How to get a potential client OFF THE FENCE: 6 tell-tales

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. 13013

We've seen many fence-sitters over the last few years and you wonder what it is that is keeping them from moving forward?
You've given them a great presentation, you've shown your interest and attention, you have exhibited your professionalism and know-how.  So, what is holding them back?
Well, it could be several things -- some perhaps your doing or undoing. Some are matters in your client's mind that may be directly related to the work at hand or things that tangentially affect the deal.

So exactly what's going on here?  From Wikipedia:

 

"Sitting on the fence" is a common idiom used in English to describe a person's lack of decisiveness, neutrality or hesitance to choose between two sides in an argument or a competition, or inability to decide due to lack of courage.

 

In my experience here are the top reasons why a deal doesn't gel immediately.

 

CONFIDENCE: Either you did not make your case clear enough or exhibited some weakness in your capabilities -- which caused the client to lose confidence in you.  If you don't exude confidence, your client will not have confidence to proceed with you.

THE FACTS: You may not have gotten a clear understanding of what the client has in mind and your regurgitation of the facts don't match up to what the client really wants done.

TIMING: You may have understood and repeated what the client wants done, but the timing is not right for him/her to proceed.  Usually this is because they have an agenda and are just looking for preliminary information.  Or it could have to do with selling other assets before proceeding. 

SHOPPING AROUND: You may have done a swell job explaining how you can solve their problem but this could be their first rodeo and wish to hear from others and compare.

FINANCIAL ISSUES: Your client has big dreams and a small wallet or the timing is not perfect for them to execute.  High rollers throw their money at different investments and need to wait until things pan out.  It could be a new venture that sucks out available cash or their credit is hanging on a few deals.

TOTAL DREAMERS and the UNKNOWN: These folks can be difficult to uncover but most of the time you need to go through your normal procedure because you really don't know who is real and who is not.  There are people looking to solve problems for others rather than themselves for example.  Or they can be simply tire-kickers with huge egos that were never assuaged.

 

How to overcome the CONFIDENCE issue.

  • You are either over your head or inexperienced with the particular variables.  If you sense that this is the case you will have to bolster your credibility by presenting more solid credentials and show past achievement on similar projects or bring in an associate or superior to save the deal.  
  • Missing information: something is not clear to your client or missing in your resume.  Try to find out what that is to show that you truly UNDERSTAND what they have in mind.
  • This may have been a mismatch from the beginning.  Are you out of your niche?  Is it worth beating a round object into a square hole?  Probably not.  You might just wish to pass a referral on to a friend to save the deal.
  • If a client doesn't have full confidence in your abilities then you may drop the ball yourself during the project and things can get disastrous.  If you've stepped out of bounds, then reassess and refer to another professional.  
  • Selling until it works.  Very difficult to push anyone to sign a contract who has doubts.  While this may work in selling cars or appliances, it really doesn't do any good in service businesses.  

Overcoming any FACT gap

  • You may not realize that you don't have the facts straight.  Pursue this line by asking for a summary of what the client wants done.  Sometimes the issues change in their minds and further discussion offers different opportunities or routes to get to the goal post.
  • Offer alternatives to see if the client has considered them.  Again, this may reveal other facts that might have been hidden for a variety of reasons...
  • Send them the summary as you see it to make sure the 'contract terms' logically follow.  The client will let you know what might be missing.  This move also helps to gain confidence but showing that you are thorough. 

How to deal with Timing

  • Nearly impossible.  You are ready but they are not.  You cannot work out their other issues that impinge on this deal.  It would not behoove you to inquire.  People only reveal what they want you to know and some issues are very personal.  Don't dig around. Only if they mention something should you delicately attempt to find a remedy.
  • Let's say they are ready but you are not.  You may be so busy that you can barely handle their project.  I have seen some people use the 'hard to get' bluff even to work very well for them.  Sometimes people have had such a good referral or your marketing is so good that they will be willing to wait a bit for you to help them.  In this case, at least meet with them to discuss what they have in mind.  You may have a subordinate start with initial paperwork, etc.

