How To Build A Great Lead Process In Salesforce

No topic causes as much friction between sales and marketing as how to create a great lead process in Salesforce.

If you get it wrong, sales complain that the leads they get from marketing are rubbish.  On the other hand, marketing counter that sales don’t phone leads that are passed across.

So sorting it out is critical.

Without a robust lead process in Salesforce, valuable opportunities get missed. And, of course, you miss out on the compelling lead conversion metrics and marketing KPIs you should be tracking.

Unfortunately, it’s not always clear how leads should pass from marketing to sales in Salesforce.

However, this article is a complete guide to building a Salesforce lead process. We cover:

  • The vital difference between a lead and an opportunity in Salesforce.
  • When I recommend that you convert leads to opportunities.
  • The lead process in Salesforce that’s working well for many companies.
  • How the terms like Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) fit into a well-organized lead process.
  • How to find the best lead conversion dashboard for Salesforce.

Not only that, but I’ve also included some free diagrams you can download that will help you design your lead process in Salesforce.

So let’s not wait; it’s time to dive in.

Difference Between A Lead And An Opportunity

Unfortunately, the lead process in Salesforce often breaks down at the start because sales and marketing disagree on something essential: the difference between a lead and an opportunity in Salesforce.

You might be wondering, why is that so difficult? After all, most people agree that a lead is the first step in the sales cycle.

Here’s why it’s a problem.

Sales Definition Of A Lead

To a salesperson, leads come from both existing customers and new prospects.

For example, the lead can be an inquiry from an existing customer, or a new prospect freshly arrived through the door. The word ‘lead’ is used in both scenarios.

Either way, the sales process begins with qualifying the inquiry. If things go well, the salesperson creates an opportunity in Salesforce.

In other words, for salespeople, leads are a broad range of early-stage, potential deals that need looking at quickly.

Marketing Definition Of A Lead

The way marketing people view leads often varies in two essential ways.

First, a lead is a person or business that might purchase at some future point. That point may be a long time from now.

Second, for marketing people, a lead is often a new company. There’s a good chance they do not yet exist in the database.

Nevertheless, what happens next?

Well, often, marketing hands the lead over to sales. There’s not necessarily an expectation that a deal will immediately follow; instead, the lead is a potential customer that may engage in a future sales process.

In contrast, to a salesperson, a lead is someone ready to start a serious buying conversation right now.

Unfortunately, this difference explains why sales teams often complain about the quality of leads created by marketing.

That’s not to say marketing doesn’t deliver sales-ready leads to salespeople. They can, and they do, although for that, you need a good quality lead process in Salesforce.

Salesforce Lead Process Explained

As we’ve seen, sales and marketing often disagree on the meaning of a lead.

However, in Salesforce, there’s no ambiguity. The word ‘lead’ has a specific definition. It’s a record under the Leads tab.

Which means:

The lead process in Salesforce describes how new leads are created, nurtured, converted, and handed over to salespeople for opportunity management.

Here’s a summary of how that process works:

Lead process summary in Salesforce.

Let’s walk through this with an example.

Lead As A New Enquiry

Start by thinking of a lead in Salesforce as a brand new inquiry. Let’s say this inquiry is from a business or person of whom you’ve never previously heard.

For example, suppose you have a Web-to-Lead form set up on your website. Web-to-Lead is an easy way to integrate Salesforce with your website. It means that anyone filling in your form automatically appears in Salesforce as a lead.

Pro tip: I recommend you always link new leads to Campaigns in Salesforce. Use this blog post to find out how to do this: The Ultimate Guide To Campaigns In Salesforce.

The lead now exists. What’s the first thing that should happen in your lead process? Answer: check for duplicates.

In Salesforce Classic, you have to click the Find Duplicates button to do this.

In Salesforce Classic, click the Find Duplicates button to merge lead records.

However, you can now use the Duplicate Rules to identify matching records.

Duplicate Rules in Salesforce Lightning identify matching lead records.

When duplicates are identified, users are notified via the potential duplicates lightning page component.

Identify potential duplicates of records using potential duplicates in Salesforce Lightning.
View duplicate details using the potential duplicate feature in Salesforce Lightning.

For now, let’s assume you don’t find any matching leads, accounts, or contacts.

Let’s assume there are no matching leads, accounts, or contacts.

So next, you make a phone call to the lead. One of three outcomes from the conversation will determine what happens next in the lead process.

1. The lead is a dead end.

It turns out the person isn’t interested in any further dialogue. Perhaps it was a student only looking for research information. Or the customer is not in one of the markets you support. Either way, you set the Lead Status to Closed. No further action is needed.

2. The lead is a definite maybe.

The person is moderately interested in your products and services. She doesn’t want to speak to a salesperson – at least not yet. Nevertheless, you agree to send her a link to some useful content on your website or an independent review of your products.

