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5 red flags to help you identify tire kickers

Ah, the tire kicker — one of a salesperson’s worst nightmares.

A tire kicker is someone who will drag the sales cycle on . . . and on . . . and on while hogging your time and resources without ever actually buying.

The term comes from car dealerships. Sales professionals have to spend time with prospective clients on the showroom floor while the customer tests the product (kicks the tires) of the particular car they want to buy.

That’s the problem. Tire kickers don’t actually make a buying decision. Instead, they become a huge time suck. They’ll happily steal your time to ask questions, raise objections, and instill you with the false hope that they’re going to close — but they never do.

Even if your pipeline isn’t at capacity, you’re better off using your time on more profitable pursuits than entertaining these chatty Kathies. The key is to get to a hard ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as quickly as possible.

Here are 5 red flags that will help you identify tire kickers and some sales tips that can help you move on with the rest of your day.

1. They broke as a joke

It’s not easy trying to figure out whether your prospect has the budget to dedicate to your product or service, but you’ve got to get there ASAP, or you’ll risk spending time on someone who can’t afford what you’re selling.

If your potential client is waiting for a big payday that never seems to come, or if their budget approval is always “just around the corner,” that’s a warning sign to look for.

Maybe your prospect’s company has the money, but the individual doesn’t have the authority to make the purchase.  Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the decision-maker never arrives to push the deal forward.

Solution: Ask about their budget

In every case, you’re probably dealing with a bunch of tire kickers.

Most sales training manuals will tell you to ask open-ended questions and treat a sales experience as an opportunity to explore your client’s needs.

When you’re dealing with a tire kicker, all of that goes out the window because they never have the means or real intention to purchase.

During your conversation, ask your prospect what their budget is for this purchase. If they can’t give you a reasonable range (or any range at all) then you could be dealing with someone who has no intention to make a deal.

The problem with this group is that they may not actually know that they’re tire kickers.

A prospect lacking the authority to purchase isn’t an immediate disqualifier. Lots of employees are tasked with doing purchasing research.  If the employee has decided to strike out on their own in search of a solution, and they’re planning to convince their boss to spend money, you’ve got a problem.

Questions about their budget and how they ended up talking to you in the first place can tell you whether you’re facing a difficult (or impossible) sale.

2. They love to schmooze

These guys (and gals) will steal as much of your time as humanly possible. They’ll ask tons of questions about your product or service, want to hear about every feature, take a peek at the product roadmap, and chat you up about integrations.

They also want to know about you, your kids, your golf handicap, and your alma mater. They’ve got opinions on everything, and they looooove to schmooze.

But, in sales, schmoozers can be losers.  If your prospect isn’t taking actions to move the sale forward, or if they’re not responding to your attempts to keep the conversation focused, it’s a bright red flag that your deal is going nowhere fast.

Solution: Stay firm and on track

A lot of people love small talk, and the line between ice breakers and TMI can vary when it comes to a sales conversation. Some prospects care about personality when buying. Others just want to close the deal and get on with their day.

Time wasters and tire kickers are almost always in the first category. While there’s nothing wrong with being friendly and personable if your sales conversations with a specific prospect are constantly wandering off-topic, trust your gut and take action.

Do your best to close off all avenues of conversation that aren’t related to the product or the sale, and politely push the conversation back on track when your prospect starts to wander.


This approach can help you isolate serious buyers because it deprives schmoozers of your time and attention.  While it can be a hard stance to take, especially if you enjoy talking to people, it may be necessary to protect your time and profits.

3. They’ve got all the time in the world

For serious buyers, time is money, and projects usually run on a deadline. Most buyers are looking for something to solve a problem that they’re dealing with right now or one that’s just down the road.

Ideally, you want to talk to someone with a desperate, burning, urgent need or problem they need to solve — STAT.

But even if you don’t hear that, a buyer who means the business has already taken the time to budget for a solution and consider its impact on their organization. They may be shopping around, but they have some idea of how and when they want to implement your product or service.

As with a budget, if someone can’t give you an idea of their timeline to purchase, there’s a good chance they aren’t serious about closing the deal anytime soon.

If you aren’t seeing signs that the groundwork is already done, you could be looking at a tire kicker who has put their cart before the proverbial horse.

