What’s the difference between a Lead and a Suspect?

Sometimes enthusiasm gets the better of business leaders and they suspect everyone could become a customer. That’s why it’s important to be able to differentiate between a Lead and a Suspect.

Imagine you sell yoga classes in Manchester. Potentially any business in Manchester could buy from you, they all have staff don’t they?

And if you sell private lessons every citizen of Manchester could buy from you too! Everyone needs to improve their health and flexibility after all, so yoga would do them the world of good.

So, you suspect everyone is a potential customer. But that’s not the same as them being either a Lead or a Suspect in your sales pipeline.

[For more on the question of Suspects and Prospects read our earlier blog here]

What’s a Lead in a sales pipeline?

Every business will define the stages of their pipeline to suit their industry. But we’d argue nobody is a Lead unless you can identify them.

How can you sell to someone if you don’t have an address, a contact number or – if we’re talking about visitors to your website – a URL?

Without that you can’t initiate any contact so they’re not a connection you might class as a Lead.

If you go to a face to face network meeting you can have a lot of friendly chats with people about what they do. You have a good connection but that doesn’t necessarily make them Leads. They are just contacts.

What’s a Suspect in a sales pipeline?

A Suspect is typically one step on from a Lead because you’ve carried out some sort of assessment of their needs and interests.

This means you’ve got some criteria against which you assess whether a Lead is more or less likely to buy from you.

Those criteria might be about what type of organisation you’re speaking with (maybe your courses are best for businesses with more than 10 people), who the decision maker is or how you connected (introductions might be better than web enquiries). And so on.

Note that we are describing a simple sales funnel here. A more complex sales pipeline might contain marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL). This terminology might replace our definition of Suspects.

There are no hard and fast rules, but what you’re trying to figure out is where your time and money is best spent. Who’s your ideal customer and how can you spend most of your time looking for them?

Why would you bother to distinguish between a Lead and a Suspect?

Lots of small businesses rely on referrals and introductions to fuel their sales engine so this question often causes head-scratching.

If someone is introduced to you by a colleague or a client then they have probably already done the qualifying for you already. They won’t introduce someone at random!

The amount of work someone has already done on your behalf is easy to underestimate. We’ve often found one of these “warm” introductions turns into a client after just one call.

This new connection jumps from being someone you’ve never met to someone you’re sending a quote to after just one conversation.

Once you’ve got the introduction there’s a decent chance this person will become a client. Why bother with different classifications and boring sales pipeline admin?

What’s the difference between a Lead and a Suspect?

The distinction between a Lead and a Suspect becomes much clearer once you’re expanding your business and picking up sales Leads from different sources.

Imagine you’re a manufacturer of quality bathroom taps and fittings.

You have just attended an architect and design show and are exhausted after three full days on a stand (followed by three evenings of curry and beer).

You estimate 500 people visited your stand. As all attendees have a barcoded badge you have contact details for all of them, though it was just impossible to chat properly with everyone.

So you now have a list of 500 Leads. Wow!

But they are not Suspects are they?

Go back to the contact details question and consider how many people have (accidentally or otherwise) given the wrong information. If you email them all some will just bounce. Or get stuck in spam filters.

Many, many more will just not respond to your email. You’ll never know whether they are really interested in taps or stopped by because you were next to the coffee stand. And because you were giving away pens.

A good sales campaign will have follow-up steps for the remaining responders. Maybe you offer a consultation appointment, or agree to send out a brochure. Something that indicates a level of interest and commitment from the customer.

That’s an initial filtering exercise that helps you qualify out the people who are unlikely to become customers. Time is tight and you can’t spend too much energy on tyre-kickers.

Your team might legitimately claim you had 500 Leads from your weekend’s work. But after all this work the number of Suspects might be 50.

If those 50 Suspects liked what they’ve seen of you that exhibition could still be a great investment of time and money.

That’s because you’ve identified the difference between a Lead and a Suspect and focused your energy on the 50 Suspects. Not on the other 450 Leads.

The difference between a Lead and a Suspect should now be more clearer to you as a business leader.

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