How to Automate Segmentation Using Salesforce Marketing Cloud

By Lucy Mazalon

Personalization is in vogue in the marketing automation industry, yet implementation is often slow, no matter the size of the business or the industry. Using Salesforce Marketing Cloud, you are at an advantage because of the extensibility of the Marketing Cloud data model, access to rich data sources (such as Salesforce, or e-commerce), and most importantly, the options available to segment your marketing database.

70% of brands still aren’t using advanced personalization techniques, even though personalized emails can potentially deliver a conversion rate 6x higher than generic messages. It maybe boils down to a lack of knowledge over what data is available to your Marketing Cloud account and how to sort through the data to build marketing segments to target. The truth is, if you don’t know how to segment your audience in Marketing Cloud, you can’t target customers using the demographic data your company already collects – a wasted opportunity.

Segmentation Use Cases Ready for Marketing Cloud

Knowing your market segments is the key first step in any successful campaign – regardless of which industry you are operating in or which marketing automation system you use.

You have the traditional attributes, such as income levels, location – but increasingly, marketers may be able to deduct a persona for this person based on attributes such as purchase information, communication preferences, and demographic information. This data may not be stored at the subscriber (individual level), but may come from different data sources. You will need to identify these according to your own tech stack.

Once you have these objects in mind, you’ll start creating a data model.

A data model is a collection of relationships between subscribers, purchases and any other information you collect (in lists or data extensions). Each record in the data model has different data points.

Connecting these various points requires careful analysis. Let’s say you want to connect the geographic location of sales with the average basket size. You may find customers in one area may purchase big-ticket items less frequently while customers in another area seem have more frequent transactions, but of cheaper products.

This sort of realisation would hint you need a different marketing strategy for one group of customers compared to the other, making segmentation a necessity to get right in your Marketing Cloud account.

Uncover Hidden Opportunities

Unengaged subscribers are one of the most lucrative segments to target. These are the prospects or customers who’ve subscribed but have not made a purchase in the last 30, 60, 90 days or longer. Unless they receive an email that grabs their attention, there’s little hope you’ll see them return to your e-commerce site or contacting your sales team.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud keeps track of user engagement through what are known as “data views”, eg. customers who haven’t engaged in the past 3 months. These are essentially system-generated data extensions. However you can’t just go and look them up in the system, you would actually need to write SQL queries or use “measures” (something related to filters) to unlock their information.

Some data views that could be relevant to identifying unengaged customers are: _click, _open. To see the full list, and a detailed overview of data views, see this article.

Segmenting this customer base is easy once you’ve adopted the right tools. Not only can you improve your email engagement metrics (eg. click-to-open ratio), adopting this segmentation strategy, but this new segment can be targeted across different channels (email, social media, etc.). With each additional channel, you increase the probability of turning one-time buyers into returning customers, the more frequently they see your brand. You can leverage Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s Automation Studio for this.

Segmentation Tools for Marketing Cloud

In a previous post, Hendrick outlined 4 options we have at our disposal when looking to segment data in Marketing Cloud. These are:

  1. SQL Queries
  2. Data Filters
  3. Audience Builder
  4. 3rd Party Apps

Check out the Segmentation Cheat Sheet here.

I want to dive deeper into option no. 4 because this is one of the great benefits of Salesforce – that you can easily connect apps to your Marketing Cloud environment.

One app I heard about some time ago is DESelect. I thought DESelect were on to something, because they combine easy-to-use data filters with the capabilities of SQL, without needing to know programming languages.

With DESelect, marketers can more easily collaborate across the company for suggestions on how to model and compare data points for wider insights.

A big ‘plus’ I see, is that marketers can work independently without requiring a SQL proficient team member on hand, meaning that segmentation and targeting both become more ‘hands-on’. Marketers can even use the tool to explore their datasets further to create new experimental segments.

Let’s weigh up the options:

Data Filters

Data filters are available in Email Studio, under ‘data filters’ in the ‘subscribers’ drop down menu. Salesforce includes several fields like close date to get you thinking about how you can segment your market.

  • Drag these filters into the ‘create filter’ window,
  • Use the ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ operators to add multiple conditions.

While this is a good starting point, there are a couple of limitations:

  • You’re limited by the data fields provided in Email Studio,
  • The larger your data set, the harder it is to work within the presets.


SQL (Structured Query Language) is a database management language used by IT professionals working with vast quantities of data. Users narrow their selections to find the right specific data sets needed for a particular task by using commands eg. SELECT, FROM, AND, WHERE.

In Marketing Cloud, SQL queries are found in Journey Builder in the Automation Studio window. Under the ‘Activities’ list in ‘Create Activity,’ choose ‘SQL query’ to get started.

Users struggle as the data sets grow larger, and the potential for errors or misused commands increases.

DESelect App

Segmentation guides your marketing efforts by showing you the relationship between data points. This type of modelling can be done in-house for direct, inexpensive improvements – however, you need the right tools to get the job done!

So, as Data Filters have too many limitations, and SQL queries are prone to error, this is why the DESelect app was interesting to me. I suggest you take a look at the tool, and when you do, think about the potential ROI this could bring both in highly impactful, personalized marketing campaigns, and the time saved across your internal team.


Personalization techniques came to the forefront of digital marketing in the 2010s. For the next decade, customers and prospects are going to need more than just a personalized headline to create a business relationship with your company!

You can create targeted and meaningful marketing based on high-quality data you collect but likely haven’t considered yet.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s built-in data filters will work for companies just starting out, or for those who don’t want to dive fully into their data. With SQL you gain a wider variety of uses for your data, but the technical expertise needed can perplex marketers and cause delays when they need to consider other colleagues working in the IT team!

For a full, robust look at your marketing data as it relates to targeting, DESelect gives you all the tools you need.

Remember, your segmentation and targeting efforts won’t be perfected on day one. Creating segments and then strategising on how best to reach them is an iterative process – insights you gain from one campaign become principles for your next outreach.

The Author

Lucy Mazalon

Lucy is the Operations Director at Salesforce Ben. She is an 10x certified Marketing Champion and founder of The DRIP.

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