By Andrew Neitlich

One day, two very different inquiries

By Andrew Neitlich

Thursday I got two very different inquiries from prospects.

Inquiry One: Someone was interested in one of my $50 books. He sent an email asking a variety of questions. Some were perfectly legitimate. Some of his other questions told me that he was not an ideal client by any means. He wanted to know if he could “trust me” in case he wanted a refund. And he asked questions that told me that he would require lots of convincing to buy the book, and then would have many more questions later on. His questions also gave the impression that $50 was a lot of money for him, and that he was more likely than most people to want his money back for minor reasons.

Inquiry Two: The CEO of a tech company called. His investors want him to triple sales next year. He liked the articles on my site and wanted to see if I could help him get similar results. We spoke for a half hour, and by the end of the call agreed to work together. He paid me right away for an initial engagement worth thousands.


I have no problem with the individual described in Inquiry #1. He has every right to ask questions about a purchase and to expect good answers.

But I REALLY have no problems with the individual described in Inquiry #2. For a few minutes more time, I closed an engagement with him worth about 200 times the revenue that the person in Inquiry #1 was going to provide.

The point: There are lots of prospects out there. You should be very clear about what an ideal prospect is for you. When one contacts you, do what you can to get the business.

Perhaps more importantly, when a non-ideal prospect contacts you, be cordial. But don’t spend more time than you need to. You might regret it later, when the non-ideal prospect turns out to be a non-ideal client. Also, definitely don’t get upset if the non-ideal prospect doesn’t buy. I haven’t heard back from Inquiry #1 yet, and am not losing sleep over it.

  • Dan

    And to that I’d like to add “trust your instincts”. It takes a lot of experience to be able to rationalize and understand the behavior of person #1 in Andrew’s example. When Andrew says “his questions also gave the impression that $50 was a lot of money for him, and that he was more likely than most people to want his money back for minor reasons” he makes analyzing a prospect by their initial communications look EASY. His well-tuned crystal ball was able to see the future, probably pretty accurately (part Jedi?). For the rest of us, a prospect might give us what my girlfriend’s self-defense course called an “uh-oh” feeling, but we wouldn’t know whether to ignore the feeling or plow ahead. Andrew knows not only to recognize the uh-oh feeling, but be able to disect what the uh-oh feeling was all about. Know when to let a prospect go, and trust your instincts. Too often the red flags in an engagement (particularly for smaller engagements and for tiny companies) are obvious only in retrospect. After a project or relationship goes sour, we look back at the initial communications and see where we missed a sign.

  • The same thing happened to me. It was a SP guy actually, he contacted me to ask how much do I charge for a website. I told him what I charged because he gave me specific directions, so I could tell him the range of investment he would have to make in order to start working together.

    He answered me with a “if that is what you charge, don’t expect too many customers” or something like that. Right there I knew he wasn’t on the buying cycle for me, so I answered very smooth and that was the whole deal. Of course, I had two other prospects asking me for work at the same time he wrote me.

    Sometimes clients aren’t in the buying cycle and they ask for trust or other aspects we can’t really provide. If you want to buy, buy. If you aren’t ready, put a pin on it and keep going; if you wanted the product/service you will eventually come back.

    Love your posts, glad you make them very often! BTW, when you will be podcasting Andrew? you must!

    Javier Cabrera
    ClearYourMind – Productivity, Management and Marketing tips for Entrepreneurs

  • ikeo

    Great article.
    From time to time I like to sell computer items on craigslist
    http://www.craigslist.com (I’m a really big computer geek). What I’ve found is exactly what Andrew pointed out in this post.

    When I list an item, I will usually get a lot of inquiries. People asking a ton of questions and generally just kicking tires. Some people will try to lowball you, others will try to beat the price down (which I don’t mind at all).

    But the really strange thing is that, whether its a $300 Pentium 4 computer I have for sale or a $15 stick of RAM the people who are going to buy will usually send an email that says “I’ll take this now. Where are you located?”. Even some of the people that ask a lot of questions and need a lot of convincing will eventually write me that email (I want it, when can I get it?).

