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Monday, Jul 22, 2024

Customers, Prospects or TWIRPs: There’s an Important Distinction

Question: Our inbound telemarketing salespeople have long conversations with potential customers. They provide a lot of information, which the prospects who call seem willing to hear. But these efforts rarely turn into sales. What’s happening?


Although it’s true that nothing happens in this world until someone sells something to somebody, not every caller wants to become a customer, despite what he or she says. The buying world can be divided into three categories: customers, prospects and suspects. The first group identifies themselves through their previous purchases and current sales activities. They move through the sales cycle efficiently.

The middle group needs to see the value of your products and services before they take the plunge to make a minor or major purchase. When they’re ready to do business they make pre-closing comments like, “How soon can we get the product here? What type of purchase order information do we need to give you? What’s the next installation or delivery date we can get?”

It’s this last group , the suspects , who can be slippery, misidentified and in too many cases, confused with real buyers.

We can call this troubling group TWIRPs, as in “Time Wasters Impersonating Real Prospects.” As Kevin Spacey said to Jack Lemmon in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” an epic movie about “selling dirt” (real estate), “Some people just like talking to salesmen.”

Some TWIRPs have nothing better to do and like burning up your time and theirs on the phone.

Others don’t have the heart to say they’re not really interested in the product or service being offered. So they say the usual stalling phrases: “Can you send or e-mail me a brochure or a catalog? I’ll have to wait until I speak to my boss before I can decide. Can you call me back next month, next quarter, or after the holidays?”

Keep in mind that TWIRPs, who take the initiative to call you and seem to want all kinds of information, are not necessarily planning to do anything with it. What seems like interest and movement toward closing the sale could actually be an exercise in boss pleasing. This is especially true when the person calling is truly not in a position to make a buying decision (i.e., an office administrator, a secretary or an executive assistant).

These folks, as well meaning and earnest as they seem, have usually been given a mission to “round up the usual suspects” and find out who is selling what and how much it costs, across your industry. These aren’t real prospects; they’re just gathering data to help their bosses compare you with your competitors.

Your salespeople can save time, energy and effort by using better pre-qualifying questions with suspected TWIRPs: “We try to make the right fit with our products and services and our customers. What prompted you to call us? What problems related to our industry are keeping you up at night? Is there a need not being met by our competitors that drew you to call?”

If you can’t get specific answers that seem like the prospect is ready to shorten the sales cycle, be polite but firm: “We might not be the right solution for you today. Please keep us in mind for the future, as your plans and needs change.” Send true-blue TWIRPs back to your company’s Web site to gather information on their own time, not yours.

If the old adage in sales holds true for your firm, “Eighty percent of our revenues come from 20 percent of our customers,” then you really can’t afford to spend too much time with TWIRPs. Better pre-qualifying can save you time and money. Focus on those who really want to buy from you, not the impostors.

Written by Steve Albrecht, a San Diego-based trainer and consultant specializing in high-risk human resources training topics and corrective coaching.


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