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Salesforce Tutorial

How to Use Salesforce CRM

By David Harrington · March 21, 2019
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When it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) software, Salesforce is one of the most powerful and flexible platforms on the market. Businesses can manage their entire sales cycle in Salesforce, track leads and contacts, generate in-depth reports about customer segments, and much more.

But it's easy for those new to Salesforce to become quickly overwhelmed by the amount of functionality and customization that Salesforce offers to users. That's why we're here to walk you through the basics of Salesforce CRM, how to get up and running with the platform, as well as tackling more advanced functions like sales cycle management and report creation.

Salesforce pricing: From $30/user/month, but pricing varies depending on your needs.

Connect Salesforce with 1,000+ other apps with Zapier's Salesforce integrations.

Glossary of Salesforce Terms

Before diving into how Salesforce works, it's important to understand some basic terminology specific to the platform:

  • Object: The Salesforce CRM centers around objects. Typical objects in Salesforce are things like leads, accounts, contacts, and opportunities. Each object has its own specific set of traits, fields, and relationships to other objects. Leads, for example, might contain fields for information like email address, phone number, and lead source. In Salesforce, default objects can be customized to your specifications, and you can even create new objects from scratch via the administrator console.

  • Lead: In Salesforce, leads are typically the first object in the sales cycle. Leads can appear in the system in many ways, from a prospect filling out a form online to a sales representative entering the data manually. Leads are often routed to specific sales representatives based on the data available.

  • Account: An account in Salesforce is the object associated with a specific company. When clicking into an account, you'll see information like name, address, and phone number of the company, contacts associated with that account, and a history of sales opportunities (both won and lost).

  • Contact: Once a lead has been qualified, it's normally turned into a contact associated with an account. For example, the sales rep may contact a lead, get further information about who they are and what company they work for, and then convert the lead into contact status within an existing account (or create a new account if necessary). Contacts are the core object for doing things like documenting contact with individuals, setting up sales calls/appointments, and entering detailed information about prospects.

  • Opportunity: Once a prospect has been qualified and is ready to be sold to, an opportunity can then be created in Salesforce. An opportunity will contain basic information about the sale, such as the account being sold to, key contacts within the account, and potential dollar value of the final sale. Opportunities move in customizable stages, such as qualification, analysis, quote, or deal won/lost.

  • Task: When moving leads or opportunities through the sales cycle, you and your sales reps will need to schedule tasks in Salesforce to keep things on track. Tasks are typically associated with leads or contacts (e.g., Send Follow-up Email to John Smith on 2/18/2020, for example). Salesforce comes fully equipped with a calendar and task feed, so that users can easily see what actions they need to take that day and plan for what's due in the future.

Setup and Navigation

Start at the Salesforce login page, where you'll either sign up for an account or enter your existing login credentials. Once you've logged in, you'll be brought directly to the Home tab.

You can navigate to common objects like leads, accounts, and opportunities on the top menu bar. And for many businesses, the Salesforce out-of-the-box configuration is sufficient to start using the platform.

Salesforce Home tab

Before you dive in, you'll want to enter or import any existing information you have about your customers and prospects. To import a list of contacts, click into the Contacts tab and then click Import. You'll be taken automatically to Salesforce's data import wizard that will guide you through the process step-by-step. You can even drag and drop your CSV file directly into Salesforce at the appropriate step.

Next, navigate to the Setup screen to customize objects and/or set up roles, profiles, and user permissions.

Click on setup

Typically these tasks can only be done by the Salesforce Administrator, the user who is in charge of setting up and maintaining the platform. Once you access Setup, you'll be able to customize multiple aspects of Salesforce, listed in the left sidebar.

Setup screen

For example, you may want to create a Sales Manager profile that has access to certain reports that a user with a Sales Representative profile normally wouldn't. Or you might want to add a field on every Account screen for the specific industry the company is in. The amount of customization is virtually limitless in Salesforce, and the more time you dedicate to learning and navigating the Setup screen, the more you'll be able to tailor the system to your specific business needs and processes.

