The Web 2.0 world promises to increase our prospecting productivity by delivering qualified leads to our inbox at the prospect’s time of need. But take a closer look: Are these leads really qualified, or are they merely suspects?

Prospecting traditionally has been a random assortment of activities. Website lead generation, special offers, email campaigns, direct mail, trade shows, advertising, cold calling, conferences, and referrals. If you throw a lot of things against the wall, something is bound to stick.

One of my clients maintained four categories in his client-development database: suspects, prospects, clients, and dead. I asked him the difference between suspects and prospects. Suspects were names from a purchased list. He was frustrated with this list, because he would call and call, and still couldn’t reach people after nearly a dozen calls. It became harder and harder for him to pick up the phone. This lead-generation system was not working.

Get ‘Em Hot or Drop ‘Em

Prospects were completely different. Prospects were people whose names were generated by referral, and when he called them my client was able to get an appointment immediately. I asked why he was spending so much time trying to connect with suspects, when he didn’t even know if they had a need for his product. Silence. It hadn’t occurred to my client to simply drop the suspects from his business development plan.

Many Web 2.0’ers allege that they will deliver qualified leads (prospects) to your inbox. We know this isn’t true and this isn’t a valid method of prospecting. Just because someone has visited your website and downloaded an article or whitepaper, doesn’t mean he is qualified. He may just be curious, expanding his knowledge, or researching a competitor. You know about the person’s activity. But he’s not a qualified lead or prospect. This site visitor is still a suspect.

Get Real, Get Personal

If you are a sales professional selling a service in a complex sale, you want to make certain that every person you talk to and meet is a qualified lead-a prospect. The fastest and least expensive way to meet the people you want to meet and who want to meet you is to get a referral and a personal introduction. This is the most effective prospecting system around. Talk about increases in productivity! What if you had only qualified prospects to contact? What a difference that would make in your business!