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How Can You Tell When a Buyer Is Wasting Your Time?

By Quiet Light
| Reading Time: 6 minutes

A freelance writer by trade, I am not much of an expert when it comes to the buying and selling of websites. But I admire and respect the people who do do this work. It can be tough, stressful, but ultimately rewarding.

So in order to expand my life knowledge, I am going to examine some questions I have about the website brokerage industry. To help me understand it, I will be asking the brokers at Quiet Light Brokerage to give me their advice, based on their many years of experience.

Welcome to the new Quiet Light series – Ask The Brokers.

wasting your time

“How Can You Spot The Buyers Wasting Your Time?”

From what I have found out so far, selling a website can be a long, sometimes complicated process. So it can be rather disconcerting, to say the least, when you realize that the buyer is not serious at all about your business, and is pretty much wasting your time.

They could be deceiving you for a variety of reasons, but whichever reason it is, it is not funny in the slightest. You are too busy running your business to be taken in by someone only interested in kicking the tires or perhaps surreptitiously checking out the competition.

It can also make you suspicious of future “interested buyers” – one rotten apple can make you cynical of the whole process.

How can you distinguish between a deal-maker and a deal-faker? It is essential to spot the tell-tale signs, which is why I asked the brokers at Quiet Light Brokerage for their tips, based on past experience.

Bryan O’Neil – Beware Of The Immediate Offer

bryan o'neilWhen I asked Bryan how to spot a time-waster, he used the same expression I used – a tire-kicker. In his experience, the biggest giveaway that you’re dealing with a tire-kicker is “when a buyer puts in an offer without asking a single question about the business or speaking to the seller first”.

You may think this behavior strange. After all, why would someone commit to a business and make an offer without researching it first? But Bryan has a simple explanation.

“This type of buyer often puts in offers with the sole intention of entering into the exclusivity period” said Bryan,” to only then begin the actual evaluation of the business – without risking having competing offers show up”.

If they find something they don’t like, they can then use that to justify withdrawing their offer. Or if they don’t find something, they can always make something up.

As Bryan pointed out, this behavior is very unethical, which is why it is perhaps a good idea for every seller to have a good broker, to ensure this doesn’t happen. A good broker will also make sure any buyer who’s granted an exclusive LOI (Letter of Intent) is sufficiently informed about the company, and finally make sure the buyer can afford to go through with the acquisition.

Joe Valley – Instincts & Honesty Make a Difference

Joe ValleyAs a member of Quiet Light, Joe has plenty of experience to fall back on when it comes to answering questions like these. So he had lots of advice to offer when I put the question to him.

“After a time you develop an instinct for who is a real buyer and who is simply feeding their own ego and wasting everyone else’s time” replied Joe. “Using my instincts helps buyers and sellers create a successful and safe transaction they can both be happy with at closing”.

Obviously instinct is something you only develop with experience, something Joe has in spades. He proves it by providing us with a list of things for brokers and sellers to look out for.

  • Some buyers exaggerate and pretend to be more than they are. This is easily seen through and is not a good tactic. We’re all here to help – so being honest with the broker is the best approach, otherwise you could burn a bridge with dishonesty.
  • Certain buyers rip apart the business as a form of negotiation. These businesses are often the seller’s “babies” and this behavior offends them and only backfires.
  • Novice buyers tend to copy and paste a list of questions that are not all relevant to the listing. We put our sellers through the ringer with questions. Buyers should take the time to read it, and their responses, and then ask follow-up questions. They’ll save time in the long run and gain the respect of the seller.
  • Occasionally, a buyer will be rude and condescending. Treating the broker poorly will come back to bite you when the client asks us what we think of you when you make an offer, and they all do.
  • It is tough when a buyer is insistent that something that cannot be done, can be. Yet they refuse to back it up with proof (because they cannot). This is could be combined with number one on the list. If you are not 100% sure about something, don’t insist.
  • When a potential buyer puts ###-###-#### as their phone number it is a bad sign. We don’t cold-call anyone. I’m sorry that others do and that it has made you uncomfortable, but if you are not willing to communicate with us beyond email, it is much less likely a deal will ever get done.

Do you recognize yourself or someone else in that list Joe provided?

Jason Yelowitz – Faulty Expectations Can Ruin a Good Deal

Jason YelowitzJason is another long-time Quiet Light broker, but he slightly disagrees with the others. He seems to want to believe the best in everyone, and that the basic problem is simply one of inaccurate expectations.

“I don’t believe many buyers intend to waste the seller’s or broker’s time, but I do believe many do not have accurate expectations of how these deals work” concludes Jason. “Some mistakenly believe that they are the only ones looking at the deal and can therefore name one-sided terms”.

“Some believe the asking price is merely a suggestion, when in reality most deals close within a reasonable range of the asking price. Some have unrealistic expectations that their colleagues and acquaintances will fund a deal for them”.

“I find that a little bit of expectation-setting usually helps align the buyer, seller and broker expectations so that all parties can take the time they need to make intelligent decisions without wasting the others’ time or trust”.

Darin Hardin – Pay Attention To The Ones That Don’t Pay Attention

Darin HardinDarin has a reputation for being a straight-talking Southern kind of guy. So I knew that when I asked the question to Darin that I would get a straight answer.

