Ah, the tire kicker—one of a salesperson’s worst nightmares, but just what are tire kickers?
A tire kicker is someone who will drag the sales cycle on . . . and on . . . and on while hogging your time and resources without ever actually buying.
The term comes from car dealerships.
Sales professionals have to spend time with prospective clients on the showroom floor while those prospects test the product (kick the tires) of the particular car they want to buy.
The problem is tire kickers don’t actually make a buying decision. Instead, they become a huge time suck.
They’ll happily steal your time to ask questions, raise objections, haggle, and instill you with the false hope that they’re going to close, — but then never do.
Even if your pipeline isn’t at capacity, your sales team is better off using its time on more profitable pursuits, like moving middle of the funnel prospects toward sales, than entertaining these chatty Kathies.
The key is to get to a hard “yes” or “no” (preferably the former) as quickly as possible.
What is a tire kicker, precisely?
We’ve covered it in broad strokes, but let’s get down to the brass tacks of just what makes someone a tire kicker and not a realistic sales opportunity.
As we mentioned earlier, a tire kicker is a prospective client or potential customer who doesn’t intend to buy anything from you, but still takes up a lot of your time.
They might be lonely and want to chat to someone, perhaps they want to geek out about technology with someone knowledgeable about PandaDoc or other contract tools, or perhaps they just want some free stuff.
While tire kicking is largely harmless, it can take up a lot of valuable sales time with no purchases to show for at the end.
Some examples of tire kickers
Let’s check out three core examples of tire kickers to help you identify them in the future and hopefully steer your interactions in a fruitful direction:
The applicant is someone who signs up for your newsletters or free trials or otherwise takes steps to get a taste of your products and company, but who has no interest in buying anything.
Instead, what they’re looking for is to learn more about your company because they’re applying for a job with you.
While this can be useful for recruitment numbers, it isn’t particularly helpful to getting your sales up.
The DOA (dead on arrival)
The DOA person has already chosen a solution with another company before engaging with you and your business.
They might come to you looking to see what prices or deals you’re offering in order to leverage a better deal for the product they’ve already chosen.
Or, they might be doing research to support their decision.
They’ll often be trying to get the lowest quote possible from you or comparing multiple products without showing genuine interest in any of them.
While you may be able to persuade them to go for your product instead of their chosen one, chances are that their mind is already made up and you’ll be wasting your time.
The spy is someone who works for a competing company and is coming to check out the competition.
If they seem overly knowledgeable, don’t look like your typical customer, and seem to be taking notes on things customers don’t usually ask about or need to know, they might be a spy.
There isn’t much you can do if you think someone wants to spy on your product or company.
Take it as a compliment and try to focus the conversation toward the product at hand.
With those three examples of tire kickers in mind, here are five red flags that will help you spot tire kickers and some sales tips that can help you move on with the rest of your day:
1. They broke as a joke
It’s not easy trying to figure out whether your prospect has the budget to dedicate to your product or service, but you’ve got to get there ASAP, or you’ll risk spending time on someone who can’t afford what you’re selling.
If your potential client is waiting for a big payday that never seems to come, or if their budget approval is always “just around the corner,” that’s a warning sign to look for.
Maybe your prospect’s company has the money, but the individual doesn’t have the authority to make the purchase.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the decision-maker never arrives to push the deal forward.
Solution: Ask about their budget
Most sales training manuals will tell you to ask open-ended questions and treat every sales experience as an opportunity to explore your client’s needs.
When you’re dealing with a budget-limited tire kicker, all of that goes out the window because they never have the means or real intention to purchase.
During your conversation, ask your prospect what their budget is for this purchase.
If they can’t give you a reasonable range (or any range at all) then you could be dealing with someone who has no intention to make a deal.
The problem with this group is that they may not actually know that they’re tire kickers.
A prospect lacking the authority to purchase isn’t an immediate disqualifier.
Lots of employees are tasked with doing purchasing research.
If the employee has decided to strike out on their own in search of a solution, and they’re planning to convince their boss to spend money later down the road, you’ve got more of a problem.
Questions about their budget and how they ended up talking to you in the first place can tell you whether you’re facing a difficult (or impossible) sale.
2. They love to schmooze
These guys (and gals) will steal as much of your time as humanly possible.
They’ll ask tons of questions about your product or service, want to hear about every feature, take a peek at the product roadmap, and chat you up about integrations.
They also want to know about you, your kids, your golf handicap, and your alma mater.
They’ve got opinions on everything, and they looooove to schmooze.
But, in sales, schmoozers can be losers.
If your prospect isn’t taking actions to move the sale forward, or if they’re not responding to your attempts to keep the conversation focused, it’s a bright red flag that your deal is going nowhere fast.
Fortunately, if you’re using PandaDoc, it’s super-easy to keep track of the progress of any deal.
As well as generally shortening your sales cycles, with PandaDoc you can also keep tabs on deals with real-time reporting and notifications.
Solution: Stay firm and on track
A lot of people love small talk, and the line between ice breakers and TMI can vary when it comes to a sales conversation.
Some prospects care about personality when buying. Others just want to close the deal and get on with their day.
Time wasters and tire kickers are almost always in the first category.
While there’s nothing wrong with being friendly and personable, if your sales conversations with a specific prospect are constantly wandering off-topic, trust your gut and take action.
