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A Quick Guide to Laying the Foundation for Long-term Success in SFMC

A Quick Guide to Laying the Foundation for Long-term Success in SFMC

Wish to set yourself up for long-term success in SFMC? 2021 Salesforce Marketing Champion, Heather Ilsley McCullough shares the secret....

Structuring your data so it can scale, creating systems to maintain contact records, particularly subscriber status, and creating and maintaining documentation – not necessarily glamorous topics of conversation. But when you’re laying the foundations for long-term success in Salesforce Marketing Cloud, these topics are essential to the performance and continued success of an organization’s use of the platform.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a powerful, dynamic, and flexible tool.  However, that flexibility can present a challenge if you don’t set yourself up for success early on.  This is not a platform that you can or should just jump into and start sending emails.  While use cases can be handy for customer-facing initiatives, in this instance, I believe a phased approach to understanding the platform, planning the processes, and then executing against that plan should be the best path forward.

Understand, Discover & Plan, and Execute


Having worked in the Salesforce Marketing Cloud agency environment for several years, one of the many surprising factors around onboarding new clients to the platform has been the lack of client understanding around what they’ve purchased. The solution is to identify what is in the contract – what studios and builders will they have access to and what are the contact limits. Once you’ve established that baseline, you can move forward with that understanding to educate the client around their capabilities within the platform. 

Make a note of:

  1. Package Edition
  2. Number of Business Units
  3. Contact & User Limits
  4. Included Studios
  5. Einstein Features
  6. Inclusion of Sender Authentication Package
    a. Number of SSL Certificates included
    i. 1 for Email Images
    ii. 1 for Cloud Pages (if included)

Your Salesforce contract should clearly state what your contact limit is; bear this in mind when considering which contacts you want to allow into the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.  This can be an extremely important piece of information as you build out your approach to your data and its relationship to Salesforce Marketing Cloud. If you’re using and you use the Marketing Cloud connector, your awareness of the contact limit is going to be a key element of your data plan.

Another good resource for understanding how things work in Salesforce Marketing Cloud is Trailhead – – a tool created by Salesforce to help its clients and partners know how to use the tools.  Personally, I find the use of Trailhead combined with direct practical access to the platform to be the best way to learn how to use the tools and understand the functional capabilities involved properly. Get the team into the system and let them start learning while you plan so that your discussions can be productive and directional.

Discovery & Plan 

Once you understand more about Salesforce Marketing Cloud and how it can work, the next thing to do is think about how you will be communicating and engaging with your target audiences. It would help if you are willing to ask and answer a lot of questions before you can identify your path forward.

Initial questions look like this: 

  • From where does your customer information come?
  • How often do you want it to refresh in the system?
  • What are the channels you will be using in SFMC?
  • What channels will you be using outside SFMC?
  • What data do you need to support those conversations?

Make sure to capture all the answers and details in your documentation; that information will be extremely valuable should there be a shift in the team or system changes down the road.

One of the first things to identify the plan is what system will be the Database of Record? In most cases, SFMC is NOT your DBOR; maybe it is your DBOR for subscriber status. But if you’re using other ESPs, you might have a centralized data warehouse that reconciles that status and then informs SFMC.  Compliance around email regulations like CAN-SPAM, CASL, GDPR, and new state-based legislation should be at the front of your mind when setting up the platform. Waiting to address compliance down the road will only create more work down the road.  

Given the relational database nature of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, start your plan with core subscriber information. Separate out data that frequently fluctuates into distinct Data Extensions, and make sure to have a clear view on your Contact ID/Subscriber Key within the system so you can drill down from a contact all the way to finite details around that contact and its interactions with your brand. Then work your way outward to include additional data in the next steps.

Include other aspects of Marketing Cloud that have been provisioned in the account; depending on the type of business being onboarded, an Einstein product feed that would allow you to make good use of the Einstein Email Recommendations and/or Web Recommendations features. Best practice would include discussions with the marketing team that is planning on using the platform and understanding their use cases within the context of the system. What is their priority for the data?

Make sure to document your plan as you move forward. As a visual person, I’d highly recommend a roadmap/Gantt chart approach that allows you to visualize the allocation of resources alongside actionable elements, and all for the adjustment of the workflow as things change. 

An additional aspect of this plan would be to consider how the initiatives within SFMC need to be reported. What are the expectations around the reporting? Does data need to flow out of SFMC into other systems? What are those systems’ format requirements?


Once the plan has been road-mapped, signed off on by all parties, and resources have been allocated, start the project off with a kick-off meeting. This kick-off meeting is vital; it is where everyone who is involved in any way with the execution of the plan gets to meet the stakeholders, the other team members, and most importantly, get to hear the plan for moving the project forward. In my experience, it is vital to set expectations around communication during this meeting so that everyone knows how to communicate with each other and feels encouraged to do so. Other tools like project management software and documentation systems become key for this phase. Don’t lose sight of documenting how each element of SFMC is being set up. This documentation will be vital for the speed and scaling of processes down the road. 

While it sounds trite, if you’ve done a good job at discovery and planning and your team is all on the same page – meet regularly, communicate openly, and work the plan – you’ll do well. There’s inevitably something someone didn’t think of, don’t be afraid of the surprises – the quicker surprises and issues surface, the faster they can be discussed and resolved. I’ve worked in several service environments, and setting expectations around pop-up issues in a kick-off meeting has been a key factor in maintaining client satisfaction, keeping timelines in place, and work on the plan.  

I hope this high-level overview of my approach around implementing Salesforce Marketing Cloud has been helpful. I hope it helps you maximize your use of the system and helps to set you up for long-term success!

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Heather Ilsley McCullough

Heather Ilsley McCullough is a 2021 Salesforce Marketing Champion, a Certified Salesforce Marketing Cloud Consultant, and an SFMC Solution Architect at KELL Partners in Austin, Texas.

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