Why Lead-to-Account Matching is Essential for Account Based Marketing

The fundamental idea behind ABM is that it’s time for marketing to evolve from a Lead-centric mindset to an Account-centric one.  It just makes sense: sales reps and account managers are focused on Accounts, so why wouldn’t marketing?

Part of the challenge is the fact that Leads – which are historically owned by marketing – do not roll up to Accounts (at least in Salesforce.com).  This divide is also reflected in the current marketing automation systems.

5 Challenges Companies Face When Leads Are Not Tied to Accounts

This may sound like an esoteric fact that only sales and marketing operations managers should care about, but in fact it ends up causing all sorts of problems for everyone in the revenue process and presents a key barrier to successful Account Based Marketing. It means you could have thousands of people in your database who work at your target accounts and customers, but have no way of tying them to the right company. You could be generating dozens of leads a week at target accounts, but the account owner might not even be aware of them! It is especially a problem with new leads, including website visitors and other marketing programs.

Lead to Account Chasm

Here are some of the specific challenges companies face since Leads don’t tie to Accounts.

1. Leads Get Routed to the Wrong Owner

When you route Leads by territory (geography, company size, etc.), they often end up going to the wrong owner. Perhaps the Lead comes in with a Texas mailing address, but she works for a company with headquarters in New York. You probably want to route her to the New York sales rep, who may or may not already be working a deal at HQ, but without the ability to tie the Lead to the Account, the default would be to route her to the Texas sales rep.

This causes all sorts of organizational chaos, including:

  • A key decision maker at a target account sees a demo of the product, but the account owner isn’t notified.
  • SDRs mistakenly follow up on Leads from named accounts with active opportunities.
  • Customers get inappropriate offers, prompting them to ask for discounts.
  • Multiple reps call into the same company.

These problems occur especially if you use any sort of round-robin / sprinkler system for routing incoming Leads. If five Leads come in from the same company, why would it ever make sense to sprinkler them out to five different SDRs?

2. Leads Don’t Get Scored or Nurtured Properly

When a new Lead comes in, a marketer would ideally have information about the Lead’s company in order to score and nurture it properly: is this a customer or prospect? How large is their company? What industry are they in?  And so on.  But typically this information is not captured as part of the Lead (because doing so would result in long, poorly converting forms).

One strategy to get the firmographic data is enrichment using tools such as Datanyze or ReachForce. This can work, but it is expensive – and even then it can’t tell you the status of the Account (e.g. customer, target account, open opportunity, etc.).

3. Sales Productivity Decreases

When an SDR or rep gets a new lead, they’ll often spend a chunk of time checking it out before calling.  Is it a duplicate? Should it be part of an existing account? Is there an existing opportunity? Is this a customer? And so on. All this research takes time, which hurts productivity and slows down the follow-up on hot leads.

4. Customers Have Bad Experiences

When SDRs and account reps call into a customer without knowing they are a customer, it creates a bad experience for the customer (and the hapless sales rep).

5. Activity and Engagement Can’t Be Measured

When Leads are disconnected from Accounts, there’s no way to roll-up their activity to get a true sense of overall account-level engagement, or to measure which campaigns do the best job of reaching and influencing target accounts.  It’s also impossible to give Pipeline or Revenue credit to the campaigns that touch those Leads. The result: companies end up investing significant time and energy in manual efforts to report at the account level.

Enter Lead to Account Matching

This is where Lead to Account (L2A) matching comes in. The definition of Lead to Account matching is:

Taking each Lead and identifying which Account he or she should be part of, and then using that data for analytics, routing, scoring, and so on.

You can do this manually; automate using a simple match on email domain and website (domain-based matching); or automate it with technology that uses more sophisticated methods to match on multiple dimensions.

Manual efforts are obviously time-consuming and slow-down your lead processes. Although domain-based matching is a reasonable way to start, over time companies begin to realize various limitations, including:

  • Leads with personal email addresses don’t get matched (e.g. gmail.com).
  • Complex enterprise domains get missed (e.g. email address says yahoo-inc.com but the company domain is yahoo).
  • Matching for complex enterprises doesn’t work – the email is ge.com, but which division of GE (they have at least 15)?
  • If you have duplicate accounts (which happens all too often), it’s unclear which version of the account to use for lead matching.

Fuzzy Logic Matching

That’s why at Engagio, we use “fuzzy logic” match on Company name, email domain, and any other fields that may contain company information (e.g. inferred company from IP address). Fuzzy logic means that hp.com, HP, and us.hp.com all match to the right company: Hewlett Packard.