Solution:  Probe for buyer preparedness

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with checking to see whether your buyer is even ready to purchase.

Not only will this waylay tire kickers by throwing external obstacles in their path; it also stops serious buyers from having a poor experience with your product.

Here’s an example:

Would you feel comfortable selling a car to a prospect who has never been behind the wheel?  They can’t test drive it. You’ll have a hard time uncovering their needs. Even if they buy it, they can’t drive it off the lot.

The starting point for that conversation has nothing to do with the car and everything to do with whether or not your prospect is in a place where they should be buying a car right now!


If your buyer isn’t prepared, they’re likely to be a tire kicker by default — and it’s not your job to prepare them. 

Recommend them to service providers and non-competitive solutions so that they can get the help they need, then step away from the deal and move on

4. They don’t fit the profile

We’ve all been there: A prospect initiates contact, and they just don’t seem to fit your buyer profile.

They don’t respond in the right way to your standard template of questions and follow-ups. If you look them up on social media, their profiles are nonexistent or questionable.

Something about the buyer just feels off, even if you’re not exactly sure what it is. You’re not sure if this person is in the right place, or if you’re even the right person to help them.

What’s worse, you’re not sure how to get those answers because nothing about the buyer seems to fit in the way that it should.

The confusion about the quality of the buyer and whether or not you’re a good fit leads to a lot of tire kicking.  Ironically, this happens in both directions before the prospect moves on to greener pastures.

Solution: Build an airtight qualification process

By itself, a break in the standard buyer profile isn’t a dealbreaker.

How many stories have you heard about millionaires who dress like and act like normal people when they’re out of the office?  Not everyone goes sailing on a private yacht after cutting out early on a Friday afternoon.

But when the prospect you’re talking to doesn’t align with your typical buyer profile, it’s okay to raise an eyebrow and ask a few extra questions to make sure that you can help them.

Buyers come in all shapes and sizes, and the serious ones are more than capable of arriving at a solid purchasing decision.

Take the time to reinforce who fits into your standard buyer profiles. If you have established, validated customer personas then you’ll be able to spot when someone you don’t recognize comes strolling into your pipeline.

When it’s time to do some heavy qualification, have a plan in place to help you and your prospect uncover whether you’ll be able to assist them.

5. They want free lunch

Everyone loves free stuff. Free trials, product samples, and demos can go a long way when it comes to closing the deal.

Most buyers won’t say no to something free. That includes all the time and effort that you’re investing in conversations, follow-ups, and every other aspect of the sales process.

Free trials and demos are designed to serve as enhancers in the sales process that show off your product or service and give you the leverage you need to close the deal.

That can’t happen if the buyer never intended to purchase your product in the first place.

If they’re pushing for free content, but you don’t get the impression that it will move the sale along, you might be working with a time waster who just wants a test drive before they pack up and move on.

Weed out the tire kickers by enabling a better end-to-end sales process.

Solution: Analyze buyer intent

You’ve probably heard all of the top sales and marketing folks hawking the “consultative approach” to selling for a while now. It’s not just a trending topic — it actually works!

The caveat is that you have to make sure you’re not just giving away consulting time to someone who will never, ever convert.

Before you start offering free and personalized commitments, make sure that your prospect is receptive to your pitch and that you’re not just wasting your time.

It helps if they have some kind of skin in the game or if their intent to buy is clear and obvious. Lacking those clear touchpoints, it might be best to withhold any free options that require major time commitments on your end.
A free lunch is something that only works once or twice in the sales process.

Weed out your tire kickers by enabling a better end-to-end sales process

Tire kickers don’t advertise their presence on a fullscreen display. Salespeople need to keep an eye on every prospect to make sure that they aren’t chasing deals that will never close.

Creating a better end-to-end sales process is a great way to ensure that reps have the tools and documentation that they need to move deals forward and eject tire kickers from the pipeline.

Not all prospective clients are created equal, and top sales reps have to do everything they can to guard their time.
Keep a close eye out for these red flags, and kick your tire-kickers to the curb.

Originally posted September 6, 2016. Updated February 9, 2021

Kathleen Smith

Kathleen Smith

Kathleen is a marketing and sales consultant for high growth startups. She provides strategies, tactical plannings, and content for startups, SMB and enterprise companies.

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