The beginning of the year is an ideal time to have a reset on your Marketing Cloud contact strategy. That way, you can get your Marketing Cloud contacts in order, have an org cleanup, and create a future-proof strategy that will ensure those contacts within your org are serving a purpose (and you stay within your Marketing Cloud contact limit).

So where do you begin when it comes to developing a Marketing Cloud contact strategy? 

A Marketing Cloud contact is an individual added to any contact database within your Marketing Cloud instance. So, your Marketing Cloud contact strategy is the process you’ll create to make the most of your marketing efforts by focusing on promising contacts and letting go of contacts that aren’t helping your team reach its goals.

Step 1. Find out how many Marketing Cloud contacts you have purchased.

Every Marketing Cloud contract will have a contact limit. You can expect communication from your Salesforce Account Executive if you breach this limit, which can result in you needing to pay for more contacts. So it’s important to know what you’re working with. 

Refer to your Marketing Cloud contract to find how many contacts your license includes, or reach out to your Salesforce Account Executive to find out. 

Step 2. Find out how many contacts you currently have in Marketing Cloud.

Once you know the number of contacts you have purchased, you’ll want to find out how many contacts you currently have in Marketing Cloud. This will help you identify if a review or a cleanup is needed. 

Follow these steps to find out how many contacts you have in Marketing Cloud:

Go to Contact Builder > ‘All Contacts’ tab

From there, click ‘All Contacts’ for the total number to show up.

Alternatively, you can run a report that will show you how many contacts you have from each audience, such as Sales and Service Cloud leads, and contacts, per channel.

Keep your Marketing Cloud contact numbers handy

At this point you should have two numbers:

The number of contacts you are contracted to

The number of contacts currently in Marketing Cloud 

Review your Marketing Cloud contacts

The next step is to review your contacts. Think about:

What they are doing

Who they are

If they should even be in Marketing Cloud (after all each contact comes at a cost)

From there, decide which ones you can remove from your org. 

Ask Yourself: Do all your contacts provide value to your business?

If you’re not sure how to make that decision, then check out this blog post where Sarah Smith explores the reasons why deleting your marketing contacts regularly is a good thing when you delete the right ones.

Step 3. Review Marketing Cloud contacts and complete your cleanup tasks.

A key part of a good contact strategy is ensuring you only have the contacts that are needed in Marketing Cloud. As part of your contact strategy, it’s important to evaluate your current contacts and perhaps have a clean-out. 

Check for Duplicate Records

One of the biggest reasons Marketing Cloud users go over their contacts limit is due to duplicate records. 

First, identify how many duplicates you have using SQL queries in Automation Studio

Identify how many duplicate records you have by following the instructions in this trailhead: Evaluate Your Contacts Unit 

Delete your duplicates – follow this Salesforce help article: Contact Delete Best Practices in Contact Builder

Bonus Duplicate Contact Tips

Identify the source of the duplicates: 

Do you import contacts directly into Marketing Cloud?

This can sometimes cause an issue, particularly if you are also syncing records from Salesforce

You’ll end up with the “Salesforce version synced down” + the Marketing Cloud version you imported!  

Review your Salesforce lead-sync approach

Syncing both leads and contacts can often cause duplicates in Marketing Cloud when a lead is converted into a contact, particularly if you’re using Salesforce Record ID as the unique identifier

Your lead record will have a lead ID and this lead will sync with a Marketing Cloud contact but when you convert that lead it will have a different ID, a contact ID thus creating a duplicate record in Marketing Cloud 

It is however best practice to use the Salesforce ID as  the unique identifier rather than email 

Review your Salesforce records 

Are there duplicates here? If so then this could be causing duplicates in Marketing Cloud as well 

Do you import records into Salesforce (manually or via a third party)? 

This could cause duplicate records in Salesforce and therefore Marketing Cloud

Review contacts that do not have an assigned channel address

Assigned channels are things like email, mobile, ad studio, and any channel within Marketing Cloud that uses your contacts to target. If you have contacts that do not have a channel address, then these are likely to be a good candidate for removal. These types of contacts often get into Marketing Cloud because of the Marketing Cloud Connector [Keep reading to implement a solution that minimizes the “wrong” records being synced into Marketing Cloud from Salesforce!]