Do your best to close off all avenues of conversation that aren’t related to the product or the sale, and politely push the conversation back on track when your prospect starts to wander.
This approach can help you isolate serious buyers because it deprives schmoozers of your time and attention.
While it can be a hard stance to take, especially if you enjoy talking to people, it may be necessary to protect your time and profits.
3. They’ve got all the time in the world
For serious buyers, time is money, and projects usually run on a deadline.
Most buyers are looking for something to solve a problem that they’re dealing with right now or one that’s just down the road.
Ideally, you want to talk to someone with a desperate, burning, urgent need or problem they need to solve — STAT.
But even if you don’t hear that, a buyer who means business has already taken the time to budget for a solution and consider its impact on their organization.
They may be shopping around, but they have some idea of how and when they want to implement your product or service.
As with a budget, if someone can’t give you an idea of their timeline to purchase, there’s a good chance they aren’t serious about closing the deal anytime soon.
If you aren’t seeing signs that the groundwork is already done, you could be looking at a tire kicker who has put the cart before the proverbial horse.
Solution: Probe for buyer preparedness
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with checking to see whether your buyer is even ready to purchase.
Not only will this waylay tire kickers by throwing external obstacles in their path; it also stops serious buyers from having a poor experience with your product.
Here’s an example:
Would you feel comfortable selling a car to a prospect who has never been behind the wheel? They can’t test drive it. You’ll have a hard time uncovering their needs. Even if they buy it, they can’t drive it off the lot.
The starting point for that conversation has nothing to do with the car and everything to do with whether or not your prospect is in the right place to buy a car right now!
If your buyer isn’t prepared, they’re likely to be a tire kicker by default — and it’s not your job to prepare them.
Recommend them to service providers and non-competitive solutions so that they can get the help they need, then step away from the deal and move on
4. They don’t fit the profile
We’ve all been there: A prospect initiates contact, and they just don’t seem to fit your buyer profile.
They don’t respond in the right way to your standard template of questions and follow-ups.
If you look them up on social media, their profiles are nonexistent or questionable.
Something about the buyer just feels off, even if you’re not exactly sure what it is.
You’re not sure if this person is in the right place, or if you’re even the right person to help them.
What’s worse, you’re not sure how to get those answers because nothing about the buyer seems to fit in the way that it should.
The confusion about the quality of the buyer and whether or not you’re a good fit leads to a lot of tire kicking.
Ironically, this happens in both directions before the prospect moves on to greener pastures.
Solution: Build an airtight qualification process
By itself, a break from the ideal customer profile isn’t a dealbreaker.
How many stories have you heard about millionaires who dress and act like normal people when they’re out of the office?
Not everyone goes sailing on a private yacht after cutting out early on a Friday afternoon.
But when the prospect you’re talking to doesn’t align with your typical buyer profile, it’s okay to raise an eyebrow and ask a few extra questions to make sure that you can help them.
Buyers come in all shapes and sizes, and the serious ones are more than capable of arriving at a solid purchasing decision.
Take the time to reinforce who fits into your standard buyer profiles.
If you have established, validated customer personas then you’ll be able to spot when someone you don’t recognize comes strolling into your pipeline.
When it’s time to do some heavy qualification, have a plan in place to help you and your prospect uncover whether you’ll be able to assist them.
CRM tools and apps like Salesforce are great for lead qualification, especially when used in conjunction with PandaDoc.
With the PandaDoc and Salesforce integration, you can auto fill sales documents, auto update opportunity statuses, and more.
5. They want free lunch
Everyone loves free stuff. Free trials, product samples, and demos can go a long way when it comes to closing the deal.
Most buyers won’t say no to something free.
That includes all the time and effort that you’re investing in conversations, follow-ups, and every other aspect of the sales process.
Free trials and demos are designed to serve as enhancers in the sales process that show off your product or service and give you the leverage you need to close the deal.
That can’t happen if the buyer never intended to purchase your product in the first place.
If they’re pushing for free content, but you don’t get the impression that it will move the sale along, you might be working with a time waster who just wants a test drive before they pack up and move on.
Solution: Analyze buyer intent
You’ve probably heard all of the top sales and marketing folks hawking the “consultative approach” to selling for a while now. It’s not just a trending topic — it actually works!
The caveat is that you have to make sure you’re not just giving away consulting time to someone who will never, ever convert.
Before you start offering free and personalized commitments, make sure that your prospect is receptive to your pitch and that you’re not just wasting your time.
It helps if they have some kind of skin in the game or if their intent to buy is clear and obvious.
Lacking those clear touchpoints, it might be best to withhold any free options that require major time commitments on your end.
A free lunch is something that only works once or twice in the sales process.
Weed out your tire kickers by enabling a better end-to-end sales process
Tire kickers don’t advertise their presence on a fullscreen display.
Salespeople need to keep an eye on every prospect to make sure that they aren’t chasing deals that will never close.
Creating a better end-to-end sales process is a great way to ensure that reps have the tools and documentation that they need to move deals forward and eject tire kickers from the pipeline.
Not all prospective clients are created equal, and top sales reps have to do everything they can to guard their time.
Keep a close eye out for these red flags, and kick your tire-kickers to the curb.
Find out how PandaDoc can help make your sales process more time-efficient, by starting a free 14-day trial.
Originally published February 26, 2018, updated February 24, 2023
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