B2B Marketing Stack Basics: Salesforce 101 — Leads, Contacts, Accounts, and Opportunities

B2B Marketing Stack Basics: Salesforce 101 — Leads, Contacts, Accounts, and Opportunities

While lead lifecycle processes vary between organizations, there is usually some threshold that determines whether the lead has reached a gating stage and is passed to a sales rep. Sales can either accept a lead, and convert it (more on that in a future post), or reject a lead, in which case, they often re-enter a new nurture queue. Alternatively, a lead may be disqualified altogether, in order to prevent any future engagement (e.g. competitors or bad records).

A lot has been written about lead management and the various stages leads can pass through. Much of that discussion is beyond the scope of this post, but we recommend that you familiarize yourself with this process if you haven’t already.

In our “B2B Marketing Stack Basics” series, we’ll review the technology building blocks of a winning marketing stack, and the ins and outs of leading technology. In our last installment, we offered an overview of CRM and MAS technologies, and how they work together. In this post, we’ll look specifically at the revenue lifecycle within Salesforce (though the general concepts are universal). In doing so, we’ll review how Sales reps typically interact with the primary Salesforce objects in the lead conversion process.



Everything starts with the Lead object. A lead is essentially a digital business card that contains all relevant information about a prospect, and generally falls into one of two categories:

  • Acquired: Often acquired through blind activities such as list purchases, these leads live at the very top of the funnel. While basic contact information is provided, the person has had no engagement with your brand and may be unaware that they exist in your database.
  • Inbound: Marketing-generated; triggered by an action (e.g. requested demo, attended webinar) indicating some level of intent.

A lead can enter your CRM database directly via Salesforce’s web-to-lead form on your website, through a list upload, entered manually, or after it has been qualified and scored by your marketing automation software.




When Sales deems a lead qualified, it can be converted into a Contact. Contacts are the individuals associated with an Account. Upon lead conversion (a CRM process typically performed by Sales), a contact is created, the lead record is locked, and the converting rep can associate it with an account or opportunity.

Because it is possible to create a new contact without ever converting a lead, we are left depending on the sales team to follow correct processes. Duplicates are very easy to create and wreak havoc on campaign histories, causing data loss when records are improperly merged.



An Account is an organization that is someday qualified to do business with your company. Accounts are generally defined by type (e.g. prospect, partner, customer) and the account record contains all the organization’s information that is relevant to a sale (e.g. industry, employees, annual revenue etc.).

When converting a lead in a CRM, a rep has two options:

  • Create a new account – Intended for cases when the lead’s associated account doesn’t currently exist in Salesforce.
  • Choose an existing account – Intended for cases when the lead belongs to an account record that already exists in Salesforce.

Aside from the default account fields, you may add customizable fields to reflect your unique sales cycle, as well.


To learn more about how to optimize Salesforce for multi-touch revenue attribution, download our free eBook today.



Opportunities track pending and closed deals. Opportunity creation is optional upon lead conversion and is generally created when the characteristics of the account (e.g. challenges, authority, budget) indicate that there is potential for a revenue-generating event. Opportunities can also be created independently of the lead conversion process.

Opportunities contain a number of fields designed to help track pending deal status. As it relates to revenue attribution, the following fields are worth familiarizing yourself with:

  • Amount: The estimated total sale amount. Amount is critical to sales forecasting and a key component of accurately attributing pipeline to marketing.
  • Close Date: When the account owner expects they’ll close the opportunity.
  • Primary Campaign Source: Name of the campaign responsible for generating the opportunity.
  • Stage: Stages often vary between different companies’ sales processes, but an example opportunity stage progression might be:

Qualification > Evaluation > Benefit/Cost Analysis > Verbal Commitment > Closed/Won OR Closed/Lost

The goal of any opportunity is ultimately to set the stage field to “Closed/Won,” indicative that an agreement has been reached and contract signed.

The opportunity record also tracks the contacts of all relevant influencers in a deal. The Contact Role field indicates the role an influencer plays in the evaluation process, and a single contact can be assigned as “Primary” within an opportunity record.

