Updated: Oct 31
Salesforce is an excellent tool for keeping track of all your customer details and history, but it might fail you if you do not keep your records and business logic consistent. Besides, you will undoubtedly need to think about duplicates when you use Salesforce. But what causes a duplicate record? Just how much can duplicates cost your organization? How do you deal with duplicates? If you or your teammates are interfacing with your customers then these are important questions to ask.
In this post, we'll discuss the meaning of duplicate records and how to remove or prevent duplicates in Salesforce. Let’s start.
What are duplicate records in Salesforce?
Duplicate records in Salesforce refer to instances where multiple records within the database contain identical or nearly identical information. This can include everything from exact copies of a Contact or Lead's information to records that only share a few common fields.
Duplicate records can happen because the same Contact has been entered multiple times by different users, or because there are two similar organizations listed in different ways (For example, one is listed as "Disney’s Pixar Studios" and another as "Pixar").
The most basic problem with duplicates is that they clutter up your database and make it harder to find what you're looking for. Over the years, Salesforce Administrators have reported that duplicate records cause performance issues or slow system response time when executing specific commands, such as data imports and data exports.
An even bigger problem with duplicate records is that depending on how your software handles them, you might end up taking actions based on inaccurate information, which can lead to miscommunication. For example, you can send out an email to someone who your system suggested has not yet signed up for your mailing list but already did. Sometimes, you could be printing an invoice for a service you've already provided.
Types of Duplicate Records
1. Exact Duplicates
An exact duplicate is a record with the same information as another. For example, if you have two Contact records with the same name, email address, and phone number, those are considered exact duplicates.
2. Similar Duplicates
A similar duplicate is a record that shares certain values with another record but also contains different information in some fields. For example, two Contact records have the same name but different email addresses or phone numbers. These can be a bit trickier to spot but can still be merged or deleted.
3. Partial Duplicates
These records have some of the same information but are not identical. For example, if you were merging two customers and one customer had an address of "123 Main Street" while the other customer had an address of "123 Main St.," these would be partial duplicates. The only difference between them is the abbreviation of the second customer's street name. The rest of the information they have in common is identical. Partial duplicates can also occur when people use a different naming convention than what you have set up in your system.
Major Causes of Duplicate Records in Salesforce
1. Manual data entry errors
One scenario where manual data entry errors can lead to duplicate records in Salesforce is when a Salesforce User manually creates a new Contact in the system. In this case, if they accidentally mistype the name, email address, or any other unique identifier, Salesforce will treat this new Contact as a separate entity, even if it is a duplicate of an existing Contact in the database. The result is two separate records for the same individual in the system, leading to data inconsistencies and possible confusion for users. To avoid this issue, organizations often create rules that guide manual data entry.
2. Lack of data standardization
Duplicate data is often caused by not having a standardized process for entering new information into your company's Salesforce or a lack of guidelines for data entry, validation, and maintenance. For example, suppose information isn't standardized between departments or systems, such as the use of phone number format. In that case, you may have to go on an audit mission to hunt down all duplicate issues of phone numbers manually.
3. Importing data from external sources
When you import data into Salesforce, you run the risk of duplicate records. This is because external sources may have different data formatting standards compared to Salesforce, resulting in inconsistent data entry. Importing data from external sources can lead to duplicate records when different variations of the same data are entered into the system.
4. Merging or consolidating records
If the wrong records are merged or if important data is not properly consolidated, it can result in duplicate records. For example, merging two Contacts with the same addresses but different names can result in two separate records for the same individual.
Technical issues can also result in duplicate records during the merging process. For example, if the merging process is interrupted due to a system error, it can result in partial merges, leaving some of the information duplicated.
3 Ways to Identify Duplicate Records
1. Use Salesforce built-in features
Salesforce has a built-in duplicate detection feature that can be used to search for duplicates in your data. With this feature, it is easy to find duplicate records. In addition, you could use these out-of-the-box features plus process automation to reduce your duplicate exposure. The built-in feature does have its limitations though. Merging duplicates is limited to 3 at a time, you're limited on the matching methods you can use, and reporting is limited.
2. Use third-party deduplicate software
Deduplication software automatically compares new records against existing ones in your database to see if they're duplicates (or near duplicates). These tools are very accurate but can also be expensive, depending on how long you use them and how many records you have to check for duplicates.
If you need more support because of the limitations of Salesforce's duplicate detection and management feature, check out third-party tools such as Plauti, Validity, WinPure Clean & Match, and Cloudingo. These third-party programs can help you find and eliminate duplicates in your Salesforce database.
3. Use manual methods
You can use a variety of manual methods to identify duplicate records. One of the most common methods is to print out the data on each record and manually compare them by hand. But this can be time-consuming.
