Contacts in Salesforce Marketing Cloud Contact Builder

Contacts in Salesforce Marketing Cloud Contact Builder

What are “contacts” in Salesforce Marketing Cloud Contact Builder?

A “contact” is a data record that contains contact information (like an email address or phone number) and to which other relevant data may be related (like personal details, demographic information, behavioral data). A contact ideally refers to a single person, although there may be situations where you end up with several contacts representing the same person. For instance, you may know a person by two email addresses for which two contacts exist. 

However, one of the advantages of Contact Builder is that it can help you build a single view of your customer. So ideally, your contacts represent one person. You may need to connect different pieces of contact information (like an email address or phone number) to the same contact in Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Because of this, it is a best practice to use a unique identifier, defined by a system or potentially by the business, as the Contact Key.

How to identify contacts in Contact Builder?

You can identify each contact in Salesforce Marketing Cloud Contact Builder with a unique Contact Key and Contact ID. The Contact Key and Contact ID are two sides of the same coin: You can define the Contact Key while Salesforce Marketing Cloud automatically generates the Contact ID.

Using Contact Keys

A contact is managed across different channels (like email or SMS) using a single Contact Key. Let’s say you have a contact in Email Studio that you identify using her email address, and in Mobile Studio, you use her mobile phone number. Without the Contact Key, it would be difficult for Salesforce Marketing Cloud to relate these two pieces of contact information. The Contact Key identifies a contact within a Salesforce Marketing Cloud account across business units. It ties different pieces of contact information across your interaction channels with that contact. 

Ensure you are consistent across all channels when assigning a Contact Key to a contact. Ideally, a given contact has the same Contact Key regardless of the channel you use to communicate. The Contact Key is essentially a Subscriber Key in Email Studio. So to be consistent, use the Subscriber Key value in Email Studio as your unique Contact Key in Contact Builder. Note that you will generate a Subscriber Key automatically when you send an email to the subscriber through Email Studio.

Using Contact IDs

As mentioned, the Contact Key and Contact ID are two sides of the same coin. The Contact ID is a number Salesforce Marketing Cloud uses to identify a contact in the backend uniquely. As a user, you will typically not use the Contact ID and hardly even encounter it throughout Salesforce Marketing Cloud. However, as a developer, you may rely on it when you use the SFMC API to integrate with the platform.

Contact Keys across different Studios in Salesforce Marketing Cloud

You use a Contact Key across different channels in Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which means it will appear across various “studios” in Salesforce Marketing Cloud. For instance, when importing contacts in MobileConnect, you also use the Contact Key. To import data in Mobile Push, you must specify the Contact Key. 

You might use a mobile number as a Contact Key for MobileConnect or email as a Contact Key for Mobile Push. However, the best practice is to create a Contact Key using a unique digit code (unique Id/ customer id) that you can use throughout different studios in SFMC. 

Where can I find my contacts?

It’s possible to find contacts through the All Contacts tab within Contact Builder. Here, you can choose to view your contacts coming from different sources and channels.

You’ll also find contact information stored in data extensions. These are tables that contain a variety of data. Data Designer within Contact Builder uses data extensions, which we will explain in a follow-up article. You can read a lot more about data extensions in our previous article about Email Studio

Data extensions in contact Builder are also known as “attribute sets.”

All Contacts and All Subscribers: What’s the difference?

Differentiating between contacts and subscribers is essential when using multiple Marketing Cloud channels. 

A contact is a person you send messages to through any marketing channel. A contact appears in the All Contacts section.

All Contacts in Salesforce Marketing Cloud

(The ‘All Contacts’ tab in Salesforce Marketing Cloud.)

Remember that all subscribers are contacts, but not all contacts are subscribers. For instance, if you send an email to your contact, one becomes a subscriber. When you create a sendable data extension, you need to define a Subscriber Key. Later it will become your Contact Key in Contact Builder. However, you can also have contacts to whom you’ve never sent an email. Those individuals are still your contacts but not your subscribers. 


The All Contacts list includes all contacts in a Marketing Cloud account across all Business Units. The All Subscribers list refers explicitly to subscribers created in Email Studio. Email Studio contains the All Subscribers list to prevent sending to unsubscribed email addresses. However, this action applies only to Email Studio information and activities. A contact can unsubscribe from a subscription in Email Studio and still receive messages from other apps, such as MobileConnect or MobilePush.


By default, Contact Builder uses a different demographic source of information for each channel. The various demographic attribute groups displayed in Contact Builder contain this information. However, the unique Contact Key value used to identify a specific contact remains consistent for all channel apps. To use a single set of demographic data for all channels, create an attribute group in Contact Builder. Use that group as the source of information for your marketing activities. 

Where does the contact data come from?

Firstly, you must define where your data comes from and what you need to store in Marketing Cloud. There are several options here. For instance, your data source can be an external preference center or leads collected through your website. It can also come from POS if you use retail purchase data or from product catalog CSV. You can check out this article about the SFMC data model to learn more about what data to store and how to integrate it into Salesforce Marketing Cloud. 

Data Sources in Salesforce Marketing Cloud

(‘Data Sources’ overview page in Contact Builder)


So that’s a short introduction into identifying and using contacts. As you can see, Contact Builder has many nuances to explore and understand. We’ll talk more about how to manage contacts in Contact Builder in our next article.

Companies are spending countless marketing dollars and hours on collecting and managing data—often with little to no idea of how best to store or utilize it. Inefficiencies have become the norm, keeping companies from unlocking their full potential.

We created the DESelect Segment tool to help marketers, campaign managers, and CRM admins streamline this process, saving time, money, and unnecessary stress. 

So marketing leaders see more return from their campaigns because they are better segmented and more personalized. 

Ready to see what no code SFMC audience segmentation can do for your marketing team? Our team is ready to help you start your segmentation journey. Get a no pressure demo of DESelect Segment here.

Latest Articles

  • Unveiling New Reporting Features in DESelect Engage

    Webinar Transcript Time-Smart Marketing: Import Journey & Automate Retries with Engage Don’t miss the next one Read the release notes from this feature: here Written transcript from this webinar will be available soon. In the meantime, please watch a recording of the webinar on Youtube (above).     Don’t miss an update       […]
  • Harnessing the Power of Relative Dates in Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC)

    The ability to adapt and react with timely precision is key in the marketing world. Marketing Cloud Engagement (MCE), also often referred to as Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC), offers robust tools to facilitate such agility, particularly through the use of relative dates. This feature enables marketers and SFMC admins to automate campaigns with a precision […]
  • 14 Data & AI Challenges Collected from 57 Leaders in MOPs (Transcript)

    Webinar Transcript 14 Data & AI Challenges Collected from 57 Leaders in MOPs Don’t miss the next one Download the report mentioned in this webinar: here Anthony Lamot: Hello! And welcome to a brand new webinar by DESelect. I’m here today, joined by my co-founder, Jonathan, and I’m Anthony, and we are DESelect for Salesforce. […]
  • Kyra Constam, Creative & Web Manager

    Company Culture Meet Our Team: Creative & Web Manager, Kyra Constam In the dynamic world of design, Kyra Constam stands as a definition of talent and innovation. Get her take on her DESelect journey →   Her journey at DESelect began with the title of Senior Graphic Designer, where her talent and hard work shined […]

Stay Connected

Stay Connected

Reach the most targeted<br/> audiences in half the time

Reach the most targeted
audiences in half the time

Deselect icon
Subscribe to the Newsletter
Receive Salesforce Marketing Cloud tips,
tricks, and DESelect updates

By clicking the “Subscribe now” button, you agree to the DESelect Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.