Duplicate Contacts in HubSpot: An Administrator’s Perspective

Matthew Deal

Duplicates are always part of any CRM.

Whether for freebies or simply signing up for newsletters, your website and your HubSpot account handle a lot of contact information. With that comes duplicates. The reality for any customer relationship management (CRM) tasks is dealing with duplicates. In most cases, the Contacts object is the source of duplication. With that in mind, we’ve assembled this quick guide for dealing with duplicates in the Contacts object.

Why contacts are typically the problem

Let’s get real: contacts are the problem in HubSpot because people have different email addresses. Email addresses in many systems are the unique identifier of an individual—effectively their social security number (after all, there is literally only one matt@matthewdeal.com).

The combination of a unique user name and domain means there can only be, again, one person, attached to that email address.

The Multiple Email Problem

While inbound marketing has become the de facto method of generating leads for many organizations, it isn’t without its unique set of challenges.

One particular issue revolves around gated content—seen as one of the most common tactics used to generate leads.

A definition of gated content that many marketers use works like this:

  1. You offer a guide, webinar, or some downloadable content for free.
  2. You require a visitor to fill out a form which requires some information. Usually this includes an email address since you deliver the content via email.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Usually, it is, but there are often situations where someone supplies a personal, free email address (think a Gmail or Yahoo address) and on other downloads, they may use a work address attached to their company domain.

And… boom, you have a duplicate contact.

This is especially true for HubSpot and Salesforce where the email address, again, becomes the unique identifier for the contact.

Why duplicate contacts are a problem

In HubSpot, or for any other CRM for that matter, duplicate contacts are a problem because they literally represent the entire reason of having a CRM—managing your customer relationships. When you have duplicates, it can cause problems with both the relationships you’re building and your campaigns. Here are a few ways duplicates cause issues:

  • Emailing Contacts Twice. On the lowest level, you could be emailing contacts twice without knowing it, which is a bad experience for most users with multiple email addresses.
  • Sabotaging Engagement Metrics. Sending email should usually be based on the contact versus the email address. Sending emails to contacts twice means that you’ll have at least one email that never gets opened, much less clicked. This drags down the rest of aggregate open and click-through rates and other email metrics.
  • Sending emails to the wrong segments. Good email marketers segment out email sends based on attributes, data, or subscription status of various contacts. Having duplicates means you could be sending the wrong email to the wrong contact.
  • It makes attribution fuzzy. Remember, contacts are the heart of HubSpot. Sales professionals build relationships with contacts. Contacts are the ones that fill out forms; and those same contacts come from channels, marketing campaigns, and business development. Ultimately, that has to translate to deals and source attribution of those deals (whether that be based on channel, campaign, or department) is critical for improving and optimizing your marketing over time.
  • It Clutters Your Account. The most popular guide from Matthew Deal is our HubSpot Optimization Guide, namely, because every HubSpot account (or CRM) can become disorganized and unkempt overtime. Remember that a CRM is designed for multiple humans to interact with it overtime; that’s where entropy comes into play—over time, with multiple information sources, forms, and users, it’s common to see accounts with incorrect records and inaccurate data.

Dealing with Duplicates in HubSpot

Here’s the good news: because HubSpot uses an email address as the unique identifier for a contact, it will automatically deduplicate and merge contacts that have the exact same email address. That’s because it’s impossible to have two contacts with the exact same email address. 

hubspot-duplicates

Duplicate contacts are a struggle for systems like HubSpot.

However, if email addresses do not match, HubSpot has a separate internal tool that allows you to merge contacts that are possible duplicates.

HubSpot also has some manual deduplication based on:

  • Contacts by Usertoken (i.e. cookie data from form submissions)
  • Companies based on Domain name
  • Contacts, Companies, and Deal object IDs

Again, let’s be clear: you will have to deal with duplicates.

If you have access to it (more on this later), you can access the Manage Duplicates tool by doing the following steps:

  1. Navigate to Contacts
  2. Click the Actions button in the top right-hand corner.
  3. Click Manage Duplicates
HubSpot has a built in deduplication tool for contacts it guesses are duplicates.

HubSpot has a built in deduplication tool for contacts it guesses are duplicates.

HubSpot will regularly evaluate contacts based on a range of factors and will suggest ones that could be potential matches/duplicates.

HubSpot has some built-in duplicate management.

HubSpot has some built-in duplicate management.

HubSpot will allow you to either review each potential match individually by selecting what fields and details you want to merge, or by dismissing each match as a false positive.

One other odd quirk of HubSpot’s method of deduplication is that it doesn’t evaluate your contacts in real-time. Instead, every two weeks or so HubSpot will generate a new list of potential matches.

That may be fine for most organizations, but for high volume, high flow setups this may not be fast enough.

Not Everyone Will Have Access to the Deduplication Tool

While HubSpot has some good starting points for matching duplicates, the real issue is that many HubSpot accounts won’t even have access to it—because it requires Marketing Hub Professional.

