Prospects. When is a Prospect NOT a Prospect

Prospect. When is a Prospect not a Prospect?

Prospect, Prospect. Someone once said, “A business without prospects is truly a business without prospects.”

But, what is a Prospect?

And when is a prospect not really a prospect?

Answer: When it’s a suspect.

Suspects Defined

I facilitated a sales-coaching session with a client in Manchester this week. A really clever and talented team of (mainly) women, who operate in the product innovation space and we got to talking about prospects in their sales pipeline and I took them through the qualification process. This can be a little uncomfortable if you’re not used to it and you have to be able to trust in everyone as it can make you feel a little vulnerable at times.

“OK, tell me about this prospect,” I said.

“Well, they’re about this size (staff) and they’re in this (business sector)” the Director replied.

The conversation continued and I realised that they weren’t talking about a prospect, they were talking about a suspect and, until that point, they didn’t know the difference – why would they?

So what that this potential client is a suspect and not a prospect.

In sales, a suspect is defined as:

someone we suspect might want to buy our product or service but we don’t yet know.”

Suspects are just that: “I suspect but I don’t really know.” There is an added layer of risk (meaning more effort is required). Perhaps you’ve never done business with them before but they’re in your target market and so you “suspect” they’d have a need for your service. They still have a value though and you should still speak to them to see if they could become a prospect.

For forecasting purposes, suspects should be risk-weighted at zero revenue until qualified. When, after communicating with them, you’re convinced they have a need and your product or service could satisfy that need, only then could they be called a prospect. Only prospects can become clients.

Lesson Learned

I learned a valuable lesson that day this week; that we all need to ensure we’re talking the same language. The scenario I described before is often depicted as 1 person talking English and the other person talking French. But it’s actually worse than that; because if I was talking English and you were talking French, it would be bleedin’ obvious as soon as we started talking to each other. In this scenario, we were both actually speaking English, using every-day English words and so no alarm bells sounded. It was only until when we talked in more detail about this potential client that I realised we weren’t using the same language.

I had assumed we were talking the same language.

“Don’t assume. You might make an ass of u and me”

Next Blog

So, with all that said, thought I’d start producing a Glossary of Sales Terms. These are some of the terms I’m going to define in next week’s post:

Poke in the Eye

Client (new and new/new)

Suspects / Prospects

Bid, tender, proposal, RFI / RFQ / RFP


Lead (Qualified / unqualified)



Have I missed anything? What are your most-used sales terms or phrases?

Let me know.