Mailchimp for Salesforce: To sync or not to sync?

Often as Database Sherpa clients begin their trek with us, they’re curious about integrations. It seems like a no-brainer: integrations are like a ready-made bridge between two points, with no hassle of custom coding and a seamless journey between the data on one side and the tools on the other. When your nonprofit wants to put its data to good use, where could this integration be more essential than with email marketing? Perhaps this is why one of the most common questions we get about integrating is in the bridge between Mailchimp and Salesforce.

The beauty of going on these treks together is learning that a bridge for one organization can be a burden for another. How do you know if an integration that seems like a quick fix now is going to cause headaches later on? Let’s take a closer look at Mailchimp for Salesforce (MC4SF). Here’s a conversation that Gabriel had with Ashima recently about whether or not to recommend Mailchimp integration to a client:


Breaking Down the Path of Integration

The Whys, Why Nots, and Examples for Doing it Wisely

Mailchimp integration with Salesforce - image of mailbox on mountain

Gabriel: I have a client using Mailchimp to send newsletters, as well as to send personal communications from their president. For instance, he will be in a certain area and wants to see if any constituents in that area want to set up a meeting. They want the data in Mailchimp to be connected to the data in Salesforce, so that they can see a person’s donation history and their communication history all in the same place. I’m trying to understand if Mailchimp for Salesforce integration is a good idea for them. What would you recommend in this situation?

Ashima: I usually recommend against pushing data from Mailchimp into Salesforce. The way we have it set up in our instance at Database Sherpa is that we don’t send any data back to Salesforce from Mailchimp. We only push data from Salesforce to Mailchimp, so that nothing is lost in our main database.

We also did it this way because we didn’t want everyone who signs up for the newsletter to be entered into the database as leads. We want our database to reflect the contacts we’re actively engaged with or cultivating as clients, in the same way a nonprofit would want to focus on their audience of donors, volunteers, program participants, and so on.

More technically, if you pass the data from Mailchimp into Salesforce, you could get some tricky duplicates. For example, if somebody changes their email address, you would end up with two contacts. In that scenario, the nonprofit would have to actively maintain both sides of the integration to prevent duplication of data. In other words, the amount of manual attention involved in the long far outweighs the initial “ease” of using the off-the-shelf integration.

Gabriel: What if this client has a web sign-up form where people subscribe to their newsletter, and they really want to know if the people signing up for the newsletter are the same people as their contacts in Salesforce? In other words, so they can see all that info together. It seems like to do that, they would have to push data the other way as well, from Mailchimp to Salesforce, right?

Ashima: Yes they would, but it gets complicated. If they want to push data from Mailchimp to Salesforce, they should create all the new records as leads. And they will need to export the existing Mailchimp data first, compare it to the Salesforce data, and make sure email addresses match on any matching Contacts.

Gabriel: So once they’ve set up Mailchimp to create those new records as leads, how will they prevent duplicates?

Ashima: What do you think?

Gabriel: Well, right now this nonprofit is only collecting emails in their web form, so they could end up with a lot of leads created by Mailchimp that are actually duplicates with existing Contacts in Salesforce, but they have no way to know. It seems like they would have to collect at least the first and last name in order to be able to match that with the data in Salesforce.

Ashima: Yes, I would say they need to collect first and last name at a minimum.

Gabriel: And even then, they would still have to use some de-duping tool to find duplicates and merge them, and they would have to do that regularly. That could take a lot of time, and that kind of time can be challenging to find in a small nonprofit, especially if it’s a solo database administrator who wears many hats!

Ashima: Absolutely, which is exactly why I always recommend extra thoughtfulness with Salesforce integrations. Especially in the case of email subscriptions, it’s worth taking a step back and asking the bigger questions: why would the organization want only email addresses inside their CRM database to begin with? This is a great example of where it’s OK to play the strengths of the different tools and connect them in a way that matches what the overall goal is. When we talk about integrations, we can get so focused on what the tool can do that we miss out on a simpler path of what we actually need our tools to do.

In this case, if you already know the person and want them as a contact, great! Have Salesforce convey that to Mailchimp like I described above. But what’s the value of pushing data the other way — that is, having Mailchimp feed you a lone email address and storing it in your CRM, when you have no other way to qualify whether this is just a passive subscriber or a bonafide lead? At the point that passive subscriber becomes a lead/constituent (for instance, a newsletter reader makes their first donation), this nonprofit would already have other “triggers” in place to make sure that person gets in the database — and those triggers are far more meaningful, measurable, and well-managed at that point, in the flow of their Salesforce instance.

Still want to push data from Mailchimp to Salesforce?

Proceed thoughtfully, and at a minimum:

  1. Collect at least First and Last name in Mailchimp, and preferably other data that can be used to match with the data in Salesforce. Remember: the integration is only the bridge—it’s up to you to be sure the parts recognize each other on each side of that bridge!

  2. Be able to commit to regular data cleanup at least monthly and possibly more often, depending on the volume of Mailchimp signups. Be especially mindful of events or campaigns that trigger an uptick in sign-ups. In those cases, you may want to alert any marketing staff or volunteers about the need for extra administrative time involved in sign-ups and ask them to share those event or campaign schedules with you well in advance. This can help in planning for (and protecting) the extra administrative time involved. It also means that someone on the team needs to be knowledgeable about and comfortable with data cleanup, and has the time to do it!

  3. As always, document, document, document. If you’re the only person who knows about this integration, that means future database admins, team members, or volunteers may simply not know that regular data cleanup is needed. Be sure to write out the process you use for managing this integration and put in an easily accessible, shared location. You may always want to automatically schedule data cleanup days on a shared calendar (with a note on where to find your process documentation), so that this important part of the journey is not lost.

Here are some specific steps for setting up the connection. These assume that the Mailchimp lists have been in use for a while and that you are connecting to a new instance of Salesforce:

  • Import non-Mailchimp data into Salesforce (at least Contacts and Leads).

  • Export Mailchimp data, including flag for “Bounced.”

  • A data tool like Apsona to help you find the IDs of Contacts with fields other than email.

  • With email addresses that are different between Mailchimp and Salesforce:

    • If the Mailchimp email is not bounced, update the Salesforce email.

    • If the Mailchimp email is bounced, update the Mailchimp email.

  • Turn on MC4SF connector, syncing from Mailchimp to Salesforce (this is part of installing MC4SF). Set it to create Leads if it does not find a match, using a separate Mailchimp lead record type.

Want more support? Ready to start a trek designed for your nonprofit?

We can help! We offer full-service treks, one-time support through our Outpost program, personalized training, and more. Get in touch with a Sherpa to talk about the bridges your nonprofit is building.