Lead Source is one Salesforce field that marketers have their eye on. The most basic way to describe the Lead Source field is as a Salesforce picklist field which records where leads came from. It will indicate which lead generation channels produced the greatest number of new leads and down the line, which generated the most revenue based on won opportunities.
There’s more to the Lead Source field that meets the eye. Did you know that in addition to Leads, Contacts, Accounts and Opportunities also have a Lead Source field? Did you also know that these fields are related to each other, inheriting the value from one field to the next as a lead progresses through the funnel? Let’s learn about how Lead Source is populated across your org. It will benefit you to understand how this field is populated so that you are making decisions about future budget spend based on accurate source reporting.
Lead Source is a picklist field that comes out of the box. The values you will find by default are:
Web, Phone Inquiry, Partner Referral, External Referral, Partner, Public Relations, Trade Show, Word of mouth, Employee Referral, Purchased List, Other.
You can choose which values to keep active, deactivate, or add new values:
As a picklist field, each lead can only have one Lead Source value which can be very limiting, mainly by masking any other marketing activities that contribute to the won opportunity (see ‘Outgrowing Lead Source’ later in the post).
How does Lead Source get populated? On leads, there are a number of ways and it depends on how watertight your lead generation and data collection processes are. You can populate Lead Source through:
- Manual entry: a user adds a lead record to Salesforce. It’s typical practice for organisations to make the Lead Source field required to ensure a value is always filled in,
- Import: you can add a header for Leadsource in your import file, for example, mass uploading leads from a tradeshow,
- Webforms/Web-to-lead: capturing leads on your website using a form, you can add a hidden field to set the lead source to be ‘Web’,
- Pardot: if you’re a Pardot customer, you can take advantage of Pardot’s advanced source tracking (see: ‘Outgrowing Lead Source’ later in the post). Although this can never be 100% accurate for a few reasons (which I won’t go into in this post), you can capture more detailed information about a prospect’s source (eg. they came to you landing page from Google search)*.
*you can achieve this with other web forms, but Pardot empowers non-technical web developers.
How Account and Opportunity Source works – Understanding Lead Conversion
Lead Source is a special field that has been deliberately engineered a certain way in Salesforce.
The key to understanding how Lead Source works with Account Source and Opportunity Lead Source is to look at lead conversion.
If you are using the lead object in your organisation, there will be a process where the lead is converted into a contact, account, and possibly an opportunity, too.
Note I said ‘possibly an opportunity’. You may know that creating an opportunity during lead conversion is optional. Just to be clear, when a lead is converted there are three scenarios:
- A contact is created and a new account is created.
- A contact is created and related to an existing account.
- A contact is created related to an account, and an opportunity is created.
The table below shows each of these conversion scenarios, and which source field values get automatically populated:
A lead has a Lead Source value of ‘Partner Referral’. This is what would happen when that lead is converted:
|Contact source||Account source||Opportunity source|
|A contact is created and a new account is created.||- 'Partner Referral'||- 'Partner Referral'||n/a|
|A contact is created and related to an existing account. The Account Source is blank.||- 'Partner Referral'||- 'Partner Referral'||n/a|
|A contact is created and related to an existing account. The Account Source is ‘Purchased List’.||- 'Partner Referral'||- 'Purchased List'||n/a|
|A contact is created related to an account, and an opportunity is created.||- 'Partner Referral'||- 'Partner Referral||- Partner Referral'|
As you can see in the table above, whether Account Source inherits the lead’s Lead Source will depend on whether it has an existing value in that field.
|When the lead is converted:||Inherits lead Lead Source?|
|New account created||✓|
|Related to an existing account which has a blank Account Source.||✓|
|Related to an existing account which an Account Source value.||X|
A cause of inaccurate reporting here is that an account record and its data could have been in Salesforce long before the lead was created. A good example is adding account data from a data enrichment provider, but not adding the Account Source. Another example is if contacts are associated to the account with no Lead Source values themselves. The new contact will still override the blank Account Source.
When the new contact is created from lead conversion, their source is not the true source of the account data. Some marketers or Admins may brush this aside, if Account Source is not a valuable metric they are tracking. There is a workaround to always have an Account Source value filled in, even if that value has to be ‘unknown’. At least then, the accounts won’t be falsely attributed to a source!
