What to Do When Your Biggest Competitor is Prospect Indifference?

Businessman with a key winder on her back sleepingYou have done your homework and prepared well for your first meeting with a prospect. After finding out the prospect’s challenges, you begin to talk about one of your solutions to overcome his challenges.

You mention that in the future this solution could be integrated into other departments that can take advantage of the functionality. To your surprise, he says “so what”? In the world of selling, this is called “customer indifference.” Has this ever happened to you?

Harry Beckwith in his book, “Selling the Invisible”, says your biggest competitor is indifference.  I totally agree with Harry that this has to be one of the toughest challenges we face.

An indifferent prospect sees no need for what you are selling. They’re indifferent because:

  • They feel they already have a product or service like yours from a competitor.

  • They may have found an internally developed solution for the issue you raise.

  • They don’t see a need to improve their current circumstances.

We’re not talking about justifiable indifference, such as when prospects are indifferent to adding a print marketing campaign when their strategy is internet focused. That kind of indifference we should always honor. Rather, we’re talking about the kind of indifference resulting from the prospect’s ignorance of product benefits—an ignorance that prevents him from seeing how those benefits can exceed the benefits of a product he presently owns or lacks.

 What is so difficult about handling a prospect’s indifference?

It is the fact that we have all learned to sell solutions to the prospect’s problems and issues. We also have learned that if there is no felt need, there can be no sale. Unless prospects feel a need for the benefits of your products and services, they cannot be persuaded to buy them.

Indifference arises from presenting your solution before the prospect has fully accepted the need to change. It is the consequence of not solving the problem he faces and not having a vision for a solution. That being said, indifference is a serious challenge, and it comes up more than we would like to admit.

So whatSo how can you handle customer indifference? How can you create a felt need when the prospect doesn’t see one? Finding a practical strategy to deal with indifference is even more difficult than handling skepticism or a misunderstanding of your products, services or organization.

Here is a proven process developed to handle indifference:

Step 1.  Acknowledge

The first step consists of acknowledging your prospect’s indifference, which doesn’t mean agreeing with it. To acknowledge a prospect’s indifference lets him know you’ve heard and respect his position. For example, you might say to the prospect, “It’s clear that you’re happy with your current supplier.” Or “It sounds as though making a change now is not a priority.

Step 2. Get Permission to Ask Questions and Gain Agreement to Discover

Next, get the prospect’s permission to take a little of her time to ask a few questions that she might find useful. You need to help her see how continuing the conversation could be useful. As an example, you could say “I agree that it does not make sense to make unnecessary changes today. I wonder if we could briefly discuss the way you currently organize projects (go back to the topic you set the meeting up for in the first place). Even though you’re satisfied with your current supplier, we might find ways in which we could help you at some point in the future. Would a few minutes be all right?

The key here is to propose a limited agenda, state the value of your agenda, and check for acceptance. By limited agenda, I mean a few questions, and time, just enough to find out if there is a reason for you and the prospect to continue talking.

Step 3. Ask a Few Questions with Sincere Interest in Working with the Prospect in the Future.

If the prospect gives you that permission (most will), you then move to the most delicate and critical of the steps. Above all, you should never take the prospect’s permission to probe as a signal to begin talking about the features and benefits of your product. To do so would be to insult the prospect who a moment ago stated satisfaction with his or her present situation.

Instead, use the prospect’s permission to build a clear, complete, mutual understanding of her circumstance, needs and the need behind the need. Guide her back to her rationale for giving up her valuable time for this meeting. Asking good open-ended questions puts you back in the lead. It gives you the opportunity to receive needed information and assess what your next step should be. It also helps you recover from any sting you may have felt over her response.

For you and a prospect to make an informed, mutually beneficial decision, you must ask questions to develop a clear, complete, and mutual understanding of the prospect’s needs.

A clear understanding means that for each need, you know:

  • The cause of a need (circumstance)

  • Specifically what the customer wants to improve or accomplish (needs)

  • Why the need is important (need behind the need)

A complete understanding means that for the buying decision the prospect is making, you know:

  • All of the prospect’s needs

  • The priority of those needs

A mutual understanding means that you and the prospect share the same understanding.

Understanding Current Circumstances. So, I would go back to the purpose of the meeting; that is, the topic that led to setting up the meeting in the first place, and I would ask questions around the situation.

Indifferent prospects don’t think they have any needs to discuss with you. So you must ask questions about their “circumstances” to gain insight into opportunities. The goal is to uncover information that indicates a problem or condition that you can address. Ask questions about circumstances that relate to problems the prospect may be experiencing that only your organization can address.

Identifying Opportunities to Improve Circumstances. Once you identify circumstances that you can improve, continue to ask questions to understand how well the current approach is working. Problems or conditions that the prospect is experiencing (that you can address) represent opportunities for you. Your questions help you determine whether it makes sense for the prospect to make an improvement.

Discuss Consequences of Circumstances. After identifying an opportunity, ask questions to have the prospect realize the negative impact of leaving things as they are. Discussing the consequences will help reveal the importance of the condition or problem to the prospect, and it will heighten the prospect’s awareness of the consequences of failing to take action.

Confirm a Need. If the prospect recognizes that there is a negative consequence of continuing with the current approach, find out if the prospect wants to take action – that is, confirm that the prospect has a need by asking a closed question that includes the language of needs.

To further help you, here is a list of questions to track with the steps above:

Questions to Create Awareness of Unrealized Needs


Many of my clients find prospect indifference is their number one competitor. It is one of the top reasons their salespeople are not moving what appeared to be great prospects though their sales funnel.  And it shows in sales productivity. Sixty-seven percent of sales reps are not meeting their quotas, cites MarketBridge, a technology-enabled service firm.

So if you or your sales reps are weary of prospect indifference, that lack of concern or interest that squashes sales opportunity, then consider an added dose of sound sales training. We have designed a special workshop—with the impressive tools of AchieveGlobal, one of our MHI Global companies—to help companies vanquish the specific indifferences they encounter. Let me leave you with a quote from one of history’s most restless characters . . .

“If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.”Blog102_Indifference_1-4
― Jack Kerouac

Be restless, my friend. And solve the crimes of indifference.


For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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