Recently, I received a note on LinkedIn asking me to explain the difference between a lead and a prospect. I answered with my version of the difference and added “opportunity” to round out the definition.

What is a lead?

A lead is the name of a company or a person. They might be on a list your company has purchased. Perhaps they’re on a list of people who attended your webinar or downloaded your white paper. They haven’t yet risen to the level of being a prospect, because you can’t tell from their activity whether they qualify. To find that out, you have to pick up the phone and call them. 

What is a prospect?

A prospect is a person or company that has the kind of problems or challenges around which you can create value. If you call leads and discover they don’t have these kinds of problems or challenges, they they’re not prospects. You have to disqualify them if you cannot create value for them (or if they will never perceive the value you create).

I often write about “dream clients.” Another term might be “super prospects.” They will perceive what you do as creating massive value and should be at the very top of the stack when it comes to your prospects. This is the category where you should spend most of your time.

What is an opportunity?

And finally, we come to opportunities. In order for prospects to become opportunities, they have to agree to change and consider you a potential partner in helping them make that change. That change might relate to a problem or challenge they face or it might position them to take advantage of a future opportunity. Until they agree to explore change and consider you a partner, you’re still dealing with a prospect.

It doesn’t matter how much pain your prospect is in. It doesn’t matter how much better you could make things for him. Until he wants to change, he’s a prospect. And because you treat each of these contacts differently, it helps to know which one you’ve got.

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Suspects vs. prospects

Don’t ask this qualifying question