Marketing reporting and sales/marketing productivity are tied directly to the right decision around the right data model in your system on using leads or a contact/opportunity model.

With the advent of account-based motions and platforms in the last few years, companies are again asking whether or not an organization should use Salesforce leads or a 100% Salesforce contact/opportunity model to accommodate their go-to-market motions.

There are pros and cons for both architectural models. And while there is no single right answer, it greatly depends on what your go-to-market selling motion is, what your business goals are, your investments in technology and how that technology is used and the maturity level of your business.

Definitions and Assumptions

Let’s start with basic definitions, history, and assumptions:

  • uses "objects"
    • Standard objects that are typically used — leads, contacts, opportunities, accounts, campaigns.
    • The data in the lead object is not related to any other data in the Salesforce instance (aka non-related database).
    • Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) or Sales may be working across leads and contacts to be effective in their role.
  • Gartner TOPO coined the term "double funnel" initially in 2019 and again in 2021 (yet offered little insight into how to operationalize or "unify" the funnel of leads and accounts).
  • ~70% of companies use the leads object today according to 2021 industry data (N=1200), our own LinkedIn polls, and 2013 data identified by CRM Fusion (Validity). This ~70% leads object use benchmark has been relatively static over nine years, even with ABX platforms being introduced the last five years.

Related Article: 3 Ways Marketers Can Ease Account-Based Transition for Sales

The Contact/Opportunity Model — Death to the MQL!

If you’ve heard, "Death to the MQL," some in the industry are advocating using an all contact and opportunity data model in (which represent ~30% of all companies using Salesforce). There are indeed cases where making this kind of change of architecture makes sense such as:

  1. Your target market is small or well-defined (e.g. US healthcare with 300 systems or an enterprise sales person focused on strategic accounts) where a pure account-based selling motion makes a ton of sense to execute against.
  2. Your product set is well defined in Salesforce.
  3. Your organization is significantly more mature in use of systems and are highly skilled internally (SFDC admin and RevOps, we’re looking at you!).
  4. You’ve augmented your tech stack with RevOps solutions like LeanData or Ringlead capability within ZoomInfo.
  5. Where you want to do whitespacing of products or opportunities depending on your go-to-market motion, this approach can be particularly useful.
  6. There is a maniacal focus on opportunity pipeline generation and conversion.

A few caveats. While there is a perception that there is a marketing reporting benefit to this all-opportunity model as all data is in one location, in our experience, that benefit is neutral at best as we’ll later describe.

Here are other implications to consider if you make this move:

Learning Opportunities

Marketing Reporting Implications:

  • All lead activity will need to migrate to the contacts.  
    • This may impact scoring or account engagement depending on your technology investments.
  • Lead source fields are native fields on the leads object (and contact object does not have that field value).
  • Lead status values native in Salesforce (that contacts also do not have natively) — could be built for contacts but lead history might be valuable which would be lost in such a transition. 

Productivity Implications — Examples:   

  • From our experience, the kind of move from a lead-based model to a contact/opportunity model can require significant change management to pull off successfully as it may change reporting and how sales and marketing work in systems. In this recent LinkedIn post, Scott Vaughan, a well regarded industry leader and voice for CMOs that I and others follow closely, acknowledges the challenge of change management when departing from a lead strategy (marketing automation) embarking on an account-based strategy.
  • Moving toward an all contact/opportunity model from a lead model means changing out how all your SDRs and sales team potentially works day to day in their systems — sales leaders will be cautious on making that kind of change as it impacts selling productivity.
  • By mixing lower quality lead data with more qualified contact data (mixing suspects and prospects in one object), your team may need to work harder to identify what data is valuable.
  • Opportunity data can be messy process and reporting wise as sales may lose sight of when to start, close out opportunities, or re-incarnate old opportunities that are never closed out.  
  • Leads with no account names may go to a "holding" account name which means they could get lost indefinitely. A process will need to be identified and trained on which will impact the SDR and sales team in particular.

Related Article: A Framework to Operationalize Your Account Based Strategy

The Lead Model and Change Management

Is there an evolutionary change that accommodates reporting for ABX, leads and partners in Salesforce without changing to an all contact/opportunity model?  Absolutely yes. You can measure both a lead-based and account-based motion in Salesforce natively with some process definition and native programming (too complex to describe here but my contact is below, ask me how there). Keeping the lead model could be a good choice for the following reasons:

1. Marketing Impact Reporting

  • You report now to their boards of directors, and it’s difficult to suddenly change how you report to the CEO or board of directors. It works, why change?
  • You want to report on leads, accounts, partners, etc. in one funnel similar to how TOPO describes it.    

2. Market/Offer

  • You plan to have or have a "PLG" (Product Led Growth) and/or freemium strategy.
  • The target market is vast, not narrowly defined, and/or your total addressable market isn’t crisply defined or understood.

3. Technology

  • Lead queues or routing are important, and you may not have the additional technology to facilitate this using native Salesforce capabilities.
  • You have an ABM tool that can summarize account engagement at lead and contact level.

Marketing Qualified Leads are a leading indicator, can be valuable in certain situations yet are not something we’d suggest you measure your performance solely against.

While it will be impossible to prescribe an architectural solution to your exact situation as there are several variables, here is a helpful checklist to consider when making your decision:

1. Business 

  • What is your business objective? Better reporting in Salesforce? Less time managing duplicates? Enhanced sales or SDR productivity?
  • Are you OK changing how marketing gets measured at the board/CEO level?   
  • How important is it to have reporting in Salesforce? (We 100% think it should be in Salesforce for the record!)
  • Regarding reporting, are you doing an MQL model, an ABM/MQA (Marketing Qualified Account) model or both? 
  • How important is it to report on partner sourced activity?

2. Motions/Model

  • What is your go-to-market motion today?
  • Do you use freemiums or trial solutions?   
  • Do you have a Product Led Growth motion?
  • How confident are you that you absolutely know your Total Addressable Market (TAM)?    
  • Are SDRs forced to get insights across multiple systems of data silos or does it sit in one system with relevant information presented to them?
  • How sensitive are you to the time your SDRs spend in Salesforce if you make a change to their existing process?  

3. Technology/Process

  • What technology have you already invested in (that also might be underutilized)?
  • Lead to account matching? How rigorous is the L2A function if it is homegrown vs. outsourced?
  • Lead routing software — does it exist?
  • Deduplication tool(s) in place, who owns it?
  • Do you have any lead queues set up as part of your routing process?
  • How important is round-robin-ing leads as part of the process?

The debate between leads and contacts is an ongoing one, with no right answer. It depends on your company’s goals, motion, technology investments, and maturity level.

However, the important thing to remember is that whichever model you choose, make sure you are tracking the right data in Salesforce so you can accurately measure your marketing and sales productivity.