Opportunity Lead Source
Opportunity Lead Source gives you, as a marketer, an option to credit each opportunity to a different Lead Source. Even if the Business Development team sourced the lead in the first place, the opportunity that was created on the back of a tradeshow can be attributed to ‘tradeshow’ without interfering with the contact’s Lead Source or Account Source.
|An opportunity is created when:||Inherits lead Lead Source?|
|A lead is converted.||✓|
|After a lead is converted, using the ‘New Opportunity’ button on the contact page.||✓|
|After a lead is converted, using the ‘New Opportunity’ button on the opportunity or account pages, or any other method of creating a new opportunity.||X|
That’s the gotcha! It all depends on whether the contact is directly related to the opportunity at the time it’s created. It’s common for the sales team to use the ‘New Opportunity’ buttons on opportunities or accounts, which is a wasted chance for opportunities to have an Opportunity Lead Source value – take a look at your own org, I bet there will be plenty of opportunities with a blank Opportunity Lead Source! (unless your organisation has a watertight policy to adding Contact Roles).
Changing the process of how/when opportunities are created will also pay dividends for Pardot customers. The process fix also creates a Contact Role, which are crucial to campaign influence reporting and Pardot segmentation.
Reporting on Opportunity Lead Source
I wrote about Opportunity Lead Source reporting in a previous post on Salesforce System exceptions that marketers may bump into.
I will admit I have a favourite Salesforce report type, the ‘Leads with converted lead information’ report. On this report, you can show the Lead fields, and Account/Opportunity fields when the Lead has converted. Sadly, there is one thing missing – you can’t add the Opportunity Lead Source field to a Leads with converted lead information report – you need to use an Opportunity report for that.
Tips for Using Lead Source
Number of values
Don’t go crazy with the number of Lead Source picklist values you chose to have. Many organisations that want to have a more detailed view on Lead Source will add a ‘Lead Source Detail’ field that can contain all the miscellaneous values, for example, ‘Partner’ as a Lead Source will show ‘Partner A’, ‘Partner B’ etc. available to choose in the Lead Source Detail picklist.
Lock down the field
Make the lead source field uneditable for everyone except for System Admins (or any other trusted individuals). I do not mean blocking users from filling in the Lead Source field when they create a new Lead.
Lead Source when using Pardot
Pardot has a field called ‘Source’ on prospect records. This field has special behaviour that helps marketers capture more accurate and granular sources based on Pardot’s advanced tracking*. Be aware that the ‘Source’ field in Pardot is free text; this means there are implications if you try to sync this with a picklist field in Salesforce (in fact, I usually suggest an alternative method, which I will save for another post). Also, pay attention to which system is the master between Salesforce and Pardot when the connector sync occurs. You don’t want to risk previous lead source values from being overwritten.
*Prospect Source field is populated using what’s called the ‘referring URL’ or utm_source if you use UTM parameters and have the Google Analytics connector enabled.
Outgrowing Lead Source
As Lead Source is a picklist field, and can only have one value, it’s a limitation when two lead generation teams want to credit their teams against a lead record. From what I have seen, it is not the team that actually sources the lead that consistently gets credit, but instead, the team that has the best data processes, including tricks like validation on input (the field being required, for example).
Another issue I have against lead source is that it pulls people’s attention to the top of the funnel, fixating on what is coming inbound. The primary goal in most marketing strategies, especially in B2B marketing is not to attract single, new leads in order to grow the marketing database; strategies such as Account-based marketing (ABM) plan marketing activities and success around specific accounts already in your CRM (a contrast to random, single leads dripping in through the website).
Often it’s the lead source that is used in source reporting, especially when organisations don’t have a more sophisticated alternative. Lead source is rudimentary first-touch reporting, which has many flaws to it (a couple I have touched upon in this post).
Campaign influence is the obvious alternative, which goes beyond ‘first-touch’ attribution, and records the specific marketing activity that should be credited for the new/won opportunity. In Campaign Influence reporting, the name of the campaign will be used, eg. ‘Berlin Autumn Tradeshow 2019’ vs. the vague ‘Tradeshow’ Lead Source value.
Getting to this stage is not easy for an organisation that is operating a solid campaign influence ‘culture’ (creating Salesforce campaigns, associating leads and contacts as campaign members, etc.)
The Lead Source field is simpler, easy to understand, and is a great first step for organisations.