CRM Basics: Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities


CRM Basics: Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities

It’s been more than ten years since I began my journey into the world of Salesforce consulting and during my time, I have been fortunate to work with many customers. I have been challenged by the ever-expanding capabilities of Salesforce and have appreciated the opportunity to help customers gain more value through implementing this CRM technology. I originally wrote this blog in 2013 and thought I would revisit the topic to see what still applied and what needed revision.

Here is the original blog with some updates:

As someone who has been helping companies implement Salesforce for the 10 years, I have had many conversations about Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities. Most use these terms are used interchangeably, which, from a business point of view is not an issue. From a Salesforce perspective however, this is a totally different story. I wanted to take some time to define these terms, from a Salesforce perspective, and identify some best practices.

One thing I have seen all too often during the discovery phase of a project both customers and consultants making the mistake of what I would call “jumping to the solution” too early. I feel like these “simple” words used in mixed contexts (business versus Salesforce) are a major factor. Years ago in the technology space it was often said that “content is king”. Marc Benioff several years ago hammered home the point (he must have said it many times for me to remember) about how content without context had little value. But I digress…… back to the blog.


Leads are typically the name of a person, the company they work for, their address, phone number, email address, etc. The best metaphor for a lead that I can think of is a business card. You typically don’t know how interested a Lead is in your product or service; if they are the decision maker; have a budget or need; etc. Keeping this in mind, the typical use case for Leads is to go through a “quick” simple qualification process before Converting them into an Account, Contact and optionally an Opportunity. Salesforce provides the capability of capturing Leads from your website through the Web-to-Lead functionality. While the topic of effective Lead Management is a topic into itself, below are some high-level best practices:

  • Determine if you should use Leads – In some cases where customers don’t need/use the Web-to-Lead functionality and it is important to maintain several Contacts for a given Account the Lead object might not serve your purposes.
  • Make sure to identify a clear and concise Lead qualification process.
  • Leverage the Web-to-lead form is applicable
  • Leads are for marketing, qualifying and converting not selling
  • Be careful not to create duplicates and/or consider an AppExchange application that addresses this.
  • Develop simple lead scoring – This is particularly true when managing a large number of leads and where a quick response to the lead is applicable.


Accounts in a broad sense are companies or entities that could be either/or physical or logical. Accounts have a company name, address, phone number, etc. Accounts can have a hierarchy with several layers of Parents and Children to support fairly complex organizational structures and reporting requirements. While you can think of Accounts in many different abstract ways, it is best to not stray too far from the original intended use. Salesforce provides a set of addresses which can be used for Billing, Shipping, etc. Some companies will create several Accounts for companies with multiple locations. Accounts could be companies you hope to become customers, partners and/or vendors.

One of the things I would like to add is that while the concept of an Account may seem simple there can be fairly deep and complex nuances along with differing opinions among different departments with the organization as to the “definition”. Sales’ focus in on who plays a part in the selling process, accounting wants to know who to send the invoice to and customer service will be focused on supporting customers who use their product or service. Keeping the data quality high and duplicates at a minimum are important topics as well. In cases where your business deals with consumers think of the account as perhaps the household or “main” person who you interact with.

Best Practices:

  • When using multiple Accounts for locations, add a dash then the city and state to the Account name.
  • You may consider using a custom status pick-list field to designate Suspects, Prospects and Customers instead of the standard Account Type field. You may also include a custom Status Date field that, depending on your Salesforce Edition, might have a workflow rule with field update that changes the date when the status changes.
  • Be consistent in structuring your Accounts especially when deciding to use Parent Accounts
  • Add a custom checkbox if you are using Parent Accounts as this will make it easy to identify Parents. It is easy to identify Children Accounts as they have something in the Parent Account field.
  • Add a custom alternate Account name for companies that have recently changed names or common names or initials.


Contacts are the people associated with Accounts that you market to, sell to, support, etc. Each can have an address separate from their Account as well as phone number, fax number, etc. Contacts are associated directly with only one Account but could be Associated with many Accounts using Account Contact Roles. A few years ago, after I wrote the original blog, Salesforce added functionality to create a list of Related Contacts. This provides a much more elaborate way to relate one Contact from one Account to many different Accounts. For each relationship you can specify which one is the “main” contact versus other “indirect” ones.

Best Practices:

  • Add a Custom Status or Check-box field to identify Inactive Contacts. You may also consider adding a custom Status Date that like the Account Status could be updated by a workflow field update when the status field or checkbox is changed.
  • Where possible try to enforce entry of the email address. This is possible with a validation rule or by producing a view or report of Contacts without email addresses.
  • Add a custom common or nickname field.
  • Consider adding a custom middle initial or middle name field. This feature was added by Salesforce several years ago.
  • Consider adding a Job Type pick-list field to quickly identify key positions like CEO, Salesperson, etc. since the standard Title field is text and not that reliable for searching.


Opportunities represent a transaction between your company and an Account. Typically, this is a potential sales transaction that would include information about the specific products and/or services one of your sales representatives is presenting to a prospective customer. There are several other key pieces of information you need to create an Opportunity including the Value (Amount) and an estimated Close Date. As most companies are interested in gaining visibility into their potential sales pipeline all Opportunities must have a Stage. This Opportunity Stage is used to identify and track the various steps an Opportunity “travels” during the sales process.

In recent years Salesforce has added a few enhancements to Opportunities including a Kanban list view that provides an at a glance view of Opportunities as cards grouped into their stage, as well as a guided selling. This feature provides key points or tips relative to each step (stage) in the selling process.

Best Practices:

  • Have clearly defined steps in your sales process.
  • Be consistent in when Opportunities are created. In other words, don’t have some of your salespeople creating Opportunities before they can assign a value, a close date and the sales stage while other salespeople enter their opportunities after they are closed.
  • Consider using the standard Type field to identify New Opportunities from Add-on type sales.
  • Create exception reporting or email alert triggered by the Close Date if you are inside some predetermined number of days and the Opportunity is not yet closed.
  • Add a custom Reason Lost pick-list and text field with a Validation rule requiring entry of the Stage is set to Closed Lost.

Here is a graphical representation of Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities


By Ken Erb, Senior Business Analyst/Architect at Nubik

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