Beware the Tire Kicker
Navigating the treacherous waters of client acquisition in the consulting, PR, and marketing world often feels like a game of Minesweeper: One wrong move, and you’ve sunk a bunch of time, effort, and resources into a client that was never really a prospect. The infamous “tire kickers” are your worst nightmare in this scenario. They feign interest, ask endless questions, and yet never commit. Identifying them early on can save you a world of hurt.
I’ve been in business for nearly fourteen years, and I’ve learned a few things about avoiding these types of window shoppers. That doesn’t mean I always trust my instincts, though. Just this past summer, two tire kickers snuck up on me.
I spent hours on travel, meetings, and crafting a proposal, all for naught. I know it’s part of the game, but man, it is a gut punch when you see all the time you wasted.
However, it’s crucial to remember that not every prospect who decides not to hire you falls into this category. Multiple variables could be in play: timing, budget constraints, or even a change in organizational priorities. Moreover, initial conversations with these prospects can provide invaluable market insights and may even pave the way for future collaborations when circumstances align.
Neglecting these relationships because they didn’t immediately convert is a missed opportunity. They may not be the right fit for your service offerings today, but who’s to say what tomorrow holds? Keeping the door open for future discussions and maintaining a professional rapport can often lead to fruitful engagements down the line. In other words, today’s “no” might be tomorrow’s enthusiastic “yes,” provided the relationship is nurtured and not dismissed.
Eyes Wide Open
That said, be sure you go in with your eyes open. Let’s take a look at how to spot — and deal with — someone who is ultimately not serious about hiring you or making a purchase. And let’s hope I can remember this next time I get that sinking feeling I have a tire kicker on my hands.
The Inquiry Mirage
The first red flag often manifests in initial conversations. Tire kickers love to dangle the proverbial carrot, presenting what seems like a juicy project. However, upon digging deeper, you’ll find a lack of specificity or a reluctance to divulge basic details like budgets, goals, or timelines.
Often you will find people who like to hear themselves talk.
If you find yourself conversing with a supposed “representative” who can’t make decisions and constantly defers to some ever-absent higher-up, tread cautiously. Either you’re dealing with a gatekeeper who has yet to secure the keymaster’s interest, or you’re in tire kicker territory.
Tire kickers often dance around budget discussions. They may tell you they’re flexible on cost but then balk when you present a proposal, saying it needs to be “reviewed.” Professional firms understand that budget constraints are a reality; tire kickers use them as a stalling tactic.
Stuck in the Q&A Loop
A genuine prospect asks pointed, actionable questions and actively listens to your solutions. Tire kickers will bombard you with questions that seem almost formulaic as if they’re working off a script they downloaded off the Internet. No matter how thorough your answers, their curiosity is never sated.
Delayed or Non-Responsive
In a digital world, communication delays can happen. But if someone consistently fails to respond to your emails, reschedules calls, or generally drags their feet, it’s not a sign of a busy prospect; it’s a hallmark of a tire kicker.
It’s also the sign of someone who doesn’t know how to be a grownup and just say, “No.” The sentence, “I appreciate the time and effort, but I have changed my mind,” Or “This is not for me, thanks,” works great for me. I respect that kind of response a hell of a lot more than someone who clearly doesn’t have the professionalism to say no.
The Commitment Phobic
You’ve presented the proposal, outlined the plan, and prepared to move to the next step, but the client keeps finding excuses not to commit. They may cite external factors, or even compliment your plan and assure you they’re “almost ready.” But the dotted line remains untouched.
In a business environment where time is often the most valuable commodity, the failure to provide a straightforward answer can be maddening. It’s especially frustrating when you’ve invested resources into crafting a proposal or developing a plan.
A simple “no” is not just a sign of professional integrity; it also shows a level of respect for the other person’s time and effort. Failing to communicate this, and instead resorting to silence or endless delays, can tarnish one’s professional reputation. In the end, it’s not just about saying “no”; it’s about doing so in a way that honors the time and resources both parties have invested.
RFP-K-E-Y … M-O-U-S-E
This is similar to the trend of companies issuing — and inviting your firm to respond to — a Request for Proposal (RFP). They engage you in the intricate dance of crafting a comprehensive response, only to vanish into thin air once they’ve decided to go with another firm.
Not only is this practice unprofessional, but it also shows a glaring lack of respect for the time, energy, and intellectual investment required to respond to an RFP. It’s the corporate equivalent of ghosting, and it leaves you questioning not just the outcome, but also the integrity of the entire process.
Sometimes, spotting a tire kicker comes down to good old-fashioned gut feeling. If something feels off, if the client seems to lack the same urgency or seriousness you have, it’s worth taking a step back to evaluate.
As a colleague told me recently:
Tire Kickers often derive pleasure by receiving so much attention during the wooing process. It makes them feel important.
If you are getting that feeling from the prospect, it is time to take action to mitigate the damage.
· Pre-Qualification Questionnaire: Implement a screening tool to filter serious prospects.
· Time Limits: Set internal timelines for client engagement. For instance, all my proposals have a 30-day expiration. If someone responds after that, I may reassess terms based on current client load and availability.
· Consultation Fees: Though I generally don’t charge for consultations, I remain cautious about investing too much time upfront, especially when it involves extensive travel or individuals who dismiss the value of online meetings.
· Walk Away: Don’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy. I once invested about six hours into a prospect who turned out to be unserious. He inexplicably kept trying to scale down the proposal to a point where it became an opportunity cost for me and an unsatisfactory outcome for him. When this happens, it’s best to cut your losses, wish them well, and refocus your energies where they’re better spent.
Your Time is Valuable
Recognizing tire kickers is an essential skill for avoiding the rabbit holes that can divert your focus from real opportunities. It’s not just about safeguarding your time; it’s about ensuring that your energy is channeled into relationships that offer mutual benefit.
Remember, time is a non-renewable resource; use it wisely.
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