Worst Prospect

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve run into your share of poor quality prospects. But who comes to mind when you think of your worst prospect ever?

No matter what business you’re in, there are people who are qualified to do business with you and there are people who are just not qualified at all. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, so we end up wasting enormous amounts of time trying to convince or persuade poor quality prospects to do business with us.

When I think back over my rather lengthy career in sales and business ownership, there is one guy who stands out in my mind as the worst prospect ever.

In truth, it’s very likely this person was not actually the worst prospect I’ve ever encountered in all my years. But he stands out in my mind because he was the person who caused me to change my way of thinking to say, “That’s it, no more, I’m done! I am finished with pursuing poor quality prospects!”

Fortunately for me, this happened fairly early in my career… many years ago. I can’t even tell you how many, because I just don’t remember. I probably blocked it out. I can’t even remember what I was there to sell him. But it doesn’t matter, because the point is exactly the same.

I’m pretty sure I met him at a local networking function. Maybe a Chamber of Commerce event or something else where there’s a lot of schmoozing and boozing, but not necessarily a lot of business being conducted.

In any event, I met this guy and he was an insurance agent for a nationally recognized company. He was well dressed, he spoke well, and he projected an air of confidence, bordering on arrogance, which I mistakenly interpreted as a sign of affluence or success. After all, what would a struggling, unsuccessful, dead-broke insurance dude have to be confident or even arrogant about, right? To this day, I still don’t know the answer to that, but it doesn’t matter.

In any event, we talked about whatever it was he was doing and it sounded like he needed whatever it was I was selling at the time, so we scheduled an appointment to meet at his office a few days later.  I arrived at the address he gave me, ten or fifteen minutes early, so I wouldn’t keep him waiting. I walked in, immediately spotted the receptionist, walked over to her desk, introduced myself and let her know that I was there for a 10 AM appointment with her boss.

She had a look on her face that made me think she might have just eaten something that didn’t agree with her.

She told me he wasn’t there, but that I could “sit over there” and wait. She gestured to a dirty-looking, hard plastic chair. I made my way over to it, trying to quiet the disgusted look that started creeping across my own face, and I sat down.  As I waited and looked around, I realized the entire place was a dump. The neighborhood was fine, but the way he kept his office made it clear that he just didn’t care, and her attitude indicated that his receptionist shared his apathy.

When 10 AM rolled around, I asked the receptionist what time she expected him. She said she didn’t know. I asked if there was any way for her to reach him. She said there wasn’t. And while this event took place in an age before cell phones, I suspect that even if they had been available at the time, her answer still would have been the same.

So I figured, “okay, I’ll give this guy ten minutes to show up. If he doesn’t, I’m out of here.” I may have been young and a bit naive, but fortunately, I wasn’t totally lacking in self-respect.  As the seconds ticked on and I became more and more uncomfortable sitting there, I realized that this was not a good prospect for me. Not because he couldn’t buy from me — I had been around long enough to know that even if he was operating in squalor, he might still have access to cash — but he wasn’t a good prospect for me because I realized I didn’t want to help him.

Would I really want to help persuade unsuspecting insurance buyers to favor this guy’s business over every other option available to them?

When I realized the answer was no, I knew I had to get out of there. It was about 10:04. He was only four minutes late, but I stood up, looked at my watch and said, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to go.” She said, “he’ll probably be in shortly if he knows he’s supposed to be meeting with you,” now completely forgetting the fact that just moments before she told me she had no idea when he’d be in, and she had no way to reach him. I suspect that despite her initial look of contempt for me, she just didn’t want to stay in that hell-hole by herself.

But I excused myself nonetheless and made my way to the door.

“Do you want to leave a card for him?” she asked. “No, that’s okay, thanks.” I said. And with that, I was out the door.

So what is it that makes someone a poor quality prospect for you?

It’s tempting to think in terms of the obvious… those who are rude, obnoxious, belligerent or apathetic normally head my list. Beyond that, I’m not a huge fan of buffoons or know-it-alls. I have similar contempt for sneaky, shady people, in addition to liars and ingrates. But ultimately, for me, it all boils down to this.

Is this someone I actually want to help?

If the answer is no, then it’s a poor quality prospect for me.

When you know that the work you do benefits people significantly… when you know that your efforts will help them create far better results than they’ll ever be able to get on their own… when you know that your ideas, your recommendations and your outcomes will improve their quality of lives for the better… you’ll want to feel confident that the people you’re doing it for are worthy of your efforts.

Will you always get it right?

No, you won’t. But you’ll know when you got it wrong, and you will never forget it. When that happens, remember those lessons, so you can better identify the worst prospects early enough in the sales cycle, so you can just say no.

Who’s your worst prospect ever? Feel free to share your feedback on this episode and your own story of your worst prospect ever in the box below.

If you’re tired of flat or declining sales and losing business to your competitors, be sure to check out my latest web presentation entitled Programming Clients to Choose You. Who are your very best prospects currently programmed to buy from? Is it you? Or someone else? If you want it to be you, visit topsecrets.com/choose and register for the free presentation now. That’s topsecrets.com/choose.

    6 replies to "Worst. Prospect. Ever!"

    • Bernie

      I once made a cold call to a purchasing agent years ago. During the course of my discussion with him he never once turned his chair around to look at me. to this day, I have no idea what this person looked like that I spoke with for 10 minutes.

      • David Blaise

        Makes you wonder what he might be like in his personal life as well. Unbelievable.

    • Jennifer

      Very early on in my promotional products career a local real estate agent called my office and requested an appointment with me at her office, because she needed some “promo items”. (She was vague and I was new to the industry.) Her address and office were very swanky. She had an attitude to match. She and her assistant commandeered an hour of my time (I was so naive) as they bickered with each other over an order of 500 pencils. I was afraid to leave because I could tell they would order. But I also felt like they were using this piddly little order to essentially hold me hostage in their office, and I questioned their motives.
      Even though I got the order, I wish I hadn’t. They were difficult every step of the way. But like you, David, I’m grateful for the experience. Because afterwards I was unafraid to turn down requests for office visits if I sensed the lead was bad or the customer was not worthwhile. Saved myself a lot of time, headache, and heartache. The agent went out of business a long time ago.

      • David Blaise

        It’s funny, isn’t it? In some ways they’re actually doing us a favor by teaching us the behaviors that we will no longer accept going forward.

    • Rod French

      David,

      That’s a great point. It’s almost impossible to provide outstanding service to someone you don’t want to help. Years ago I had one contact at a very large client who wanted the world, on sale, yesterday, and even when you gave amazing service, was always nitpicking to get something knocked of a bill he wasn’t even paying. My overall relationship with the client was great, which made it impossible to walk from this contact, But I also knew I was not providing the level of service I demanded of myself, and that really bothered me. When the company went in a different direction on an RFP, I was almost happy have to to replace $100,000 in business, because I did not have to deal with this individual.

      One other comment on prospects: No is the second best answer in a sales call. The worst answer goes something like, “That’s interesting. Great ideas. Let’s talk some more (a LOT more).” Be very afraid of genial prospects who have plenty of time to talk, but never make a decision.

      • David Blaise

        I agree completely, Rod. Most people don’t want to say no to your face. They want to say no by putting you off, telling you to call back later and then ignoring your calls or putting you off longer. It’s best to identify these people as quickly as possible and move on.

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