The Four Most Dangerous Phrases a Prospect Can Say

By observing minute triggers, tell-tale signs and verbal and non-verbal expressions, you can divulge a tremendous amount of information about what’s really happening in the room.

Over time, I’ve come to develop a “sixth sense” for certain triggers – things that people say or do that causes me to sit up and pay close attention. Some of these things are positive; little things prospects say and do that lets you know you’re getting close to a sale. Some are harmless, and some are downright destructive.

When I speak with clients, many of them tell me their win rates are not where they should be, and their people waste an inordinate amount of time developing proposals for deals that end up going nowhere. The problem isn’t that their salespeople do this on purpose – it’s that they don’t know how to interpret the tell-tale signs that a prospect isn’t worthy of their time, attention or effort.

The result is that the sellers (and their company) end up wasting tens of thousands of dollars and man hours chasing prospects that have no real intention of buying from them. Resulting in low win rates, decreasing margins, a wasteful sales process and frustrated sales managers. Over time, I’ve learned to recognise the four most dangerous things prospects say that should make any seller squirm, and dig for more:

1)    “Sounds interesting…”

What we hear - To the newbie or inexperienced sellers, this phrase is like music to their ears. Surely this interest must lead to desire, which leads to a sale, RIGHT?

What it means - When a prospect utters the word ‘interesting’ it could mean a range of things. It could indicate that they are genuinely interested. It could mean they find the idea or concept interesting (but have no intention of buying or, at least, buying from you). Or it can simply be a way of being nice, as to not hurt your feelings.

What to do - The only thing you can – and must – do here is dig deeper. Ask them what they mean by “interesting”. Which part of what you said attracted their attention? You must peel back the word interesting and discover what exactly defines ‘interesting’ to them.

2)    “I’ll get back to you.”

What we hear- In your average, typical corporate context, there’s a certain set of ‘Rules of Engagement,’ that apply. When one of our colleagues say, “I’ll get back to you,” that usually means they actually will. Talking with prospects, however, is a whole different ball game, with often frustrating unwritten rules.

What it means - This phrase is a favourite among prospects because it emulates hope to the salesperson on the other end, without all the fuss and bother of commitment from the prospect’s end. It’s usually heard at the end of a call or conversation, and virtually always in situations where the sellers have failed to propose a clear next step – instead, leaving it to the buyer to decide what to do next, or just leaving it hanging in the air. Unlike sellers (who usually have only one priority – to sell), prospects have many things that compete for their time, energy and focus. Buying is typically lower on that list than the average seller would like.

What to do - If you hear this, chances are it’s already (a little) too late. You (the seller) should have suggested a clear next step in the sales process to drive the sales process forward. If, however, you come across this particular phrase, my advice would be to say something like “That’s great, and thank you.” From experience, I know that most people are extremely busy, and things sometimes take longer than expected. “Can we set up a quick call?” or alternative, “Can I touch base with you if I don’t hear from you by…”. In other words, use this opportunity to recover, and suggest a clear next step.

OR ask what will they get back to you on. Why do they need the time to do what?

3) “Can you send me through some literature?”

What we hear - Great, they’re asking for literature. Must mean they’re interested, and they would like more information / specs / details to inform their decision making. Let me go ahead and put this opportunity as ‘closeable’ in the CRM system.

What it means - Usually, this is a nice way to say, ‘Please stop wasting my time. I’m not interested, but I don’t want to come right out and say it. So, to be polite, just send me something already.’

Exception - If you’ve already had a discovery meeting or call with your prospect, you have uncovered their primary affliction and aspirations, and you’ve discussed specific aspects of your service offering. Sending them follow up literature, in this case, is a great move. Be sure it's coupled with a clear next step: like calling to discuss what you’ve sent over in greater detail.

What to do - Use your best judgment to determine whether your prospect is genuinely interested or simply trying to move on with their life. Chances are, unless you've spent at least 15 minutes with them on the phone, and have a basic idea of what their needs are; you're just gently being pushed out the door. Don’t send any literature unless it’s directly relevant to the conversation, helps your prospect develop a deeper level of understanding, and is coupled with a clear next step.

4) “How much will this cost?”

What we hear - They are asking for the investment, so they must have a budget.  If they have a budget, it must mean they are trying to determine whether we can fit that budget. Let me make them an offer they can’t refuse!

What it means - It depends. If this happens later on in the sales cycles (I’d say, post discovery call), it’s a perfectly reasonable and logical thing to ask from a prospect. Even in the beginning, it could simply mean that a prospect is trying to work out what budget they are likely to need (in which case, they’ll mostly tell you that’s what’s going on). Unfortunately, many prospects who ask for the budget early on in the sales process are wanting to control the conversation and may have commoditised you. That’s great news if your business model is to sell commodity, high-volume items and you’re a cost leader in your industry, but for the other 98% of companies, this is not good.

What to do - There is only one thing to respond and that is you tell them it’s hard to give them a number, because it’s too early and you really don’t understand their needs clearly enough.

You need to further qualify: if you suspect your prospect may not have the budget required to work with you, this is a great way of finding out early in the process. Meaning you don’t have to waste your time developing a comprehensive proposal for a buyer who will most likely go for a cheaper bid because he does not value what you have to offer because you have not found out what his criteria of certainty is.


It doesn't have to be like this

The four phrases listed above cost companies hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars every year.

Seemingly harmless, they result in hours spent developing proposals, RFP responses, business cases and other documents in a futile attempt to capture business from buyers who are unmotivated, unwilling and unable to invest.

Gently, resisting these attempts is a must – but it comes with a caveat. Unless your pipeline is healthy and full of new opportunities, your sellers will continue to chase these deals on the off chance they just might win one.

A healthy pipeline is a core foundation of any high-performance sales process.