Understanding the difference between a Lead, Account, Contact and Opportunity in Salesforce
As the market leader in the CRM industry, Salesforce is used by everyone from small businesses and one-person LLC’s to multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 companies and everything in between. For those new to the platform, this article explains the difference between the core objects of Salesforce.
Types of Clouds
Just by looking at the Salesforce logo, you can see the company’s connection to the cloud, using a worldwide network of services to provide lightning-fast access from computers and mobile devices. Salesforce further segments the functionality into various task-specific clouds that are then productized to align with various customers' needs. For example “Marketing Cloud” looks nearly identical to “Service Cloud” but they leverage different objects (such as a Lead, Campaign, or Case) to accomplish their goals. Many objects – Accounts and Contacts for example – are used by all Salesforce clouds, while other objects may only be used for one or two.
Sales Cloud is often considered the primary Salesforce product, and the core functionality of the platform ties back to the original purpose of having a truly cloud-based Customer Relationship Management system. As the company grew, these other clouds developed to support Sales operations. Marketing Cloud to help generate business on the front end. Service Cloud to provide support to existing customers. Community Cloud to help organizations build a customer-facing, interactive platform for their customers to learn, answer questions, and build a community. While new clouds are born every year (NFT Cloud, anyone?), Sales Cloud will always be central to the company. The objects discussed in this article – Lead, Account, Contact, and Opportunity – serve as the fundamental objects for the Sales Cloud.
What is an Object?
An object is essentially a table structured to capture details around a series of individual records. The object is defined by the details that it collects in the form of fields. For example, the Contact object will have a field for First Name, Last Name, Email, Job Title, Phone Number, and many more. Salesforce provides fields for each object out of the box, while System Administrators have the ability to highly customize objects.
In addition to creating and editing fields, Admins can design Page Layouts, automate tasks and process, edit picklist values, and define relationships between different objects. When using code, Developers can leverage Visualforce, Apex, and other languages to create just about any functionality imaginable for objects. Salesforce gives organizations the ability to use simple, out-of-the-box features, or choose to make a complex and highly customized version of the platform. This is one of the great attributes of Salesforce – it’s easy to get started but also leaves plenty of room to grow over time.
Before jumping into the specifics, it is important to understand the concept of conversion. In the sales world, companies often have unique definitions of leads, accounts, and sales opportunities. For many companies, a lead is someone who has not yet expressed any interest in doing business yet. This could be a purchased list, a name at a trade show, a person we identified on LinkedIn, or just a person we met at the bar. The pool of leads for many companies is vast, and the efforts to earn their business will vary greatly from the marketing efforts that we direct towards Accounts and Contacts later in the process.
While companies each have their own business definition of conversion, at some point most companies consciously determine that a lead should be converted into a formal Sales Opportunity.
- Here are a few examples of conversion moments:
- Lead signs up to attend a Sales Webinar
- Lead agrees to meet for an in-person Sales Presentation
- Lead books an appointment to come in for a visit to the car dealership
- Lead responds to an email campaign stating that they might be interested in hiring a consultant for their upcoming audit
- Lead replies to an email in a way that indicates they qualify for a program that we sell (i.e. Training Program, Group Insurance, Benefits Package, etc)
As you can see, the common thread is that the lead has progressed from a name in a large pool of prospects to express some level of interest. Now, keep in mind that many organizations will not convert a lead just because they have met the minimum level standard. Some organizations want a more formal level of interest and/or qualification before they convert the lead. For those companies, they will use a Lead Status to differentiate these more qualified prospects from early-stage leads. However, at some point and time, once the lead meets the definition, it is time to convert.
The Lead object contains quite a bit of information that will be detailed below. When it is converted, this single record will map to an Account, Contact, and potentially Opportunity, too. That’s right – this singular record will likely convert into three records, one of each corresponding object. Let’s understand the reason why.
Leads come from many different places (Lead Sources) and arrive with varying levels of information. At the most basic level, however, is information relating to a person and a company. There will also be general information regarding the lead itself.
