Tips for Politely Ending Conversations with Bad Prospects

There tend to be two extreme ends of the prospect spectrum when it comes to sales calls. My parents are excellent examples of each. My mom will immediately explain that she is not interested and hang up, which is abrupt, but at least it saves time.

My dad, on the other hand, will continue the conversation for a while regardless of whether he has any actual interest in the product or service. And those conversations can be the hardest.

It’s those times where a connection is made and conversation ensues, but it becomes obvious the sale can’t progress. Maybe the prospect isn’t the decision-maker you need to reach, or maybe they simply don’t have room in their budget for what you have to offer. Maybe they just like to talk. Whatever the case, you’re now knee-deep in conversation with this person and can’t seem to find a graceful way to bow out.

There is no perfect method to exit the overextended exchange of business pleasantries, but there are some tips you can keep in mind to make your retreat swift and cordial so that you can move on to the next call.

Keep it Positive

If communicating in person is a delicate art, then communicating over the phone is even more so. After all, studies show that communication is 93% non-verbal. However, how those studies define verbal is mostly by word choice. This means that 38% of this “non-verbal” communication is actually tone-of-voice, which is definitely something that can turn the tide of a phone conversation.

Rebecca Goldring of Hubspot explains that keeping your voice and tone positive helps you to “avoid a sharp downturn in the conversation with a lead once you determine they’re unqualified.”

You may be wondering, “won’t a positive tone just encourage them to keep talking?” Well, that’s why your friendly vocal inflection should also be accompanied by the next tip.

Have the Courage to Redirect

While you should remain pleasant and positive, it’s okay to remind the prospect of the purpose of your call. Don’t be afraid to reclaim your role in the conversation and redirect the flow towards business if it has sped off the tracks.

Goldring says to remind the prospect, “the purpose of your call was to learn about their business,” and to thank them for the information that they have shared. She likens this gratitude to leaving the prospect with a compliment, which ends the conversation on a positive note while letting them down easy.

John Corrigan, CEO of SummitSync, offers a more direct approach. He notes that many times it’s easiest to simply say, “there’s not a good fit here,” and to offer to connect the prospect with someone else in your network.

Leave Them With Some Value

Leaving the prospect with a connection means that the conversation is not wasted since both yourself and the customer have benefitted in some way. Think of this as the equivalent of leaving them with your business card.

When you offer your information, it’s not cutting off the relationship completely, but instead acknowledging that there are still ways in which you can help one another. Connections are everything in the business world, and now more than ever it is easier to link up professionally and refer the prospect to someone else who would be a better fit.

Remind Them Time is Valuable

Your time and the prospect’s time are extraordinarily valuable. All of us can attest that there is never enough time in the day. So acknowledge that exiting the conversation is valuing the time of the prospect, who could be using their time to make more valuable connections.

In some cases, this means using phrases similar to what you might say to get out of a phone call with your chatty aunt Cathy, like “I know you probably have a lot on your plate for today, so I’ll let you go.”

Rebecca Goldring suggests phrases like “I know you weren’t sitting around waiting for my call,” or “I know I probably caught you in the middle of a million different things.” Making your exit with acknowledgments like these is ending the conversation while also indicating that the customer and their time are valuable.

Have an Escape Plan

Worst case scenario, have an “emergency escape plan” for when a lead is truly dead-end. John Corrigan offers some scripted “walk-aways,” which are reminiscent of how one might excuse themselves from a tense Thanksgiving dinner.

While you can’t really excuse yourself from a phone call to go to the bathroom, you can use statements like, “I would love to hear more about ____, but I have a meeting soon,” or even
“I’ve got a client on the other line and would hate to put you on hold, so I’ll let you go now.”

These quick getaways aren’t for every conversation but can get you out of a bind if it comes down to it.

Let Go, and Move On.

It may be easy to beat yourself up over a dead end call and label it as wasted time. But remember each call is another exercise in important skills like phone etiquette, empathy, and vocal inflection that will benefit you in the long term.

Just like we can’t avoid chatty Aunt Cathy, or soft-hearted conversationalists like my dad, we can’t avoid engaging with bad prospects every once in a while. Make sure you have the right tools to handle the situation cordially.