The Real Cost of Duplicates in Your CRM/Marketing Automation Platform

Marketing Automation


The other day I was talking to yet another marketing operations manager who has “a duplicate problem*” and “just needs a one-time dedupe job.” (“*Duplicates”—multiple records for the same person and/or company in CRM/Marketing Automation platforms.) A lot of marketing managers only become aware of the fact that they have a duplicate problem when they exceed the database limit listed in their marketing automation contract. The vendor usually suggests deduping the database as one of the strategies to reduce the database size and stay within the contract’s limit. It is sound advice to combat the problem of duplicates in your database; however, it is a much larger issue than merely the price you are paying for your database size.

Imagine the following scenario:

Let’s use Ann Lee from ABC, Inc. as a hypothetical example. Ann stopped by your booth at an industry event, your sales team scanned her badge, and she is now in your database.

Ann 1 Example 1

Ann is very interested in your product and seems to be a decision-maker in her company. The sales rep who spoke to Ann decided to follow up with her a soon as he got back to the office. Unaware of the fact that she is already in the system, he found Ann on LinkedIn and added her to your CRM database. Ann, however, listed a slightly different email address on her LinkedIn profile: [email protected]

Now you have two Anns in your CRM!

Ann 1 +2 Example 2

After the tradeshow, you sent a thank you email to everyone who stopped by your booth, tagged the new leads you acquired at the event with the corresponding lead source, added them to the right nurture program, and all that good stuff.

Ann gets home, goes through all the swag she picked up at the event and remembers that your product seemed exactly like what she was looking for. She goes to your website and signs up for a webinar…with her personal email address. Now you have three Anns in the system.

 Ann 1 +2 +3 Example 3

Then, Ann replies to your sales rep’s email, and they schedule a demo. The sales rep converts the lead for Ann 2 into the ABC, Inc. account and opens an opportunity.

Ann 1 +2 +3 Example 4

At this point, you already start having a few problems:

Inaccurate New Names Reporting

All your reports of “new names” will show that you added three new people to the database, whereas in fact, it is one and the same person.

Inaccurate Pipeline/Revenue Attribution

The tradeshow and the webinar programs/campaigns will have 0 pipeline and revenue attributed to them, but they actually did have an impact on the deal.

Ann 2 continues to talk to your sales team, and it seems like the opportunity is progressing quite nicely. A few weeks in, Ann 2 tells your sales team she needs to discuss your solution internally and goes silent for a few weeks. Your sales team starts to worry.

Meanwhile, Ann 3 attends your webinar, spends a lot of time on your website, and engages with your nurture content. She forwards one of your emails to her team, and they start downloading your content and requesting the free trial of your solution. The sales rep she is working with is completely unaware of all of this.

Ann 3 hits your marketing qualified lead (MQL) threshold and is sent over to the sales team. A new sales development rep (SDR) picks up the lead, sees that the lead has a generic email address, does a little bit of research, finds her [email protected] business email and updates the lead record.

Ann 1 +2 +3 Example 5

There are two possible scenarios from here:

  1. your SDR does his due diligence, searches for the email domain and the company name in your database, finds Ann 2, and converts the Ann 3 lead to the Ann 2 contact
  2. your SDR does not exercise any due diligence and tries to reach out to Ann 3.

Now you’ve got a couple more problems:

Waste of Time and Effort for the Sales Teams

Your SDR spent valuable time chasing a ghost lead; time that could have been spent pursuing real opportunities. These 5-10 minutes your SDR spends on every ghost lead can quickly add up and bring down the overall efficiency of your sales team.

Inconsistent Communication

Your account executive is already communicating with Ann, and now you potentially have one more person completely unaware of the context of all previous communications trying to get ahold of her. Ann will probably get annoyed, and your company’s reputation will take a hit.

Let’s say your SDR did the right thing and converted/merged Ann 3 to the Ann 2 contact, and your account executive did an excellent job and won the opportunity on the ABC, Inc. account. Now you have only Ann 1 and Ann 2 left in the system.

Ann 1 +2 Example 6

Most likely you are communicating with your customers and prospects quite differently, and now that ABC, a customer, you will probably move Ann 2 to your customer engagement program. Ann 1, however, is still a lead/prospect, and your marketing and sales teams will continue treating her as such.

This creates another problem:


Ann will receive twice the number of emails, half of which will be irrelevant to her. How long do you think it will take before she unsubscribes?

Ann then reaches out to her account manager and asks to be removed from the email list, at which point the account manager goes into the CRM and updates the record for Ann 2. Ann 1, however, is still there and she continues to receive your engagement program emails. This is also a problem and a very serious one.

Privacy Laws/GDPR Compliance

Duplicates make it difficult to ensure compliance with any privacy regulations.

The Real Cost of Duplicates

This is one relatively straightforward scenario that duplicates can create. In most organizations, there is at least some level of awareness of the problems duplicates bring, and there is usually some level of effort spent on combating them. I’ve seen organizations where SDRs are trained to search for duplicates before they do anything with the leads they get, organizations where sales operations set time aside every week to merge the duplicates manually, etc.

The more you grow your business, the bigger your database becomes. Any manual efforts are simply not scalable. Moreover, no manual, ad hoc efforts will solve this problem entirely. This is a systemic issue, and it has to be addressed systematically, but that’s a story for another day. Just remember, duplicates are much more than a database size issue. Next time someone brings up “a quick one-off dedupe job” or, better yet, argues that duplicates are not a big deal, just share this blog with them.

How have duplicates cost you when it comes to your marketing operations efficiency? Are there any costs associated with duplicates I missed? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments.