Salesforce Account Contact Relationship Fields – Relate a Contact to Multiple Accounts

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‘Account Contact Relationships’ are how you can define ‘relationships’ between contacts (individual people) to accounts (a business).

Not all relationships in the real world follow the classic B2B-business-cookie-cutter approach following a neat one contact to one account structure. With Account Contact Relationships you can reconstruct reality with networks of individuals working with:

a) Multiple accounts,

b) Working with accounts in different capacities (eg. employee, agent, partner, affiliate, contractor etc.)

The reason I wrote this post for The DRIP, is because I see the potential for marketers to leverage the role(s) that a contact would have with one or many accounts:

  • Account-based marketing (ABM): helping navigate the power dynamics within the 4 walls of a prospect account – plus, a win for targeted messaging.
  • Channel Sales: spotting indirect relationships to that account, eg. if you are highly engaged with a partner affiliated with your target account.

What are Account Contact Relationships?

‘Account Contact Relationships’ enable you to define the ‘role’ a contact has to their account, and any other account in your Salesforce org, if you wish to do so. Example roles that come out of the box are Business user, Executive Sponsor, Influencer, plus others.

Above: how Related Contacts appear on the account page, depending on which related list format you choose.

The technical stuff: ‘Account Contact Relationships’ is a junction object which enables that many-to-many relationship.

They work in a similar way to Opportunity Contact Roles, bridging that gap between two unrelated records. What I mean by this is that ‘Account Contact Relationships’ form a relationship between two records that don’t have a natural relationship in Salesforce: a contact with an account that’s not it’s own!

When you go to add or edit a relationship, a new screen will launch, where you will be able to select/deselect roles from the list (multi-select picklist field)

The Background

The ability to relate Contacts to multiple Accounts was a feature Salesforce Admins had been clamouring for ever since Salesforce Lightning was released.

People were a little disgruntled when they find out the Salesforce ‘Account Contact Roles’ feature had been retired, left behind in Salesforce Classic with no feature parity in Lightning. Account Contact Roles allowed you to define a contact’s role within that account.

Instead of creating new functionality layered on top of existing features, Salesforce decluttered first; they threw out the old ‘Account Contact Roles’ feature, and made way for ‘Account Contact Relationships’.

‘Account Contact Relationships’ achieves the same thing as the retired ‘Account Contact Roles’ feature, so you should absolutely use this if you want to simply define a ‘role’. However, what ‘Account Contact Relationships’ can do in addition to the retired ‘Account Contact Roles’ is create a role for a contact to multiple accounts.

Contacts vs. Related Contacts

First things first: there is a difference between ‘Contacts’ and ‘Related Contacts’.

  • Every Contact is still related to one account – think of it as a primary account.
  • Define a role to associate someone to multiple accounts – not a true contact to account tie.
 ContactRelated Contact
Account name[current account’s name][another account’s name]
Email[current email address][same as current email address]

Account Contact Relationships vs. Opportunity Contact Roles

As I have said, Account Contact Relationships work in a similar way to Opportunity Contact Roles.

It’s worth noting that these are two separate objects, each with their own setup; therefore any roles you add to one you need to add to the other. On a positive note, this does mean you can define different role values for accounts vs. opportunities.

Why Use Account Contact Relationships?

B2B marketers will benefit from using Account Contact Relationships when doing account mapping for strategies such as Account-based Marketing.

Job titles, being ununiform in nature, can get lost in the noise. Roles, on the other hand, a great way to unify and categorise prospect and customer contacts.

Seeing the roles that come out of the box, you will begin to see why:

There is also a powerful use case for channel sales, where partners may be affiliated with an account and managing the relationship on behalf of your organisation.

Avoid the Previous Pains of Deliberate Duplication

Previously, if you wanted to go beyond the neat ‘cookie-cutter’ model and relate a contact to more than one account, you would need to create more than one contact record for that individual. This is known as ‘deliberate duplication’, where you are creating a duplicate for a reason (as a workaround to the Salesforce data model restrictions).