So this time, you set the Lead Status to Contacted. You also create a follow-up task to call the lead again in the future.

3. The lead is a clear sales opportunity.

The prospect agrees to a meeting or phone call with a salesperson. Or she requests a quote. In other words, she’s indicating she’s a serious potential customer. We can this a qualified lead.

This time you leave the Lead Status alone. Instead, click the Converted status on the lightning path, and then the Select Converted Status button.

Click the Convert button to transfer Leads into an Account, Contact and Opportunity. Account, Contact, and Opportunity.

Salesforce converts the lead into the three separate records of an Account, Contact, and Opportunity.

Here’s how that looks in a diagram.

When converting a lead, an Account, Contact, and Opportunity can be created. Opportunities are optional.

As I’m sure you know, the Account represents the company. The person working there is the Contact, and the opportunity is the sales deal.

At this early stage, the sales team may still think of the prospect as a ‘lead.’ In fact, salespeople can be wary about these early-stage opportunities because they raise expectations about the outcome.

In other words, the deal is visible in charts and reports on the sales pipeline dashboard. However, from the sales team’s point of view, the lead may not have been well qualified by marketing before it was converted.

Unfortunately, this highlights one of the common pitfalls with the lead process in many companies.

What Happens To Converted Leads

When you convert a lead in Salesforce, you have a choice.

The choice is whether to create an opportunity.

Do not populate the Opportunity Name field to avoid creating an opportunity when converting a lead.

Let’s say you populate the Opportunity Name field when converting a lead.

As a result, the opportunity links back to the Salesforce campaign that generated the lead.

The lead process links the opportunity back to the original marketing campaign.

Not only that.

The Lead Source carries through from the lead to the opportunity.

The Lead Source carries through from the lead to the opportunity.

As a result, your reports and dashboard charts provide visibility and insight into campaign outcomes. You also get marketing metrics and KPIs that enable sales and marketing to work together more closely.

Unfortunately, here’s what often happens instead.

The person converting the lead sets the checkbox to True; this means the lead converts without an opportunity.

Next, here’s what typically happens:

The salesperson engages with the contact. If she can identify a positive buying intention, she creates an opportunity.

However, this causes a problem because the opportunity no longer links back to the campaign or Lead Source. That means there’s no way to gather metrics that describe the success of marketing campaigns or distribution channels.

Therefore, creating an opportunity when you convert a lead should be an essential part of your lead process in Salesforce. 

There are some cases where this doesn’t apply that I’ll explain. However, as a general rule, if you want high-quality marketing reports, then I recommend you create opportunities when converting leads.

Not only that, but you also now have complete visibility of the early-stage sales pipeline. This insight is critical because it tells you whether you need to ramp up marketing plans that create more funnel.

(By the way, I’m not the only person who recommends focusing on marketing qualified opportunities. It’s precisely the approach that Forrester now adopts in their Revenue Waterfall model).

Nevertheless, there’s a common pushback to this approach from the sales team:

If the opportunity is not qualified, it shouldn’t show up on the pipeline reports.

I understand that concern. However, I recommend you solve the problem by creating a new opportunity stage, which I suggest you call ‘Prospecting’ or suchlike.

Set this new stage as the default when leads convert. Make sure everyone gets that it’s entirely valid for deals to fall out of the funnel from this stage. After all, if you’re unlikely to win the deal, no one should waste time and effort moving through the sales process.

You also have the option of excluding these early-stage deals from the main pipeline report and dashboard charts and creating a separate report that focuses only on the initial-stage funnel.

That’s a good approach. It means you have great metrics on marketing campaigns, plus a clear understanding of the early-stage pipeline.


Exceptions To The Lead Conversion Rule

I recommend you always create an opportunity when converting a lead, with two exceptions.

The first is when an opportunity already exists. In other words, the account and contact are already in Salesforce, together with an open opportunity. You don’t want to create a duplicate opportunity.

The second is when you’re sure there is no opportunity right now.

However, you might be thinking:

How do we know there’s no opportunity until we engage with the lead?

I’m talking about when the person downloads an eBook or other content from your website. The person shows interest, but your lead process in Salesforce is to assign these people to a nurture program.

In these cases, you can keep the person as a lead or convert the lead to a contact record if the account already exists.

This diagram shows you how that process looks.

Refine the Lead Process

Often, we assume it’s good to phone the lead as soon as the record appears in Salesforce.

That’s probably okay if the person completes a Contact Us form.

However, in many cases, the person is not ready to receive a call. That’s because they are still at the pre-salesperson, information-gathering stage.

For example, if you download our eBook ’12 Charts That Should Be On Your Salesforce Dashboard ‘, you won’t get a phone call from us.

That’s because we know people aren’t sales-ready. Instead, most people are starting their search for advice on how to get better pipeline visibility. 

