What Are "Suspects", "Prospects" and "Leads" and why It's Important?

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Lead Quality

Soft Versus Tight Leads

In B2B lead generation, it is easy to get confused by the meaning of "suspects, prospects, and leads." Yet, a clear agreement on what they mean is essential to success.

Suppliers use these terms loosely further confusing the lead generation strategy.

InfoUSA, for example, advertises their BtoB compiled lists as “leads.” Of course, these are not leads. They sell cold lists of names taken from public records. Contacting these names is like calling businesses from the Yellow Pages. Except that InfoUSA might be able to give you a contact name and other selection criteria to help you select your best target markets.

For purposes of this discussion, a "suspect" is a list you rent from someone like D&B or InfoUSA based on a contact title, SIC codes, geography, employee size, sales volume and other available criteria. Such lists are filled with inaccuracies. And the names may or may not ever represent qualified prospects for your products. In fact, they may not even know that your product exists. And even if they are aware of it, they have shown no interest in it. That is why they are called suspects.

Prospects are more qualified than suspects because they have downloaded one of your white papers, responded to your blog or in some way demonstrated an interest in the information you provided. But they may not have the buying authority, an adequate budget, or even an interest in your product. They've shown an interest in the subject matter, but not necessarily in what you have to sell.

Leads, on the other hand, come from prospects who have raised their hand and said they want to know more about your specific product. But the quality of these leads varies wildly from lukewarm to hot depending upon various factors. Direct marketers define leads “loose” or “tight” based on their quality or likelihood to buy your product.

For example, let us assume a company executive answered your survey questions over the Internet or by phone divulging their phone number, email address and when he intends to make a purchase. Let's further assume that he says he has buying authority for your product. If such an individual agrees to a phone appointment, then one might conclude that this is a “tight” or high quality lead.

If this same excutive agrees to spend an hour with you in a face-to-face presentation, then I would place him at the top of the list in terms of lead quality.

In line with evaluating the BtoB leads and differentiating their quality, marketers must understand the importance of evolving suspects to prospects, and then prospects to leads. The goal, of course, is to convert leads to customers.

There is at least one additional step beyond that by taking customers and cultivating them to become long term customers and advocates.

As with customer relationships, companies must build prospect relationships to fill their new business pipelines with many qualified contacts.

I believe that PRM or Prospect Relationship Management is the primary strategy for CRM in B2B lead generation. If done correctly over time, these relationships eventually turn suspects into qualified leads.

Do you know of companies that have done a good job with PRM? Please share it with the rest of us. This is not a short term strategy. Today's businesses do not seem capable of maintaining marketing initiatives beyond a year. Companies often do not save their leads for further promotion if they do not buy immediately or within a typical sales cycle. PRM requires a long term investment to yield its best results.

Posted on June 20, 2008 and filed under Lead Generation.