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You probably don’t remember Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It’s a surreal comedy group from the 1970’s. It’s how John Cleese and Michael Palin first made their name.

In one famous sketch, Palin arrives at the Argument Clinic or for an argument. Cleese is happy to oblige. They go round in circles, arguing the same point over.

You can recreate a similar scene:

Ask a room full of Sales and Marketing people to agree how the lead process should work in salesforce.

You’re guaranteed a bun fight.

I’ve run hundreds of salesforce implementation workshops. And here’s something I’ve experienced. No subject causes more debate than that surrounding the lead process.

However, resolving this debate is critical to an effective lead process in salesforce. Unfortunately, often that doesn’t happen with clarity.

The outcome is an ineffective lead process. The result is ineffective lead qualification, reduced revenue and poor marketing and sales performance information.

It also means a lack of lead conversion metrics that quantify the contribution of leads to revenue.

Let’s understand what causes this debate. Then we will define a lead process in salesforce. Do this as one of the core components of effective Sales and Marketing alignment in your business.

(By the way, don’t forget, you can download the lead process diagrams used in this article).

Update: Join me for a compelling webinar on November 1, 2017 on Lead Conversion Success.

Difference between a lead and an opportunity

There is often dis-agreement between Sales and Marketing on the difference between a lead and an opportunity. Yet clarity is essential.

Unfortunately, that is harder than it sounds.

Why is there so much confusion? After all, most Sales and Marketing people will acknowledge that a lead is the first step in the sales cycle.

Here’s why it’s a problem.

Salesperson’s definition of a lead

To a salesperson, a Lead can come as easily from an existing customer or known prospect, as a brand new one.

The lead can be repeat business for an existing customer. Or a new prospect, freshly arrived through the door.

Either way, the sales process has started. It may not be advanced enough to warrant an Opportunity in salesforce.com. But sales engagement is at least commenced.

So, from a salesperson’s perspective, a lead reflects a broad range of early stage, potential opportunities that require immediate action.

Marketing person’s definition of a lead

A Marketing person’s perception of a lead often varies in two important ways.

First, a Lead is a person or business that will potentially make a purchase at some undetermined point in the future.

Marketing may hand the lead to Sales, but not necessarily with the expectation that a sale will immediately result. The lead is a potential customer that may engage in a future sales process. Conversely, to a salesperson, a lead is someone entering the sales process right now.

Second, to Marketing a lead is very often a new company or person. The business or contact may not have existed previously in the database. Indeed, the role of Marketing in many businesses is to increase the overall lead database for long-term benefit.

Sales are under pressure to close deals in the short term. Marketing want to nurture the Lead. It’s this contrast in expectations that frequently results in Sales complaining about the quality of Leads created by Marketing.

Salesforce lead process

Sales and Marketing often fail to agree on the difference between a lead and an Opportunity. This directly obstructs the implementation of an effective lead process in salesforce.

So what constitutes a lead in the salesforce.com CRM system?

In fact, salesforce uses the term Lead in several different ways. Let’s take them step by step.

  • Lead as a brand new enquiry

Start by thinking of a Lead in salesforce as a brand new enquiry, from a business and person you’ve never previously heard of.

For example, let’s say you have a Web-to-Lead form set up on your web site. Web-to-Lead is an easy way to integrate salesforce with your web site. It means anyone that fills in your Contact Us form will be created automatically in salesforce as a lead.

So, the lead is created. What’s the first thing that should happen in the lead process? Check for duplicates by clicking on the Find Duplicates button on the Lead page layout.

This will identify any matching Leads or Contacts that already exist in your salesforce database. Let’s assume you don’t find any.

Now you make an outbound telephone call to the Lead. Essentially, one of three outcomes will result from this part of the lead process.

  • The Lead is a dead end

It turns out the person isn’t interested in any further dialogue. Perhaps it was a student simply looking for research information. Either way, set the Lead Status to Closed. You don’t necessarily delete the Lead from the database, but no further action is anticipated.

