Guidelines for Effectively Segmenting Your Audience Into Suspects, Prospects, and Leads

When making a sale, how do you know if you’re dealing with a suspect, a prospect or a qualified prospect? Knowing the difference will not only help organize your sales process, but it will give you insight into which tactic will most efficiently display the features of your product or service.

The terms “prospect” and “lead” are often used interchangeably and they both follow behind the prerequisite “suspect”:

Suspect: A broad term referring to anyone who is in your target audience, or someone who has influence over your target audience

Prospect (Lead): Anyone who has taken steps to solve the problem your product or service solves, thus showing direct or indirect interest in your product or service

Qualified Prospect: A prospect with the ability to purchase your product or service

Thus, it’s the awareness of the problem and the interest in finding a solution that distinguishes the suspect from the prospect, and it’s the “ability to buy” that distinguishes the prospect from the revenue-generating qualified prospect.

Phone System

Let’s walk through an example scenario: say your company sells phone systems for businesses. Your suspect, then, is any company that requires the daily use of a phone system. This is obviously an extremely large and broad group, but one that could benefit from the special features of your phone system and is thus potentially interested in your product. They may have been to your site once or twice and are familiar with your brand.

Just because a business requires a phone to conduct their daily business, though, doesn’t mean they’re interested in switching from their current system. Typically, it’s those businesses that have experienced continuous difficulties with their current system   or are looking for a faster, more efficient, or cheaper system than what they currently have – that are interested in switching providers. These businesses, thus, become your prospects. They’ve run into problems with their current phone system and are interested in finding a solution. They’ve possibly downloaded a white paper from your site to learn more information.

However, just because a company has an interest in your solution doesn’t mean that they have the current ability or willingness to make a purchase— separating them from a qualified prospect.

So, what are the best ways to turn a suspect into a prospect, and a prospect into a qualified prospect?

Identify Problem

To start, a suspect needs to realize that they have a problem in need of fixing before they’ll be interested in your product or service. A “level of discontentment” must be gauged— most companies aren’t willing to spend money on something that will only bring them a small improvement, so they must see a large value in the investment.

To determine this value, they’ll likely start by reading up on the issue— so your best bet is to spark their interest through high-quality, relevant and informative content pertaining to the subject (not by spamming them about how great your product is). If you provide them with the knowledge they’re seeking, they’ll view you as a credible source, and will keep you in mind once they’ve decided to begin the buying process.

Web Form

When a suspect has read all available content and is still seeking more, they’re often willing to part with personal contact information in order to receive more detailed, in-depth content (such as white papers, eBooks and webinars)— and voila, you’ve turned your suspect into a prospect.

When requesting this personal contact information from a prospect, ask if they’re interested in discussing more about your product/service. If they say “yes,” it’s safe to keep them into the prospect or “lead” bucket and follow through with more contact— if not, they’re probably still in the research phase. If they say yes, another good follow-up may be to inquire about their current solution and their buying timeline/urgency, which will help determine if they fall into the “qualified prospect” bucket.

Knowing whether you’re dealing with a suspect, prospect or qualified prospect will help you determine the next steps of action. Now you know whether you simply want to make a favorable impression with a suspect, provide needed information to convey the value of your solution with a prospect or whether you should engage, listen and watch for buying signals from a qualified prospect – to close a sale. 

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