6 min read

How to Market to Reluctant Prospects

The line between sales and marketing is more blurred than ever. How do you talk to people you know you can help, but who are reluctant to admit that they have a challenge? What if you could do more than just walk away?

Marketing is tasked with turning reluctant prospects into engaged prospects by the time sales pick them up. In many cases, marketing doesn’t just stop at lead generation; instead, marketing carries the water from generating an opportunity all the way to one or two steps prior to closing the deal.

Many sales organizations would decide to drop a reluctant prospect. But marketing doesn’t get to cut one loose—marketing needs to find the right message to deliver to the right prospects at the right time. 

If you’re in need of turning more of the leads you generate into paying customers, then here are some approaches to consider.

Reluctant Prospects, Motivational Interviewing, and Marketing

At Rogue, we do deep research on psychology to better understand how to reach the decision-making aspects of a person’s consciousness. The act of helping a person make a decision that they feel confident in is incredibly difficult—but you already know that. It might even be why you’re reading this article.

So instead of us going to other marketing blogs and reporting back to you on what we found, we went to graduate-degree level clinical psychology.

The decision-making process, especially for reluctant prospects, can reflect the change-behavior in a reluctant counseling patient. They are aware that their current situation is not ideal, but they are resistant to change. They don’t believe that the grass is greener elsewhere; they believe that their circumstances could only get worse, no matter how bad things are.

The process that a clinical psychologist goes through to help these types of people is called motivational interviewing. Let’s take a look at some of the techniques of motivational interviewing and see how they can be applied to reluctant prospects. 

(Please note: Marketing was not the original intent of motivational interviewing. This article is an opportunity to expand your marketing thinking by integrating another area of scientific research and expertise. The application we will discuss here is not a form of counseling in any form or manner.)

Reluctant Prospects Avoid Confrontation

Reluctant prospects won’t argue with you. In fact, you’re lucky to engage them at all. This type usually finds your marketing campaigns “pushy,” or they say that you “don’t understand” where they’re coming from. 

In a clinical setting, the same thing happens with a reluctant patient. 

Motivational interviewing takes away the confrontational aspect of telling someone, “You have a problem!” Confrontational messages have the implicit suggestion that someone did something wrong, needs to change, or is not currently making the right decision. Motivational interviewing in clinical psychology is about helping the patient to take action: 

  1. Explain what others think the problem is
  2. Express how they feel about the situation
  3. Describe why the situation exists as it does
  4. Determine if they want a different outcome
  5. Find their own path to achieve that outcome
  6. Commit to action
  7. Follow through
  8. Maintain

Is your marketing copy helping people discover a problem for themselves? Do they feel like your nurture campaign is ramming features into their work process? Or do they feel like you’re ready to hear them talk about the challenges they face? 

If you have reluctant prospects who meet all the criteria of a “qualified prospect” but they aren’t engaging, then you may need to see if that subsegment of leads needs a different approach.

4 RULEs of Motivational Interviewing for Reluctant Prospects

In the medical field, everything is an acronym—simple mnemonics are the only way to retain and reuse a wealth of information. So here comes another one: The four guiding principles of motivational interviewing can be summarized in the acronym RULE:

Resist the “Righting” Reflex: 

Before you jump on telling someone what they should do about a problem they’ve (finally) expressed to you…take a breath. They just came to a point where they are willing to tell you something, not for you to tell them something.


Your prospect’s reason to change is far more important than your reason for them to change. How often are you interviewing the people who told you “no” to find out why?

Listen to the Person: 

Most answers already exist within the person who is changing a behavior (read: buying your product or service). Empathic listening skills help them identify these solutions and voice them. And if you just said to yourself, “I’m a GREAT listener!”, allow us to humbly suggest, none of us is the great listener we think we are. This is a profound skill that takes time to cultivate. 

Empower the Person: 

Outcomes are better when your prospect has derived his or her own path forward; it’s their plan, not yours, and they’re the person executing it in order to improve their lifestyle. And this will be a lifestyle change for them, even if it is work-oriented, like a new software. It will change what each day looks like for them, and they need to own it.

