How to Import a Marketing List without Screwing Up Your Data

Letting marketing managers casually upload lists baffles me.  Importing ill-formatted data from a random spreadsheet is a recipe for incorrect lead scores and assignments.  If you want qualified leads worked quickly, you have to match data to the existing fields, formats, and picklists in your MAP and CRM.  Here’s how I templatize and QA a list import.

>> Related: How to Test and QA an Email <<

Use a damn template!

Do you upload Job Title or Job Type? Company Name or Account Name? Lead Source or Lead Source Detail? Don’t wing it!  If you only take one thing from the post, it’s this:  create and religiously use a list import template. 

1. Liaise with Sales Ops to capture the exact fields you need

First, meet with Sales Ops and document the fields, picklist values, and formats that power your scoring, sales territories, attribution reports, nurture streams, email tokens, and database health.

In this sample, the org has to capture GDPR consent, UTMs, and Lead Source Detail.

Click to expand

2. Explainer tabs, tooltips, and data-validation rules are your friends

The list import template sample above is explicit about what the case-sensitive(!) options are, and forces importers to use true/false instead of yes/no or 1/0.

This same template has a tab that spells out how Countries, States, and Territories get populated in Salesforce.  To a casual list-importer, the nuances of District of Columbia vs. Washington, DC vs DC vs D.C. will be lost.  Make the template foolproof.  Foolproof for even an intern you hired yesterday.

3. Replace workflow steps with columns

Chances are your marketing automation does a bunch of things during an import:

  • Capturing UTMs
  • Setting Lead Source and Lead Source Detail
  • Setting campaign status (like “attended”)
  • Capturing consent preferences
  • Manually assigning or scoring leads

Instead of running a big list through all those processes, simply add them as columns.  It speeds up the import and reduces the processing load.

4. Create video tutorials

Most non-admins simply won’t read or reference 30-pages of screenshots and size 10 font.  Instead, create a series of 2-minute video tutorials (and hyperlink them in the template for extra credit):

  • How do they use the list import template?
  • How do they de-dupe?  Which is the “winning” status?
  • Why is data normalization important?
  • Which columns require specific values or formats?

We use Screencastify for these.  Taking 30-minutes to film and organize video tutorials saves hours of training with campaign marketers.

5. Embrace QA-before-import

If you have lots of casual list-importers, consider forcing them to first review their cleaned list with your admin.  I promise spending 5 minutes reviewing the columns and demanding missing requirements is faster than cleaning up errors after import.

At the very least, create a list import QA checklist that checks:

  • Required fields are populated
  • Columns are in the correct format (this is especially important for phone)
  • Data matches the picklist values
  • Emails don’t contain spaces
  • The list is deduped

Hot tips for uploading lists

Budget 60 uninterrupted minutes

Just like email QA, assuming an upload takes 3 minutes = mistakes.  Give yourself a realistic amount of time to do the job thoroughly.  Similarly:

  • uploading in a panic = mistakes.
  • and uploading at the end of a busy day = mistakes.  I promise leads uploaded at 5:30pm won’t be worked any faster than if you upload them (correctly!) at 9:00am the next morning.

Import in small batches

Okay, this one is annoying, but I import in batches of just 500 contacts at a time.  This reduces sync errors with Salesforce, and ultimately saves you time.  But, yes, it sucks.

Embrace QA-after-import

List imports are a stark reminder that systems (and the humans that use them) are imperfect.  There will probably be an upload or sync error in every list import.  You need to QA lists about 45 minutes after they’re imported:

  1. After importing, check if the campaign member quantities match across the original spreadsheet, Marketo/HubSpot, and Salesforce.
  2. Create a HubSpot/Marketo smart list called “List QA”.  After importing, filter for MAP campaign members who are not Salesforce campaign members.
  3. Review in Salesforce:
    1. Did everyone score as expected?
    2. Are funnel stages correctly set?
    3. Are there data holes (such as account name or UTMs)?

Since databases are big/old, I often catch errors on existing contacts from long before the import.  Usually because their state or country doesn’t match the picklist values.  Luckily Marketo tells you exactly what the sync error is, so you can go find that field, edit it, and sync it back over.

And if certain sync errors are happening a lot, I refine my list import template to better prevent them.

Helpful Excel formulas when importing a marketing list

List cleanup happens in Excel, and sometimes the scale of the list is daunting.  Here are the shortcuts I use to do helpful things like dissociate data or filter:



Vlookup null N/A




Separate first and last name via Text to Columns

  • Add 2 extra blank columns next to full name
  • Select full name column and go into the Data tab
  • Select “Split text-to-columns” from the drop down

Separate first and last name via formula

  • FIRST NAME: (=LEFT(A2,SEARCH(” “,A2)-1)))
  • LAST NAME: (=RIGHT(A2,LEN(A2)-SEARCH(” “,A2,1))

A sample of this is:

 Full Name  First Name  Last Name
 Emily Smith  Emily  Smith
 John Doe  John  Doe
 Matt Towner  Matt

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