What is a Tire Kicker? How to Spot Them and Avoid Them

tire kickers

What is a tire kicker? Tire kickers are both a bad fit for your product or service and the ultimate time-wasting sales leads. As important as it is to avoid them, however, spotting a tire kicker isn’t always easy. 

Many sales prospects begin their buying journeys gathering information and comparing sellers, so it’s not uncommon for some future customers to resemble tire kickers when they first show up in your sales pipeline.

In this article, we’ll help you decipher the ‘tire kicker’ meaning by exploring what bad prospects look like and how they differ from prospective clients. 

We’ll also share some actionable tips on how to get better at spotting tire kickers, how to keep them out of your pipeline and even how to recognize when tire kickers have the potential to be converted into paying customers.

But first, let’s delve into the tire kicker’s definition. 

What is a tire kicker?

In a nutshell, a tire kicker is a lead who’s never going to buy what you’re selling. 

They may enjoy checking out your product or service. They may even have a strong interest in making a purchase. But tire kickers can’t or won’t ever come to a buying decision.

The term tire kicker is a reference to those people who visit car dealerships frequently, kick the tires on a few vehicles to indicate their interest, then leave again without ever buying a car.

In many cases, you may think you’re dealing with a potential customer only to discover they’re a tire kicker who’s been prolonging the sales process unnecessarily.

Tire kickers are especially bad for sales because they:

  • Waste your time while taking advantage of your professional knowledge
  • Throw off your sales metrics
  • Prevent you from investing in more profitable activities and prospects

Working with every lead who wanders into your pipeline may seem like the best way to up your sales quota, but tire kickers can drain your energy while contributing nothing to your results. 

Research from sales strategist Marc Wayshak suggests that more than 50% of your prospects will be a bad fit from the start and will never be qualified to buy. 

So, it’s best to adopt a no tire kickers policy by spotting and flagging ill-fitting prospects as early as possible.

How to spot tire kickers

Tire kickers frequently split their time between asking questions, raising objections and haggling over prices. If you have a sales prospect who’s reluctant to move a deal forward, you may have encountered a tire kicker.

It’s important to look for giveaways early in the sales process that a lead is unwilling or unable to make a purchase. 

What are tire kickers likely to do? 

First and foremost, you should watch for signs that a prospect is wasting your time. Excessive chitchat, for example, is a common tire kicker behavior. 

Fruitless leads won’t just ask endless questions about every feature of your product or service, they may want to discuss your personal life as well. Of course, it can help to build a relationship with some customers, but tire kickers frequently have opinions on everything and can keep you tied up in conversation for hours.

In addition to being time wasters, tire kickers often display the following characteristics:

  • They don’t fit your ideal customer profile. Your company’s target persona plays a key role in identifying potential tire kickers during the lead qualification process. In the words of Marc Wayshak, “You don’t have to try to close every single person you’re in front of. If you look at closing rates for most industries, even the highest are only in the 20% range, while the lowest are in single digits. As soon as you determine that a prospect isn’t a good fit, move on.”
  • They’ve done no research into the sales solution they need. A lack of investigation can indicate a lack of buying sincerity or urgency. Research and advisory firm Gartner found that when B2B buyers are actually considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers and 45% doing independent research. 
  • They can’t afford what you’re selling. Tire kickers are often compelled to get the lowest price possible, even when they aren’t prepared to spend. In many cases, a questionable prospect will have no idea what the product or service they’re after should cost and their budget won’t realistically accommodate the price of your sales solution.

Individually, warning signs like these don’t necessarily mean you’re dealing with a tire kicker. But the more red flags you spot, the less likely it is your prospect will ever commit to a buying decision.

What happens if you miss spotting the signs of a tire kicker early on? 

If you’re worried you may have already devoted too much time to sales activities involving an unproductive lead, here are some hints that you might be in a holding pattern with a tire-kicking prospect.

Their pain isn’t urgent. In an excerpt from his sales book80/20 Sales and Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More” (we’ll talk more about the 80/20 rule later), author Perry Marshall describes the lack of a “bleeding neck” as one way to recognize and stop wasting time with tire kickers. 

“A bleeding neck is a dire sense of urgency, an immediate problem that demands to be solved. Right. Now. Serious money is always found in those places. If you want the check tomorrow, the problem today needs to be u-r-g-e-n-t.”

They can’t move past their fear. No tire kickers can commit to a purchase when their fear of buyer’s remorse outweighs their need for a solution. You may have hit a readiness or willingness hurdle if your prospect continues to ask for highly specific, unrealistic reassurance about what your product or service will do for them.

They don’t have the authority to say yes. In his book “How to Get a Meeting with Anyone: The Untapped Selling Power of Contact Marketing”, author Stu Heinecke says, “Low-level buyers, tire kickers, and time wasters are easy to reach, but their lack of decision-making or buying authority will lead you nowhere.” 

