Although “prospects” and “leads” may be regarded as interchangeable terms, it is vital to note the new meaning when “qualified” is added beforehand. A qualified prospect offers a salesperson the greatest potential to land a potentially lucrative and sizeable deal, so the last thing a salesperson wants to do is waste time and energy with unqualified prospects.

Looking at the stages of sales prospecting can help distinguish qualified prospects from leads. As you move through the sales prospecting process, you will notice that prospects are in the third stage. Prospects are leads who have had minimal interaction with your company in order to verify their identity. In contrast, qualified prospects are leads who have been identified as having a budget, authority, need, and timing. Qualified prospects are in the fourth stage of sales prospecting and are, therefore, one step closer to becoming a purchasing, valuable customer.

The sales prospecting funnel reveals that becoming a qualified prospect is a multistage process that has essential pre-requisites. The first stage is the Ideal Customer Profile, which is where your company defines its target audience based on industry, company size, role, and more. You then move to suspects, who are potential customers that fit the Ideal Customer Profile criteria. Then, there are prospects – the individuals who have had minimal interaction. Qualified prospects are the next stage as the leads have now demonstrated the presence of unique characteristics indicative of a purchase. The last stage is a customer, a qualified prospect who has completed a sale with your company.

Considering the funnel from a sizing perspective can also help you notice the difference between prospects and qualified prospects. The prospects stage is noticeably larger than the stage of qualified prospects stage. Size is an important consideration as it reveals that there are more potential customers in the prospect’s stage. This is the case because prospects are leads who have not yet demonstrated true interest and intent to interact with your company. There are plenty of leads who have the potential to work with your company, but that doesn’t mean that all of them will do so. It is important to qualify prospects to determine if they are a good fit for your product or solution so your salespeople don’t waste time with those who will never make a purchase.

Moving to the qualified prospect stage requires intensive work, which is known as lead qualificationFormulating and exercising a thorough qualification strategy can help you discover the leads with the greatest potential of becoming revenue-generating customers. Considering the most important characteristics would increase the probability of your qualified prospects to match strongly with your Ideal Customer Profile criteria. Frequent, personal interaction is critical when qualifying your leads, as you may need more than one conversation to determine whether or not the lead is the right fit for your company. Your company can consider multiple questions when qualifying prospects, such as whether the leads have the need, money, timing, and the ability to make a purchasing decision to help you verify that they are, in fact, qualified prospects.

Distinguishing prospects from qualified prospects can help your company determine where salespeople should focus their attention—and where they might be depleting their valuable time and closing power. Keeping a pipeline full of qualified prospects is crucial to the success of any salesperson and sales organization. Yet, keeping a steady stream of qualified prospects typically requires more than 70% of a salesperson’s time and energy. This means that only 30% of a salesperson’s time is typically left for the actual sales and closing process.

When your company is seeking a revenue-boosting sales prospecting strategy, it is crucial to consider that a lot of leads or prospects don’t necessarily provide a plethora of opportunities. It is the qualified prospects who offer the most potential for more closed deals and higher profits. Noting this key difference and working toward this goal will help increase the proportion of qualified prospects and new customers to your business.