Tire kickers in sales: 10 ways to spot them quickly + 7 methods to avoid them

Tire kickers in sales: 10 ways to spot them quickly + 7 methods to avoid them

One of the most important things to do early on in any sales conversation is to figure out how likely a prospect is to actually buy from you.

You need to figure out whether the prospect has serious buying intent and decision-making power. These are the two main ingredients in the recipe for a good prospect. Without them, the prospect is most likely a tire kicker.

When you waste time on the phone with someone who has no intention of buying, you’re losing valuable moments that could’ve been spent with real prospects.

Here’s the point: Your sales team needs to identify these tire kickers faster and get them out of your pipeline. That way, reps can focus their energy on the prospects who will actually purchase and deliver a winning sales pitch more often.

Want to learn how to deal with tire kickers effectively? Let’s dig into:

  • What is a tire kicker?
  • Spot the tire kickers: 10 types of prospects who will waste your time, and how to identify them
  • 7 strategies to avoid wasting time with tire-kicking prospects

What is a tire kicker?

A tire kicker is a prospect who seems very interested in your product but ends up spending far too long in your pipeline and never actually makes a decision. They love to chat with your sales team, raise objections, or haggle for a better price. But you just can’t seem to move them forward in the process, no matter how much time you spend (read: waste) on the phone with them.

Basically, tire kickers are a huge waste of your time.

Not only that, they’re a drain on your sales resources. The more time your team spends on these people who just won’t purchase, the less time they’re spending on prospects who really want to buy.

In the end, repeated efforts to sell to tire kickers over a long period of time will hurt your sales process and lower the close rate of your reps.

While it’s tempting to try and sell to everyone who shows interest in your product, it’s your job as a salesperson to quickly identify tire kickers and remove them out of your sales pipeline.

So, what do tire kickers look like in the real world?

Spot the tire kickers: 10 types of prospects who will waste your time, and how to identify them

Generally, tire kickers follow a similar pattern. Here is a list of the most common tire kicking prospects we’ve found, plus steps to spot them early on:

1. The student

Students are not buyers. They’re most likely doing research either for their studies or their career.

We ran into one of these cases here at Close. Someone signed up using a Harvard.edu address and one of our junior sales reps got very excited. The opportunity to have such a respected institution as a customer for our inside sales CRM? Who wouldn’t be excited?

However, once we called them up, we quickly discovered that they were just researching the CRM space for academic purposes. We thanked them, hung up, and marked it as a “Bad Fit” in our CRM.

How to spot them: Students are easier to spot early on. Simply ask them what they do and why they signed up to use your product. In fact, you can eliminate these from your inbound sales pipeline before they waste any of your time by including a ‘Job Title’ field in your online form.

2. The applicant

If your company is hiring, you’ll run into a lot of these. They’re job applicants that have signed up for a trial to check out your product and learn more. While that’s a good thing for your hiring process, it’s not a good thing for your sales process because these people are not buyers.

How to spot them: Once again, these can be filtered out quickly by asking them why they signed up for a trial.

3. The cheapskate

This person doesn’t care about your product. He just wants the best deal possible. Not only is this a prospect that will waste your time: Even if they do purchase, they’ll be much more likely to churn as soon as a cheaper alternative comes along.

How to spot them: Cheapskates love to ask questions—all of which are centered around price. Basically, they keep asking the same questions over and over, trying to figure out how to get the lowest price possible with your product.

They’ll probably try to push for a discount, or even do their best to continue using your product for free after their trial has ended.

4. The hobbyist

This person spends a lot of time using your product, but they’re not in the market for a solution. They will have a lot of questions and opinions, but they’re interested for the wrong reasons.

How to spot them: Ask them why they signed up, what they’re trying to accomplish, what their position is, and what is the size of the team they’re managing.

Avoid getting into the habit of answering their endless string of questions—instead, take control of the conversation. Once you’ve established more context, you’ll soon discover that they have no buying intent.

5. The researcher

The researcher has been given the job to learn more about your type of product, industry, and market.