We also look at geographic information to match to a specific division where necessary (e.g. email is ge.com but the address is in Atlanta, GA? Match to GE Power). Finally, we also have logic in place for how to handle duplicate accounts.

Writing Match Data to Salesforce

Once you’ve made a match, you can make the connection for the purposes of ABM analytics while keeping the record as a Lead (which maintains all your existing lead processes), or you can explicitly convert it to a Contact on the Account. If you do keep it as a Lead, you’ll want to write data about the Account to the Lead, such as Account Owner, Account Status, and key firmographic information.

Convert lead to contact

append account data to lead

Typically, you’ll use different strategies for different kinds of Accounts. At Engagio, we covert Leads to Contacts for Accounts with open opportunities and for Customers, and leave people as Leads for prospect Accounts (though for those Leads, we route them to the proper account owner, and use account-level firmographic information in our lead nurturing and scoring). Ideally, you can manage the rules for how to treat Leads from different kinds of Accounts yourself.

Here’s what it looks like in Salesforce.com:

An Account, with the ability to see matched Leads as well as Contacts:

Account with Leads

A Lead, with Account-data appended to the record:

Append Accounts to Leads

Benefits of Lead-to-Account Matching

With L2A, you get:

  • Better customer experience – no inappropriate prospecting calls, easier to find cross-sell and up-sell opportunities
  • Better prospect experience – avoid multiple reps calling into the same account
  • Higher SDR and sales rep productivity – no time wasted on manual look-ups
  • Improved account analytics – roll-up engagement for individual people on the account
  • Better lead management – route, nurture, and score leads appropriately for their account


I’m convinced that Lead to Account matching is a fundamental requirement for Account Based Marketing, which is why I focused Engagio on delivering a best-in-class solution for it.

What do you think? How does your organization handle Lead to Account Matching?

Jon Miller
Jon Miller
Jon Miller is CEO and founder of Engagio. Previously, Jon was the VP Marketing and Co-Founder of Marketo. He is a speaker and writer about marketing best practices, and is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. Jon has a passion for helping marketers everywhere, and is on the Board of Scripted and is an advisor to Optimizely and Newscred. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

6 Responses to “Why Lead-to-Account Matching is Essential for Account Based Marketing”

February 23, 2016 at 6:59 pm, Arnav Bhatkar said:

Hi Jon,

This post is spot on when it comes to leads vs. Accts/Opp/Contacts. Atleast in SFDC, these are two different universe that do not overlap, granted with some tools/technologies, it’s possible. Back in 2009, I was on a lookout for a solution like engagio when ABM was unheard of, used to call it TAP (Target Account Program), in relation to tapping into key accounts. Very happy that I was not crazy to bring it up.


February 25, 2016 at 3:45 pm, Jon Miller said:

Thanks @Arnav! How did you solve TAP back in the day?


March 01, 2016 at 6:24 pm, Brian Hansford said:

Great article Jon. Is there a method you can apply for large enterprise accounts with confederated business divisions. I’ll use Microsoft as an example. Tons of business units and each typically could care less about the other. Companies that sell to Microsoft can have account teams with a focus on different divisions. For new Leads, is there a method you could bring in for this model. Just curious.


November 21, 2016 at 5:48 am, Michael said:

Great article Jon,
Ive always been an advocate for an organisation having the “sales equity”. Meaning that the IP or the strength of relationship should be with the organisation and not with an individual sales person. I think ABM goes a long way to achieving that. It consolidates the whole sale process and communication.


July 11, 2017 at 12:37 pm, Robert Jelenic said:

I wonder why organizations implementing ABM don’t just abolish the entire concept of a “Lead”. It’s intrinsically confusing (as a person can be either a Lead or a Contact in SFDC), and the “conversion” point is arbitrary.

Some other things we’ve experienced are the leftover problem that you have to match incoming Contacts to the right Accounts and you have to choose which Account in the case of ambiguity (eg. Hewlett Packard (parent) and Hewlett Packard (services)). I always recommend associating to the top parent and reshuffling from there.


July 11, 2017 at 4:26 pm, Jon Miller said:

Thanks for the comment, Robert. I’ve found that some organizations still want to use leads since it simplifies some workflows (e.g. SDRs work on the leads tab). But with Lead to Account Matching, it just doesn’t matter — as long as you can see everyone regardless of whether they are leads or contacts.

Resolving ambiguity between accounts is a big deal, something we’ve invested alot into. You need to look at geography, which accounts have open opportunities, and many other factors. This is part of the science of getting L2A right.


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