Beyond Lead Assignments: Managing the Salesforce Customer Lifecycle Process

U2 in Kansas City by Mikey Brown


One of U2’s more popular songs talks about a search that leads to climbing the highest mountains, running through the fields, and scaling city walls only to come to the realization “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” That’s not a path you want to follow in Salesforce when assigning or reassigning Leads.

An assignment does not just occur when a prospective customer enters a company’s pipeline. The customer lifecycle management process contains many points where: — an assignment or re-assignment of a Lead, a Campaign Member, an Opportunity, an Account, a Contact, and even a Custom Salesforce Object — needs to happen.

Part 1: Initial Contact with Prospect

Customer lifecycle management starts with a prospect taking action to make that first contact with the company. Salesforce Lead assignment rules create a Lead record and then assigns it. The assignment likely depends on the source of the Lead and company sales coverage policies.

Here are some possible Lead sources:

  • Inbound Lead from the company website, inbound call, or email
  • Lead referred by partner
  • List of Leads uploaded in batch after an event
  • Purchased list of Leads

Here are several examples of sales coverage policies:

  • Round Robin Lead assignment with Load Balancing
  • Geo-based Routing
  • Skills-based Lead assignment
  • Account owner (Account-Based Selling assignment)

Once a Lead comes in, it could go to a sales rep, account manager, a partner, or through a qualification process. In some cases, the Lead assignment process may assign Leads to a secondary user such as a product or alliance manager, in addition to the primary owner.

Part 2: Send Follow-up Marketing Campaigns

When someone responds to a marketing campaign, assignment rules in Salesforce create a Campaign Member record tied to an existing Lead for prospects or a Contact for existing or former customers. Campaign Member records don’t have an Owner field in Salesforce, so it is not always obvious who should follow up.

Here are a couple of scenarios that illustrate not so obvious ways of following up with Leads responding to Campaigns:

  • A prospect who has been dormant for months is parked in a “nurture” queue without an Owner. One day, out of the blue, the prospect responds to a Campaign. When this happens, the Lead should be reassigned to a sales rep, possibly using Round Robin or Load Balancing, and the Lead status updated.
  • A product manager wants to assign members of his team to track selected high-value Campaign responses. Rather than arbitrarily assigning these responses, the product manager may want to assign each team member a set number of open Campaign responses to track.

Customers have unique needs and preferences. Campaign Member assignments show how these varied needs can add complexity that is difficult to implement and manage in Salesforce.

Part 3: Convert the Lead

When a Lead converts, Salesforce creates an Opportunity record as well as Account and Contact records, if they did not exist previously. The Opportunity may need to be assigned to multiple people such as a sales rep, sales engineer, and, for Account Based Selling assignments (ABS assignments), an overall account manager.

At this stage, a prospect tends to require expertise and support from someone in addition to a sales rep.

Part 4: Close the Opportunity

Depending on the company’s needs, when an Opportunity is closed, the now new customer may need to be reassigned to a customer success manager or renewals rep. A relationship with a customer doesn’t end after a purchase. The company stays in touch to ensure that a customer succeeds and for upselling opportunities.

For example, a branch manager may want her team to contact existing customers who showed interest in new products. She may want the existing Accounts’ relationship managers — not sales reps — to do the follow-up assignments. Without tools that complement Salesforce, these types of assignments will need to be done manually or with complex coding. Using a tool like Decisions on Demand the branch manager can easily assign follow-up to the relationship managers in charge of existing accounts.

Retaining customers is cheaper than finding new ones. Assigning new customers to appropriate marketing Campaigns can increase retention rates and create upsell and cross-sell Opportunities.

Just like in Part 2, customers may need new assignments post-sales to match the right Campaign for each customer’s profile and history.

Part 5: Reorganization and Growth

As a Lead moves through the buyer’s journey, Salesforce converts it to an Opportunity, Account, and Contact. An assignment must occur with each. And this can become a problem when larger or high growth companies reorganize coverage or add new sales reps and territories.

