming up, so we finally really need business cards and collateral.

CLAUDIA: Thanks, Frank. Congratulations on your launch! What kind of branding or identity do you have now?

FRANK: Literally nothing. We're building our website as we speak. We don't have business cards. We just need to get out of neutral.

Claudia is still thinking about the $500 figure Naomi tossed out. If Frank is serious about spending $500 on his firm's graphic identity, he must not have much pain. Claudia is going to find out.

CLAUDIA: So, right now you're looking at a kind of placeholder branding, to tide you over until you need a stronger brand?

FRANK: No, why do you say that?

CLAUDIA: Oh that's my bad, I was talking with Naomi and she mentioned a $500 budget for your project...

FRANK: Well. I guess I told her that. We're not funded yet.

CLAUDIA: For sure, I understand. My question is, what if you get one of your staffers to draw a quick logo and use that until you need more?

FRANK: It sounds unprofessional.

CLAUDIA: It's just that I'd hate for you to go through the trouble of creating a logo now, and then replacing it within a few months as your company takes off.

FRANK: We have big meetings next month, with Intel and Sony!

CLAUDIA: That's magnificent, Frank! How much will those guys care about your branding?

FRANK: I think they'll care. So far they only know us through one guy who used to work with our CTO. That's Sony. Intel knows us through a connection I made at a trade show. We have to look very real when we meet with them.

CLAUDIA: And how significant are these relationships when you get them?

FRANK: They're everything! They're millions of dollars in sales, each. You're making me think that $500 isn't going to do it. I just don't know how much more we can spend.

CLAUDIA: Actually, I was going in the opposite direction. For a placeholder brand just to tide you over in the short term, I'd hate to see you spend any money at all. There are free logo sites --

FRANK: We don't want a placeholder brand. This is the real deal. We want to meet you, we want to talk about who we are and what we're trying to do, and we want to walk into Intel and Sony with materials that make us look as big as our idea. And these meetings are imminent--we're under the gun.

CLAUDIA: I'd love to work with you, but we're a ways apart on budget. What you're describing is more like a $3,500 identity package.

FRANK: Can you come and meet with us next week?

Claudia used a sales technique we invented and teach called the Zero Pain Hypothesis. You start with the assumption that the prospect has no pain. Let them talk you into the pain.

Look how hard Frank works in our example to convince Claudia that he and his business are real! All Claudia did was ask questions.

Did you notice that Claudia said nothing about her background or her references? She didn't need to. Frank sold himself on Claudia's services, because she didn't sign up like a good little sheepie vendor to join in the pointless spreadsheet-driven vendor selection process.

Claudia ended up with a fantastic long-term client and partner because she kept her cool. She was ready to send Expert Coders packing if she couldn't get anybody in the company to acknowledge the kind of expensive Business Pain that Claudia relieves for her clients.

The only clients Claudia wants are the ones who know what isn't working! Can you do the same thing? It's a new day in business. The more you stay in your body and trust in the universe to bring you the right people, the less you have to grovel and convince.

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Last updated: Jul 16, 2014

LIZ RYAN | Columnist

Liz Ryan is CEO and Founder of Human Workplace, a publishing, coaching and consulting firm whose mission is to reinvent work for people. Liz writes for 30 million readers about bringing a human voice and human energy to the business world.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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