The eBook is one of the tools we use for getting pre-qualified leads into our funnel. It’s a vital part of our lead process in Salesforce, and it works pretty well.

Dashboard chart showing number of leads generated from eBook downloads.

Next, we use our lead nurture program to build credibility with the people that download our eBook.

Lead Nurture Defined

Lead nurturing means using automated processes to provide potential customers with high-value, relevant content that makes prospects more likely to commence a buying process with you.

Let me show you this with an example from my own business.

After people download our 12 Charts eBook, here’s the first email in our lead nurture process.

Example of an email used in lead nuturing process.

As you can see, it directs people to this blog post that explains in detail how to use one of the essential 12 charts that should be on your Salesforce dashboard.

After that, we continue to send weekly emails that always give great advice on how to get more benefits from Salesforce.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) Explained

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a person the marketing team believes to be sales-ready. Based on their behavior and segmentation data, the person is ready to engage in a mutually beneficial dialogue with a salesperson.

Using a marketing automation system such as Pardot, Hubspot, or Marketo, you can apply lead scoring and grading thresholds to define this critical point.

Lead status updates to MQL.

Usually, when reaching the MQL status in the lead process, you change the ownership of the lead to a salesperson.

Diagram showing the part of the lead process in which MQL is passed to Sales.

You can automate these steps and notify the salesperson by sending an email.

Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) Explained

A Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) means a salesperson formally accepts responsibility for a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). The salesperson agrees to engage with the prospect and drive the sales process forward, often beginning with the qualification steps.

In many companies, the transfer in status from an MQL to SAL is a formal step in the lead process.

For this to work, both marketing and sales must define and agree upon the criteria for an MQL. Often, a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the two teams records these criteria and sets out how quickly sales will respond to a lead passed over by marketing.

When implemented well, it’s a watertight lead process in which no viable prospect gets left behind.

Nevertheless, you might be wondering:

Why wouldn’t a salesperson accept responsibility for a lead qualified by marketing? 

The answer is that this happens when:

  1. The lead does not meet the agreed MQL criteria.
  2. Salespeople do not trust the leads coming from marketing.
  3. Salespeople have enough on their plate with existing opportunities.

In the first case, the salesperson rejects the lead because it does match the agreed MQL criteria. For example, the lead score velocity is not high enough, there’s no phone number on the lead record, or the lead is not in the target market or country.

In other words, the process has broken down, and we need to tighten up the way lead status gets updated to MQL.

The second and third usually apply when there is no reliable definition of an MQL. In this case, the leads passed by marketing are not high enough on the salesperson’s list of priorities to warrant spending any time on them.

Marketing Qualified Opportunity (MQL) Explained

A Marketing Qualified Opportunity (MQO) is an early-stage sales deal that the marketing or lead management team creates and assigns to a salesperson for further qualification. The opportunity meets the threshold criteria agreed between the two groups and includes initial insight into the customer’s buying needs.

In other words, rather than the lead passing to the sales team, it’s an opportunity that transfers to the salesperson.

With these concepts in mind, let’s look at how the end-to-end lead process works in many companies.

Free Lead Process Diagrams

This diagram shows the lead process in Salesforce:

Detailed template diagram of a great lead process in Salesforce.

As you can see, in this case we’re assuming that the marketing (or sales development team) converts the lead to an account, contact, and opportunity.

You can download a PDF of this lead process diagram using the form below.

Sales and marketing teams must agree on how the end-to-end lead process will work. It’s also critical that you decide on the MQL or MQO definition relevant to your business and put in place metrics in Salesforce to measure the process.

Lead Process Metrics

In many companies with a robust lead process, there’s an agreement on how quickly Sales will respond when passed an MQL.

For example, this might be 24 or 48 working hours, excluding weekends.

I recommend you set these metrics up in Salesforce:

Metric that measures how quickly Sales respond to an MQL within the lead process in Salesforce.

You should also agree with the sales team on what happens when they exceed the time limit; for example, the salesperson receives reminder emails, or the lead ownership even passes to another team member.

Lead Conversion Dashboard

Earlier in this article, I explained how to get robust metrics and KPIs on the lead process.

However, you might be asking:

What is the easiest way to get these reports and dashboard charts into Salesforce?

Here’s the answer:

Install our Lead Conversion Metrics dashboard. It’s completely free, and you can find it by visiting the AppExchange Listing.

The dashboard contains reports and charts that quantify leads by channel and lead source. 

Critically, it also includes metrics on the outcome of converted leads. As a result, you can compare win rates on opportunities from converted leads versus opportunities created directly on the account.

Next Steps

Getting the lead process right can be challenging. People in your team may have conflicting views on exactly how the process should work. Likewise, there will be differing opinions on defining an MQL and the SAL steps.

Your solution:

Ask us to facilitate the lead process design workshop. We’ll help you cut through the ambiguity and implement an effective, customized process specific to your business.

Get in touch to find out more.

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