Are they Shopping Around?

  • This is not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps the gambit of a first-timer.  Clients are not just fee and service conscious, they are people conscious.  You may have shown perfect competence but maybe you both don't click.  Maybe they simply want to hear another presentation and approach to see what is commonly done.  This is not a deal-breaker.  Keep following up and dig enough to find out what makes them click and deliver.    
  • Send them more information and verification of your abilities and professional background.  Obviously they weren't impressed by something at the initial meeting. Try to figure out what that might be and address the issue.

How to help with Financial Issues

  • A lot of people, especially first-time buyers, have no idea what they are capable of financing.  Even after bankruptcies, and other debt issues, many people qualify for more than they think possible.
  • Try to assess if it is a Timing or Finance issue that might be holding them back.  Even those looking to upgrade may not realize how their credit history and assets, years in business, etc. affect their ability to handle much more than they assume.
  • Generously refer your best mortgage contact to your clients to privately go over their financial situation and get a clear number from which to work a doable deal.

Can you uncover the Dreamers and deal with the Unknown?

  • We can never assume that a potential client is real or not.  You must go through the typical process until you can spot a logical or ethical gap that is the flashing red light.
  • You cannot typecast people either.  If it weren't illegal, it just seems that until proven insane, you should assume that everything is over the top and things will come to pass.  The initial conversations and discussions about their goals and interests may be simple or over the top.  The simple tend to be real; those who keep repeating themselves, are over boastful, name-drop, etc. are very likely dreamers who have some kind of personal agenda to feel successful and need the interest and attention of others.  Unfortunate to identify after much time and BS has passed.
  • There are people who seem detached and are in a coma.  They may have just endured a terrible personal loss and simply going through the motions.  Being polite and understanding will be a benefit.  Their attitude and focus should strengthen with your help.
  • You never know...  Those who absolutely do not fit the profile (in your mind) are often as real as anyone else.  They are bucking the stereotype and you should treat them as anyone else.  You will be surprised that they will open up eventually, after gaining more of your confidence, and find what a great client you have!

  

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Rainmaker
2,825,360
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

There are a lot of times where I have to just say to the client, “How can I help you most right now.”

Feb 19, 2020 09:18 PM #17
Rainmaker
2,825,360
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

It does break down to immediate motivations and immediate hopes and fears, Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor e-Pro, CRS, RCS-D, Vets

Feb 19, 2020 09:19 PM #18
Rainmaker
549,469
Francine Viola
Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty, Olympia WA - Olympia, WA
REALTOR®, In Tune with your Real Estate Needs

You nailed it! And some of your lines made me chuckle.  We have all been there, done that with these client-types but you nicely organized this sometimes crazy process.  Great post!

Feb 20, 2020 08:39 AM #19
Rainmaker
1,589,725
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg Real Estate

Great post & as always it boils down to asking questions. 

Feb 20, 2020 08:42 AM #20
Rainmaker
487,427
Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector
SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno - Bourbonnais, IL
The Home Inspector With a Heart!

 While my fee is much less than yours, the financial is most always their number one question and then it's my job to add some value to the process before I ever tell the buyers my fee.  

Feb 21, 2020 07:08 AM #21
Rainmaker
1,544,483
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

That was really good and worth reading every bit!  Likewise with the comments.

Feb 21, 2020 09:04 PM #22
Rainer
561,950
Sham Reddy CRS
H E R Realty, Dayton, OH - Dayton, OH
CRS

Great discussion, thanks for sharing John!

Either you did not make your case clear enough or exhibited some weakness in your capabilities -- which caused the client to lose confidence in you.  If you don't exude confidence, your client will not have confidence to proceed with you.

Feb 22, 2020 04:27 AM #23
Rainmaker
225,638
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Kat Palmiotti   So many fences, so many sitters!!  Glad you like it Kat!