Setup Account Contact Relationships

Here are the steps you need to take in order to set up Contacts to multiple accounts:

1. Go to setup. Find ‘Account Settings’

2. Scroll down to the section “Contacts to multiple Accounts Settings”, and check the checkbox.

You may need to wait for the setting to process:

3. Dive into the Object Manager, and find ‘Account Contact Relationship’ in the list:

4. Edit your role values: in ‘Fields & Relationships’, find ‘Role’ in the list:

These are the ones that come out-of-the-box:

  • Business user
  • Decision maker
  • Economic buyer
  • Economic decision maker
  • Evaluator
  • Executive sponsor
  • Influencer
  • Technical buyer
  • Other

5. Go back to Object Manager, and find ‘Account’. Add the related list to page layouts by finding ‘Page Layouts’, find the page in the list:

This one is called ‘Related Contacts’.

To avoid confusion, it is a good idea to remove the original ‘Contact’ related list from the account page layout!

Reporting for Account Contact Relationships

‘Related contacts’ are not included in the standard ‘Accounts and Contacts’ report type, neither will you find one when searching for a report type. You will need to use a different report type for showing related contacts, which you have to create yourself.

Salesforce advises you to create three custom report types:

  • Related Contacts
  • Related Accounts
  • Related Contacts with or without Activities

Here are the steps you will need to go through:

1. Find ‘Report types’ in Salesforce Setup using the search bar.

2. Add the details, as shown below (you can copy them from this page). Ensure that ‘Deployed’ is selected.

3. Define which objects should be included in the report, and how they relate to each other.

Now return to the ‘Reports’ tab to begin pulling reports.

Read more on how to create the other two custom report types for related contacts.

Account Contact Relationships and Pardot

When Salesforce releases these features that will benefit marketers, I ask myself how this will impact how we work with Pardot. How can Pardot handle Account Contact Relationships?

The first thing to note: remember that the ‘Account Contact Relationship’ is almost like a weak/fake relationship? The contact is still tied to their primary account, which is the strong/real relationship (you can distinguish this by looking at the contact’s ‘Account Name’ field, which will remain the same no matter how many accounts they are related to). This relationship is the one that Pardot respects, and will not take any of the related contact roles into consideration…

…Unless you leverage Pardot custom objects. By creating an ‘Account Contact Relationship’ custom object in Pardot, you will be able to use that relationship in automation, segmentation and more. Although the set up for the custom object can be painless, updating all of your account automations and dynamic lists may take a significant amount of time!

Tips for Using Account Contact Relationships

  • Custom role values: my advice is to stick with two or three roles and ensure the definition and purpose of these roles are communicated across your fellow marketers and any sales team members using this feature. For example, in our org, I wanted to identify who the primary contact is for day to day communications (‘Primary Contact’) and anyone who is involved in the decision making process for our sponsorships (‘Decision Maker’). You may get tempted to add lots of roles specific to your organisation, but the likelihood these will be used properly will decrease with each additional value.
  • Mass updating Account Contact Relationships: you can’t do this from a list view, which is how I love to update records in mass without leaving the Salesforce interface. When you are adding and editing the Account Contact Relationships for multiple contacts at once, you will need to use Dataloader.
  • Account vs. opportunity roles: these are separate objects, and so have their own setup (you will need to add the values for roles for each object).
  • Reporting: you will need to create custom report types before you can report on related contacts and their activity.
  • Only have one contact related list on the account page layout to avoid confusion (ie. remove the original ‘Contacts’ related list)

9 thoughts on “Salesforce Account Contact Relationship Fields – Relate a Contact to Multiple Accounts

  1. Very helpful article. Just a note: the images for steps 1 and 2 under Setup Account Contact Relationships don’t match the instructions. They’re for reporting.

  2. The most detailed explanations found on this topic and thaks for it.

    I have to manage “Related Contacts” with accounts that are not shared between users.
    Account 1 => Contact x
    Account 2 => Contact x also but owner of account 2 can’t see Account 1… Is there a way to “share” the contact

  3. I have enabled this and the new object is not showing up anywhere. Not in object manager, nor Sharing settings

  4. What about a contact who leaves an account and goes to work for another? Is it logical to add a role of “No longer employed” so that their history is kept but one company has them as an active role and the other does not?

  5. Anyone know how to report on contact role changes within a time period? For example, I would like to be able to run a report of changes showing contacts that were Evaluators and are now Decision Makers in the last three months. Thanks!

    1. Hi Angela, good question – my first thought was to enable “Set Field Tracking” for the contact role object (which will enable you to report on field changes), however, it’s not available for contact role 🙁 I’m not sure about how to build anything custom, and I would be careful going down that route.

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