When a reorganization occurs, it requires massive Lead, Opportunity, Account and Contact re-assignments. out-of-the-box features for Lead assignment in Salesforce, this is a mostly manual, error-prone, time-consuming process.

For example, a company reorganizing sales coverage from geo-based territories to Account-Based Selling territories may no longer be able to rely on a Lead’s “State” field. Instead, it needs to match between a Lead “Company” field and an Account “Account Name” field. Yet, the name of the company on the Lead will not always match the name of the company in the Account.

Do you want to re-assign Leads based on a customer’s profile and history? Do you want to be able to create your own custom objects and assignment activities and ownership based on that custom object? Do you want Leads, Opportunities, Accounts, and Contacts assigned based on Account-Based Marketing and Sales territory coverage?

Find what you’re looking for with Decisions on Demand, an AppExchange App. It boosts Salesforce’s Lead assignment features by simplifying them into easy to understand decision tables, so a non-technical user can manage them, and by extending assignments beyond Leads to Campaign membership, Opportunities, Accounts, Contacts and custom Salesforce Objects.

Learn more about automating and creating flexible lead assignment rules or schedule a personalized demo at a time that works for you.

5 Signs Lead Assignment in Salesforce Is a Problem

Lead assignment rules in Salesforce act like a traffic controller: a lead comes in; Salesforce directs the lead where it needs to go. By default, leads from the web-to-lead form on a company’s website route to the default lead owner as defined on the lead settings page. This process works fine for a company with one sales rep.

With a slightly larger team, companies can also use the simple, built-in lead assignment rules in Salesforce or their marketing automation tool such as Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot, or Eloqua.  But companies with dozens of reps need a more advanced traffic controller that can handle lots of cars — in this case, leads — heading to one of many destinations, which are the sales reps.

If your team sees any of these five red flags, you can benefit from more sophisticated lead assignment rules.

Red Flag #1: Slow or No Follow-up on Leads

After they come in, leads must be followed up quickly. The faster the follow-up, the greater the chance the company will land new business. The Lead Response Management Study found that the best time to follow up on a lead is within five minutes. Using this study as the foundation, conducted their own study, which confirmed that the five-minute rule held true.

Unfortunately, the average lead follow-up time is a whopping 40 hours. That is an unacceptable 2,395 minutes too long.

Why does it take so long to follow up? Three reasons: a manual step exists somewhere in the lead assignment process, the lead goes to the wrong person, or the lead goes into a holding queue where it’s forgotten.

Let’s say Jane works for Company A and is the account manager for a Fortune 100 company. Leads from that Fortune 100 company funnel to her and the process works smoothly. One day, Jane is out of the office. New leads sit in her account waiting for her return and a response.

Companies work hard to land a single lead. It’s not okay for a lead to get lost, assigned to the wrong person, or assigned to someone who is not available. Meanwhile, a competitor who knows about the five-minute rule is doing everything possible to respond quickly.

Red Flag #2: Account-based Sales Leads Don’t Go to Account Manager

Simple lead assignment rules don’t have the ability to support Account-Based Sales (ABS), which rely on lead-to-account matching to ensure leads go to the right account manager.

Perhaps, a company wants some leads assigned based on territory and others go to the owner of a named account, which would require operations to assign leads based on the name of the account. A company could write a workflow rule for each Named Account with “contains” and “equals” conditions to send associated leads to the right person.

But this would turn into a massive job and be hard to manage for more than a couple of dozen accounts. Picture a traffic controller in the middle surrounded by 50 or more streets and hundreds of cars waiting for direction.

Salesforce provides a powerful duplicate matching engine that can identify existing accounts and contacts that match a lead. It does this based on configurable conditions like matching company name, address, name, or email. However, there is no simple way to incorporate the results of the duplicate matching into lead assignment.

Implementing lead assignment for ABS needs a way to combine lead-to-account matching with flexible assignment rules.

Red Flag #3: Sales Reps Get Too Many or Too Few Leads

Even if Jane is the right contact person, it is possible that she could become inundated with leads causing a traffic jam. Considering the importance of quickly following up on leads, it would be better if some of Jane’s leads go to the second-best contact person. The company does not want to leave anything to chance and risk losing a lead to a competitor who acts faster.