An alternative is to create a cross-reference table using only one column in each table. For instance, if you have two tables called "customers" and "orders," you could create a cross-referenced table called "customer_order." This table would contain one row for each customer ID and one column for each order ID. You then match up the customer IDs from one table with their corresponding order IDs from the other table, giving you all the unique customers who made orders (and vice versa).
How to Prevent and Fix Duplicate Records in Salesforce
1. Implement data standardization
Data standardization ensures the same data pattern is used across multiple platforms and applications. It prevents duplicate records from being created and generally improves data quality.
Salesforce provides several ways to standardize your data. For example, you can standardize address information using an AppExchange product like AdressTools. For phone numbers, you can standardize them by using validation and process automation.
In addition to this, data standardization can be done by implementing the following:
Create a naming convention for your fields so that all field names follow a consistent pattern. For example, if every first name and last name followed the Proper Case method then it would be easier to identify duplicates in your database that have a matching name.
Ensure you’re limiting the number of fields you use to store Contact information. It will be difficult if you’re using five email fields, for example.
Control the format of data coming from your integrated products. For example, if you have an online form that pushes data to Salesforce, can you change the format of the phone number before it's entered into Salesforce? If so, leverage those capabilities. If not, use process automation to follow your organization's standards.
2. Conduct data validation and verification
Duplicates are usually caused by inconsistency, which means they're entirely avoidable if you prioritize creating consistency across your data entry points. To do this, start with a clear company policy about storing, entering, and using customer information.
Another key strategy is to implement a robust data governance program, including guidelines for data entry, validation and verification, and data maintenance. This ensures that data is entered consistently and accurately and that any updates or changes are made in a controlled and auditable manner.
Data validation ensures that the data entered by users meet certain requirements before it's accepted into a system. For example, you can use a validation rule to ensure that only ten characters are allowed in any given phone field.
Furthermore, if you have unique identifiers in your database, such as unique customer numbers, this problem can be minimized by setting up validation rules that prevent users from adding duplicate records.
3. Use deduplication software
As mentioned earlier, deduplication software checks new data against existing records and can remove any duplicates before they're added to the database. It can also be used to clean up the database if you already have duplicates in the system. This is particularly useful if you're dealing with large amounts of records in Salesforce.
You can run this tool manually or schedule regular runs as needed depending on how often you need to reconcile Salesforce for duplicates.
4. Training employees on proper data entry techniques
To avoid duplicating records in Salesforce, you must train your employees on proper data entry and management techniques.
Each employee should be taught how to use the duplicate rules feature. They should also be shown how to merge duplicates, so they know how to properly map fields from the merged record(s) to the parent record.
Proper training on data entry techniques can also include software-specific training, where employees learn to use the features of other deduplication software to help identify and merge duplicate records. It should consist of learning how to use the built-in deduplication tools or how to use reports and queries to identify duplicate records.
5. Outsource to specialists
Duplicate records in a Salesforce system can be a pain to deal with. If your team doesn't have the technical skills to find and fix the issue on your own, it may be time to bring in some help. Specialized administrators can help you clean up your Salesforce data by using built-in duplicate management tools and third-party data quality and deduplication tools.
You can benefit from streamlined data management processes when you outsource your Salesforce Administrators to a Salesforce Partner like Summit One. With Summit One’s help, you can rid your database of duplicates without the concerns of a long-term contract or fixed scope-of-work. This can free up internal resources and allow your team to focus on other important tasks. In the case of sales organizations, this may mean more time prospecting and less time tracking down the right Lead or Contact to use. Or, in the case of a nonprofit organization, this could mean more time dedicated to Moves Management and less time tracking down how much a donor has contributed.
For example, a Salesforce Partner has the experience and knowledge to provide strategic guidance on managing duplicates in Salesforce. They can assess the source of your duplicates and help you decide what features will be the most effective in solving the problem.
Summary: The Importance of addressing duplicate records in Salesforce
Duplicate records are a common problem in many organizations. If a customer has multiple records in the system, it can be difficult to track their history or interactions with your organization. Duplicate accounts also mean that data entry errors become more likely. And that can result in your organization broadcasting incorrect information or soliciting to someone that doesn’t want to be contacted.
A report published by Validity in 2022 found that nearly half of the respondents estimated that their company lost more than 10% of their annual revenue due to poor data quality. That indicates that duplicate records could be the bane of an organization's data integrity and bottom line.
Since Salesforce is a system of record, it's critical to have a clean and accurate dataset. It's also important to keep track of your duplicate records as part of your data quality strategy. Overall, we have found that for Sales and Service organizations the ability to recognize and address duplicate records can improve your Lead tracking, decrease the time it takes to close deals, improve customer management, and help you steer away from data quality issues. In the case for nonprofit organizations, we have found that the ability to recognize and address duplicate records can improve your marketing engagement, moves management, program impact reporting, and overall user experience.