What is the Difference Between Leads and Customers?

This is an entity with unverified information and unverified intent that has purposefully contacted your dealer. In other words, clues are just words with no context. A customer is a real person or company with sufficient and verified information that has intentionally been in contact with their dealer. A potential customer is an entity with unverified information and unverified intent that has intentionally contacted the dealer.

Potential customers have the potential to become customers, but they haven't spoken to you or your sales team yet. If you use any type of CRM to store your customers' personal data, there's no doubt that you've come across terms like “leads”, “contacts” and “accounts”. You've probably also come across terms like “marketing-qualified lead” (MQL) and “sales-qualified lead” (SQL). What some companies may classify as a potential customer, others may classify as an opportunity or even simply a new contact. When there's a disconnect between sales and marketing, it can be difficult to find quality leads, qualify them, and move them forward in their buying process.

How companies classify their potential customers often depends on several factors, including the buying cycle of their customers, their industry and what they are selling. In Salesforce, a lead is the default object that is created when they receive new contact information in their database. Leads can be imported, but they can also be created automatically through external marketing automation platforms, as well as by submitting forms and other inputs. For example, if you integrate your Outlook email address with Salesforce, Salesforce can automatically import your email contacts to create leads. Conceptually, a potential customer is a raw, unqualified prospect, a new person or company in your system that may or may not be qualified, but that you haven't searched for in the past.

Salesforce will store data about this person or entity, such as their name, job title, contact information, and company name. You can then use this information to personalize any type of marketing aimed at them in order to qualify them. Over time, if they're a good fit for your business, you'll want to achieve a “conversion”, which we'll talk about in a moment. There must also be a clear delimitation between the objectives your sales development representatives (SDRs) and your account executives (EAs) focus on. Your SDRs must work with pre-sale contracts and potential leads, while your EAs must create agreements with contacts that are already verified.

The lead conversion process in Salesforce makes it easy for SDRs to qualify leads who are ready for their AEs. However, in Salesforce, lead conversion is a specific process by which leads are converted into accounts and contacts (the differences we'll discuss in a moment). The purpose of lead conversion is to allow the user to evaluate lead data, qualify the lead, and then “convert that lead” into an existing account and contact or into a new account and contact. This ensures that the potential customer has been examined by a real human, not just by an automated system. Then, sales representatives can distinguish where and when in the sales process they changed from a new contact to a potential customer worth selling to. In the past, sellers attracted potential customers as best they could and sellers tried to close deals with them.

However, with the prevalence of so much good data in the modern sales environment and with a large number of sales tools such as ZoomInfo and DiscoverOrg at our disposal, many B2B organizations are now looking to move towards an account-based sales model (ABS) rather than a sales model based on leads. Data is no longer inaccurate or messy. New processes and technologies have given sales teams the ability to access highly structured data like never before. With tools like those available in Salesforce, sales reps can access data about multiple people within the same target organization, literally all of their contacts in a full account. Specifically, we recommend storing clean and proven data sets at the account and contact levels to drive account-based sales and marketing strategies.

Next, we recommend using the lead process in Salesforce to manage every known net conversion that enters the database. Records can exist in any state, so sometimes there can be challenges in reporting. However, we generally recommend changing the “conversion point” to an earlier stage of the sales process whenever a high potential customer is identified. Representatives can do this manually by searching or by contacting the potential customer and rating them themselves. They can then convert the record to an account and start adding contacts to it.

Sometimes, we've seen inbound and outbound transactional teams working from the main object and then converting it into an account and a contact. In this way, the SDR team provides the AE team with new contacts and accounts to work on, there is more delimitation between the SDR team and the AE team, and the AE team can work exclusively with contacts and accounts that have already been examined and qualified. All of this means that the system's potential customers are always “incoming”. They qualify and convert quickly, so the ambiguity in the lead count is always very low. Not only does this segment your teams into more specific areas of focus (qualification and closing deals), but it also ensures that there are as few leads, contacts, and accounts as possible stuck in your Salesforce database. A potential customer could include any person or company that hasn't been qualified yet but could eventually become a customer.

Potential customers are at the top of the sales funnel. The main difference between a potential customer and a prospect is that your prospect has gone beyond one-way communication and has now interacted with you. This two-way communication suggests that the potential customer has real potential to buy from your company. This is when the prospect becomes a sales prospect.

Four of the most common terms you'll hear anywhere in sales are prospect, lead, contact, and opportunity. To convert this lead into an actual customer requires careful qualification of each individual's needs before making any commitments.

Randy Vanwie
Randy Vanwie

Avid music maven. Professional beer geek. Evil coffee scholar. Professional bacon fan. Hipster-friendly music geek.

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