Years ago, I was talking with someone about useful sales prospecting tips, and he made a point to learn how to differentiate between suspects and prospects.
- A suspect is anyone you’re not currently doing business with that you (A) believe has a need for what you offer, or (B) believe you should be doing business with. Hypothetically, every company in the industries you sell to is a suspect.
- A prospect, on the other hand, is someone who has been qualified to an initial degree. Further, there are small “p” prospects — those that meet your criteria but you haven’t yet talked with — and capital “P” Prospects, which are those that you’ve started the conversation with and are moving closer to an opportunity.
Turning Suspects into Sales Prospects
Moving a suspect to the prospect category depends on your qualifying criteria. The approach I use has three “buckets” and questions that need to be answered within each one.
Consider the industries that are most likely to buy from your organization. It could be that there are three or five target industries that are prime candidates, or you could have a broad industry portfolio. The next step is to ask yourself:
“What industry changes are going on that might be disruptive and create problems for organizations within these target industries?”
This disruptive force — whether it is technology, economy, globalization, etc. — might cause your suspects to revamp how they do things, and this revamping can open doors of opportunity for sales professionals.
You might consider industries that look very different today than they did two years ago and may look completely different in another two years. If this is the case, there are likely to be leaders sitting in conference rooms discussing ways to solve the new problems they’re facing. Now you have an opportunity to introduce yourself and position how your organization can help.
Another indicator to monitor is industry performance. Ask yourself these questions:
What are the trends in performance, relative to the past?
Is this industry growing fast or is it struggling?
Both trends present opportunities for sellers, as leaders will be seeking ways to solve problems — whether it’s reaching that next level of achievement or trying to improve their competitive advantages.
The next step is to identify the companies within your target industries that would have the biggest need for whatever it is your organization provides. Then, as with the industries themselves, identify which ones are growing fast and which are declining. Again, picture leaders sitting in a room. They could be celebrating or scratching their heads, but they’re definitely thinking about what else they could be doing.
Can you help them continue their growth trajectory? Or help them turn things around?
Even a company with flat sales could be an ideal prospect because the goal of every organization is to grow.
The only companies on which I typically wouldn’t focus are those that are growing at a steady pace, and seem like they just want to coast. If they are happy where they are and want to maintain the status quo vs. do something different, you might want to keep them as suspects for now.
Instead, focus on the companies for which you can gauge a sense of opportunity or urgency. That’s the best time to call or email or use some other touchpoint to grab their attention.
Once you’ve identified a few candidate companies, then look at their leaders.
Who makes the decisions on the types of products or services they sell?
Has there been a change in leadership?
Often, when someone is new to the top levels of an organization, they’re coming in to fix things or to make changes that have impacts. As a result, they’re likely to be more open to having a conversation about how you can help them solve problems or address opportunities.
At this point, your list of suspects should become more of a qualified list of prospects for you to begin developing. Now it’s time to prepare for prospecting.
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