A solution to this common problem is to set a cap on the open leads Jane can have assigned to her. And redirect any overflow to a backup person or queue.

Alternatively, when a company has a team of reps with equivalent skillsets, a typical approach is to distribute leads to members of a group instead of one person. In distributing these leads, companies use strategies that range anywhere from basic Round Robin to Weighted Load Balancing.

Red Flag #4: Updating Assignment Rules Takes a Long Time

Mid- and large-sized companies often have hundreds of lead assignment rules. Some companies’ rules hit the thousands, especially those doing business internationally. Sales reps at these companies come and go all the time or their territories change. And that means more updates to lead assignment rules.

That’s not all. Products are constantly added, changed, or removed; territory alignments change and don’t rule out company acquisitions or mergers. If updates to lead assignment rules require Salesforce admin skills, or worse, APEX coding, they can easily take days or weeks to complete. In the meantime, leads will get assigned incorrectly, leading to lots of manual clean-up work.

Red Flag #5: Leads Often Need to Be Manually Reassigned

When a sales team encounters territory changes, employee turnover, product changes, or absent employees, it typically ends up manually re-assigning leads that are currently being worked. This isn’t too bad for a small team that rarely needs changes. For mid- to large-sized teams, manual updates can turn into a big job.

The person doing the update needs to figure out who should get the assignment. With many rules involved, it can easily lead to mistakes.

For example, at first glance, it may look like Rajiv is the right person to take ownership of a lead because he’s the rep assigned to the territory where the lead is located. Except, in this case, the lead is associated with a Named Account owned by Jane. It’s easy to overlook, especially when reassigning dozens or hundreds of leads.

Now consider what happens if Jane is on a two-week vacation. The person re-assigning the lead may not be aware she’s out. Or if the person knows about Jane’s absence, the person would need to manually reassign the lead to Ted, someone on her team who can handle her accounts when she’s out. A manual process could easily misplace or lose many of these valuable leads.

A better way is to update the assignment rules to reflect the new staffing and organizational structure. Then select any leads that need reassignment and run them through the new rules to ensure all factors are taken into account.

How to Overcome Common Lead Assignment Problems

Decisions on Demand is an AppExchange app, which extends Salesforce to solve these five common lead assignment problems. The app focuses entirely on managing the heavy traffic in a lead assignment process.

It adds key features like support for Account-Based Sales and distribution strategies like Round Robin or Load Balancing. Decisions on Demand takes Load Balancing and Round Robin a step further by incorporating weights, skill-matching, caps, and checks for absent reps.

Furthermore, you can either define your lead assignment rules in a simple table inside Salesforce or use Excel import/export to update large rulesets.

Salesforce doesn’t come with tools to test lead assignment rules. Rather than hope the hundreds or thousands of rules work, you can test them in Salesforce with Decisions on Demand. This turns lead assignment into an automated process that drastically reduces errors while ensuring leads route to the right person at the right time for the quickest follow-up.

Learn more about flexible lead assignment rules, or schedule a personalized demo at a time that works for you.

Yes, There Is a Better Way to Assign Leads in Salesforce

How quickly do your sales reps respond to new web leads?

In 2007, the Lead Response Management Study by Dr. James Oldroyd reported that the recommended time for following up on a lead is five minutes. Nine years later, published Best Practices for Lead Response Management based on Oldroyd’s study. The five-minute rule still holds true. However, the average sales rep takes much longer than the recommended time to respond to leads.

Clearly, it is critical to respond quickly to web inquiries. According to a study from, 78% of sales go to the company that responds to an inquiry first. And yet, the average time a company takes to respond to a lead is 40 hours. This gap offers a chance to get ahead of the competition by ensuring your lead assignment process is automated, fast, and accurate.

There is no one right way to assign leads. The best approach depends on a company’s product and customer types. To complicate the process, speed is not the only criterion for lead assignment. It’s also important to consider factors like territory alignment, existing relationships with a customer account, skills and availability of the assigned rep, and fairness in lead distribution.

