Industrial Sales

Prospects vs suspects: Understanding the difference

Sales professionals should definitely understand the difference between suspects and prospects to avoid wasting time and reach their goals.

Homepage » Industrial Sales » Prospects vs suspects

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Too often, we find ourselves spending lots of time with prospects only to find out that they lack either the power, or the influence, or even worse, the money to procure your product or services. Unfortunately, there are many people, and we will call them suspects, who are very interested in your product offering yet will never end up buying from you or anyone else. In order not to waste time, you should know the difference between suspects and prospects.

suspects vs prospects

What is the difference between a suspect and a prospect?

Many times it is difficult to understand the difference between suspects (unqualified leads) and prospects (qualified sales leads). One reason for this is that as the seller, we hear things from suspects that we like. We then tend to warm up quickly to the suspect. They tell us exactly what we want to hear, and often they befriend us, but they never buy from us.

A very savvy business development manager once used the expression “happy ears” to describe salespeople who attach themselves to suspects instead of sales leads and prospects. Many salespeople develop “happy ears” and immediately believe, without question, everything a suspect says.

It is only after several months or years pass that the salesperson realizes that he/she has been working with a suspect, not a prospect. This is lost time. The reason for this loss is that the salesperson did not understand the difference between suspects and prospects in time.

Suspects vs prospects

The very first distinction between a suspect and a prospect is that suspects are driven by your information, not by your product. That is why cold calls and sales promotions are ineffective with suspects, resulting in their stale status in your sales funnel.

However, this is not to imply they cannot develop into potential. Rather than that, you must engage people by giving them technical content that is relevant to them. For instance, articles giving pertinent solutions to suspects’ problems, industry data, statistics, and trends, as well as instructional video guides.

In comparison, qualified prospects have already provided you with personal information about themselves, such as an email address, in return for additional content.

How to identify suspects and prospects

So, how can you identify a real prospect when you encounter one? Most successful salespeople create a list of qualifying questions for potential customers.

Qualification questions should be asked during the initial meetings with your suspects and prospects. Then, as you become comfortable with your prospect and she/he with you, begin to ask your qualifying questions in a conversational tone and pay close attention to the answers. Another technique is to ask the same question differently after a few meetings to see if the answer yields a consistent response.

Here are a few qualifying questions that depending on your sales situation, may help you quickly identify your prospects.

sales lead generation

Identifier questions

  1. Have your potential buyer describe their current situation or problem.
    This problem should translate into a serious business concern, i.e., reduced profits, reduction in the prospects’ operating costs, loss of competitive positioning, etc.
  2. Have your contact describe in detail what his or her role is in the organization.
    You want to assess this person’s ability to influence the decision process or support you in your sales effort at this account.
  3. Who in the organization does this problem affect the most?
    Should be far-reaching and/or affect high-level business users.
  4. Are any senior executives aware of the problem or situation?
    If so, who are they? Perhaps you can get to these individuals to discuss your solution. Know that the prospects consist of people.
  5. How have they tried to solve the problem in the past?
  6. Ask your prospects if they are evaluating other vendors.
    This question should be asked as part of your normal conversation with your contact. Remember, you want the prospect to compare your solution with others. When you win, they will be a fantastic reference for you.
  7. What is the timeframe for making the decision?
  8. How do the prospects normally procure items like this one?
    Will this product purchase be within the budget? What is the typical approval process for product purchases like this one? Here, you are asking for who signs, who approves, and an understanding of the process. This understanding helps you to provide support for your prospects in a timely manner and to forecast the business accurately.

It is critical to ask qualifying questions of your suspects and prospects in order to determine how much time to spend in a given buying process. The ability to quickly identify a suspect from prospect will significantly increase your chances for more successful sales opportunities.

lead qualification and sales prospecting

How do you convert a suspect to a prospect?

  1. Your qualified prospect database should be segmented. Not all prospects are the same, therefore you shouldn’t treat them all the same. Segment your prospects and create distinct campaigns and marketing messages for each segment.
  2. Develop an Account Based Marketing strategy that targets multiple influencers and decision makers, focusing on 2-3 of your major opportunities. Send them promotional things to keep your company’s name in front of their minds in preparation for follow-up by your internal or outside sales team.
  3. Concentrate your efforts on a vertical in which you are a specialist. Create a case study for that vertical and distribute a video demonstrating how you overcome this obstacle.
  4. Invite prospective customers to an activity (webinar, meeting..etc) that promises to teach them how to improve their operational performance.
b2b marketing


You can separate qualified prospects from a bunch of suspects by analyzing their immediate concerns and determining their influence on their business. You must then assess whether you are capable of providing a solution.

However, keep in mind that you cannot counsel or advocate a course of action until you understand the clients’ needs, priorities, and passion. By actually listening and planning effectively, your proposal will differentiate itself from the competition by addressing critical problems, allowing you to improve sales.

Your task is to determine the characteristics of prospects and then work to construct a profile for each. This can assist in distinguishing between a qualified prospect and a possible suspect who may simply be looking to talk and wasting your sales professionals’ time.

With a better grasp of your targeted prospect profile, you can review their contacts to decide the proper level of involvement. By examining how much time is spent developing contact relationships at the suspect level, which progresses to the prospect level, and eventually progresses to the customer level, the trained sales professional may direct efforts appropriately.