Aug. 19, 2013 | InBrief

How to best define and use Salesforce leads, accounts, contacts, and opportunities

How to best define and use Salesforce leads, accounts, contacts, and opportunities

As someone who has been helping companies implement Salesforce for the past 6 years, I have had many conversations about how to best define and use Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities within Salesforce. People tend to use these terms interchangeably in general business discussions, which is usually not an issue, but these terms have a different connotation when used within Salesforce. This post helps define these terms and identifies some best practices for using Leads, Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities within Salesforce.

What's In A Name? Salesforce Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities


Leads are typically the name of a person, the company they work for, their address, phone number, email address, etc. The best metaphor for a Lead that I can think of is a business card. You typically don’t know how interested a Lead is in your product or service; if they are the decision maker; have a budget or need; etc. Keeping this in mind, the typical use case for Leads is to go through a “quick” simple qualification process before converting them into an Account, Contact and (optionally) an Opportunity. Salesforce provides the capability of capturing Leads from your website through the Web-to-Lead functionality. While the topic of effective Lead Management is a topic into itself, below are some high level best practices for Leads in Salesforce:

  • Determine if you should use Leads. In some cases (for example, where customers don’t need/use the Web-to-Lead functionality, or where it is important to maintain several Contacts for a given Account), the Lead object might not serve your purposes.

  • Identify a clear and concise Lead qualification process.

  • Leverage the Web-to-lead form (if applicable).

  • Use Leads for qualifying and converting, not selling.

  • Be careful not to create duplicates. Consider using an AppExchange application that addresses this.

  • Develop simple lead scoring. This is particularly true when managing a large number of Leads, and where a quick response to the Lead is necessary.


In a broad sense, Accounts are companies or entities that can be either physical or logical. Accounts have a company name, address, phone number, etc., and can have a hierarchy with several layers of Parents and Children to support fairly complex organizational structures and reporting requirements. While you can think of Accounts in many different abstract ways, it is best to not stray too far from the original intended use. Salesforce provides a set of addresses which can be used for Billing, Shipping, etc. Some companies will create several Accounts for companies with multiple locations. Accounts can also be companies you hope will become customers, partners and/or vendors. Here are some best practices for using Accounts in Salesforce.

  • When using multiple Accounts for locations, add a dash, and then the city and state to the Account name.

  • You may consider using a custom status pick-list field to designate Suspects, Prospects and Customers instead of the standard Account Type field. You may also include a custom Status Date field that (depending on your Salesforce Edition) might have a workflow rule with field update that changes the date when the status changes.

  • Be consistent in structuring your Accounts, especially if you decide to use Parent Accounts.

  • If you do use Parent Accounts, add a custom checkbox. This will make it easy to identify Parents. (It is easy to identify Children Accounts as they have data in the Parent Account field.)

  • Add a custom alternate Account name for companies that have recently changed names or have common names or initials.


Contacts are the people associated with Accounts that you market to, sell to, support, etc. Each can have an address separate from their Account, as well as a phone number, fax number, etc. Contacts are associated directly with only one Account, but can be Associated with many Accounts using Account Contact Roles. A few best practices for using Contacts in Salesforce are:

  • Add a Custom Status or Check-box field to identify Inactive Contacts. You may also consider adding a custom Status Date that, like the Account Status, can be updated by a workflow field update when the status field or checkbox is changed.

  • Wherever possible, try to enforce entry of the email address. This is possible with a validation rule or by producing a view or report of Contacts without email addresses.

  • Add a custom common or nickname field.

  • Consider adding a custom middle initial or middle name field.

  • Consider adding a Job Type pick-list field to quickly identify key positions like CEO, Salesperson, etc. The standard Title field is text, and not that reliable for searching.


Opportunities represent a transaction between your company and an Account. Typically this is a potential sales transaction that would include information about the specific products and/or services one of your sales representatives is presenting to a prospective customer. There are several other key pieces of information you need to create an Opportunity, including the Value (Amount) and an estimated Close Date. As most companies are interested in gaining visibility into their potential sales pipeline, all Opportunities must have a Stage. The Opportunity Stage is used to identify and track the various steps an Opportunity “travels” during the sales process. Some of the best practices you should follow when using Opportunities within Salesforce include:

  • Having clearly defined steps in your sales process.

  • Being consistent as to when Opportunities are created. In other words, don’t have some of your salespeople creating Opportunities before they can assign a value, a close date and the sales stage and others creating Opportunities only after they've closed.

  • Consider using the standard Type field to identify New Opportunities from Add-on type sales.

  • If you are inside some pre-determined number of days, and the Opportunity is not yet closed, create exception reporting or email alerts triggered by the Close Date.

  • Add a custom Reason Lost pick-list and text field with a Validation rule, requiring entry of the Stage to Closed Lost.

More Questions about How to Best Use and Define Leads, Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities in Salesforce? If you have questions or comments on how to best use these roles in Salesforce, please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact us directly

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