Sending Leads to the Right Rep in Salesforce

Salesforce includes built-in Lead Assignment rules that are useful for small sales teams to get started. But the rules have limitations. They are not enough to support your organization as it grows and the rules become more complex. This image shows an example of basic Salesforce lead assignment rules.

Mid- to large-sized companies need many more rules, and entering those rules becomes a time-consuming process. In fact, just managing a few dozen rules is painful.

For example, you might use criteria like these to funnel leads to your sales reps:

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Company size or revenue
  • Product interest
  • Lead quality

Anne, an awesome rep, handles leads from companies in the healthcare industry that have revenues of $100 million or more and are located in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.

Implementing that rule would involve entering multiple criteria, including a list of ZIP codes or county names. The image below shows an example of more complex lead assignment rules using revenue, industry, and location as the criteria. It’s quite typical for a mid-size company to create hundreds, sometimes thousands of rules. This is especially true with fine-grained territory assignments based on ZIP or area codes, or for companies doing business internationally.

Entering complex rules with point-and-click is cumbersome and prone to errors. To make matters worse, there is no easy way to test the rules to see if they work correctly before activating them. The people who define the rules — typically, someone in sales operations or the VP of sales — may not have the tech skills and access to validate them. This results in miscommunication and more overhead.

If reps receive the wrong leads or leads remain unassigned, there’s no way to figure out what happened. The system doesn’t keep logs for assignments or an audit trail for rule changes. It would be valuable to have a monitoring and reporting tool to stay on top of what’s happening, identify any stray leads, and take action so leads aren’t stranded.

Balancing the Load

Remember the five-minute rule? Anne may be the best rep for XYZ criteria, but it doesn’t help the company if she’s bombarded with too many leads and can’t quickly follow up on them. Even if she has a balanced number of leads, what happens if she is at a meeting or out of the office when a lead comes in? The clock is ticking, and the lead is sitting in Anne’s queue.

That’s where Round Robin and Load Balancing can help. Instead of assigning leads to individual reps, they can be distributed to members of a group. Distribution strategies can vary from a basic Round Robin to Weighted Load Balancing. They can be combined with assignment caps, checks for absent users, or skills-matching.

Complexity Increases as the Number of Sales Reps Grows

A company with dozens of reps has people coming and going often enough that the lead assignment rules will need frequent updates. On top of that, territories periodically change or get re-aligned.

Assigning the right person to a lead also depends on the current products and business lines that are offered. New ones get added, and old ones are removed. These changes occur on a regular basis in large companies. Acquisitions happen less often — but when they do, they will affect the lead assignment process.

Another factor to consider is a team-selling setup in an internal sales organization. You may also have partners, such as resellers and solution providers, added to the mix. In this case, you may assign to both an internal rep and a partner, or you can choose just one of them.

How to Turn Complex Lead Assignment Rules into an Easy-to-Manage Process

In summary, you want a lead assignment program that achieves the following goals:

  • Qualify the lead to determine which sales rep or team is the right one.
  • Verify the sales rep is available.
  • Ensure that each rep has a fair number of assignments.
  • Confirm that someone follows up with the leads quickly.
  • Make changes to the rules easy, fast, and reliable.
  • Monitor lead assignments with reporting and logs.

The assignment rules in Salesforce are not designed to manage this process, and Salesforce does not offer Round Robin or Load Balancing capabilities. Fortunately, the AppExchange has an app like Decisions on Demand to give you powerful tools to address these challenges. You can define your lead assignment rules in a simple table inside Salesforce as shown in this image.

After setting up the rules, you can test them with a built-in Test Console. The unique Excel import/export capability makes it easy to update large rulesets containing thousands of rules. It includes useful distribution options like Round Robin and Load Balancing with weights, caps, and skills-matching.

Decisions on Demand for Salesforce boosts close rates, cuts overhead, and reduces errors. With this AppExchange app, your team can turn lead assignment into a completely automated process.

Learn more about flexible lead assignment rules, or schedule a personalized demo at a time that works for you.