Hello Michael Jacobs   It is idiomatic that whence a sitter, thus a fence...

Hi Margaret Goss   People start things with sometimes only a vague notion about how their schedule will proceed.  Have seen many financial and personal issues get in the way of the deal.  Thank you

Hi Bruce Hicks   Thanks for the kudos, much appreciated!

Hello Rosalind Nicholas  I think with those kinds of people, after 6 months you put them on a shelf until the perfect property comes along.

Feb 22, 2020 04:57 AM #24
Rainmaker
225,638
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

At Richie Alan Naggar   I tells me story as best as possible.  From my own experience and recollections! Thanks

Hello Jeff Dowler, CRS   I agree that forensic science has to be one of our second degrees in order to figure much of this out.  I have people who occasionally do not even let me know that they have dropped out of the picture and this is maddening.  Thanks!

Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor e-Pro, CRS, RCS-D, Vets   Love the no pleasure no pain analogy.  Yes, I think you are CORRECT sir!!

Hello Laura Cerrano   It looks like you have also experienced this problem, and I like the question you pose.  I will keep that in mind, thanks!

Hi Francine Viola Glad you liked the bit and had a laugh.  It can get really frustrating when you have an entire gaggle of potential go's and everyone is sitting on an egg...  (I don't know if I put that right)

 

Feb 22, 2020 05:02 AM #25
Rainmaker
225,638
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hi Lyn Sims   Asking questions uncovers the mystery of the mind...motivations, insecurities, financial issues, a torrid personal situation, etc.  Thanks

Hello Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector   I find myself adding value before I propose a contract and I should mention that some of the 'freebies' you can throw in help to oil the gears of momentum...

Hi Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089   Thanks a lot for reading and YOUR comment!

Hello Sham Reddy CRS  Confidence projected makes a potential client more likely to move forward with you.  You can only do so much to move the deal forward.  Thanks

Feb 22, 2020 05:06 AM #26
Rainmaker
560,423
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

I appreciate the detailed descriptions.  I think sometimes pp can't decide b/c theydon't trust their own judgement or they just 'aren't sure'.  This is very tricky with buyers and a new listing--the market is so hot that they feel they have to decide very quickly--then after they have a think, back out.

Feb 22, 2020 07:03 AM #27
Rainmaker
397,822
M.C. Dwyer
Century 21 Showcase REALTORs - Felton, CA
MC Dwyer-Santa Cruz Mountains Property Specialist

Interesting dissection of why people sit on the fence and what we can do to help them make a decision.    Thanks for writing this!

Feb 22, 2020 10:53 AM #28
Rainmaker
2,825,360
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

You have to get to the point of saying, “what can I do to have us do business?”

Feb 23, 2020 07:31 PM #29
Rainmaker
2,825,360
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

You have to get to the heart of why a potential prospects wants What they do

Feb 23, 2020 07:32 PM #30
Rainmaker
225,638
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR   There is no doubt market conditions affect decision making.  People can roam for months in a buyer's market, can't they?  I have seen recently people sitting on that fence for a variety of reasons, some of which I cannot fathom! Most of us don't want to make a mistake, but when we 'see the light' at some moment, we are all in.  Thank you

Hello M.C. Dwyer It behooves us to put on our psychology caps and try to figure out how to unlock the potential that is trying to free itself...

Laura Cerrano   You know Laura, that is the ONE thing that I have never been able to say out loud.  I send that message out in a variety of ways though!  Thank you.  Getting to the heart of the matter is the only way to find out how to be of help.  EXCELLENT!

Feb 24, 2020 03:48 AM #31
Rainmaker
339,286
Sharon Miller
RE/MAX Platinum - Crane Hill, AL

Great post John,

During a subsequent meeting with potential buyer's, I like to give them an "assignment". There are a couple of reasons for doing this.....number one, I   want to try and establish a level of commitment on their part. Number two, I can often ascertain what level of preparation/organization they have put into their quest to identify and refine their search for an acceptable property.

