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In CRM. Are they Leads or the Usual Suspects?

Continuing with our occasional ‘CRM in practice’ blog series, probably one of the biggest questions which comes up is:

What is the difference between a Lead and a Suspect?

The answer is that it will somewhat depend on your chosen CRM software. Writing this blog, I thought it would be simple to find some definitions, but surprisingly it is not. Do a quick search yourself and the definitions are very close, so it depends on your perspective. Here are mine...


The most confusing term is that of a Lead. This is a Sales Lead where, and this may depend on your own business use, they are not currently doing business with you. Usually they are new to your database. This could be classified as an Account level classification type, although sometimes a Lead is created and tracked in its own right before being promoted to a sales Opportunity after qualification if they meet your profile. A Lead could be simply someone you met on at a tradeshow or just a phone call-in. Importantly your CRM enables you to track this Lead and also Assign it. Losing and not following-up on Leads is still one of the main catalysts in choosing a CRM system.

Leads can start outside of the system as a separate entity in their own right and may not be registered as an Account or Contact on your system yet. This is where it comes to understanding how your software treats Leads. In Customer Relationship Managementsoftware, it can sit in a separate ‘container’ slightly distant from your main database, although and this is confusing, you can often attach a Lead to an existing company or contact.


Now a Suspect is easier to define, since generally they are seen as someone that has been either partially qualified and that you believe fits in with your target profile and you could potentially do business with them. This is just another Account Type within your main database since they have been sufficiently qualified to create a FULL record. So, in our use, anyone who has a CRM system could be a target for one of our CRM Optimisation Auditssince this is not system centric. You may now have more additional information completed and this could include number of employees, a great indicator of size and most clients will give you this information readily.

Now an easy one…Prospects

We are now ‘out of the jungle’ and in clearer territory, where everyone can pretty much agree and there is a lot less confusion and no need to search Wikipedia!

Prospects are people you are actively engaged with at Account level and they meet all your key criteria to sell too whether now or in the near future. Most likely you have created aSales Opportunity, but even if you lose this particular sale, they may still remain a Prospect for the future. You know that you can meet their requirements, but they may not be in a position to need or want your services just right now.

Using these within a typical CRM System

We now need to apply to our own CRM database.

According to the CRM Triangle which we use to begin to explain the concept there are three core entities. However, this is now not strictly true since most full systems such as Sage CRM, Pipeliner CRM to name some of the Big Five have the concept of a separate Leads Entity.

Leads as an entity are often used by Marketing as a ‘container’ for Marketing campaigns before being “passed across” to the Sales Team as strong Suspects or Prospects after your various qualification criteria have been met. Sales now own these and must progress them.

Within this CRM world, these definitions remain blurred. We can all accept that a Prospect is someone you can deal business with and who meets your key qualification criteria. A Prospect will most probably have, if they are at the right stage, a Sales Opportunity against it.

As we have said earlier a Lead can be promoted to a Sales Opportunity AND Account/Contact since they rest in this separate ‘container’ as shown.

So, looking at the diagram, in CRM terms a Lead is unqualified, really a Suspect waiting to be qualified but possibly with an embryonic Sales Opportunity, often with some value. Once Qualified it is either promoted into the main Database and an Account/Contact AND an Opportunity is created at the same time. Typically, it is now a Suspect or Propsects depending on your own processes.

What to do now?

Writing this blog reinforces the need to document your own Sales processes and definitions and share these in your Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s).

A great starting point is a workshop between Sales and Marketing to agree on your own definitions and processes. To help create this sales and marketing alignment of terminology, we have put together some simple graphics you can download from our ebook if you want to illustrate these concepts better. The download includes additional references.

Download the 'CRM in Practice' eBook

by Gary Perkins

3rd February 2016