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Prospects and clients: How to tell the difference

Salespeople need to understand the difference


During a recent training at a world sales conference, a salesperson asked, “Salespeople always refer to their prospects as clients. I’ve heard you use the word prospects, even suspects, instead of clients. Why?”

So I asked the question, "How do you know if someone is prospect or a client?" At the beginning, they wondered if I were just being literal.  After a few hours, they began to "get" the distinction and corrected themselves without me having to ask the question.

It's a simple but very important distinction to make.

First, when we are doing our prospecting activities and interacting with “prospects”, our main task is to ask questions, build trust and qualify or disqualify so that our time is used effectively. Often, a high level of trust is yet to be established right away or even at the first meeting. 

Frankly, I call no one a client till we’ve agreed to work together, they paid and the check cleared the bank. Too many salespeople waste time chasing “suspects”, not even a quality prospect, and “hoping” they become a client. In the meantime, they keep calling them

Words ― and more importantly mindsets ― matter in sales. The more you think a person is a client who has yet to say yes, let alone pay for what you offer, the more I see salespeople venture in to what I call hope’a, hope’a land. They’re “hoping” that suspect/prospect becomes a client, and therefore do too many things often not in their or their company’s best interest, all because that salesperson considered that prospect a client.

Second, with actual clients, we are still asking questions but trust has already been established. It may be more appropriate to answer questions and provide information. Because trust has been established, both parties feel less pressure.

Consciously distinguishing and being aware of the difference between who is actually a prospect and who is a client is a key distinction for those in sales not wanting to be stuck in hope’a, hope’a land.

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Gary Harvey

Gary Harvey is the founder and president of Achievement Dynamics, LLC, a high performance sales training, coaching and development company for sales professionals, managers and business owners. His firm is consistently rated by the Sandler Training as one of the top 10 training centers in the world. He can be reached at 303-741-5200, or gary.harvey@sandler.com.


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