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Suspects vs. Prospects

Updated: Nov 3


Salespersons ought to know the difference between suspects and prospects in order to ensure their pipeline is of high quality.



In the earlier post Sales vs. Marketing, we described the overall marketing and sales conversion of suspects into prospects, then opportunities, and finally customers.


Suspects → Prospects → Opportunities or Deals → Customers


In this post, we demystify the concepts of suspects and prospects.



Target Market Segments


Products and services have pre-defined target market segments. Product Managers (and Product Marketing Managers) are responsible for imparting this knowledge to sales teams.


Products and services have pre-defined target segments.

Target market segments are the starting points for defining a suspect and prospect in sales and understanding the difference between the two.


The STP Process


Marketers use a process called #segmentation, #targeting, and #positioning (#STP) to pinpoint the target #marketsegments with unmet needs that a brand should address and serve.


Following the STP process, products and services are defined and developed as part of a #marketingmix that best addresses the needs of the target segments.



ICP and Buyer Persona


Within the target market segments, marketing further profiles a hypothetical company that is the "perfect" customer for your offering.


Called the ideal customer profile (#ICP), such a company derives the maximum benefit from your offering. Targeting such companies shortens sales cycles and yields the greatest sales success.


Defining ICP is not enough as at the end of the day, sales are done with actual people within companies. To this end, marketing goes beyond ICP to profile the buyer within target companies.


The profile is a semi-fictional representation called a buyer persona.


Multiple buyer personas are defined corresponding to the multiple members of a virtual buying center within the target companies consisting of decision-makers, influencers, users, and gatekeepers.


Who are Suspects?


#Suspects in sales are all the businesses or consumers who fall into the target market segment(s) of a product or service defined by marketing. In fact, suspects fit the ICP and buyer persona.


Despite fitting the ICP and buyer persona, suspects are called so because they may not be interested in buying the offering, to begin with.


Suspects may or may not be interested in buying a product or service.

Who are Prospects?


As the name suggests, #prospects are potential customers for your business. Suspects become prospects when they signal their buying interest and it is evident to salespersons.


Suspects → Prospects


Although suspects fit the ICP and buyer persona for your offering, they have to be in the buying cycle and interested in your product or service in order for you to consider them as prospective customers.


Prospects are potential customers for your business who show interest in buying your product or service.

You should ideally spend all your sales efforts on prospects and not suspects. Your sales performance and sales forecast will both be impacted negatively otherwise.


If your pipeline includes suspects that you do not distinguish from prospects, then those suspects will consume your time and effort unnecessarily but not convert into sales.



Are they Leads?


Depending on who you speak to or the school of thought, only prospects are considered as leads or both suspects and prospects are considered as leads.


Suspects → Prospects or Leads → Opportunities or Deals → Customers


Leads (Suspects → Prospects) → Opportunities or Deals → Customers


Read our blog post prospects vs. leads, which points out the confusion reigning these concepts.



Cold, Warm and Hot Leads


There is also a classification of leads into cold, warm, and hot. In another post on this topic, we make it clear that suspects are cold leads and prospects are warm leads.


Cold Leads (Suspects) → Warm Leads (Prospects)


The point here is that both suspects and prospects are leads.



The Bottom-line


Whereas a suspect's interest level is unclear, a prospect's interest is clear to the salesperson. Furthermore, suspects must be identified and nurtured.


This know-how of a suspect vs. prospect in sales is ultimately critical to building a quality pipeline.

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