Unfortunately, Salesforce does not require that opportunities have associated contact records. As a result, contact role assignment is a manual process that often breaks down within organizations. Correct contact role assignment is critical to using Salesforce’s default attribution methods, and incomplete records are one of the top hurdles preventing marketers from attribution success. The reason? Opportunity records contain revenue (sales) data and contact records contain campaign (marketing) data. When contacts are not properly associated to an opportunity, it’s impossible to make direct links between marketing and revenue using Salesforce alone.

Many organizations attempt to address this gap by mandating that their reps associate contacts in order to create opportunities. While this ensures that at least one contact exists, it does not address the issue that there are usually 4-5 influencers on every deal—and some of these players may not even be known to account exec. If the AE only associates one out of every four contact records, 75% of your touches become invisible.


Now that we’re on the same page with Salesforce objects and how they’re used, the next step is to dig into the role of campaigns within SFDC. In the next post of our “B2B Marketing Stack Basics” series, we’ll cover campaign management best practices within Salesforce, and offer tips to ensure that you’re well set up for proper B2B Marketing Attribution.

To learn how to get started with multi-touch revenue attribution, download our free eBook today.

B2B Marketing Stack Basics: CRMs, Marketing Automation Systems (MAS) & The B2B Lead Lifecycle

B2B Marketing Stack Basics: CRMs, Marketing Automation Systems (MAS) & The B2B Lead Lifecycle

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Marketing Automation Systems (MAS) are among the most commonly used technologies by B2B marketing leaders. Without a CRM and marketing automation platform, tracking ROI is impossible. The two technologies exist at the core of proper revenue attribution and, when used effectively, both can be extremely powerful, with great impact on revenue. On the other hand, when not used exactly as prescribed by vendors—as is usually the case—CRM and MAS can also be very dangerous, leading to misguided marketing decisions that wreak havoc on your bottom line.

In our new “B2B Marketing Stack Basics” series, we’ll examine the technology building blocks of a winning marketing stack—the strengths and weaknesses of leading platforms, best practices for campaign tracking, and tips to achieve true multi-touch revenue attribution. In our first installment we’ll cover the fundamentals, offering an overview of CRM and MAS technologies and taking a look at how they work together along the B2B lead lifecycle.


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Overview

Many companies use their CRM as the system of record for nearly all business functions, but a CRM is primarily a sales and services tool, used to store data about existing customers and manage sales opportunities. It contains a database of all relevant information about clients and prospective clients and uses technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales pursuits.

Examples: Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle SiebelSAP, SugarCRM 

Benefits of CRMs

  • 74% of CRM users said their CRM system offered improved access to customer data. (source)
  • CRMs can increase sales productivity by up to 34% and forecast accuracy by up to 42%. (source)
  • Using a CRM has been proven to increase sales by up to 29%. (source)


Marketing Automation Systems (MAS) Overview

The MAS is the marketing counterpart to the CRM platform—focused on moving inquiries from the top of the marketing funnel through to sales-ready leads at the bottom of the funnel. Marketing automation provides a single solution that marketers can use for all aspects of campaign design—including email and landing page development, lead management and scoring, and automation and reporting.

Today’s B2B marketers would be crippled without marketing automation. Essential functions such as communicating with and tracking prospects become impossible or at best extremely difficult without it. In order to track revenue, you must first track campaigns and leads. 

Examples: Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, Pardot 

Benefits of CRMs

  • B2B marketers who implement marketing automation increase their sales-pipeline contribution by 10%. (source)
  • 63% of companies that are outgrowing their competitors use marketing automation. (source)
  • 8% of successful marketers say marketing automation systems are most responsible for improving revenue contribution. (source)


The B2B Lead Lifecycle: How CRM and MAS Work Together

Marketing automation systems measure prospect engagement from the first time they interact with your company. Upon their first website visit, they’ll receive a cookie from your MAS, after which all interactions are tracked. A prospect is no longer anonymous once they provide their contact information (e.g. downloading an eBook, signing up for a webinar) and a lead is created within the MAS. From there, the lead is typically synced to the CRM. 