They’re not the decision-maker or the buyer, they’re in the business of learning on behalf of someone else in their company.

How to spot them: Ask why they’re comparing you, what their priorities, are and who the buyer is.

6. The DOA

This person is dead on arrival because they have already chosen a solution. They’re doing research because they’re following a protocol or process.

Often, they’re not getting the price they want at the other company, so they come to you for a quote they can use as leverage when negotiating with them.

How to spot them: This is a tough one to spot in the qualifying process. There are four red flags to look out for:

  1. They’re not the decision-maker
  2. They are researching other products
  3. They can’t answer the question “How will you make a decision?”
  4. They want a quote with a low price

Put these four signals together, and your prospect most likely has another solution they’ve already decided on.

7. The slow burner

This person is currently locked into a contract and can’t act immediately. They’re just preparing for a potential move to a different solution in a year or so.

This is not necessarily a bad prospect—after all, they may end up purchasing down the road. Just be wary of how much time you spend with them. You can also try to get them to already make a commitment now in exchange for a better deal in the future. E.g. if they're still locked into a contract for the next 4 months, ask them to sign a contract with you today already and pay a deposit in exchange for a % discount, free migration support, an complimentary plan upgrade, or any other incentive that makes sense for your business. Some companies even buy out the remaining contract of a company to get them to move over to yours, but obviously you want to make sure that the unit economics make sense.

How to spot them: Ask them if they’re currently using a different solution, what kind of plan they’re on, and if they can get out of their contract.

8. The undercover spy

This is a competitor that pretends to be a buyer. They will have a sense of curiosity that goes beyond that of the average buyer.

How to spot them: These people are tough to spot. If they’re not asking questions that are centered around how your product will solve their problem, it’s likely that they’re a competitor.

They might ask if you’re funded, how many employees you have, or the features you’re releasing next. Their questions will betray a very deep understanding of your product and the market, something the average buyer doesn’t have.

9. The ignorant buyer

This person is working for a company that could be a potential customer. But they don’t know what the buying process looks like, let alone how a decision is made.

The painful part? They’re unaware of how ignorant they are but highly opinionated and determined. They’re going to ask all the right questions and look like a real buyer. But when it comes to the close, this person won’t have the authority to do so and the deal is gone.

That’s a lot of wasted time for nothing.

How to spot them: Ask how long they’ve been with the company and what their role is. Ask, “When was the last time you made this type of decision?” This question will be a good indicator of whether they’re the buyer or not. If they’re not, get them to bring the right person into the process.

10. The time-waster

Yes. This person is the ultimate time-wasting tire kicker. They might be potential buyers and decision-makers, but they have no respect for other people’s time.

How to spot them: This is the type of person that will happily chit-chat about anything. They take their time to think things through and they have zero urgency. They often reschedule or cancel.

If you get the feeling that the sales process is dragging on for no reason, it’s likely you’ve got a time-waster on your hands.

7 strategies to avoid wasting time with tire kicking prospects

Of course, each prospect should be treated individually. But there are some strategies you can keep on hand to stop wasting time with tire kickers.

Here are 7 tactics you can use to stop tire kickers from entering your sales funnel or remove the ones who get stuck there without purchasing.

1. Identify early by establishing context

As a sales rep, there are no bad questions to ask—as long as they’re relevant. If a prospect is being finicky, figure out why by asking questions. Start with the basics:

  • Where do they work?
  • What’s their role?
  • What does that role entail?
  • What are their challenges?
  • What’s their current solution, if any?

It’s also important to ask questions about what they’re trying to accomplish, and why they’re looking into your product. Open-ended questions work well at this point to help feel out where the prospect is in the sales funnel, and what their real intent is.

If you get the sense in this initial call that the prospect is a tire kicker, be straightforward with them.

Here’s what James Urie, Senior AE at Close, says to prospects who are giving signs of being tire kickers at an early stage:

This sounds like you’re still pretty early in the process. In this call right now, what can I do to add value and help you with that decision down the road?

This helps you determine the real interest of the prospect and gives purpose to your current conversation that could open the door for a sale later on.

