Disassociated contacts and marketing automation

Matthew Deal

Your customers may be visiting your site, but you’d never know in some situations.

There’s a weird catch about marketing automation and it relates to two basic and simple ideas:

  1. Most marketing automation systems like Hubspot, Marketto, and Pardot, etc track visitors to web properties, more or less, in the same way that something like Google Analytics does. Essentially, it’s an anonymous session.
  2. But most marketing automation systems also act as a customer relationship management system — a database of contacts, the behaviors and interactions of those contacts, etc.

The problem is this: some of the people in your eCRM may be visiting your site, but will appear as an anonymous session until their first form submission, which can make it difficult to track their behavior and tailor your campaigns accordingly.

As Hubspot puts it:

“Visitors will be tracked anonymously even before they become contacts. If and when a visitor fills out a form, HubSpot will associate their previous page views based on the tracking cookie. If the email address filled in the form is associated with an existing contact, this visitor will be identified as the contact. This includes contacts that were imported.”

Translation: you have to produce that first form submission, which can be tricky.

That said, this situation isn’t typically a concern for most organizations. After all, if you’re invested in an inbound approach to marketing, most of the your contacts are likely produce through form submissions that would natively create contacts on most marketing automation platforms.

Situations Where You Need to Worry About Unassociated Contacts

For most organizations, none of this is a problem or concern because contacts are generated through assets within the marketing automation systems like landing pages, forms, and emails but there are a few situations that can specific concerns. Here’s a breakdown of some common situations where you may need to force marketing automation forms:

Importing Contacts

If you import contacts, you’re going to have a bad time on most marketing automation systems. First, most white hat email marketing systems directly ask that you have permission to email contacts. Secondly, almost all of those contact won’t be associated with any actual tracking until you get them to submit a form.

At the most extreme example, let’s imagine that you are scraping key decision maker information from LinkedIn. You decide to slap all those contacts into Pardot, which allows you can blast out emails to them, but until you produce that first real interaction— these people remain effectively blind. Forcing marketing automation forms can make sure that these contacts can be tracked and used in campaigns, without losing out on important data.

This includes situations like:

  • Manually entering in contacts
  • Importing customer lists from events
  • Contact scraping from social media
  • Forcing marketing automation systems to manually subscribe a contact or lead


Integrations for eCRMs and marketing automation platforms are a minefield of solutions for the same problems—getting information from one other system into your marketing automation platform. The issue with integrations is that they are all different and typically are creating contacts without any session information.

To most eCRMs, leads or contacts will populate with either no information on source or medium or simply be listed as coming from “offline” or “none”. You’ll have the lead’s information from the integration, but won’t be able to see them if they visit your site.

Integrations make life easier for connected data sources, but typically at the cost of information about your audience.

Integrations make life easier for connected data sources, but typically at the cost of information about your audience.

This includes the ubiquitous Zapier, which has become a band aid on many systems. While Zapier can transfer data over to populate alternative source for leads, it typically won’t include any session information, which means Pardot, ActiveCampaign, or Hubspot can’t track those leads when they return to your site.

Non-Form Conversions

Conversions tend to be focused on form submissions as the main user action for expressing intent or desire. That said, sometimes alternative, arguably, more traditional methods exist and are a better fit for some industries. Two examples I like are email addresses and telephone numbers. By forcing marketing automation forms, you can gather this information to better reach them and tailor your campaigns to those niches.

Email Addresses

Back in the olden days, you’d just slap an email addresses on your website and let people email you directly. Some of this still exist, but largely fell out of favor because would-be spammers would scan websites and find said email addresses to build email lists. If you have an email address listed anywhere publicly, you likely know that people still like to spam email.

Public facing email addresses are a black hole for contact management.

Public facing email addresses are a black hole for contact management.

From first hand experience, getting an email to parse into fields with in any eCRM is a pain-in-the-ass if not impossible in most cases. What you’re left with is chunk of text in an email that you have to contort into your eCRM and then still won’t have any clue when they revisit your site.

