When I was first starting out in sales many years ago, I was advised to regard every person I encountered as a viable sales prospect. It was just a matter of me persuasively demonstrating the benefits of what I had to sell that would convert them from looking to buying. Don’t discount anyone was the wisdom; they’re going to buy something from someone, so let it be you.

I was talking with a man who used to be a used car salesman. He, too, years ago was advised by his mentor in the business to aggressively approach every person kicking tires in the lot as a viable prospect. “They’re going to buy a car from someone, somewhere, so let it be you.”

Terrible advice. First of all, not everyone who is looking is really going to buy! Some people, and I know quite a few, just enjoy window shopping.

They have no intention of buying anything from anyone; their entertainment is to simply regard all the latest gadgets and widgets. That’s their form of entertainment. Period.

And while you’re wasting time trying to showcase the amazing benefits of a particular car — or a vacation package — to someone who has no serious interest in either, you could be missing out on the serious shopper who really does intend to buy and needs your advice on which product would best fit their needs.

Then there are those consumers who really do intend to buy but are not interested in the best product that meets their needs but the cheapest product. Those are the real time-wasters. They’ll fritter your time “picking your brains” to get the information they’re seeking, then likewise waste the time of all your competitors, too, until finally, they find it somewhere for the cheapest price, usually online. You’ve been used and have nothing to show for it.

When I get a phone call from a stranger, and the first words out of their mouth are, “Can I pick your brains on what might be a good honeymoon destination?” I know what they’re up to.

They plan on using me as a quick and free library resource so they can scout online for a cheap price my suggested destinations and hotels (without figuring in the value of my expertise). I have learned to weed them out by offering a consultation for X amount of dollars. That usually brings about a quick end to my “brain picking.”

What about the consumers who show up and announce, “Who wants to sell me a car?” Uh, let me avoid the stampede. If “nobody” wants to sell him a car, it’s probably for a good reason — like he’s a pain to work with and/or he doesn’t have the ability to buy a snow cone.

I had a gal call me recently who whined, “no travel agent will call me back.” Why not? Travel agents are happy to work with serious future vacationers. I learned the hard way why nobody would call her back: she was more problem than she was worth — and rude to boot. I wish I had been smart enough to be one of those travel agents who hadn’t called her back!

The upshot is that there’s a difference between indiscriminately discounting a viable shopper and treating all potential encounters as worthy of pursuit. Your time, your frustration, and your livelihood depend on finding that balance.