Salesforce and Marketo FlowOne of the core functions of marketing automation is the ability to score prospects based on engagement. A prospect’s lead score will accumulate over time based on their interactions with marketing activity. Many companies develop nurture programs or a series of automated communications designed to help prospects self-educate. As a prospect interacts with marketing activity—triggered by nurturing or done organically—they’ll continue to accumulate points until they reach an agreed-upon threshold that deems them sales-ready.

While lead cycle processes vary between organizations, there is usually some threshold that determines the lead has reached a gating stage and is passed to a sales rep. Sales can either accept a lead, and convert it (more on that in the following section), or reject a lead, in which case, they often re-enter a new nurture queue. Alternatively, a lead may be disqualified altogether, in order to prevent any future engagement (e.g. competitors or bad records).

Much has been written about lead management and the various stages leads can pass through. Much of that discussion is beyond the scope of this series, but we recommend familiarizing yourself with this process if you haven’t already.


Have you been able to track multi-touch revenue attribution with your CRM and MAS alone? Stay tuned for the next installment of our “B2B Marketing Stack Basics” series, where we’ll go deeper on CRM best practices to make sure your leads, contacts, accounts, and opportunities are properly set up for multi-touch revenue attribution.

To learn how to get started with multi-touch revenue attribution, download our free eBook today.

Understanding B2B Buyers’ Journeys and Where Salesforce Falls Short

When we think about B2B buyers’ journeys, it’s easy to assume there is one linear path. As marketers, it would make our lives easier if our audience consumed content in a prescribed path that clearly maps to our funnel stages. I’ve even been through corporate exercises where we drew our buyers’ journey on a white board and then stuck Post-its with the titles of all of our content on the stages where we thought it belonged. While that may be a great exercise for discovering gaps, real buyers are not that predictable.

I describe the B2B buyers’ journeys as looking much more like a Chutes and Ladders game. Each player takes a different path up and down the board until they get to the end—and the fact that there are multiple players is extremely important. You can expect there to be at least four to five influencers on any B2B decision, and that increases as price tags get larger. Unlike a Chutes and Ladders game, you may not even know who they all are. Influencers who never interact with your sales reps, may be evaluating your product behind the scenes.

So now that we’ve taken away the notion of a predictable linear path to sale, how do we know what’s actually happening between the beginning and end of a deal… and why do we care?

It’s critical to know the ROI of your programs to make intelligent, data-driven decisions about your marketing spend. If you cannot map your entire funnel, you do not know the impact of mid-funnel touches; and those are often pivot points to conversions.

To calculate ROI, most of us go to our CRM because that’s where we store most of our business-critical information. Unfortunately, Salesforce leaves Marketers blind to the majority of the funnel. It can only report on the beginning or end. While Salesforce attempts to provide campaign ROI metrics, it only gives insight on first and last touch. Let’s look closely at how Salesforce handles attribution.

Salesforce has two approaches to attributing revenue. The first is through lead source and the second is through the Primary Campaign Source field (which contributes to the Campaign Influence views). Both are single-touch models, meaning all revenue or pipeline get attributed to only one activity, regardless of the number of campaigns involved in the sale. In fact, more than 75% of touches are not being attributed to sales.

The Definitive Guide to Multi-Touch Revenue Attribution

Lead Source

Many marketers rely on the Lead Source field to track a prospect’s initial interaction, which overemphasizes lead generation activity and ignores everything beyond first marketing touch. Furthermore, lead source generally only provides visibility into the broad channel from which a lead was sourced, devoid of any insights into the specifics that influenced a deal.

The lack of flexibility around using lead source to provide attribution causes companies who rely on it to jump through all kinds of hoops. Marketers begin propagating the lead views with custom fields like “lead source original,” and “lead source description” in order to map whatever paths their prospects are taking. This creates all sorts of clutter and never quite works as expected.

In addition to the standard challenges presented by first touch attribution—giving 100% credit not even to a specific campaign (e.g. “Dreamforce 2015”), but to a broad category (“Events — Live”)—attribution by lead source presents other data quality challenges including lack of insight into specific campaign/offer performance or overwriting records, destroying information in the process.