  • The Lead is a definite maybe

The Lead is moderately interested in your products and services. He doesn’t want to speak to a sales person – at least not yet. But you agree to send a brochure, product specification or price list. So this time set the Lead Status to Contacted. You might also create a follow up Task to call the Lead again in the future.

  • The Lead is a sales Opportunity

The Lead agrees to a meeting or phone call with a Sales person. Or he requests a quote. In other words, he gives you some indication that he’s a legitimate potential customer. He’s a Qualified Lead.

This time leave the Lead Status alone. Instead, click on the Convert Lead button. Salesforce will convert the Lead into three separate records; an Account; Contact; and Opportunity.

Here’s the process in a flow chart diagram.

Lead process diagram for qualifying a new Lead.

The Account represents the business or organisation. The Contact is the person employed by that organisation. And the Opportunity represents the potential sales deal.

It’s this early stage Opportunity that many Sales people will regard as a Lead.

Indeed Sales people may be reluctant to use the term Opportunity. It raises expectations about the outcome. It creates visibility of the deal in the sales pipeline dashboard. And from the salesperson’s perspective, the Lead may – or may not – have been properly qualified by Marketing before it was converted to an Account, Contact and Opportunity.

All legitimate issues. Before we address them, let’s deal with several other ways salesforce uses the term Lead.

  • Leads that match existing Lead records

Let’s go to back to our person that filled in the Contact Us form on your web site.

In our example, we assumed that no existing Lead or Contact matched our new Lead. We established this by clicking on the Find Duplicates button on the Lead page layout.

What if one or more matching Leads had been found?

Click the Find Duplicates button on the Lead page layout to find matching leads

No problem. Use the Merge Leads button to merge the various Leads into a single record. Then make your qualification call.

Here’s the lead process diagram.

Lead process diagram for qualifying a lead with match to existing lead.

  • Leads that match existing Contact records

How can an existing Contact be created as a Lead in salesforce? There’s a number of ways.

For example, Leads can be created by importing the spreadsheet that contains a list of people that came to a booth at an exhibition. Some of those people may well be existing Contacts.

Or, a Web-to-Lead form on your web site that allows visitors to register for an event. When an existing Contact registers she’s created as a Lead. The same thing happens if you’re using Web-to-Lead to enable visitors to download a document from your web site.

In any of these cases, when you click on the Find Duplicates button you may find there’s a matching Contact.

Click the Find Duplicates button to find Leads that match.

Here’s three ways to deal with the Contact-as-a-Lead situation.

  • Convert the Lead without making a Qualification call

    During the Lead conversion, salesforce will help you merge the Lead into the existing Contact record. If the Account Owner is already actively engaged with the Contact – on an existing Opportunity for example – then perhaps it isn’t appropriate to make the qualification call.

  • Convert the Lead and then make a Qualification call

    This is the common approach when it’s the Account Owner that is dealing with the Lead. He or she merges the Lead into the Contact record and then makes a call to the Contact.

  • Make a qualification call before Converting the Lead

    This approach is used most frequently when Marketing or Inside Sales is dealing with the Lead. They make call to the Lead, cognisant of the fact that the person already has a relationship with the company. Following the conversation the Lead is converted, but Marketing or Inside Sales make a human decision on whether to simultaneously create an Opportunity.

Here’s the process diagram for the last of these scenarios.

Lead process diagram for lead qualification with match to existing account or contact.

To Convert a Lead without creating an Opportunity, check the box “Do not create Opportunity upon conversion” during the convert process. It’s underneath the Opportunity name on the Convert Lead page layout.

At the end of the Monty Python scene, Palin and Cleese continue to argue about whether the argument is finished.

You can do better than that. You can resolve the argument about lead processes in the workshop. And then build the lead process in salesforce; it’s a sure-fire way to increase sales and marketing alignment.

Free lead process diagram download

Are the lead process diagrams in this article useful to you? Download the diagrams in Powerpoint. Use them starting point for creating your own lead management process.

And now, kick-start lead metrics in your business by installing the free Lead Conversion Dashboard From GSP in your salesforce environment.

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