    The upshot of this is that it has helped me a lot with my main business (which is the business of web design). I can now usually tell if a client is genuinely in the market, is ready to buy, is just kicking tires or is really just wasting my time. Being able to identify where they are in their process enables me to modify my approach accordingly.

  • Sojan80

    My question would be “Can anyone develop this, well, radar for lack of a better word, that Andrew is talking about?

    If it is based off of cues from the prospect contact then I would think so, but I also think some more precise or specific pointers on what to watch or look for would be good.

  • ikeo

    I’d say you can, but it develops over time.
    Its why cops are so good at detecting liars, they deal with them all day, everyday.

    The starting point is to watch the body language cues (are their arms crossed and leaning away from you? Or are they engaged … leaning over to take a look at the portfolio you’re showing them on your shiny new Dell Latitude 600m).

    Pay attention to their line of questioning. Interested prospects want to see the work you’ve done, they want to know how your work is going to make their project better, they’re engaged in the conversation. The other kind of prospect will usually zero in on one thing and one thing only … “how much will it cost?” or “write me a proposal” (so they can take it to someone else to build).

    Other (good) prospects might do this too, but they are usually open to finding out more about what you can do to get the project in under cost or why they should extend their budget (a custom CMS will give you total control of your site, $3000 might sound like a lot now, but imagine having to pay $400 in maintennance costs each month …).

    Its just something you pick up over time, and you can never be totally perfect. Human beings act in strange ways, some times people will give off all the classic signs of being a bad prospect but turn out to be great. (In those kind of instances, they’ve been burned before and have their gurads up)

    Just my $0.02

  • Jason Batten

    Treat everyone equal, you don’t know what other people intend to do – my expierence in sales taught me that (it depends how you handle a situation also). Some people will waste your time on purpose, others need gentle nudging and/or convincing. I agree with Andrew that you indeed need to know when to “give up” or “cut loose”. As ikeo siad it develops over time.

  • Jason – there is no good reason for wasting someone’s time. Period. If someone can’t see my time as valuable now, they won’t see it as valuable in the future either, client or not.

    Andrew is right on the money. You have to know who your ideal clients are. Sometimes, turning down business from non-ideal clients is the best thing for your business.

  • Jason Batten

    Jason—there is no good reason for wasting someone’s time. Period.

    I meant that some people to be funny or something will waste your time or they may appear to have a different intetion than they really have.

  • there is no good reason for wasting someone’s time. Period. If someone can’t see my time as valuable now, they won’t see it as valuable in the future either, client or not

    This is really true. If a client wastes your time before a project, just wait ’till it starts. As in the original post, if someone is querying about refund policies before a purchase, you can pretty much see where things are going.

  • Draken

    I got a few Red-flags…

    1) The client ask how much it will cost… Before I got any details wath will be needed)

    2) The client is not interested in my portfolio… only on how much it will cost

    3) Client is on a very small bidget… yet ask for a lot.

    A client on a small budget is not a bad client in my book, when this client know he cant get the moon.


    I have been a web developer for 10 years. Every single time I’ve hung up with a prospect that I had a feeling would be a problem client, they were. Now that I know what to look for or listen for, I have been able to avoid the problem client who is just wasting my valuable time. Andrew is right on the money!

  • DesignOweb

    This is also applicable to your associations/partnershipd. Let me explain it a bit. I had a partnerhsip with one of guy to work on their projects. It was great going when we started, and i had small projects. I was running around anything comes into my hand. This partneship consumed my energy and time and i couldn’t see beyond small projects. After doing lot of investment in the business, i spend more time on attending inquiries for big associations.

  • DesignOweb

    this might be unbelievable….i just go to Google.com and try to find dealing of that client with others.(by putting his email or his company name). Most of the time i get some information of the client when i have doubt. If client is not genuine, he might have wasted somebody’s time before you. Google capture content of most of the popular message boards/forum.

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