“They ask generic questions but you know right off the bat they haven’t read the business summary because what they are asking was clearly in the summary.”

Well his exact answer was a bit stronger than that, but in the style of the CIA, we’ve redacted portions to protect the children.

“They treat you like you work for them. That they are the only ones that matter in the deal. And they tell you upfront how successful they are and how many deals they’ve done so that you are impressed”.

Darin’s advice is simple: “Each deal is totally unique, as well as the seller and the buyer. Go into it with an open mind and with a win-win philosophy and things will be much smoother and you will get what you ultimately want.”

In Conclusion

At Quiet Light, we have differing opinions, and the staff are actively encouraged to disagree. After all, that is the hallmark of a healthy company.

When it comes to how to spot a time-waster though, the staff are pretty much universally in agreement, except Jason who’s a nice guy and wants to see the best in everyone.

In summary, the main warning signs to look out for are :

  • Buyers asking questions when those questions have already been covered in the summary. Not reading the documents means they are not giving the business their full consideration.
  • Buyers being rude and demanding, and tearing apart the business you have painstakingly built over the years.
  • Expecting the price to be lowered when you have already more or less fixed a price. This feeds into Jason’s observation of “unrealistic expectations”.
  • Making an offer without asking any questions first. They just want that coveted exclusivity period!

If you are selling your business for the first time, you are probably going to get burnt a bit by time wasters, but the hallmark of a good broker is being able to filter these kinds of people out.

7 replies on “How Can You Tell When a Buyer Is Wasting Your Time?”

Comments are closed.

  • Some great insight. Thanks for the post.

    I would say I often ask questions that are already in the summary. Normally I deal with smaller purchases that are through a direct seller/owner and not a broker but my reasoning of doing this is to see if I get the same answer. Often times I do get variations in the answer and it leads to great discoveries. I’d do the same with a broker so Hardin’s point while valid as a possible flag isn’t 100% the case.

    Valley mentioned “Certain buyers rip apart the business as a form of negotiation. These businesses are often the seller’s “babies” and this behavior offends them and only backfires.”

    I kind of do this as well. I’m not there to rudely rip a business apart but I do want to point out issues in existing businesses that I will have to address to resolve an issue. There are clear times when I feel a business is worth less than the asking price for the reasons I point out. I guess his key point with the comment is “rudely rip” which is something I’ve never done but I have offended sellers by point things out and they take it personally. While I’m good at reading people and can often pivot into not making it a big deal it can be perceived as being rude.

    -Yelowitz I bought your book a number of years ago. Good stuff.

    1. Hey Jacob,

      Joe wrote another article some time ago which talks about cutting down a seller’s business and the effect it can have.

      I get why buyers might want to point out the deficiencies in a seller’s business, but I think these might be better directed to the broker in private. I have seen more sellers concede on price for a buyer because they like them than I have seen from sellers who concede because they get talked down from their price expectations.

    2. That’s it…I need to write a book too! Working title: “The Pajama Clad Millionaire” Take that Jason…

      Jerdei…based on the way you write I have every confidence you point out weaknesses in a business in a professional manner. I think the key to getting what you want in a transaction is to first make a good impression on the seller.

      One thing I pride myself on is never asking a seller their bottom line price. I even tell them early on…”don’t tell me…buyers will ask me your bottom line and I want to be 100% honest with them that I don’t know”. Then…when a buyer like yourself has a conf. call with the seller and makes a great impression, I find you get a much better deal and terms if the seller likes you.
      That’s my point. I’m often shocked how much of a deal some buyers get with this approach. Mark shared an article I wrote about it.

      With regards to repeating questions that we’ve asked in the Client Interview, yes…good approach. I even advise buyers to do this to see if the answer is the same when on a conf. call with a seller. I think Darin’s point was when a written question is emailed to him and the same question is already asked and answered in the Summary.

      Overall this article only relates to a very small percentage of buyers. Maybe 5% or less. In my opinion – building strong relationships with buyers is critical to being successful in my role for the long run. We need you to be successful in your transactions, even if it takes years to find the right fit. In most cases buyers are putting their life savings on the line…and we do all we can to make sure it is a safe investment.

      As QLB brokers…we’ve all built, bought and sold. My last purchase in early 2012 got slaughtered by the Penguin Update and I lost about $220,000. A hard lesson to learn, but one that I can share with buyers and sellers to help make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

    3. Jacob, Darin here. I agree with you. If you are doing it to verify what they have put down as answers to questions in our Client Interview, you definitely should do that.

      I suggest that you do it on a phone call instead of emails though because they think that you haven’t done your homework and they sometimes reply in kind. But on a call, absolutely you should verify any and all things that you what to get clarification on.

      Also, make sure you have looked at their sites. Nothing bothers a seller more than random questions that could be answered from simply going to their website and spending a couple of minutes on it. Doing this can lead to new discoveries as well that you should ask about.

      Best of luck with your search!

  • I have a question about this. You mention asking for a reduction in price as being a non-serious buyer- is it expected that people typically don’t make an offer on a business? I’ve seen a lot of businesses (not on this site necessarily) asking a lot more than what seems reasonable (like a multiplier of 4, when there isn’t much to justify it).

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