As a Salesforce consultant, I’ve seen clients struggle with the lead object the most of any aspect of the platform. This difficulty is understandable, as Salesforce separates leads from accounts and contacts in a unique way. While this distinct feature offers a level of flexibility and functionality that most CRMs don’t, users familiar with other platforms can find Salesforce leads confusing at first, for this reason.
In truth, I’ve never seen two companies use leads the same way. Even two different sales teams in the same business might define “a lead” slightly differently from each other. What I’ve learned? There are countless “right” ways to use leads, so long as you follow these 5 Salesforce lead management best practices:
1. Define what a lead means to you.
To most companies, a lead represents a business card: information about a person, company and/or potential deal that you haven’t vetted yet.
Use cases for the lead object vary widely beyond that vague standard. So your team needs to understand what “a lead” means to them before using the object. Answering these questions will help:
- What entry criteria exists for new leads? Do you only accept leads from specific industries or with particular job titles, for example?
- When does someone stop being a lead? What are the criteria for a lead being “unqualified?” When should a user convert it?
- Should your team use leads for existing customers? If a salesperson identifies a new deal or contact at an existing account, should the rep enter the information as a lead or as a contact/opportunity under that account?
It’s critical that your sales reps and marketing team all agree on the answers to these questions. Otherwise, your reporting on lead metrics won’t produce helpful information.
2. Standardize your Salesforce lead management process.
Once everyone on your team holds the same definition of “a lead,” they then need to conform to the same lead management processes. First, your company must determine if it even has just one lead process. After all, some organizations have distinct processes for different teams or types of leads due to the nature of their business. The goal of this step is standardization of lead processes, sure, but if complete unification would cause more pain points than it would cure, then you should account for additional processes.
Then the standardization step can begin. Bring your team together and map out each distinct process from start to finish. What main stages and milestones comprise each one? What actions should the lead owner focus on at each stage to drive the lead toward conversion? Having agreed-upon processes isn’t just good for reporting; it improves managers’ ability to coach their reps and facilitates collaboration between salespeople.
3. Automate as many lead channels as possible.
There are dozens of ways a person could end up doing business with your company, but you likely have a handful of high-performing channels. It saves significant time and money to automate as many of them as possible to grease the wheels of lead generation.
Marketing automation tools like Pardot and Hubspot connect to your most influential web channels — social media, blog, webinar platforms like WebEx and event registration sites like Eventbrite — and automatically create leads from this information.
Even without this sort of tool, native Salesforce functionality such as web-to-lead forms, auto-response and assignment rules, and lead queues allow you to streamline your Salesforce lead management process and rely less on manual data entry.
4. Work backward to define fields, validation rules and automation rules.
When clients have difficulty defining what fields and rules belong on the lead object, my best practice involves working backward. What custom fields exist on the account, contact and opportunity? Great, now how much of that information might we know at the lead stage? Answering those two questions alone determines what fields you need on the lead.
The process for validation rules and required fields is similar. Ask yourself: What information is needed when I create an account, contact or opportunity? Field requirements for the lead object should mirror that. After all, misalignment in validation rules between the lead object and those it converts to will lead to irritating errors upon conversion.
5. Develop effective lead reporting.
A standardized and automated lead process should improve your sales metrics by itself, but its real value lies in your ability to report on it. Only with the proper Salesforce reports can you understand how efficient your lead process is and how to optimize it.
The best reporting system answers these questions:
- What is your lead conversion rate? Where in the process are leads most likely to fall out of the funnel?
- What’s your time to conversion? Do any bottlenecks exist?
- Which channels generate the most leads? Which produce the most converted leads?
- How much revenue are you producing per created lead? Again, how does this differ by channel?
Once you’ve gathered enough data to answer these questions, you can iterate on your process to ensure your sales and marketing teams are focusing on actions that drive the most value.
The most impactful aspect of Salesforce lead management can also be the most challenging one: Leads can serve different purposes to different companies. There are no easy answers. However, if your team starts by asking the right questions and follows the best practices above, you’ll end up with a well-oiled lead generation and conversion machine.
What are some unique use cases for leads you’ve seen? Comment below — we’d love to see them!