The lead vs. contact debate in Salesforce.com

Many sales teams are advocating the conversion of leads into contacts because it is easier for them to manage their accounts. In Salesforce leads can’t be connected to Accounts, as such, sales have to look for records in several places. While this is a legitimate reason it makes marketing’s job more difficult, as such, before implementing an account based lead management process the followings should be considered:

• From the marketing point of view leads should remain leads as long as possible. Leads should be converted to contacts only when they are truly opportunities. This will allow marketing to follow progression and gaining information on the key conversion points that is important for measuring and reporting.

• Leads are not customers, have no opportunities, do not need to belong to an account, and are managed differently through the lead management process than contacts.

• Contacts can’t be viewed in the same place as the sales leads. As such, managing leads and contacts that are leads will force sales to look in two places for their leads.

• If queues are used then leads can be owned by queues but contacts can’t because they have to be owned by an individual. This may complicate lead management processes that are based on the use of queues.

• By not converting leads to contacts a simple lead return process can be implemented. This allows marketing to review, adjust, and improve lead quality.

• There are normally more lead related fields on the lead object to support the marketing/sales phase. There are more contact related fields on the contact object to support opportunity and customer related activities. Contacts that are leads would also need to have all the additional fields that are related to leads on the contact object to support the marketing/sales phase.

• Because lead and contact objects are used differently some data augmentation tools also update them differently. Data.com for example only updates 5 contact fields as opposed to 12 lead fields. As such, more value can be derived from leaving leads as leads, since this additional information gained on the lead records can help with segmentation and marketing efforts in general.

• Most lead management reports and dashboards are based on leads. If some leads are contacts then marketing has to do additional work to get leads and contacts on the same report or track both on separate reports.

• Most sales people considers leads “new”. Existing contacts considered “old news” and they may not act on these contact records at a later date when marketing alerts them about new activities.

• Marketing is measuring the success of marketing campaigns based on number of opportunities. Assuming that leads are converted not only to contacts but also to opportunities, it will give marketing a skewed view of campaign success.

• Management will be analyzing closed lost opportunities in order to see how sales could improve on winning these lost opportunities. Converting leads to opportunities too soon will increase the number of closed lost opportunities and will make it harder to figure out the real reason for loosing opportunities and helping sales to win them in the future.