Deciphering the Contact List Puzzle

Sitecore Experience’s List Management tool provides a lot of options to create complex lists of contacts for emails, personalization, and automated engagement plans. Before you start creating hundreds of lists from old spreadsheets, let’s review the basics of how Sitecore List Management works and the puzzle pieces at your disposal to build-out a maintainable list strategy.

The Basic Pieces

Segmented Lists are rules based and dynamic in nature. Therefore, no contact actually belongs to a segmented list until the list is evaluated. Because of this dynamic nature, it is not possible for a user to opt-in or opt-out of a segmented list; they would need to change the contact information that the rule is being evaluated on.

Contact Lists, on the other hand, are static in nature; a contact belongs or does not belong. The static nature means that it is possible for controls to be provided that allow a user to be added or removed via admins (i.e. the list manager) or some form of a subscription control placed on the site.

What does this mean for building lists for emails? It requires a little more planning with some long term payoffs in easily targeting users for emails, personalization, and engagement plans.

When and Why Segmented Lists

Segmented lists are useful when there is a subset of all contact records that should be targeted. You could manually find and add these contact records to a contact list, but that can be time consuming and tedious if there are thousands of contacts to review. This is where Segmented Lists come in handy. During the creation of a segmented list, you define a filter based on the Sitecore Rules Engine with one or more conditions. When the Segmented List is evaluated, such as during an email send or export, all contacts are filtered through the set rules leaving you with only those contacts you wish to engage.

Deciphering the Contact List Puzzle - Image One

The dynamic nature of Segmented Lists allows users to naturally be dropped or added based on their engagement with the organization. Thus, they will receive more accurate and beneficial information from you, creating long-term engagement with the organization.

Finally, Segmented Lists can be exported to a CSV file and a snapshot of the current evaluation of the filter (moment in time) can be converted into a Contact List. The conversion into a Contact List can be used as a starting point for a larger mailing list or even a one-off targeted communication where you may need to know the email recipients at a later time.

When and Why Contact Lists

As I have mentioned, a Contact List is static in nature. Contact records must be explicitly added or removed from this type of list. One can think of a Contact List more as a traditional mailing list that can still be managed in a spreadsheet.

Because of the explicit nature of a Contact List, they can be revealed to site visitors for personal opt-in or opt-out via a subscription control or through the save actions of a Web Forms for Marketers form. (Note that, when using the WFFM to add to a contact list, you must also include the create user or other mechanism to create a contact record or it will throw an error.)

Contact Lists are useful for allowing visitors to self-identify interests by subscribing or unsubscribing to them, as well as for tracking targeted communications.

One Last Piece

The final puzzle piece, before it can all be put together, is that both Segmented and Contact Lists can be assigned ‘include lists’ and ‘exclude lists’. Both must be a Contact List in nature. Exclude Lists are used to indicate that anyone that has subscribed (Contact Lists) or is part of the starting collection (Segmented Lists) should not be evaluated any further. This would prevent this contact record from receiving any messages through this list.

Include Lists, on the other hand, are used by Segmented Lists to determine which contact records should be evaluated through the Segmented List rules that have been setup. By default, Segmented Lists start with the ‘entire database’, i.e. all of the contacts. When working with Contact Lists, the ‘include lists’ help to pre-populate existing contacts. This is helpful when first setting up new subscription lists to make sure that the appropriate people are pre-subscribed.

Building the List Puzzle

I think that the easiest way to understand this is to play out a scenario. Let’s say that the Paragon Coffee marketing team has decided to begin hosting monthly coffee tastings at the warehouse. To make this event cost effective in building out customer loyalty, they cannot send this to all 10,000 contacts. Their plan is to target those customers who have bought $100 or more in products in the previous month. The marketing team are also willing to include individuals who subscribed to the more generic sounding events mailing list. To accomplish this, the marketing group takes the following steps:

  1. Create a Segmented List based on all contacts (entire database). Using a custom segmentation rule, it will filter all of the users who made a purchase greater than or equal to $100 in the past 30 days
    1. They called this: “Hundred Dollar Monthly Purchase Segment”
  2. Create a Contact List called “Paragon Coffee Event Opt-out”, as we are required to track who should not receive the messages
  3. Create a second Contact List called “Paragon Coffee Event Mailer”
  4. As part of the creation of the “Paragon Coffee Event Mailer”, add the “Paragon Coffee Event Opt-out” as an Exclude List source. This will help keep the actual recipients list correct, if for some reason an account ends up on both lists
  5. The “Global Opt-Out” is also added as an Exclude List to confirm that all of the users that have indicated that they wish to receive nothing are properly handled
    Deciphering the Contact List Puzzle - Image Two
  6. During the creation of the “Monthly Tasting Event” scheduled email, the following is done:
    1. “Hundred Dollar Monthly Purchase Segment” list is added as an include
    2. “Paragon Coffee Event Mailer” list is added as an include
    3. “Paragon Coffee Event Opt-out” list is added as an exclude

    Deciphering the Contact List Puzzle - Image Three
    Deciphering the Contact List Puzzle - Image Four

In this way, the email will be sent to everyone who purchased $100 or more in the previous month and those who signed up for the events mailing list, but exclude those who are on the Event Opt-Out list.


As always, feel free to tweet me questions or comments @thecodeattic or on Sitecore Slack Community as @gillissm.

[Originally appeared on]



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