Salesforce has become the de facto standard in cloud-based CRM today. With over a million clients worldwide, it’s the safe bet for every CIO/CMO when choosing their next CRM. A CRM platform is critical in tracking and analyzing customer lifecycles. Without it, a company cannot analyze and improve the ways it recruits and retains customers.

Strangely enough, Salesforce, the market leader, has a feature that actually distorts the way we look at our funnel.

Leads and contacts
Salesforce handles leads and contacts in the following way: when a lead is entered into the system, it has specific attributes such as company, contact details, source and so on. At a specific point in time, the lead becomes mature enough to be associated with a specific deal (or “opportunity” in Salesforce lingo). The lead is then converted to a contact and its company is turned to an account. When I say converted, this means that the lead doesn’t exist anymore.

This process is a one-way street. A lead can be converted to a contact, but not the other way around.

Why is this so bad?
Simply put, this process does not reflect true buyer behavior. Here are two examples:

  • One of the biggest challenges marketers are facing is the fact that the funnel is not linear anymore. Meaning, buyers go back and forth across multiple funnel stages, especially in B2B complex sales processes. Therefore, a buyer could show interest that will justify the conversion from a lead to a contact, but then will become cold again, and should be pushed back to marketing for further nurturing. However, as stated before, within Salesforce you can’t convert a contact to a lead, so now marketing needs to work with multiple Salesforce entities.
  • Conceptually, a potential buyer could be a lead and a contact. In our case, we are providing several types of B2B marketing services to clients – from running their whole digital marketing organization to implementing marketing automation platforms. Therefore, there are many cases where a person has bought, or is in the process of buying, a specific service (meaning that they are Salesforce contacts), but are a potential for another service (meaning they are supposed to be a lead). This scenario happens a lot in our case. However, on planet Salesforce, a lead is not a stage of the funnel, it’s an entity.

Ok, but really, why is that so bad?
Beyond the cases mentioned above, the real issue is that the tools we use affect the way we perceive our activities. In other words, Salesforce’s linear funnel approach affects the way we view and analyze our funnel, since it doesn’t accurately reflect the way buyers behave today.

A better method would be to look at the lifecycles of a business’s contacts. Over time, they might go through the process of lead to contact and opportunity in a linear way. Or a contact will be a lead in one sales process and a client in another. But they are one entity, from first touch point until the end of the engagement with the seller. This method is not supported by Salesforce today.

So what’s the solution?
Unfortunately, in order to accomplish the above within Salesforce, one needs to define and create custom objects and workflows that will support a unified view despite the way Salesforce works today. A simpler, partial solution is to create custom fields in Salesforce contact records that mimic the lead stages. This way a contact could be a client of one of our services, but an early stage “lead” in another sales process.

Another way of tackling these issues is to track opportunities instead of contacts. For example, let’s say that we are selling 3 products. In this case, we will open 3 opportunities per account, one per each product. Along the sales cycle, we will update the opportunity stages.  If the client bought one product, we will either close the other opportunities and define them as lost opportunities, or leave them open as potential future sales.

However, in both scenarios this solution inflates the amount of new and lost opportunities.  That could be problematic, as amount of new, lost and won opportunities is usually a very important parameter to measure the health of the funnel. The amount of new opportunities is a good indicator of the efficiency of demand generation programs, and the amount of lost opportunities is used to evaluate the quality of leads, and sales team performance. Creating somewhat artificial opportunities could result in losing these insights.

Next steps
There are several solutions to the issues I’ve raised in this article, as Salesforce is an extremely flexible (though very cumbersome) platform.

The most important point to remember is this: CRM, marketing automation, and all the bells and whistles of marketing technologies are there to help.

But don’t forget to focus on your buyer’s behavior, and adapt your marketing technologies to it – not the other way around.