Sales Suspect vs. Prospect: How do you define your Suspects?

If you enjoy a good TV cop drama you could be well on the way to answering this one. So what are we talking about when it comes to a Sales Suspect vs. Prospect?

A Suspect is someone who’s better defined than just a lead. You’ve done enough research into their attributes, challenges and needs to believe they might be “the one”.  

But for one reason or another you wouldn’t yet call them a Prospect.

What’s a sales funnel?

You can build a really simple sales funnel with just four steps:

  • Suspect – you think this individual (or company) might be interested in doing business with you
  • Prospect – you think there’s a decent chance this individual might become a customer
  • Quote/ Proposal – this potential customer is sufficiently interested in you for you to construct a specific, priced offer
  • Sale – hurrah! You’ve acquired a new customer

Before all this you have a number of leads. Leads that will come from a range of sources like personal introductions, networking contacts, your website, social ads and so on.

The importance of data

This is often overlooked at the top of the sales funnel. Imagine you run a funky clothes shop on the edge of your town centre.

All day, every Saturday, a constant stream of people pass through your door, picking things up, staring in mirrors. Just browsing.

Some will buy, but you have no idea which ones. You might have figured out that on a good day one in five will make a purchase, but you have no data on them.

Nor do you know anything about the other people who walk out empty handed. Even though they could turn out to be really loyal customers over coming months.

What’s a Suspect?

There are two criteria you can unpick here when it comes to understanding a sales Suspect vs. Prospect: Data and customer intent.

In a business to business (B2B) context we wouldn’t define someone as a Suspect until you know who they are AND they show positive intent towards your business.

People entering your boutique show positive intent (they could just walk past your carefully curated window without a second glance). But you have no data on them; you can’t mail them, invite them to drinks events or get in touch.

Not unless you collect data from them. Which is why some big retailers so love loyalty cards and store apps.

Likewise, if you conduct business via your website you can count the number of site visitors. But without decent software you’ll have no idea who they are, or maybe even where.

How do you separate potential customers living just five miles from your store (maybe the ones who dropped in last Saturday!) from the bots in China?

So in a B2B relationship you might want a name and an email address as basic data. Then if that individual has signed up to your newsletter or completed an online audit they’ve shown positive intent.

That could identify a Suspect.

How do you define a Suspect?

A suspect is literally someone you “suspect” might buy from you. You’ve identified them and they have shown some sort of interest in your product or service, so it’s possible.

Yet there are many reasons why they might not buy from you. You’ve not yet assessed their needs, nor have they researched what you do, for whom and at what price.

There’s a lot more work to do before you’re confident of revenue. But you have reason to suspect.

This is where the TV cop steps back in. They know that someone is “in the frame” and can identify who it is. But they don’t yet have the confidence to assess them as likely.

The case wouldn’t stand up.

Sales Suspect vs. Prospect: When does a Suspect become a Prospect?

The criteria you use to define this step will vary by business but we’d recommend three potential steps:

  • Specific intent: The potential buyer has expressed an interest in what you can provide
  • Timing: You really want to know that the individual is thinking of buying in what to you is a realistic timeline
  • Budget: You’ve been able to establish that the individual will spend the sort of price you’d be looking for

Let’s go back to our boutique.

If you start up a conversation with a visitor who’s after a new top for a party next month, then you’ve ticked the first two of these three boxes.

Interestingly you don’t know how much they want to spend. If they leave without buying you can’t pin down whether it was down to your range or your price. Maybe you should have asked what their budget was?

Oh, and if they do leave you still don’t have any of their data ? That could be a great Prospect who’s just walked out of the door.

Again, it works much the same way in B2B or service industries.

If you provide waste services and you’re talking with someone who wants to take out a new waste collection contract in early 2023 at a cheaper price than their current contract: Then you can count them as a Prospect.

Why is it important to identify Suspects?

It matters to your business to identify Suspects because – like in that boutique – most will never buy from you.

You put time and energy into serving people who will never spend and it’s important to calibrate just how much of your resources this eats up.

Understanding this helps you predict your future revenue and how much work is needed to deliver it.

That will make your sales efforts more efficient, saving you time and heartache.

Going back to our TV cop for the last time: You don’t want to be the one who detains the wrong Suspect and ends up explaining why they arrested the wrong person. Be focused on your evidence from the start.

Are you struggling to untangle the complexities of your sales process?

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