Suspects, Prospects, and Customers

You’ll often hear us talk about marketing to lists of “suspects”, “prospects” and, most often, “customers” – but what is the difference between these three types of person? And how do they relate to “leads”?

The distinction is quite simple:

  • Customer – someone who has signed a contract, given you money, or, in the parlance of marketers, entered into an exchange with you.

  • Prospect – someone who has indicated that they are interested in entering into an exchange with you, either explicitly (by asking for a proposal or inquiring about price) or implicitly (by requesting a catalogue or asking for more information about your processes or services).

  • Suspect – someone who you believe could be interested in entering into an exchange with you, simply because they appear to match the profile of your best customers.

The first thing you should notice is that suspects, prospects, and customers are always people. This holds even when one is marketing to other business (i.e. “business-to-business” marketing). It is, after all, people who make and influence decisions.

From these three types of people, we get three different types of lists:

  • Hot lists – predominantly made of customers; provided your good or service fulfilled what you promised, people who have bought from you once are far more likely to buy from you (again) than prospects of suspects.

  • Warm lists – mostly comprise prospects; these are people who, to a greater or lesser degree, know who you are, like (or at least like the sound of) what you have to offer, and have indicated that they would like to have a conversation.

  • Cold lists – made, mostly, of suspects; even though these people have, in all likelihood, never heard of you and even though they have not indicated any interest in hearing from you, they match the profile of your best customers so you have reason to believe that they would welcome your communication.

You might think that one type of list is better than the other.

In actual fact, our clients successfully market to all three types of list. We’ve found that cold and warm lists are excellent for widening your customer base, by selling to more people – while marketing to your hot list is the easiest and fastest way to grow your business’s revenue by getting customers to come back more often.

Finally, what is a “lead”?

It is best to think of a lead as a business card – either a digital one in your database or perhaps a real business card stapled to your Rolodex. Some leads are “suspect leads”, where all you have is a person’s contact information but they do not know, like, or trust you; some leads are “prospect leads”, where, to a certain extent, you also have a relationship.

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