Sales conversations: How to make tight-lipped prospects talk

by Steli Efti

Warning: Advanced sales tactics ahead; intended for experienced salespeople only. If you aren’t confident in your abilities, complete our free sales training course first.

The average prospecting cycle has three steps:

  1. Your prospect communicates their situation.
  2. You communicate your solution.
  3. Together you decide whether or not to move forward.

But what happens when your prospect won’t participate in step one? You can’t pitch your solution if they refuse to share information about their situation. How are you supposed to sell to someone you can’t qualify?

Why prospects keep secrets

Tight-lipped prospects aren’t trying to be difficult, they’re trying to be safe. Their silence is a defense mechanism, not an offense strategy.

difficult-sales-prospects

They’ve probably been the victim of buyer’s remorse in the past and fear you’ll manipulate them into a bad deal if they give up too much information.

It comes down to a lack of trust. Before you can sell your product, you need to sell your intentions.

How to handle prospects who won’t open up

When you encounter prospects who won’t be open with you, confront the issue head-on. Say something like this:

“I bet you’ve had a bad experience with a salesperson before. You might think I’m here to take advantage of you, but I’m not.

At Close.io, we aim to create long-term, value-focused partnerships with our customers. That requires openness and honesty from both sides, and I don’t feel like I’m getting that from you.

I’d like to understand your situation so we can decide together whether or not our inside sales CRM is a good solution for your needs. If I’m not 100% certain we’re a perfect match, I’ll tell you. In fact, I’ll even refuse to sell to you.

I want you to be successful, but I need you to be open with me. Help me help you and I promise we’ll find you a great solution, whether that’s with Close.io or someone else.

Sound fair?”

Communicate this message with friendly strength, not frustration or anger. In most cases, your prospects won’t realize how difficult they were being until you call them out. Many will open up once they realize that you have their best interests at heart.

But that isn’t always the case.

What to do if your prospects still won’t open up

Sometimes you’ll encounter outrage instead of engagement. There will always be a couple of prospects who say, “This is the way we buy. If that doesn’t work for you, we’re through here.”

Every business needs to decide for themselves whether or not they’re willing to sell to aggressive prospects. The Close.io policy is to walk away from prospects who are disrespectful or overly-demanding.

When our salespeople run into this situation, they say, “I respect your position, but I don’t think we’re going to be a good match. I can’t, in good conscience, sell you a solution to a situation I don’t understand. Is there any other way I can be valuable to you?”

Your prospect will say one of two things in response.

“I’m sorry, you’re right. What do you need to know?”

You called their bluff by taking your product off the table. You also demonstrated your commitment to their success—to the point that you were willing to lose a sale—and earned their trust. Now you can qualify your prospect properly.

“Forget it, we’ll find a different solution.”

A prospect this difficult isn’t worth the trouble. A demanding prospect is only going to become an even more demanding customer. It’s better to lose a deal than sell to the wrong customer, so be willing to walk away.

There's no sales without trust

Just because someone has a certain way of buying doesn’t mean that’s how you have to sell to them. Sales should be about mutual honesty and openness. If your prospect isn’t willing to meet you there, move on to more promising leads.

Recommended reading:

How to deal with hostile and aggressive prospects
It’s one thing to deal with a silent prospect. It’s something else to deal with a prospect who is outright rude and aggressive. Learn what most salespeople do wrong, and what you can do right.

How to qualify prospects and leads
Once you’ve got your prospect talking, keep them talking! The right questions keep the conversation flowing in a productive direction and help you qualify (or disqualify) your prospect.

How to close the deal by taking it away
Don’t get desperate. Desperation breeds bad deals, and bad deals sink startups. Learn how to close deals with demanding customers by refusing to sell to them.