According to Gartner, not only does a typical group of buyers for a complex B2B solution involve six to ten decision makers, 75% of B2B buyers say their purchases involve people from a wide variety of roles, teams and locations.

If you’ve reached the point in your sales process where you should be negotiating fees but your prospect is still talking about finding a lower price—or they’re engaged in a never-ending “I’ll think about it” process—it’s time to drill down into what separates a tire kicker from an up-and-coming client.

The key differences between tire kickers and potential customers

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a promising lead is a tire kicker or if they’re just decision-averse. Some prospects can simply take a long time to close because, despite knowing what they want, they’re afraid of making the wrong buying decision.

This comparison table will help you determine the key differences between tire kickers and potential customers, so you don’t accidentally boot prospects who just need a little extra nurturing out of your pipeline.

If your prospect says they need to talk to other decision makers towards the end of the sales process, but you’re not sure if they’re a tire kicker or not, this video can help you discover their level of interest.

The most successful salespeople are comfortable walking away from a customer relationship when they realize it’s not a good fit. They get tire kickers out of their pipelines quickly and use the time saved to cultivate serious buyers and focus on quality lead generation.

How to get a tire kicker (meaning a bad prospect) out of your pipeline

Once it’s clear you’re dealing with a bad prospect, you’ll want to get them out of your pipeline as soon as possible so you can focus on more promising sales opportunities.

Sales legend Brian Tracy describes a friend, one of the highest-paid commission professionals in the US, who discovered enormous value in focusing only on productive leads by following the 80/20 rule. 

This sales professional found that, while he usually divided his time equally across tasks, only about 20% of his sales activity was driving 80% of his sales results. When he assembled a profile of his top clients and began looking exclusively for customers that fit, he ended up doubling his income within a year. 

You may be wondering how you can make every lead count when you have unprofitable tire kickers in your pipeline. The key lies in calling their bluff and getting to a hard “yes” or “no” without damaging your reputation in the process. 

Here are a few diplomatic examples.

Scenario 1: Your prospect takes control of every sales conversation. 

What to say: “Given our lack of progress in resolving your problem, now might not be the best time for us to work together.”

What to do: Prepare an agenda before each interaction outlining the next step in your sales process. Then inform your prospect, firmly, what progress you’ll need to see from them the next time you speak—whether it’s getting their purchase budget approved or scheduling your sales presentation. 

This approach will dissuade tire kickers from chewing up your time going over the same ground and will give you a tactful way to limit your conversations—or even halt them entirely with, perhaps, a promise to follow up in the future. 

Scenario 2: You’re getting nowhere with your prospect.

What to say: “I really don’t want to waste any more of your valuable time if I can’t be of help.” 

What to do: Ask your prospect to fill out a form that fleshes out their buying needs: their challenge, the changes they’d like to make, their budget, their timeline and their experience with past or present suppliers. 

Serious prospects, especially those who’ve invested a lot of time with you already, will be more willing to complete this task, knowing it’s moving them closer to a successful solution. Tire kickers, meanwhile, are unlikely to want to put in that kind of work. 

Scenario 3: Your prospect isn’t able or isn’t willing to afford your product.

What to say: “Based on what you’ve told me about your budget, I don’t believe our product is the right fit for your needs.” 

What to do: Just because a sales lead is clearly kicking tires today, it doesn’t mean they won’t come looking for you when their purchasing power or pain point increases. Whenever possible, do your best to direct a bad prospect to a more economical option elsewhere or toward free tools and resources that may tide them over in the short term—but that means they’ll need your solution when they have the budget.

There comes a point in every sales process where a prospect must be prepared to do business. After multiple inquiries and endless follow-ups, don’t be afraid to ask your tire kicker straight up whether they intend to make a purchase, or not.

Can you convert tire kickers into customers?

Some tire kickers lack the necessary follow-through to make a buying decision because they’re afraid to make the wrong choice, or the timing feels “off”.

In his book “The Psychology of Selling”, Brian Tracy explains that one of the main reasons people buy or don’t buy is fear of loss—including the fear of losing out to a buying mistake.

Is there some way to influence fearful prospects and manage sensitive sales deals without wasting your valuable time?

While there’s little chance of turning a tire kicker with no intention of buying into a paying customer, if it’s fear alone holding them back, you may be able to convert them.

If your prospect is suffering, for example, from decision paralysis brought on by too many product, vendor or price choices, but you know their pain point is great, try making an effort to clarify the benefits your solution provides. 

Put together a single, best-fit option and a simple cost-benefit analysis that focus on how your product or service might:

  • Increase their profit margin
  • Improve their reputation in the marketplace
  • Help them establish a competitive edge 

Remember: while it’s important to spot tire kickers as early as possible in the sales process, not every hesitant buyer is necessarily a lost cause.

Here’s a video that will help you avoid hearing “it’s too expensive” from a prospect during the sales process.

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