Admins / Sales / Sales Cloud / Users

Salesforce Opportunities vs. Leads

By Stacy O’Leary

What is the difference between a lead and an opportunity? On the surface this might seem like an odd question. Reading the basic definitions, it can seem like these two objects have nothing in common. 

However, given the huge variety in what users and orgs actually do in their day to day practices, a lot of confusion can be introduced. And on a deeper level, leads and opportunities both represent the same thing: they could be potential revenue, or they could end up being nothing at all. When you introduce a layer of complexity with partner relationships, it becomes even more murky. Let’s get into the basic definitions of each object.

Object Definitions

To begin with, we’re going to cover the academic Salesforce object definitions. According to Trailhead, “A lead is an individual or organization that has expressed interest in your product or service”. That seems straightforward enough. 

By comparison, Salesforce defines opportunities as “deals in progress”. Opportunities are more qualified than leads, and have characteristics that an individual lead might not have. The main characteristics that an opportunity has that a lead does not are a potential revenue amount, and an expected close date.

In short, leads become opportunities when they mature, or qualify enough.

What a lead looks like in Salesforce.
What an opportunity looks like in Salesforce.

When Does a Lead Become an Opportunity?

The real answer is somewhere in between lead and opportunity, and it’s different for every company. I’m going to give some very general examples here, but be sure you have a thorough understanding at your own company of what this process is. 

Typically, leads and opportunities are worked on by two separate teams. Leads are generally worked by a “Business Development” team, sometimes called “BDRs” or “SDRs” (Business Development Representatives or Sales Development Representatives), and opportunities are generally worked by Sales Executives, or Account Executives (SEs or AEs.) The role of the SDR is to work on the leads, and qualify them for sales.

Qualifying a lead is a sometimes arduous task that can involve calling, emailing, scheduling and hosting meetings, providing information and demonstrations, and connecting the lead with resources. It also often involves researching the lead’s companies, company history, management organization, size and number of employees, and other used products. 

READ MORE: Salesforce Leads vs Contacts: Everything You Need to Know

Every qualification process and criteria are totally unique – some companies require a meeting to be scheduled with a Sales/AE, the SDR, and the lead. Once the AE has the initial conversation with the lead, they can approve the lead and give the go-ahead to create an opportunity. They also have the option to reject, and say that a lead is not ready to make a purchase, or does not have the budget in place.

This is where some of the confusion and gray area comes in. What if the AE and SDR disagree? What if the lead claims interest via phone, but is unable to schedule a meeting? What if they want a free trial before they are willing to schedule a meeting? Depending on what your specific criteria is at your company, you will likely encounter some similar situations. This is why planning ahead is a good idea. Having contingencies in place for multiple scenarios will help your business run smoothly with minimal interruption.

How to Turn a Lead into an Opportunity

Now comes the Salesforce part! Let’s assume we’ve been in conversation with this lead, met our qualification criteria, and are ready to create the opportunity. In Salesforce, this process is called “Lead Conversion.” (The ‘how’ here is the easy part, it’s the ‘when’ and ‘why’ that are tricky!) The absolute most important thing to remember about Lead Conversion is that it can only ever happen once, and it cannot be undone. (There are other ways to create an opportunity, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re only going to cover creating opportunities via Lead Conversion.)

Navigate to the lead in Salesforce, and click Convert.

This brings you to the Lead Conversion screen:

In the Opportunity section, there are three options:

  1. Create New. This option is selected by default.
  2. Choose Existing. This option allows you to search for an existing opportunity, and convert this lead into that opp, rather than creating a duplicate.
  3. Don’t Create an Opportunity Upon Conversion. This allows you to convert the lead, without creating an opportunity at all. This is a good option if you have existing customers, partners, vendors, or employees that you just need to convert for data management purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, the most important thing to remember is that it can only ever happen once, and it cannot be undone. I’m going to give a few examples of question I get about this:

Q: I already converted this lead to an opportunity a long time ago, years ago. Now they’re a contact and have been for a long time. But they’re interested in our new product. How do I convert them to an opportunity again?

A: You can’t convert them to an opportunity again. You can create an opportunity from the contact, but you can’t actually convert. That can only happen once.

Q: I converted the lead, but I accidentally clicked option 3: Don’t Create Opportunity. But I really do want the opportunity, how can I get an opp and get credit for the conversion?

A: You can still create the opp from the contact related list, but you can’t un-convert this lead and repeat the process. Converting a lead can only happen once.

Q: I converted something by mistake, it’s not actually qualified. How do I undo that?

A: You cannot undo converting a lead.

So, remember:

  1. Converting a lead can only happen once.
  2. You cannot undo a lead convert.

If you only take away two things from this blog post, let it be these two rules!


Earlier in the post I mentioned a major similarity between leads and opportunities; they both have the potential to either become revenue, or nothing at all. This is true. Leads either qualify or don’t. When they qualify, they become opportunities, and when they don’t, they remain leads. Opportunities become either Closed Won, or they don’t, becoming revenue, or not. 

As with most things in Salesforce, there’s a lot of flexibility in the platform itself, and an even greater variety of real-life business practices. Understanding your own practices and procedures, qualification criteria, and habits of your users is just as important as understanding how these objects work out-of-the-box. I hope this article was helpful in understanding how leads and opportunities compare to each other, and how to get from one to the other!

The Author

Stacy O'Leary

Stacy is a 5x Certified Salesforce Consultant & Full Time Mom.

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