Primary Campaign Source

Primary Campaign Source tracks only a lead’s last interaction prior to conversion. Similar to lead source attribution, primary campaign source disproportionately allocates credit to the most recent pre-conversion event, ignoring all prior touches. Also similar to lead source, the primary campaign source field is editable by default, introducing potential threats to data integrity.

In the case that an opportunity is created independently of the standard lead conversion process—a lead is converted, creating a contact, an account, and an opportunity— primary campaign source is not assigned. Opportunities do not require association with contact roles and, even in the case that an opportunity owner adds a contact (or multiple contacts) after the fact, primary primary source is not assigned, putting the responsibility in the hands of a sales rep to manually assign primary campaign source.

Finally, primary campaign source can erroneously assume that because a lead is associated with a campaign, that the campaign has been influential. If a lead is a campaign member but never responded—or the campaign exists in Salesforce but has yet to start—that campaign can still be counted as primary campaign source.

In addition to using a single-touch attribution model, ignoring all touches but the last—primary campaign source leaves too much room for error. Because only one contact role is usually associated to an account (when there should be many), and only one touch for that contact gets counted (regardless of whether it’s valid), we estimate that primary campaign source is invalid 95% of the time.

Campaign Influence

Campaign influence is a standard Salesforce feature that allows users to automatically (or manually) associate multiple influential campaigns to a single opportunity. When a contact role is added to an opportunity, all of that contact’s campaign memberships are then listed under the campaign influence list within the opportunity record, including campaign that are created after the opportunity is created.

From the campaign influence list, you also have the optional ability to designate any influential campaign as the primary campaign source, which attributes 100% of the revenue from that opportunity to the designated campaign, should you win that opportunity. If you don’t win the opportunity, the relationship will still be recorded on the campaign record so you can see how many opportunities in total (won or lost) were influenced by that campaign.

Incomplete data: Missing Contacts on Opportunities

Salesforce does not require contacts on opportunities. When opportunity creation falls outside of the standard Salesforce lead conversion flow, association gaps are created that remove any hope for truly meaningful attribution. Opportunity owners (Sales) are simply not focused on data entry–nor do we want them to be! But the solution isn’t necessarily to impose more processes on your reps. That can backfire. Besides, you want your reps selling, not spending their time following draconian data capture rules.

Contact roles are often neglected.

Most sales reps will attach a single contact (if any) to an opportunity and move on. In reality, there are usually numerous stakeholders influencing any considerable B2B purchase decision. Given the complexity of most enterprise sales, there may be influencers engaging with your content who are completely unknown to the account rep. On average, we see four to five people involved in a B2B buying cycle, with only one contact role is attached to the opportunity. This is why more than 75% of marketing touches are not being attributed to a sale.

Campaign influence too often projects an incomplete picture of marketing-generated revenue that can lead to faulty assumptions, grossly incorrect reporting, and ultimately, dangerous, misguided investment decisions.

The Bottom Line

Your CRM should be a critical player in your technology stack, but too many people fall into the trap of trying to use it in ways it was not designed to function. Ultimately, Salesforce is a Sales tool—heavily reliant on people to ensure data quality. Every organization uses Salesforce differently, which presents challenges that break attribution. There are simply too many points of failure to rely on Salesforce alone when trying to attribute marketing to revenue; and moreover, trying to customize Salesforce to do attribution—through custom fields, draconian sales processes, etc.—can often backfire. Most importantly, Salesforce only provides visibility into either first or last touch.

I think the term, “the buyers’ journey,” is a misnomer, we should be talking about buyers’ journeys; as there is not just one journey but several. Like that Chutes and Ladders game, each sale involves multiple players, all following different paths to reach the end. The reason to map them is so that you can understand the impact of your programs, regardless of where they fall along the path to sale. Tools like Salesforce that can only show you single touch, and leave you blind to 75% of the influencers in any deal, are unable to tie spend back to revenue. This can only be accomplished with multi-touch revenue attribution.

Interested learning more about Salesforce attribution? Download
The Definitive Guide to Multi-Touch Revenue Attribution

The Definitive Guide to Multi-Touch Revenue Attribution