2. Establish fit by matching customer profiles

Your ideal customer profile tells you the key characteristics of those who are most successful with your product (and thus most likely to purchase).

If you can, identify tire kickers before they waste anyone’s time by determining these key characteristics right off the bat.

To do this, include one or two qualifying questions in the sales forms on your website, and thus establish fit as new inbound leads come in, before they even speak with a sales rep.

3. Take control of the conversation

Some prospects can talk forever. Don’t sit there listening. As a sales rep, it's your responsibility to control the sales conversation. Interrupt them politely by asking a relevant question.

Something like, “I’m sorry, what did you say your role was? I must have missed it” will bring the conversation back to the start and allow you to identify who you’re talking to.

4. Make sure you’re talking to the decision-maker

If you’re not talking to the decision-maker, you’re talking to someone who will not buy your product.

As a sales rep, it’s your job to talk to the people who will purchase your product. So, as soon as possible, get the actual buyer on the phone.

If you’re talking to a researcher, getting an intro to the decision-maker will allow you to present a refined sales pitch directly to the person who will purchase (instead of having your sales pitch regurgitated by someone who doesn’t know your product). This will also help shorten the sales cycle.

The easiest way to get the buyer on the phone? Ask for it.

If the prospect isn’t willing to pass you to a decision-maker, they’re just kicking tires and not worth your time.

5. Know when it’s time to get a hard yes or no

You’ve probably heard about the Pareto principle before: In sales, 20% of your work drives 80% of your results.

The point? Focus on the 20% that really matters.

This means, instead of placating slow buyers and tire kickers, you need to know when to come in strong and get a straight answer. Practice friendly strength to show you’re the authority, and demonstrate that you’re only interested in talking to prospects that are a good fit. For example, try to provide some use cases of your solution and ask if the prospect can relate to those.

Not a match? Basically, you need to break up with them—but in a way that leaves the door open for a future sale.

Here are some examples of phrases you can use to get a straight answer from a tire-kicking prospect:

I know your time is valuable, and I don’t want to waste it if I can’t help you. Do you foresee your team implementing this product by [amount of time of your average sales cycle]?

With the information you’ve given me about your current budget, I don’t think our product is a good fit for your needs. I was digging around with some other options, and I was thinking [alternative solution that might be a better match for them] might be a better fit for you right now.”

It seems like we’re having some trouble making progress with a solution to your problem. If you can [get the budget approved, schedule a meeting with a decision-maker, etc.] by next week, I’d be happy to keep moving forward. If not, maybe right now isn’t the best time for us to work together.

These responses allow you to remove a tire kicker from your pipeline while still allowing space for a sale in the future (if they can actually make up their mind).

6. Track your average sales cycle to identify slow buyers

Tracking the right sales metrics will help you identify tire kickers and get them out of your pipeline before they waste your team’s time and energy.

For example, tracking the average length of your sales cycle will tell you when a prospect is taking longer to complete the purchase.

If you want to, get even more specific by tracking the average time it takes for prospects to convert through the different stages of your sales pipeline. Then you’ll be able to see right away when a prospect is getting stuck, and respond quickly.

7. Set slow buyers up with a follow-up sequence

Do you have several prospects floating around in your pipeline that just never seem to close? Don’t waste your time with manual follow-ups: Set up automated email sequences to handle these prospects.

That way, these prospects are still being contacted regularly, but they’re not taking up your time and energy.

Stop wasting time with tire kickers and focus on the prospects that matter

The sooner you can remove tire kickers from your pipeline, the sooner you can start closing deals with people that are a good fit for your product and company.

This starts at the very beginning of your process: With inbound leads, optimize who gets into your pipeline by adding a few qualifying questions to your online forms. This simple trick will help you avoid the great majority of those tire kickers.

Then, keep a good idea on your sales pipeline to spot tire kickers who made it in, and use the tips above to stop wasting time with them.

Want more tips on moving sales conversations forward faster? Grab a free copy of my book The Follow-Up Formula!