Did you ever have a call with a prospect where you just came away with this really bad feeling ? And in spite of that ominous feeling, you just continued to chase the deal anyway ? Did it go anywhere ? And if it did, did that prospect turn out to be a great client ?

If you’re anything like me (and 99% of my clients), the answer is “no”.

Fact: bad sales prospects waste our time, don’t buy, and if they do they’re almost always more trouble than they’re worth.

But the problem is: how do you figure out which ones are bad prospects in the first place ? I mean, it’s not like there’s a checklist somewhere – or is there ?

Over the years, I’ve finetuned my “bad prospect radar” to the point where I can spot one a mile away. They typically give off the same warning signs – all you need to know is how to look for them.

With that in mind, here are 6 signs you’re dealing with a prospect you don’t want to do business with.

#1. They’re unresponsive.

Listen. Everyone’s busy. I get it. And no one likes to get calls 4-5 times per day from eager sellers asking them “how things are going”. Which means most prospects will play “hide and seek” to a certain degree. And that’s fine.

But there’s a certain category of sales prospects that takes this to the extreme. After the first call, they seem to drop off the face of the planet. Your emails go unanswered. Calls divert to voicemail. (And let’s really hope you haven’t take the time to draft an elaborate proposal at this point).

In my experience, unresponsive prospects turn into unresponsive clients. Which is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve got a clear set of rules in place for this crowd. I’ll reach out once. Twice. A third time. And then, I’m done. Three strikes and you’re out.

#2. They’re transactional.

I was sitting in a meeting room sometime last year, when a senior executive stood up, pounded his hand on the table and said “I’m tired of all this talk about building long-term relationships with our clients. In my business, long-term relationships are built one deal at a time”. (He was a high-powered commodities trader).

For him, that’s fine. But if, like me, you’re in a services business, you DO want to build long term relationships with clients. But a long term relationship has to go both ways. It’s hard to build something lasting by yourself.

If I’m running into a prospect who only wants to talk about the current deal, doesn’t leave openings for discussing the longer term and focuses only or mainly on price – warning lights start to go off.

#3. They’re cheap.

Whether by necessity or by choice, some sales prospects want the moon for the price of a Super Saver meal at your local burger joint. They’ll happily talk to you all day long, scoping out a world-class program, to then turn around and say “So. I’ve got 5K to spend. Would that about cover it ?”

Some people don’t have an eye for value – they focus on cost, and cost alone. That doesn’t make them bad. It just means that, if you’re a premium player, you most definitely don’t want to do business with them.

Either they come around and you’ll agree on a more reasonable number. Or it’s better to kill the deal right then and there.

#4. They’re irrational.

When I was about 20, I had this girlfriend. She was beautiful. Long blond hair. Big blue eyes. Lots of fun. The works. Trouble was she was about as stable as a case of dynamite. The slightest thing could set her off. Needless to say, things didn’t last for very long.

Some prospects behave in similar ways. They don’t make decisions rationally. Refuse to commit to anything. Remain unclear around their decision making criteria, and do so on purpose. Change their mind on a moment’s notice.

If I spot a prospect like that, I steer clear. If they’re behaving that way before the deal is done, imagine what they’d be like after they become a client.

#5. They’re overly demanding.

So I got this email the other day from a potential prospect. Couple of bulletpoints about their situations, and perceived need. Then, they asked for a proposal, outlining – in great detail – everything they wanted to know about (including, by the way, three names of past clients). Pulling everything together would have take me a few hours, at least.

My answer ? No. I’m not going to send you a proposal.

Unless you are ready to spend an hour on the phone with me, I will not send a proposal (and even then, I often won’t – not unless I have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, why it matters and what the impact looks like).

Contrary to popular knowledge, sales is a balance equation. Your job is not simply to “serve your clients”. There needs to be a little give-and-take from both sides. Which includes information, effort and energy.

I typically know when I’m dealing with an overly demanding prospect if they:

  • Ask for a lot of information, yet refuse to share anything in return themselves
  • Don’t respond to my requests for information and/or send me the bare minimum as a “pacifier”
  • Aren’t willing to do some work and invest some time in the process themselves (eg. by drafting a scoping document)
  • Aren’t willing to exchange on an even balance (e.g. I’ll work out a full proposal, if you agree to co-present it to management)

#6. They’re indecisive.

You know the type. When they’re on the phone, they’re ready to commit. Half an hour later, you get an email, stating “they’ve changed their mind” (often including some vague excuse about their boss, circumstances or a universal culprit like “the strategy”).

Truth is: they can’t commit. Or they don’t want to.

Whatever the case, I don’t want to deal with them. Great clients are action-takers. They don’t need to be convinced of “the case for change”, or when they do it takes very little. They want to move the needle. They’re ambitious. And they’re not afraid to take you along for the ride.

Many of my clients lament the fact that “some of their sellers seem to work so hard, yet accomplish so little.” When I press deeper, I often find out that it’s not that they can’t get the prospect to say “yes”.

It’s that they can’t say “no” to the wrong prospect.