This means that if you’re on any “starter” version of HubSpot or even certain, expensive, pro versions of HubSpot, you simply won’t be able to deduplicate your contacts using that tool.

Third-Party Options

In my humble opinion, it makes little sense to upgrade your HubSpot account only for the deduplication tool. The tool itself has a limited number of options for identifying contacts and, despite being built into a system built on automation, it has no actual automated component.

This is where the 3rd party ecosystem of HubSpot apps start to shine. These apps can fill in the gaps where HubSpot’s internal tools fall short.

Enter… Dedupely

One of my favorite tools for tackling duplication issues is Dedupely. Dedupely is a 3rd party tool you can connect to your HubSpot account to help you identify duplicates in ways that HubSpot can’t, including with objects like:

  • First name and last name
  • Email address
  • Company

The other nice thing for advanced users is that Dedupely allows for multiple match types, meaning you can choose the criteria of how the tool should consider matches.

Along with contacts, Dedupely let’s you work with companies and deals.

Along with contacts, Dedupely let’s you work with companies and deals.

Whether you want to err on the side of caution and only use exact match searches or want to expand your criteria with fuzzy matching, I like working with Dedupely since it gives me the agency I need to help keep my database organized.

A Warning On Destroying Data

One of the reasons that HubSpot’s deduplication tools are, honestly, so weak is that they’ve absolutely chosen the safest options for matching who is a potential duplicate.

There is a reason for this. When you merge two contacts in HubSpot, you are cannibalizing at least one of the records and having to make a decision on what data is correct.

For example, if we have two contacts with the exact same email address, there’s a good chance they should be merged.

However, what if those contacts have two different telephone numbers? Which is the correct one?

My point is that there’s still usually some human decision making component that comes into play, and often you’ll need to decide which data point is the correct one.

Again, I suspect this is part of the reason that options for matching within HubSpot’s native tools are so weak: the risk exists that you’ll make an incorrect assumption and destroy data in the process of cleaning up your HubSpot account.

This is especially true in using Dedupely—a much more robust tool for handling duplicates.

Bulk Matching

One of the best features of Dedupely is bulk matching. This means you can create a series of rules that effectively say “when these conditions are met, automatically merge and deduplicate that record.”

This is essential if you have a large number of contacts and this is also the opposite method that HubSpot uses.

In HubSpot’s tool, you need to manually review each contact to make an evaluation on whether they should be merged or not. So, if you have 3500 contacts — you need to manually sort through 3500 contacts.

In the example above, the time needed to manually complete this task is immense.

Instead, Dedupely allows you to setup rules based on both match types of various fields and automatically merge contacts and companies. Plus you can also decide and control what fields and properties should be merged or thrown out.

Automated Deduplication

One aspect of managing contacts through HubSpot is the idea of some automated deduplication—once certain criteria is met, contacts should simply merge together automatically.

There is currently no method for this in HubSpot’s default deduplication functionality, but there is in Dedupely.

In other words, you could automate the continual process of deduplicating contacts as they come in, versus updating contacts in bulk.

This is one of the core principles I often advocate for: proactively keeping your account in order before it becomes a mess.

How to use Dedupely

Dedupely has a range of different methods and settings to match contact types, but one of my favorite concepts is Data Pads.

Data Pads allow you to explore how matching with various fields translates to potential duplicate matches.
 

Data Pads allow you to explore how matching with various fields translates to potential duplicate matches.

I’m not sure why this is called “Data Pads”, but I’m going to translate here: these are various rules you can set up to see potential duplicate matches.

Some examples could include:

  • First Name and Last Name
  • Email Address and Telephone Number
  • Company Name and Title

The point is that you can decide the criteria and the data used for matching and selecting various duplicates.

Duplicates of Duplicates

One aspect of Dedupely that I particularly like, which we haven’t discussed, is that it can match multiple duplicates. Unlike HubSpot’s default tools that only allow you to merge two contacts at a time, this tool will allow you to match up to three duplicates as needed.

You can literally spend 30 minutes a month merging all of your duplicates. Less if you use our auto-merge.

Hampus Isaksson, Product Manager, Dedupely

This will help keep your account that much cleaner, now that multiple instances of duplicates can be completely merged.

Need More Help with Your HubSpot?

Of course, even with Dedupely, this is just one way of managing duplicate contacts to ensure your HubSpot account is streamlined. Keeping your HubSpot ecosystem clean, organized and precise is absolutely essential to all your inbound marketing functions. That said, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to handle every aspect of your account. That’s why it’s always a great idea to ask the experts.

We love helping organizations make sure their Inbound Marketing strategy works for them, and for all of their marketing efforts. As a HubSpot Gold Partner, we’re dedicated to helping businesses find the Inbound solutions that help their businesses grow. 

We can help you generate actionable leads by making sure that your HubSpot strategy is tailored to your audience. Our iterative approach to digital marketing is transparent and measurable. Learn how we can develop a bespoke plan designed around key metrics and your vision here.

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