Defining Late-Stage Prospects

When you talk about prospects who are in the later stages of the buying journey, what does that mean? How do you identify where a prospect is in the buying/decision journey? These are questions that every sales professional will define a little differently. And marketing might have another definition yet again. That is if your marketing team even thinks in these terms. In our experience, most executive teams have no expectations of marketing in the later stages of the sales cycle. And sales teams are typically hesitant to get marketing involved with promising prospects for fear that marketing will only hinder the cause. When a salesperson’s paycheck is on the line, they have little tolerance for risk from an inexperienced marketing person.

In the second episode of our podcast, Aligned, our principle Sean Doyle, had a spirited conversation with Luke Allen, the SVP of Sales for Occupational Health Dynamics (OHD, an international provider of occupational health technology). In this rolling discussion, Sean and Luke talk about the critical attributes that determine when a prospect is truly close to making a buying decision. We’ve identified four attributes that most sales organizations would recognize as keys to qualifying a prospect as late-stage.

Time. This has nothing to do with how long you’ve been working with your prospect. Whether you first called on them last week or last year is irrelevant. The question: What is their time frame to make a decision? Do they have a deadline? Do they have a start date or a series of dates leading up to a decision? Science tells us that late-stage prospects are working within a six-month window. By that time, they have involved all of the relevant decision-makers, another key measure.

It is so critical to talk about time with your prospects because a vague schedule means they probably aren’t as close to a decision as you think they are.  

Involvement of the key players. This is another critical tell to your prospect’s intentions. It can be hard to suss out who the actual decision-makers are, but if the key decision-makers aren’t involved in the process you have very little chance of moving them past the final obstacles. (Sidenote: Beware of the fake — the person who claims to have the power to make a decision but in reality doesn’t. This person will definitely delay or derail the sales process.)

Content/Context. If sales is measuring a prospect by who is in the conversation or whether there are specific budgets, Marketing can measure a prospect by their level of engagement. What content is the prospect looking at? What are they downloading? Are they making ROI comparisons? Are they judging how easy you are to work with? What web pages are they spending time on? 

To be sure, sales can also provide key content to move the process forward. This looks more like consulting.

Budget. The age-old idea still applies: A prospect assigning budgets to a project is much closer to a decision. Budgets can look like money of course. But it can also look like time. If the buyer has to involve a number of other players in the implementation of your product or service, like training or HR or inventory control, then the participation of those parties will definitely signal an intent to change.


In the end, the key to helping prospects move through the late stages of the sales process is to continue to provide the right information at the right time. It’s no longer about awareness but about providing deeper, more meaningful information that addresses the fears and hesitations of the prospect. It’s about aligning your sales and marketing to work in concert. If you are interested in learning more, we would refer you to https://fitzmartin.com/cognitive-marketing/.

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