The dreamers, in most cases, will not follow through with the tasks I requested they undertake. This is most often a clear "indicator" that a serious effort to advance the whole purchase process, will not be forthcoming. 

Identifying a prospect's level of commitment, can be somewhat more time consuming. There may be an underlying cause for an abrupt stoppage of the process somewhere along the way. Maybe their analysis of a particular aspect of making a purchase, disrupts their ability to move forward. In any case, by using the "assignment" technique, I have been able, in a vast majority of instances, identify a "contender from the pretenders"!  If an obstacle surfaces, it's out in the open and I can often times make suggestions or direct the prospective buyer to a helpful resource. 

As Ben Franklin once opined........"Time is Money"! Make a wise investment in the usage of one's time by placing an onus of responsibility on your prospective buyer(s). It will pay dividends over the long run.   

Feb 24, 2020 08:56 AM #32
Rainmaker
999,983
Jan Green
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Excellent post and points to ponder.  I like Sharon's message above about giving assignments.  I also like to send them housing reports through my CMA to see if they open it, then I can ask them questions pertaining to what they understood.  If they don't read it, they aren't ready!

Mar 01, 2020 01:56 PM #33
Rainmaker
225,638
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hi Sharon Miller   I think this should be attempted by all of us in situations where you can sense something is not 'clicking' .  I am wondering at what point you have the, let's say -- chutzpah -- to give a potential client an assignment!  Thanks very much!

Hello Jan Green  Honestly, after reading how much you are involved with energy and conservation, I don't know how you have the time to browse through AR~!!!  Yes, Sharon has a good idea.  In a tight market you have to baby a potential client.  In a fast market, you may just let people slip by.  It depends...

Mar 01, 2020 02:29 PM #34
Rainmaker
339,286
Sharon Miller
RE/MAX Platinum - Crane Hill, AL

John,

Great question regarding "when" to give a potential buyer an assignment? During my initial meeting with a potential customer, I tend to be inquisitive as it relates to what level of knowledge they possess and the amount of preparation they have undertaken. Once their status has been confirmed, I begin to question in area's where a conflict might exist....example, the husband wants a "flat lot" and the wife reaffirms her preference for a "lot with a view" (I market and sell waterfront property almost exclusively). My "assignment" for these two would be as follows, "I am going to send you several listings with numerous photo's attached. These photos will include views for each specific listing's waterfront area. Study the waterfront area of each listing for its "grade" or slope along with the photo's showing the view(s)". 

I'll contact these potential buyers in a few days and "interview" them to ascertain whether they have formed any opinions regarding a potential property(s) for consideration. One of two things will take place, either they have looked at the photos and stated, "we found a couple we'd like to see, or they will comment, none of the above appear to fit our needs." Alternatively, they have not yet bothered to open the email I sent them which contained the listings/photos.

As you can see from this example, in one instance, a realtor can advance to the next step of the process. With the second example, it can be a simple, "I'll get back with you in a few days to follow up and see if you found anything to your liking?" A second contact (phone call, text message or email) will be a make or break for me. If a potential buyer can't complete a simple task such as "perusing a few photos", not withstanding extenuating circumstances, it's "game over" for me. Any future contact regarding interest, will have to be initiated by the potential buyer. Time is a valuable asset, including "assignments" for potential buyers can make the difference between generating productivity in a timely fashion, versus "spinning your wheels" with "fantasy seekers".   

Mar 02, 2020 07:04 AM #35
Rainmaker
225,638
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hi Sharon Miller   Thanks very much for the detailed follow-up!  I think this is a good system for vetting potential clients.  I will have to adapt it for the things I do.  It seems it needs to be delicately handled because on the one hand you do want the business, on the other you don't want to appear pushy or desperate, etc.   I tend to hold on as long as I can with people who are 'sitting on the fence'.  Thanks again!

Mar 02, 2020 08:07 AM #36
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