How to Manage a Sales Pipeline in Salesforce

To illustrate how you'll likely be using Salesforce on a day-to-day basis, we'll walk you through how to manage a typical sales cycle in the platform.

Let's say you receive an email from someone who might be interested in purchasing your product or service. Click the dropdown arrow next to the Leads tab and select + New Lead, or click on New from the Leads screen itself.

Create new lead

You'll then be prompted to enter all the information relevant to the new lead, such as name, job title, company, and phone/email.

New lead fields

Depending on the apps you use to generate leads, you can automate this process. For example, if someone fills out a request for a demo on your website, a lead can automatically be created in Salesforce as soon as they hit Submit. Zapier connects Salesforce to 1,000+ other apps—browse all of Zapier's Salesforce integrations to learn more.

Once a lead is created, you can then move it along through various stages as you gather more information about the prospect, gauge their interest, and eventually convert them into a contact associated with an account and a sales opportunity. Click the dropdown in the top right of the lead's page and select Convert.

Convert lead

From there, you can select what object you'd like to convert it to.

Selecting object to convert your lead to

You can also view leads and opportunities in a kanban view, which allows you to drag and drop them into the next stage in your pipeline. While in the Leads tab, click Display as to toggle between table and kanban views.

Kanban view

Once an opportunity has been created, you'll be able to manage just about every aspect of the sales cycle from the Opportunity screen. This includes creating quotes, setting follow-up tasks/meetings, and logging calls/emails with the prospect.

Opportunity tab

If and when the sale becomes finalized, you'll move the opportunity to Closed Won status. If the prospect ends up not purchasing in the end, you'll edit the status to Closed Lost and annotate the reason why for future tracking purposes (e.g., Pricing or Lost to Competitor).

Changing status of opportunity

Dashboards and Reports in Salesforce

One of the most useful aspects of Salesforce is the ability to generate detailed custom reports based on customer and sales data in the platform. This could be anything from opportunity value by sales rep to highest sales revenue accounts to current sales pipeline value.

To create a new report, click on the Reports tab, and then click New Report.

Create new report

Then select what type of report you'd like to generate. Once you've created the report, you can apply a variety of filters and criteria in the report creation screen. In this case, we've created a report showing all active opportunities with a greater than 70 percent probability of closure.

Eeport showing all active opportunities with a greater than 70 percent probability of closure

Click Run in the upper right-hand corner to generate the report listing.

Reports listing

Salesforce comes with about 50 standard reports that new users can begin working with immediately. Click New Report from the Report screen, and you'll be presented with a list of pre-defined reports on the Select Report popover.

Any report can be used to create a dashboard item, which is a real-time visual representation of key metrics that will appear on your home screen. To create a new dashboard element, navigate to the Dashboards tab and click New. Then select the report you'd like to create a dashboard item for.

Create new dashboard item

Then select how you'd like the data to be presented visually on your dashboard.

Visual representation on dashboard

Once you've created the dashboard item, select Done or + Component to add another report. Now, when you navigate back to Dashboards, you'll have a new item that will update and change automatically as information in Salesforce changes.

Dashboard view with a visualization

We've only scratched the surface of what the Salesforce platform is capable of. But what we've done here is provide you with enough information, insight, and know-how to get started using Salesforce, as well as the confidence to explore more detailed areas like object customization and report creation.

Salesforce can be a powerful tool when it comes to tracking prospects, expediting the sales cycle, and generating advanced insights into how your business is performing. The more time and energy you invest in learning the ins and outs of the platform, the more Salesforce can do for you.

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David Harrington picture

David Harrington

David Harrington ( is a writer focusing on emerging technological, economic, and cultural trends that are impacting the way people and businesses work and live. He enjoys travel, sports, food, or any combination of the three.

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