Tire Kickers in Sales: 10 Ways to Spot Them Quickly + 7 Methods to Avoid Them
In any sales conversation, you need to figure out if your prospect is actually intending to buy from you—and the sooner you learn this, the better.
Here’s what to look for: Does the prospect have serious buying intent and decision-making power? These are the two main ingredients for a good prospect. Without them, the prospect is most likely a tire kicker.
Your sales team needs to identify these tire kickers fast and get them out of your pipeline. That way, reps can focus their energy on the prospects who might actually become customers.
What Is a Tire Kicker in Sales?
And that’s the problem: Tire kickers are a huge waste of your time.
They’re also a drain on your sales resources. The more energy your team spends on these people, the less energy you’re spending on prospects who really want to buy.
While it’s tempting to try and sell to everyone who shows interest in your product, it’s your job as a sales professional to quickly identify tire kickers and remove them from your sales pipeline.
So, what do tire kickers look like in the real world?
How to Spot Tire Kickers: 10 Prospects Who Will Waste Your Time
Generally, tire kickers follow a similar pattern. Here is a list of the most common tire kicking prospects we’ve found (think of them as anti-customer personas), plus steps to spot the warning signs early on.
1. The Student
Students are not buyers. They’re most likely doing research for their studies or career.
We ran into one of these 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 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 “The Student” Tire Kicker
Students are easy to spot early on. Just ask them what they do and why they signed up for your product. In fact, you can eliminate these from your inbound sales pipeline quickly 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. These are job applicants that have signed up for a trial to check out your product and learn more before an interview. While it’s a good thing for your hiring process, it’s not a good thing for your sales process—these people are not buyers.
How to Spot “The Applicant” Tire Kicker
Once again, these can be filtered out quickly by asking why they signed up for a trial.
3. The Cheapskate
This person doesn’t really care about your product or value prop. They just want the best deal possible. Now, this prospect might purchase from you— but if they do, they’ll be much more likely to churn as soon as a cheaper alternative comes along.
How to Spot “The Cheapskate” Tire Kicker
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 possible price.
They’ll probably push for a discount, or even try 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.
They are the person loitering in the car dealership parking lot looking at the Ferraris—just because they’re interested. The smart salesperson will identify this, and avoid the situation.
How to Spot “The Hobbyist” Tire Kicker
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 answering their endless string of questions—instead, take control of the conversation. Once you’ve established context, you’ll discover that they have no actual buying intent.
5. The Researcher
The researcher has the task of learning more about your product, industry, and market.
They’re not the decision-maker or the buyer. They’re getting information on behalf of someone else at their company.
How to Spot “The Researcher” Tire Kicker
Ask why they’re comparing you, what their priorities are, and who the buyer is. Get to the person who can actually make the buying decision.
6. The DOA
This person is dead on arrival because they’ve already selected a solution. They’re doing research only to follow 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 during negotiations.
How to Spot “The DOA” Tire Kicker
This is a tough one to spot in the qualification process. Here are four red flags to look out for:
- They’re not the decision-maker
- They are researching other products
- They can’t answer the question “How will you make a decision?”
- They want a quote with a low price
Put these four signals together, and your prospect probably 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 isn’t necessarily a bad prospect—after all, they may end up purchasing down the road. Just be cautious about how much time you spend with them. You could try to get them to make a commitment now in exchange for a better deal in the future—incentivize them with migration support, a complimentary upgrade, or whatever makes sense for your situation.
Some companies even buy out the remaining contract of a prospect to get them to move over, but obviously the economics must be profitable.
How to Spot “The Slow Burner” Tire Kicker
Ask if they’re currently using a different solution, what kind of plan they’re on, and if they can get out of their contract. But be intentional to protect your time—know when to move on.
8. The Undercover Spy
This is a competitor that pretends to be a buyer—and they will demonstrate curiosity that goes beyond that of an average buyer.
How to Spot “The Undercover Spy” Tire Kicker
These ones are tougher to spot. However, if they aren't asking questions centered around how your product will solve their problem, they’re probably a competitor.
They might ask about your funding, number of employees, or upcoming features. The questions will betray a deep understanding of your product and market, something the average buyer doesn’t have.
9. The Uninformed “Buyer”
This person works for a company that could be a potential customer. But they don’t understand the buying process, let alone how a decision is made.
The painful part? They’re unaware of their ignorance, and 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 doesn’t have the authority and the deal evaporates. That’s a lot of wasted time.
How to Spot “The Uninformed ‘Buyer’” Tire Kicker
Ask about their role and how long they’ve been at the company. Ask, “When was the last time you made this type of decision?” This will be a good indicator of whether or not they’re the buyer. If they’re not, ask them to bring the right person into the process.
10. The Chit-Chatter
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 “The Chit-Chatter” Tire Kicker
This is the type of person that will happily chit-chat about anything. Anything. They take their sweet time to think things through, and have zero urgency. They frequently reschedule or cancel meetings. They’re a time waster.
If you feel that the sales process is dragging on for no reason, you’ve likely got a chit-chatter on your hands.
7 Strategies to Avoid Wasting Time with Tire Kicking Prospects
Of course, each prospect should be treated individually. But you need to be proactive about protecting your time and resources.
Here are seven strategies to stop tire kickers from entering your sales funnel and to remove the ones who get stuck there.
1. Identify Tire Kickers Early by Qualifying Leads More Efficiently
As a sales rep, there are no bad questions—as long as they’re relevant. If a prospect is finicky, discover why with these questions. Start with the basics:
- Where do you work?
- What’s your role?
- What does that role entail?
- What are your challenges?
- What’s your current solution, if any?
It’s also important to ask qualifying questions about what they’re trying to accomplish, and why they’re looking into your product. This is especially important with B2B sales, because sales cycles are so long—you can’t afford to waste time. Open-ended questions work well to 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 Partnerships Manager at Close, says to prospects who are showing early signs of being tire kickers:
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). It’s a vital piece in your sales strategy.
Find tire kickers quickly by identifying these key characteristics right off the bat.
To do this, include one or two qualifying questions in the sales forms on your website. This way you establish fit as 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 your court.
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—which isn’t your job as a sales rep.
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 sales pitch directly to that person (instead of having your pitch regurgitated by someone who doesn’t know your product). This will also help shorten the sales cycle.
The easiest way to get to the buyer? Ask.
If the prospect isn’t willing to pass you on 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.
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 demonstrate authority, and show that you’re only interested in talking with prospects that are a good fit. For example, provide some use cases of your solution and ask if the prospect can relate to those.
Not a match? Break up with them—but in a way that leaves the door open for a future sale.
Here are some phrases you can use to get a straight answer:
“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 budget information you’ve given me, I don’t think our product is a good fit for your needs. I was looking at some other options, and I think [alternative solution] might be a better match for you right now.”
“It seems like we’re having trouble making progress here. If you can [get the budget approved, schedule a meeting with the decision-maker, etc.] by next week, I’d be happy to continue the conversation. 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 leaving space for a future sale (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 than usual to complete a purchase.
If you want, 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. Use a Follow-Up Sequence with Slow Buyers
Do you have 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 contacted regularly without taking up your time.
Focus on the Prospects That Matter
The sooner you can remove tire kickers from your pipeline, the sooner you can start closing deals with prospects 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 step will help you avoid the majority of tire kickers.
Then, keep an eye on your sales pipeline to spot the ones that got through, use the tips above to remove them—and stop wasting time.
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