Small Business Sales Tips for Dealing With Confused Buyers

Updated on May 14, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


I got a message from a potential author customer asking about my critique services for a book. The message was scant with details. So I probed for more information. I gathered that he wanted his manuscript “fixed.” What became abundantly clear through multiple messages was that he didn’t understand what a critique is.

Of course, me being me, I’m thinking, “Is my critique service description vague, incomplete, etc.?” Checked it and it’s pretty clear. And even a lookup in the dictionary about what a critique is would have answered any doubts the author had.

This is a confused customer. In my experience, confused customers can become problem customers for a small business. That’s not a judgment on them as people, just as sales prospects.

Signs You Have a Confused Buyer on Your Hands

Most confused buyers offer clues about their status, including:

Questionable Questions. Confused buyers ask vague or irrelevant questions. Any attempt to answer them can be a futile and time-consuming adventure.

Impatience. They’re way too anxious to get working with you . . . stat! And they agree to almost anything, even though you're pretty sure they don't understand what you've just told them. It might be because they don’t want to take the time to find a good fit supplier—or even understand their own needs—for the product or service. They might also have been rejected by a slew of other suppliers, and you’re just the next in line.

Why You Don’t Want Confused Buyers for Your Small Business

They Can Be High Maintenance and Low Profit. I remember one particular client years ago who contacted me day and night and weekends. The deadline was impossible, and she didn’t understand the limited scope of the work I was going to be doing for her. She basically wanted to hand off an entire project to me, even though I was simply offering one part of the process. Then when I sent the bill, she was shocked, and I ended up writing off a chunk of it.

They Give Bad Reviews. Because there’s a disconnect between your expectations and theirs, confused customers are usually dissatisfied with their experience with you. And they’ll usually have no qualms about telling the world about it. Remember, happy customers may not leave reviews at all, but annoyed customers often do.

What Should You Do When Selling to Confused Buyers?

Help Them Disqualify Themselves Upfront. The best confused buyers are those you don’t have to deal with. Essentially, you want them to disqualify themselves even before their requests hit your inbox. I’ve tried to do this by:

  • Being Clear With Product or Service Descriptions. The clearer you can be about your offerings, online and offline, the less you’ll have to deal with people who aren’t ideal customers for your business. Your marketing should tell them exactly who you help. For example, I’m very clear in my editing service descriptions that I only edit nonfiction for a limited range of topics. Occasionally, a fiction writer will connect with me (God knows why!) to see if I’m interested in working with them. Because I’ve stated my policy, it’s easy for me to politely and quickly decline.
  • Making Them Jump Through Hoops. This may sound anti-customer service, but it’s not. If an author wants to work with me, they have to answer a bunch of required questions about their work when they purchase the service and upload their manuscripts. For some, that may be enough to discourage them from completing their service purchase.

Educate? Some salespeople feel that if they educate their less experienced or confused customers through the buying process, the customers will be inclined to buy now and in the future. In my experience, that’s not always how it works. Buyers these days are fickle and disloyal. Carefully evaluate how much you will need to invest in time, effort, and maybe even money to serve a confused or inexperienced customer before taking them on.

For me, I limit my “education” of these folks to very briefly explaining the difference between editing and proofreading. I do this only because there are people who refer to proofreading as “copy editing.” So I want to make sure we’re on the same page with what service they need.

Decline. For those customer prospects who are not just uneducated but who may be confused and high maintenance no matter what, it might be in your best interest to simply decline the business and move on.

Refer. True, one salesperson’s nightmare could be another’s dream customer. But be careful when directly referring confused prospects to competitors or colleagues. If the prospects could be a nightmare no matter whom they work with, you’ll be doing your network a disservice, and you’ll gain a reputation for giving bad referrals. Ouch!

Remember, a customer must be ready, willing, and able to buy from you!

The best confused buyers are those you don’t have to deal with. Help them disqualify themselves upfront by being clear in your marketing and standing firm on your policies.

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Larry! Glad you enjoy them. Hope you and your family are having a great Thanksgiving Weekend!

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 

    2 years ago from Oklahoma

    I always enjoy looking over your tips. Great read!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Yep, Bill, your offerings are "what you see is what you get." So I don't think confused folks will be lining up at your door (or farmers market stand). But for the rest of us, well, we need to think about it. Thanks for chiming in anyway! Have a great pre-holiday weekend!

  • getmohsinpy profile image

    Muhammad Mohsin 

    2 years ago from Pune, India

    Thank you, Heidi. You too have a good weekend. :)

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    DNA I'm afraid, unless we count the farmers markets I work at, but there is nothing confusing about the products I sell....but it will go into your file just in case.

    Happy Weekend, Heidi!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Muhammed! Glad you got a chuckle from it. :) Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Have a wonderful weekend!

  • getmohsinpy profile image

    Muhammad Mohsin 

    2 years ago from Pune, India

    Hello Heidi, very educating article. Thank you for sharing. I laughed so hard when I read the last para. I so wish I could refer such customers to my competitors, lol


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