Salesforce Basics (3 blog series) Part 1 – Leads and Contacts

Salesforce basics part 1 of 3

Salesforce Basics (3 blog series) Part 1 – Leads and Contacts

Let’s start at the very beginning.

Are you a new Salesforce user with no prior exposure to the Cloud’s basic sales data model? If yes, then, one of your first questions will most likely be “what’s a lead, what’s a contact, and why would I need both?”

In my role as a consultant, I’ve noticed that almost every new Salesforce user faces this challenge – understanding the Salesforce “standard” model which includes objects called “Leads” and “Contacts”.

And in my attempt to explain it I use a simple structured approach – understand the definitions of each, and the 2 options available to match the organization’s inherent business model. Then we list some of the pros and cons of each to help us make the correct decision to match the business’s needs.


  • Lead – in a very basic sense, a “Lead” contains information one finds on a business card. That’s it. It can stay just that way and will have served its whole intended purpose.
  • Contact – a “Contact” on the other hand, contains comprehensive details about the person that a Sales Rep needs in order to close a deal and turn this person into a paying customer.

The Two Sales Process Options available

  • Option 1: Use Leads and Contacts in conjunction with each other
  • Option 2: Use Contacts only; omit Leads altogether.


Use both objects in conjunction, like Salesforce intends in the standard model – first create a Lead, then upon qualification convert the Lead to a Contact. At the point when a Lead is qualified and converted to a Contact, you are prompted to attached it to an Account (company) from where it can generate an Opportunity (deal). The qualification threshold of course, varies from business to business, and must be determined through internal discussion between the sales and marketing teams.


  1. When leads are created through marketing automation, a Web-To-Lead form submit, or manually, they can be auto-assigned to sales reps via Lead Assignment rules.
  2. The “Unread by Owner” feature allows reps to view a list of all the unread Leads they have been assigned.
  3. The Lead Source field can be updated, providing valuable data for marketing purposes.
  4. New Leads can be associated to campaigns, allowing tracking for robust ROI reports (once they eventually create Opportunities)
  5. Dud Leads (job seekers or students, for example) can be marked as “Disqualified”, so that reps don’t waste time chasing them.


  1. Lead data can become messy if not properly managed due to spelling errors, prospect’s job changes, etc.
  2. Once a Lead is converted the prospect can never be viewed as a Lead anymore. Conversion cannot be undone.
  3. The Salesforce admin will need to perform a one-time mapping of custom Lead fields to associated Contact/Account/Opportunity, each time a new custom field is created.
  4. Sales and marketing will need to make the time to have a robust discussion and come to agreement on the qualification process (Note: this could very well be a “pro” and not a “con”).


Skip the Lead object entirely and directly create a Contact. Some businesses are successful with this approach, especially if there are a limited number of customers they can sell to. Most businesses, however, have an unlimited number of prospective customers.


  1. Many Contacts can be associated with a single Account, so it becomes easy for sales reps to view all contacts that belong together in an Account. You cannot do the same with Leads.
  2. The qualification step is removed, saving time and quickening the process of the customer’s journey towards a closed won opportunity.
  3. Gathering reports is simpler since we’re looking for customers only in one object – the Contact object.


  1. If you have an inside-sales team, it will be hard for them to identify potential customers who are at the very early stages of the engagement process.
  2. Marketing misses out on the chance to “nurture” Leads, because now all customers are in the Contact bucket.
  3. Scoring and grading of Leads is omitted, thereby not providing sales reps the chance to prioritize engagement based on customer’s potential value.
  4. Additional custom fields will need to be created to indicate the qualification level of the contact
  5. Out-of-the-box assignment rules cannot be used.

The above are some of the points we cover when we do a review of business prior to implementation of the platform. We ensure you are aware of the concept of Leads and Contacts and help you decide on choosing the correct fit for your company. If other factors come up, then we delve deeper into those as well – an example would be “Person Accounts” – but, I’ll save that explanation for another day.

Are you facing this issue of understanding the Lead vs. Contact conundrum in Salesforce? Give me a call, I’ll be happy to help. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this blog to read my next post – where I will share with you the makings that go into the next phase of using Salesforce – the Opportunity object.

By Shilpa Varghese