For the person, the Lead will have information such as First Name, Last Name, Salutation, Email Address, Phone Number, and Title. The Last Name is required by Salesforce, although other fields can be made mandatory, too. Aside from these fields, we can add numerous custom fields of various different types. For example, we might want to know the Lead’s primary language or the university they attended. Fields can be added of various different types such as currency, number, text, Boolean (True or False), date, picklist, and many more.
For the company, the Lead will have the company name as a required field. We can add numerous other bits of information such as the industry, number of employees, annual revenue, and many more. Different businesses will certainly care about a myriad of different details when targeting leads. Industry-specific picklists often come in handy as well.
Leads will also have general information such as when the lead was created, last modified, the lead source, and who within Salesforce owns the lead. Like the person and company, we can add custom fields here too. Once the lead has met the criteria, we will convert them into an Account, Contact, and Opportunity.
When we convert the lead, the information related to the person will map to the Contact. The information related to the company will map to the Account. The Opportunity may receive information from the Lead as well. Salesforce provides a simple mapping page to determine which fields will carry over with the record upon conversion. It might be useful for the same piece of information to map onto multiple objects upon conversion. For example, we may want to see industry on the corresponding Contact, Account, and Opportunity. We can do that through field mapping.
The custom fields that we map on the Lead are also available to map on the receiving objects. Oftentimes, we will need to set up the same or similar field on the recipient object – the field just needs to be the same type (i.e. currency to currency, text field to text field, etc).
There are a few fields that map automatically. Lead Source will automatically map to the Account. First Name and Last Name will automatically map to the contact. These don’t need to be set up at all.
After conversion, Accounts are the core of the new relationship as both Contacts and Opportunities will be related to the Account via lookup fields. This is also done automatically upon lead conversion. Of course, Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities don’t have to be created through the lead conversion process. A new Account can be created directly through a manual entry, an import of several accounts, an automated process, or other types of API’s/code.
Account records can be part of a hierarchy of other records above or below. For example, Walmart of Kansas City might have a parent account of Walmart, USA. This relationship is useful in keeping track of various accounts as well as backend reporting. An account can have several children accounts, but only one parent. Likewise, an account can have several contacts and multiple opportunities, too. Because the account is so central to Salesforce and the database design, it is required to be populated on all contacts and opportunities so those records are formally associated with an account.
Contacts are individual people. A contact is associated with an Account and can be tied to one or more opportunities as well. Contacts often track the same information as the “person” section on the Lead object, meaning Name, Title, and contact info like Phone and Email.
A contact is associated with an account, but has the ability to be reassigned. This is very useful if a contact leaves a company. We can just change the account to their new company and update their title and contact information.
Opportunities are the crux of a company's pipeline or forecast. They may be referred to as Sales Opportunities, Deals, Potential Revenue, or various company-specific colloquialisms. The key components of an Opportunity include a close date (required, defining when the opportunity will likely be “won”), amount (i.e. revenue), and stage. The stage explains where the Opportunity is in the Sales Process. The stage also includes a probability stating the likelihood of ultimately being closed-won. This probability is extremely useful in measuring an existing pipeline, weighted for probability, or looking at forecasts against a budget.
Opportunities relate to an Account and can have one or multiple contacts associated with them. Sales team members can quickly and easily update close date, amount, and stage to give management a snapshot of the deals they are working on, and what they are projecting to close in the upcoming month, quarter or year.
Sales Cloud and other core clouds use other objects as well, in support of these items. Events are calendar records. Tasks can be reminders or “to-do” items that we can assign to ourselves or someone else. Cases can be used for customer support or other issues internally or externally. Campaigns can be used by the marketing team to attribute their efforts working with Leads, Contacts, and Opportunities.
It is worth noting that when we convert a Lead to an Account, Contact, and Opportunity, related events and tasks stay with the records as they are converted. This way we don’t lose the history of the lead once it moves throughout the process.