The short answer is that you can not; no matter what you do you can never be 100% certain how serious someone is about buying your business. Most of the time the buyer will not themselves even know, either convincing themselves that it is something that they want to do while unconsciously pulling away or visa versa. That being said, there are a few tips and tricks that we can share with you in order to safely make some broad assumptions regarding the prospect and to thus make an educated guess regarding their true intentions.
Step 1: Get some basic information from them
If you have listed your business for sale by yourself, this is am important step that can often be overlooked. You get a call and are tied up doing twenty other things at the same time only to brush the buyer off the phone all too quickly. Shortly after you this mishap, you realize that you should have at least gotten their name and email address so that you can follow up in an appropriate fashion. After being treated questionably, many prospects do not want to be bothered with a follow up phone call; an email can instead be a lot less intrusive to them. It can take some serious training in order to implement the good habits it takes to master this type of practice and that is just something that most business owners can not commit to. If not able to perform even this first step properly, there is little chance that any further conclusions made will be anything other then the product of a gut feeling and nothing more.
Step 2: Guide them down a sales funnel
What exactly does that mean? Well, you want to develop a strategy on how to best utilize a lead, no matter how serious they may seem at first. Always try to schedule a face to face meeting above all else as it will give you the opportunity to read the person better; observing body language and other “tell tales” signs can help you discern their level of engagement. If you meet resistance at first, do not take offence but simply make a note of its occurrence. Often times this response is just a knee jerk reactions; people instinctively do not like to be told what to do and may not even realize why they are refusing on a conscious level. From there, you need to put a plan in place to follow up again, and again, and again, until you have achieved your objective or they tell you to stop bothering them.
Step 3: Stick to the game plan
Day in and day out you should have a list of things to do, including prospects to follow up with. But, you can not spend your time endlessly pursuing a buyer as there are only so may thins you can manage to do in a single day. There is going to have to be some sort of cut off point made; where exactly that is set at is dependent on your personal tolerance for rejection and perseverance. Whatever intuitively feels right to you, double that and do not deviate from it regardless of how you feel. Yes, it is going to be quite uncomfortable at times to continually “bother” a prospect but believe me when I say it works very well none the less. It is only after they have been deemed a “dead lead” that you can seriously say they are not interested any further.
Keep in mind that there are also going to be different levels of interest that need to be factored in for each prospect. Certain clients will need 100% of your attention, while others can be strung along until they show more interest or the timing is right. You always want to stay flexible enough to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself, such as a client meeting or opportunity to show your business. It takes a staggering number of meetings or showings alone in order to get an offer made to purchase a business, so stay focused and remember it is all a numbers game. This should make it a lot easier to deal with the details and complications that will inevitably ensure.