Prospect…or Suspect? Prospecting with the Lens of Love

True story:  I once knew a girl who was in love with a boy.  She was in love with him because he was perfect in almost every way:  Smart, funny, responsible, sensitive, considerate, good fashion sense.  She loved him because he was perfect for her in almost every way: Same values, same hopes and dreams, same taste in music, food, and clothing. They were both single and looking to settle down. For a full year they were inseparable – dinners, movies, vacations, and shopping trips.

And in the end, he left her for…another man.

This doomed romance has a sales equivalent, of course:

You court a prospect that seems perfect in almost every way:  They have a budget, you’re talking to the decision-maker, they fit your ideal prospect profile.  They seem perfect for you in every way:  Your sales calls have been fantastic, you made a killer presentation, they love your proposal.  You have spent a ton of time making contact with all the key influencers, understanding their decision process, and spending your T&E money on them.

And in the end, they decide to…go with the other team.

If you look closely through the Lens of Love, in each of these stories there is a foreshadowing of the tragic end to come. (Check out my literary technique!)  But, as is often the case in real life, the foreshadowing is not what’s in the story, it’s what’s missing. The missing ingredient in each of these examples is what separates the Prospects from the Suspects.

Suspect:  You suspect (i.e., hope) you have an opportunity because of demographics, but haven’t found a compelling need to change.

Prospect:  There is a real prospect of a deal because your demographics line up and there’s a compelling need to change.

Did you see it? Ultimately, the need, or absence of need, is the difference between a PROSPECT and a SUSPECT.

  • Suspects are above the sales funnel because you have not yet QUALIFIED whether they warrant a full-blown selling process. They’re not QUALIFIED to be in your forecast yet.
    • Lens of Love: You suspect she might be willing to go out with you, but you haven’t slipped her the note (old school) or texted her yet (new school). Ask the question, Tiger!
  • Prospects have QUALIFIED for your full-blown selling process because you have QUALIFIED them.
    • Lens of Love: You asked her out, she said yes, and it’s time to trim that mullet (old school), fire up a romantic Spotify playlist (new school), and go get’ em, Tiger!

If the ALL CAPS weren’t making it clear enough, we’re talking about QUALIFYING.  Of course I have some points to make about qualifying.  But keep in mind, these points are general advice (models), not specific instructions (recipes).

Principle 1:  Demographics are not needs

Demographics (quantitative):  Facts, statistics, characteristics, qualities – what makes someone attractive to another

Selling demographics:  Budget, Decision-maker access, what they’re buying now.  Potential revenue, of course – size matters.

Love demographics:  Available, good-looking, employed, gives you the time of day.  Perhaps measurements – size matters.  (I mean, some tall women won’t date short men. Get your mind out of the gutter!)

Needs (qualitative):  Feelings, opinions, attitudes, beliefs – what makes someone attracted to another

Selling needs:  A problem they want to solve, an opportunity they want to capture

Love needs:  Lonely, dissatisfied, seeking companionship….you know.

The point here, is not to confuse demographics for needs.  This is a troublesome trap in professional selling – attractive Suspects who are willing to meet with you and let you do your mating dance are not necessarily Prospects.

Lens of Love:  Confusing demographics with needs leads to confusion and potential stalking. “Hot” and “lonely for you” are two entirely different things.

Needs before budget

Lots of sellers believe in qualifying for budget first – “So I know I’m not wasting my time.”  Hey, if you want to limit your opportunities to prospects who have already established a budget, good for you.  However, I ask almost every workshop if anyone has ever sold something to a prospect who started with no budget – at least a couple of hands always go up.

Here’s another way to look at it – do you have a budget for replacing your roof this year? If your current one went kaput, you’d find the money, right? (Those of you rent and thus don’t have to replace “your roof” may substitute “your liver.”)

The point is, if the need is strong enough, customers find the budget. And just because the need isn’t strong enough when you start talking doesn’t mean it won’t be strong enough by the time you’re done.

In fact, in some ways I prefer talking with customers before they’re set aside budget – I can influence it. Plus, once a budget has been set, your prospect is more likely to be talking to your competitors.

Lens of Love:  Most people were not planning on meeting our spouse when they did. I’ve met many people who were actively avoiding relationships, but then they found the one and…you know.

Real Needs are Seen and Felt

There once was a company I was sure I was gonna do business with.  Their sales were flat while the industry was growing.  They had just lost a bunch of experienced salespeople and replaced them with relative newbies. Friends in the company told me their close rates and sales cycles were abysmal. No new products in the pipeline. A call to HR confirmed they offered virtually no development for salespeople. And I sell sales training!

So, armed with all this data and evidence, I called on the VP of sales. (He took my call right away – another positive sign!) I walked in as prepared as a seller could be, so confident in my approach.  Imagine my surprise when, ten minutes into the call, he said, “Not interested.”

“But,” I stammered, “I can help your salespeople close more and faster!  Especially the new ones!”

His reply was delivered in that “this call is over” tone:  “We’re doing fine.  Costs are down, so we’re profitable enough. We don’t need sales training.”  And with that, I was essentially out the door. Stunned and on the street.

The point is, I could see the need, but the suspect wasn’t feeling it. And until those two factors come together, you have a Potential Need, not a Real Need. And customers rarely buy things that satisfy potential needs.  Even insurance, which would seem to be an exception, exists to satisfy a Real Need (“I have evidence I will die someday, and feel the need to make sure I leave my family in good financial shape.”

Lens of Love:  She’s single.  She hasn’t had a date in a year. All her friends are getting married. Her clock is ticking.  She has a history of dating people just like you.  All those facts are meaningless if she’s happy on her own.

The other Potential Need trap is when the customer feels the need, but cannot support it with evidence.  This is a want, and unless your customer can pull the trigger on their own, your chances of success are lower.

Example:   When I was a senior in high school, I felt that taking my then-girlfriend to a drive-in movie would profoundly improve my existence.  However, without the evidence to back up my claim, I was unable to persuade the ultimate decision-makers (my parents) to loan me their 1980 Chevy Caprice 2-door.  Too bad – that thing had a massive back seat.


  • Don’t get fooled by demographics – real Prospects are the ones with needs you can meet.
  • Don’t ask about budget until you’ve determined and developed needs – needs are why customers find the money.
  • Needs, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder – just because the facts say it doesn’t mean Prospects feel it.
  • Cook your own chili. There is no magic qualifying recipe.  These are just ingredients.

Summary:  Prospecting with the Lens of Love

The bottom line is, we fall into the assumptive trap when we supply our own reasoning for why a customer – or a potential mate – would want to buy from us.  The real key to distinguishing between real prospects and mere suspects is your ability to ask your way through the assumptive trap.  Find out if they’re lonely…or just alone.