The Art of B2B Market Research: Understand Your Audience Better–and Fast

Register Now


Don’t use leads (only use contacts) in your CRM.

Read Time: 7 Mins

In B2B marketing and sales—and especially in account based marketing (ABM)—you aren’t engaging one person, you’re engaging a buying center. That’s B2B Marketing and Sales 101 and the concept of what comprises a buying center is thoroughly explained in hundreds of college textbooks and thousands of articles and blogs. The dynamics of buying centers and why they’re critical in B2B is not the focus of this blog post. Rather this post is all about the “sexy” world of B2B contact management in Salesforce and other CRM systems and how the majority of B2B organizations still use a leads object in the CRM. Let’s look at why this is a problem.

Leads vs. contacts.

Before we go into why B2B organizations should make the switch to contacts, it’s important to understand how these two objects function in CRM platforms. I think of the leads object as a junk drawer in your house that holds a little of everything but in which you can never find what you’re looking for. In a single record you’ll find contact-level data, such as a person’s name, phone, and email, along with account-level data, such as company name, industry, and revenue size. Individual leads are not connected to other leads or associated to accounts. The concept of a buying center is pretty much out the window at that point

Unfortunately, the reality in many B2B organizations is that this junk drawer (the leads object) represents a SIGNIFICANT part of the marketing and sales database. For the vast majority of B2B companies, using leads in B2B is a bad idea. Anyone that promotes it… well, I personally would not hire them to run a marketing department or a marketing ops team (or as a marketing intern). Where does the use of leads make sense in B2B? I’m not convinced that it has a place, but if push comes to shove, the use of leads does less damage in companies that have more transitional sales and don’t sell into a buying center.

Iron Horse advocates using contacts and accounts rather than the leads object. Here are the primary benefits of diminishing the use of leads and promoting the use of accounts and contacts in your CRM system.

Segmentation and personalization gets better—way better.

When a person exists as a lead (and not as a contact associated to an account) typically you only have the data that:

  • The person entered into an online registration form
  • The data you received from a purchased list
  • Or, the data you got from a business card

It’s devoid of deeper and richer information that you have on the account—basic things like if the lead is from an existing customer, is related to an active pipeline opportunity, or works at one of your partner accounts. If you have ever received a call or email from a sales rep trying to sell you a product that you already own (which happens to me 2-3 times a year), this is one of the major reasons why that happens. In their CRM you’re likely a lead vs. a contact, and the rep didn’t check elsewhere in the CRM before contacting you.

Beyond knowing if the person is an active client or not (which in my book is a pretty big deal), think of all the fields that exist on an account versus what you typically have on a lead record. For current clients there are fields on (or related to) the account that speak to products purchased, renewal dates, service and support status, etc. For prospects there are fields like incumbent, industry and segment if it’s a target account; revenue; employee count; etc. And yes, a number of these fields likely can be found on the lead record, but certainly not all of them and, if they exist, how well populated or accurate is that single point of data versus the information available at the account level?

Simplified (and better) reporting is possible.

How would you pull the following report from your CRM: All managers or directors at a CA-based software company that are not one of your current customers? If you’re working with contacts and accounts, pulling that report is pretty straightforward; if I were doing it in Salesforce, it might take me five minutes. More importantly, this is also a report that most field marketers (or field sales reps) could make.

On the other hand, if you’re using the leads object, you would need to:

  1. Pull the report for contacts.
  2. Download a spreadsheet of accounts from your CRM that are active customers.
  3. Download a spreadsheet of all the leads in your CRM.
  4. Using the company name field and keying off the root email address, then do a Vlookup or Index to identify the leads that are active customers.
  5. Combine the list of contacts and the list of leads.
  6. De-dupe the leads and contacts as necessary.
  7. Send the report to the requestor using a spreadsheet (not a link to the report in the CRM)

So, which way is simpler? Beyond that, given the number of steps in getting this report, how likely is it that this report would even be made? Also, what are the chances that a well-meaning rep or field marketer that made this report himself would only pull a report from the contact or leads section? And no, you don’t have to do what I just laid out in Excel; there are BI platforms you can use, and there is the linking of leads to accounts too. But the underlying issue still remains and these are addressing a symptom and not the issue itself.

Also, if you’re using leads vs. contacts in your CRM, you essentially need two of any view, dashboard, or report you have on people—one for leads and one for contacts—and the viewer needs to do some quick mental math to get the full picture.

Data management improves.

There’s an assumption in those last two points that your leads have the same fields populated as your accounts and that they contain the same responses. For example, ACME Corp will list the same industry, revenue, employee count, location, spelling of the company name, etc. as what’s listed on the account.

That typically isn’t the case.

Twenty leads from the same company will show variations in industry, spelling of the company name, etc. as they are individual submissions. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your CRM and you’ll see what I mean. Now, here is the thing: that’s driving your personalization, segmentation, and reporting. Also, as a side thought, when thinking about data acquisition and cleansing projects, maintaining a contact to account relationship offers you the ability to get a bigger bang for your dollar investment by focusing on cleansing/appending/enriching account level data and not leads which are more difficult to connect via domain, DUNS, etc.

Account scoring no longer requires a workaround.

Account scoring is a great concept, but for a concept to drive business value you need the ability to execute. In order to implement account scoring you need the ability to aggregate all of the people that your organization is engaging with in the same account together; the leads object does not help with that at all.

Yes, there are ways to hack it, but there are drawbacks to doing so like in any workaround. For example, account scoring is directly impacted by the account hierarchy and rules the sales team use to define how accounts are structured in the CRM. Are they breaking business lines into subsidiaries? In larger companies, are they managed as two separate accounts in the CRM based on region or product line? This is where the workarounds typically break.

Sales management and insight increases.

Put yourself in the shoes of a business development rep (BDR) or a quota bearing sales team. Is it easier to see everyone related to an account in one location? Or would you prefer to split the people from your account between two locations: 1) an account with associated contacts and 2) a listing of disconnected people stored in leads objects?

Using accounts and contacts makes it easier for reps to understand the status of their accounts and who is active within them. Having this more complete view of the account, including the level to which each account is penetrated, also helps significantly with account planning.

Account funnel reporting can actually be done.

In B2B, demand funnel reporting is critical as it provides insight into how your organization’s qualification and engagement process is working versus where it can be enhanced and improved. Typically, this is done at the person level. However, given advances in technology and an increased focus on ABM, firms like TOPO have encouraged the market to do funnel reporting at the account level. We’re HUGE advocates of this and encourage every B2B organization to look at funnel reporting at the account level.

The question is how to do account funnel reporting if your company uses leads extensively in its CRM. The answer is not well. If you want funnel reporting at the account level without creating a brittle process that uses workarounds, then you need to standardize on contacts and accounts (and not leads).

In my next post, I’ll talk about the challenges with taking a contacts only approach (and some of these challenges aren’t insignificant). After that I’ll look at how to actually mechanize a contacts-only CRM strategy and how to make the case for not using leads in your CRM.


Integrated Marketing Maturity Assessment

Related content.

Subscribe to our blog.
Get unstuck with the most interesting business ideas and our insights delivered to your inbox.

© 2024 Iron Horse. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy