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How to Optimize Your Salesforce Lead and Opportunity Management

Aug 16, 2022
6 min read
The speed and scale at which companies can now execute their sales process no longer allows for outdated, manual lead management processes. To stay competitive, businesses must have a centralized, automated, and data-driven strategy in place to move leads through the pipeline.

In Salesforce, lead and opportunity management can be all of those things and more. 

But even with Salesforce in place as your CRM system, you won’t reap the benefits without the right steps in place to maximize ROI.

Read on to learn how to optimize your Salesforce lead and opportunity management strategy to build your pipeline, improve sales team performance, enhance sales forecasts, and drive growth for your business.

Quick Takeaways

  • Salesforce leads have shown initial interest in your solutions (beginning of pipeline), while opportunities are high-potential future sales (end of pipeline).
  • Defined lead and opportunity qualification standards help sales reps categorize leads accurately.
  • Unqualified leads should never be left hanging in the pipeline — they should either be nurtured or archived.
  • Salesforce can be integrated with other software platforms you use to execute your sales strategy (like Xactly) for more comprehensive data analytics and performance tracking.

Salesforce Leads vs. Opportunities: what’s the difference?

The first thing to know in order to optimize Salesforce lead and opportunity management is the difference between the two. They’re actually two of four Salesforce categories used to separate leads by stage in the pipeline:

  • Lead - An individual who has either shown interest or who you have determined should be contacted to initiate the sales process. Leads typically work for companies you want to engage with as potential customers.
  • Account and Contact - These two categories occur simultaneously in your Salesforce CRM. An account refers to the company or organization, while the contact is the person initially identified as the lead. You can assign multiple contacts to a single account.
  • Opportunity - An opportunity doesn’t refer specifically to a company or an individual. Instead, it indicates a high-potential future sale. Accounts and contacts can both be categorized as opportunities.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to convert opportunities into closed deals.

How Leads Move Through the Salesforce Pipeline

While the definition of “lead” can be defined in a number of ways depending on the company and scenario, in Salesforce leads are the very beginning stage of the pipeline and have not been confirmed to have true conversion potential.

Salesforce leads are basically any name and/or contact information that makes its way to your marketing and sales teams. They mostly occur as a result of your own efforts via channels like:

  • Landing page forms
  • Online ad clicks
  • Lead magnet downloads
  • Webinar attendance
  • Social media interactions
  • Referral programs
  • Website interaction
  • Trade show forms

This list isn’t all-inclusive, but it gives you an idea of what qualifies as a Salesforce lead. Within the Salesforce system, you can assign a number of lead statuses, including:

  • Open - entered but not yet contacted
  • Contacted - initial contact made
  • Qualified - interested in making a purchase
  • Unqualified - unlikely to purchase

These are Salesforce’s default options, but you can also choose to assign custom lead statuses to align with your company’s sales process. Assigning lead status is an important part of Salesforce lead management because it indicates the actions that need to be taken by your sales team and if/when a lead can be converted to an account and/or contact.

Leads should be converted to an account and/or contact once they are deemed qualified. The criteria for then changing accounts and contacts to actual opportunities varies by company, but the key is to define opportunities rigorously.

Accounts and contacts should only be converted to opportunities when they show extremely high potential to purchase and it’s really just a matter of taking final steps to close the deal.

6 Steps to Successful Salesforce Lead and Opportunity Management

Define lead standards

There are points throughout the Salesforce lead management process when you’ll need to use internally-set standards to determine where leads belong in the pipeline. These standards must be clearly defined and communicated with your sales team in order for them to accurately categorize leads.

For example: recall that leads should only be converted to accounts and contacts once they’re qualified. But “qualified” means something different to every company. Defined lead qualification standards guide sales reps to make the right decisions about when and why lead status should be changed.

This is important because leads are engaged in different ways depending on where they are in the pipeline. A new lead, for example, is engaged through an initial outreach to determine if they have buying potential. An account or contact may receive more formalized lead nurturing communications to move them toward opportunity status.

Ensuring potential buyers receive the right communications at the right time leads to an overall better quality buyer experience and a greater ability to consistently close deals.

Integrate and automate lead data sources

Companies today are generating lead data from a wide variety of sources, including their email marketing platforms, ad accounts, online forms, event platforms, and more. Manually entering data from all of these sources leaves your company prone to human error, forgotten leads, and lost opportunities as a result.

Salesforce integrates with many of the applications and systems you use to generate leads, such as GSuite, MailChimp, Google Ads, LinkedIn, Active Campaign, and of course Xactly. 

Executing on these integrations not only ensures you never miss important lead data, it drives greater productivity because sales reps can spend time on actual selling rather than data entry.

Integration also powers more data-driven Salesforce lead management strategies by enabling sales analytics that encompass all of the platforms and tools you use.

Use customized lead status options

Customized lead status options can provide better clarity around leads than the default options offered by Salesforce. They help your sales team communicate internally and can account for nuances in lead status that the default options don’t allow. For example, a lead may be qualified but still is not yet in the buying cycle. They may require some nurturing before they should be officially converted to an account or contact.

You can use a custom lead status option like “Nurture” to indicate that this lead has potential and trigger the launch of your lead nurturing drip campaign to warm them further.

Don’t leave unqualified leads hanging

Unqualified leads can be a major source of wasted time if your reps keep pursuing them when they’ll never convert. On the flip side, you may have leads that are unqualified at the time but could change to qualified if certain criteria change.

So how do you decide what to do with these unqualified leads?

Generally, you can determine a lead is unqualified if it’s missing any of the following:

  • Problem or need your company can help them address
  • Power to make a buying decision for the company
  • Ability to afford your solutions

That said — none of these three are necessarily permanent. Perhaps a budget change makes your solution suddenly affordable. Maybe a trigger event occurs and creates a new need for your solution that hadn’t existed prior. In these cases, you want your company to be the first one they contact.

At the same time, it’s not practical to task your sales reps with continual follow up just in case one of these changes occur.

Instead, define alternative paths for your unqualified leads. Some ideas: add them to your email newsletter list or invite them to online webinar events. Neither of these require manual action from your sales rep.

Finally, know when an unqualified lead just isn’t the right fit and no longer belongs in your pipeline — for example, a company that clearly does not fit your ideal client profile. Archive these leads so they don’t clog your Salesforce pipeline.

Define opportunity conversion criteria

As mentioned before, accounts and contacts should only be converted to opportunities when they show extremely high buying potential. Opportunities in your Salesforce pipeline should be those potential deals that only require some final steps in the sales process to be closed.

This scenario, however, looks different for every company. To drive consistency, accuracy, and higher conversion rates, set clear opportunity standards to be shared with and enforced by your sales teams.

Track and monitor performance

One of the major benefits of a quality CRM like Salesforce is the ability to leverage analytics to improve sales performance. To optimize your Salesforce lead and opportunity management, put processes in place to leverage data through frequent reporting and measurement of key KPIs.

What’s Next

Integrating Salesforce with an intelligent sales management platform is a sure way to level up your strategy, improve sales performance, and provide a better experience for both your employees and customers. Xactly’s Strategic Sales Planning software enables you to bring your data into focus for more accurate, informed, and agile sales planning.

Learn more about our solutions or request a demo today!


  • Sales Performance Management
Kelly Arellano, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Xactly
Xactly News Team

Led by Editor-In-Chief, Kelly Arellano, The Xactly News Team reports on the latest products, events, and market trends taking place within Xactly and throughout the revenue intelligence industry.