4 Ways to Respond to Resistance

Following the RULE framework is how you might construct your approach. But when you actually communicate directly with a person, there are some key interviewing principles to keep in mind:

1. Express Empathy

Acceptance facilitates change. When people push back, their resistance is often not related to your solution; it’s about whether or not they believe you fully appreciate the road that got them here, and that you’re not oversimplifying something that has been a challenge for them.

Try This:

So they say, “We’ve had initiatives to solve that problem for the last 5 years. I’ve built them and led them myself. I’m sorry, but there’s not enough for you to step in and change that we haven’t already done.”

Then you DON’T say, “Well that’s because you don’t know where to look, so you need someone like us to—” and that’s when they hang up. Or want to.

Then you DO say, “As someone who is worried about the same things you are, I gotta say, that’s really fantastic. I know what it takes to work on these challenges, and my hat’s off to you. Were there specific headaches that got leaders to give you the authority to build and execute a plan like that, or did you spot the problem before others knew it was there?”

The more they talk and you listen, the smarter they feel you are.

2. Develop Discrepancy

You, as the interviewer, need to be aware of the consequences of what you’re asking them to do. Things will change for them in ways that they won’t change for you if they take this course of action.

By making this change, there will be collateral changes. Whether or not those changes are good or bad is not for you to assign; you can only encourage them to frame those changes as positive or negative.

Try This:

As you’re communicating with them, say and ask, “Clearly none of this is happening in a vacuum. What else does this touch? If those things change, too, could that also improve your processes?”

3. Roll with Resistance

No matter who you’re talking to, or what you’re talking about—whether you’re pitching a service or discussing politics on social media—arguments are counterproductive. By pushing back forcefully, you’re effectively pushing them deeper into their adversarial position. Likewise, if you get defensive, you’ve now put your interlocutor on the defensive, as well. 

The goal here is to lower barriers, not see whose barriers are stronger. 

Try This:

If you’re getting resistance, then change strategies. Momentum can be used to your advantage. If they are getting passionate about a particular barrier, help them redirect that passion to an area that they may feel more in control. They can shift their perspective with the right prompts.

When they say, “I just don’t think we need to make a change like this,” accept that they don’t want to talk about changing services/products. If they give you the opportunity, then your response can be, “I understand that changing products or services comes with a lot of moving parts. This might not be what you’re looking for. If I heard you correctly, what you’re looking for is really [saving budget, increasing ROI, improving accuracy, etc.].” 

Get them to talk about what they want to talk about. They need to see the end result more than the road to get there.

4. Support Self-Efficacy

Speaking of moving on to a point that they feel is in their control, your reluctant prospects need to believe that they can make change happen. They don’t want to get hyped about an idea, only to have an executive shoot it down.

Try This:

Show them times when someone in their shoes brought this change opportunity to their executives and got what they asked for. Equip them with materials to also show their executives how they need to get wise like the other guys if they want to keep up.

So when you get the manager who forged their current process out of raw iron ore he harvested from a mountain with nothing but a pickaxe and a goat, and then masterfully shaped the purified steel into what it is today…

OK, that may sound a bit dramatic, but doesn’t it sound like a movie when they tell you their story…?

Anyway, use their momentum. “I built this process, and it works great!” Move with that. Emphasize their self-efficacy. “You know your process in and out, and honestly, I don’t! I do know what your peers have gone through. What are some of the parts of your process that keep you at the office late, or that you’re constantly double and triple-checking?”

Are You Reaching for Different? Or More of the Same?

Motivational interviewing is a complex modality of clinical psychology. But inspiration can be found in many places in order to jumpstart your marketing. 

Are you out there looking for something different? Are the other marketing blogs showing you how to assimilate research in other fields to improve your own? That’s not typical; in fact, it’s kind of Rogue. But that’s the way we do it, and we aren’t stopping any time soon.

If you need a team that knows how to find smart paths forward that reframe your approaches to helping clients choose you, then talk to Rogue. We’re happy to discuss the challenges you face. If Rogue is a good fit for you, then you’ll be able to see it.

And if we’re not a good fit for you, then we’ll just tell you. 

No muss. No fuss. Just different. Reach out today.

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