Leads or Contacts. Leads and Contacts.
WHY are there two objects in CRM for people?
If you manage a CRM platform or administer an integration between MA and CRM platforms and use both objects, you’re frequently faced with:
- Managing duplicate fields in both objects
- Synching to fields on both objects
- Reporting across two objects
- A significant likelihood of duplicate records between the two objects
- Inefficiency of searching the database in multiple objects to find possible existing matches
These efforts can be extremely frustrating and slow down or even stop your work. So, why not consolidate everything into Contact objects?
Yes, there are some benefits to using Leads. Specifically, in Salesforce (SFDC), there are a handful of capabilities built around the Lead object:
- Keeps unqualified or junk data out of the Accounts and Contacts tables
- Web-to-Lead creation
- Lead Queues
- Lead Assignment Rules
- Lead Conversion Reporting
- Lead “Unread by Owner” flag
Fortunately, you can still derive most of these benefits using only Contacts. And consolidating everything into Contacts eliminates the need for the others.
So, ask yourself if the value of these features outweighs the pain you encounter dealing with the items in the first list above. If not, and you’re ready to say goodbye to Leads, let’s review what you’ll need to have in place to move forward.
1. Capture rich data on entry
Leads are often junk: people intentionally submitting bad data into your forms to avoid further contact or spambots descending upon your forms. You will need a systematic way to remedy data quality issues, because you need to have good data for matching algorithms. You could opt for adding or requiring form fields, but a better option here is intelligent or smart forms that prepopulate firmographic or demographic data in real time, usually behind the scenes. Vendors that provide this capability include RingLead, ReachForce (now LeadSpace), and HubSpot.
2. Implement Lead-to-Account matching
To note, we are still creating Leads in SFDC with their Lead Source, Campaign Membership, Lead Score, and other key data for matching and deduplication. The difference here is that no human will look at most of them, if we deploy successfully.
A rock-solid Lead-to-Account matching tool is the linchpin of saying goodbye to Leads. With rich data and well-tested matching and tie-breaking rules, most of your Leads can be automatically converted to Contacts (new or updating existing) under the right Account. You can pull an Owner from the matched record or create routing rules to assign an Owner. Vendors that provide this capability include LeanData, RingLead, and Engagio.
It may take some time and testing for the organization to get a level of trust that most Leads are correctly matched, and there will always be some exceptions that can’t be matched and must be reviewed manually. Ideally, these are only the true junk Leads!
3. Add Status to the Contact object
“Status” is a standard field on the SFDC Leads object, but it doesn’t exist on the Contacts object — you’ll have to create it with a well-thought-out list of picklist values that align to the early stages in your Demand Funnel.
I also recommend, if you don’t already, that you include on your Account object a picklist field for “Type” that indicates the relationship of the Account to your business (e.g., Prospect, Customer, Partner, etc.). If you’re currently pulling Leads into your segmentations because you assume they are all prospects, you’ll instead need to capture this explicitly on the Account object.
4. Define where and how in the Demand Funnel an Opportunity is created
We find that many organizations that use the Lead object for status in the early funnel stages also use it to manage through the middle of the Funnel. For example, a Lead is only finally converted to a Contact and an Opportunity is created at the SQL Demand Funnel Stage — the last stage prior to Close. I recommend that an Opportunity instead be used to track middle Stages, too. In other words, create the Opportunity record earlier in the journey.
This entails creating additional Stages on the Opportunity (e.g., “Stage 0”), and you may encounter some organizational resistance here. Opportunities are often considered to be “owned” by sales, not marketing or lead development reps. You’ll need to make sure you have the correct Owners on the Opportunities given the Stage, and that they are excluded via report or list filters as needed.
You’ll also need to create Closed Lost Stages that align to your out-of-Funnel stages for recycled and disqualified Opportunities with respective Reason Codes.
PLEASE NOTE: Opportunities should always be created from a person record, whether a Lead or a Contact. Creating an Opportunity from a Contact record is native SFDC functionality, and it maintains the connection between the engagement data from the person and the value data points from the Opportunity for attribution reporting.
5. Update your reports
Because we’ve made some significant changes to the objects and fields used to track prospects through the Demand Funnel, many of your reports will need to be updated. You may also need to create new ones, such as new reports or views for Contacts to show the new Status field values. In SFDC, you can get a full list of Reports by going to Reports > New Report > Administrative Reports > Reports. Work with the respective creators to identify which can be mass deleted and which need to be updated or recreated. This can be a lengthy exercise if you’ve had SFDC in place any number of years, and it’s probably long-overdue housekeeping regardless of the driving factor!
6. Hide the Lead object
Once testing, training, and enablement are completed, configure your Profiles and/or Permission Sets to remove read access to the Leads object. And breathe.
7. Other considerations
Some of our clients have use cases that make operationalizing a Contacts-only model a bit trickier, but ultimately doable:
- Intentional duplicate Leads for different Product Interests: When your territories are product-specific (e.g., different reps for different products), you may be using duplicate Leads to track those different Owners. As you develop your Contacts-only model, consider how the Opportunity-to-Product relationship is managed: is this also one Opportunity per Product? If so, again, you may want to consider using the Opportunity object much earlier in the buying cycle than you are currently.
- Lead Assignment Rules and Lead Queues are used in abundance: Salesforce has no Contact object equivalents for these two capabilities and you will need a replacement solution. We highly recommend LeanData’s Routing toolset to effectively achieve the needed outcomes.
Transitioning from a Leads and Contacts model to a Contacts-only model can be a major undertaking. It also makes the most sense for most of our clients. After all, we market and sell to Accounts, not disconnected individuals. Additionally, maintaining a Leads table in any CRM can increasingly create blind spots if not strictly governed — not only in your Demand Funnel, but also in your attribution reporting.
You’ll need to start with a well-defined Lead Management Process and then work closely with your marketing and sales operations teams to ensure the systems are correctly operationalized to support the processes. You should expect to encounter some organizational resistance and change management challenges — you’ll likely hear a lot of “this isn’t how Salesforce is supposed to work!” Don’t panic; DemandGen can help at all milestones to smooth this journey.
Gaea Connary, Consultant at DemandGen, focuses on helping organizations strengthen their lead management processes, lead scoring, nurturing strategy, and reporting and analysis to get the best return on their technology investment and meet their marketing objectives.