On a side note, this becomes a particular problem over time where you have this email address listed in multiple places and over multiple years. When scrapers scan websites looking for email addresses that match a particular string, those databases tend not to die in organizations. Even if you remove it from your site, my experience is that you’ll continue to see people spam those same email addresses.

Phone Calls/Call Tracking

It feels really awkward to have phone calls these days when a sterile electronic text or email could do, but much of the economy is operated by old-fashioned calls to businesses. This especially hits local businesses, which primarily use phone numbers rather than emails to get in contact with their customers. That’s why it could be a good idea to gather and create a campaign to use the mode of communication that these businesses use the most.

While I’m a big fan of systems like CallRail for correctly attributing the power of calls, out of the box most of these tools won’t connect web visitors contacts in your eCRM. Some of these systems have the power through integrations to fix this issue, but only after someone can produce a form conversion.

How Forcing Marketing Automation Can Work

Whether you’re dealing with adding phone calls and emails or dealing with integration— forcing marketing automation forms can be a delicate balance. It needs to be smooth and easy, so people can come to the site doing what they want to do and not feel ‘forced’, even though that’s what you’re doing. Here are two key strategies for striking that balance:

Making Filling Out Forms Feel Organic

Essentially, to gather information from form submissions, you need people to fill out forms. There are a variety of ways to do this, whether it’s simple as a pop-up to subscribe to a newsletter or get a freebie, you could use a survey, a chance to win something, and even gating content that isn’t normally gated. Filling out a form needs to feel like something they want to do or they won’t do it. It should also be simple, easy, and not take too much time out of the ‘flow’ of experiencing your website, or they’ll simply click away.

Developing systems for naturally compelling your audience to convert is the easiest way to solve this issue.

Developing systems for naturally compelling your audience to convert is the easiest way to solve this issue.

Figuring out what sort of incentive to give your user to fill out a form should be an experience in looking at yourself, your business, and what you can offer this key group. Do you have a guide on SEO or email marketing ready to go? Do you have tutorials or site freebies that are easy to give away? Is there a specialized newsletter that this niche needs right now that would get them to submit this information? Reflect and find a way to make them grant that information and submit, so you can have that key information.

Utilize the Newsletter You Already Have

You can also get your user group out of anonymity on your site by using clicks on tracked emails. Some eCRMs and Marketing Automation Systems can begin to track page views based on when someone is sent an email from that same system and then arrives on the page. Doing this allows the system to see that “this person has the same IP address and now they have a cookie on their computer".

This means for this particular email newsletter, the email click/page view as the goal as opposed to engagement. Like in form submissions, this means that you may need to brainstorm particular content or opportunities to lead the user to, so they can make that click you need to start tracking them effectively.

Consider giving your potential customers a cold one.

Consider giving your potential customers a cold one.

Offer Them Something

As silly as it sounds—giveaways still work. If you want something from them, give something in return. Incentivizing your audience doesn’t need to break the bank and could be as simple as a virtual gift or gift card (I’ve even seen discounts on services work).

Remember too that the value of whatever you’re giving away is highly subjective. Last month a local barbershop in Durham, North Carolina gave away a six pack of beer with every new appointment; they were out of beer after two days.

Measuring Success

After you find a way to force marketing automation forms, it’s important to measure the success. Most of the time, you can tell if your visitors have some data associated with their behavior on your site like:

  • Seeing the last time they visited your site
  • Seeing the number of page views

From there, you can also look at their behavior and potentially track how best to tailor your campaigns and even how your website is working to generate the leads that you need. With less anonymity and more data on how customers are engaging, you will have all the data you need to make your next move. Over time, you should start to see the number of pageviews or metrics associated with site visits populate.

Unlocking Your Marketing Automation Platform

The ability of your marketing automation software to “see” visitors is one of the most compelling features. From pushing users down your lifecycle stages from subscribers to customers. Investing into attaching your visitors to, you know, tracking them will unlock your marketing automation platform.


Hire an expert for your next project

While this is a great starting point for working on marketing automation and considering strategies for forcing these vital forms, it can be overwhelming to determine what works best for you. That’s why it can be important to have a partner that is familiar with the territory. If you’re interested in learning more, we can help you craft strategies for getting the most out of your Inbound marketing strategy. 

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