Identify if your contacts do not have an “assigned channel.” Why? If they don’t have an assigned channel then you haven’t “used them” in your marketing campaigns:

In Marketing Cloud, navigate to Automation Studio.

Click the Activities tab, then click Create Activity.

Select Data Extract and click Next.

Add a name, external key value, and a file naming pattern. The file naming pattern value doesn’t actually affect anything, because all results go into a Contacts Without Channels data extension in the root folder of the account.

Remove contacts that are not right for your business

If you have been letting everyone into your Marketing Cloud org, then chances are some folks just shouldn’t be there (for example, competitors or spam submissions). As part of your contact strategy, it’s important to define the purpose of Marketing Cloud for your business. If it’s only to engage with leads and customers, then you could remove staff, partner, and competitor contacts.

Use SQL and Automation Studio to identify any contacts that do not meet your criteria (for example, if they do not have a “client” or “lead status” or if they have your business email address). Add these contacts into a non-sendable data extension and then delete them. 

Step 4. Implement the right processes to keep a clean Marketing Cloud contact database moving forward.

Below are some suggestions to help when creating your Marketing Cloud contact strategy so it’s an easy lift for your team and you avoid over-limit surprises.

Think about the ways Marketing Cloud fits into your overall business goals

Start with the right foundation. Evaluate the ways your marketing and business goals align with your team’s use of Marketing Cloud.

Who are your audience personas? And who are you connecting with through Marketing Cloud? Your list may include:




Putting this on paper may help you prioritize your contact usage and determine the ‘nice to haves’ versus the ‘need to haves.’

Determine how you’ll segment your Marketing Cloud contacts

From there, create segments for each group of contacts:

Those who are highly engaged and likely to purchase

Those who may need a little more encouragement 

Those at the start of their journey who need a lot more nurturing 

You can follow Cara Weese’s blog post Audience Segmentation Strategies for Salesforce Marketers for guidance on segmenting your contacts in Marketing Cloud.

Once you have your segments, create a Content Strategy for each. Then, you can develop messaging strategies for each of your audience segments.

Control how Marketing Cloud syncs contacts with Salesforce

This one is for Marketing Cloud Connect users. If you use Marketing Cloud Connect with Salesforce, create a ‘Sync to Marketing Cloud’ field in Salesforce.

Develop a list of criteria for who should be in Marketing Cloud. For example, everyone should at least have an email address or mobile number, and everyone should be mailable and be opted into emails and/or texts.

Use a Salesforce flow to check the Sync to Marketing Cloud field

Select the field in Marketing Cloud as the sync criteria. 

You can also use a single unique identifier, such as Salesforce ID, to match Marketing Cloud records to Salesforce records. 

Other contact strategy tips

Create contact count reports and build a process to ensure your team is monitoring them regularly. This can be as simple as setting a monthly calendar reminder to check the contact report.

Build a process in Automation Studio via a script to remove contacts. This avoids manual deletion in the future.

Final tips from our Marketing Cloud Developers at Sercante 

Zach Norman, Marketing Cloud Developer of 12 years: If you have Marketing Cloud Connect enabled and you implement a “sync to Marketing Cloud” field, any contacts that you delete that do turn out to be needed in Marketing Cloud will sync back down should they meet your criteria.Note: Engagement data will be lost for the contact once you delete it though 

Chris Putnam, Marketing Cloud Developer of 6  years: Before deleting unwanted contacts, copy them to a non-sendable data extension. This will serve as an archive of your deleted contacts. Capturing the date of deletion as well as the date the contact joined Marketing Cloud would be two useful data points to include.

Future-Proof Your Marketing Cloud Contact Strategy 

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating a Contact Strategy, it needs to be specific to your business and your goals. However, there are steps you can follow to create a future-proof plan that will ensure all your contacts serve a purpose in Marketing Cloud:

Know your limits.

Keep your data clean.

Implement automation to manage your contacts.

Review and reiterate continuously — your plan needs to grow as your business does!

Need help with creating a contact strategy for your marketing automation platform? Get in touch with the team at Sercante to get the ball rolling.

Original article: 4 Steps to Create a Marketing Cloud Contact Strategy

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