Brian Sun, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Autopilot

Lesson 3: Centralize Your Contact Database

You’ve spent serious time and money acquiring contacts. Now let’s get them into Autopilot.

You’ve built a contact database of thousands (or even millions) of contacts—leads collected from advertising, sales conversations, events, and more. Unfortunately, many end up neglected and scattered across various databases, CRMs, and/or email lists. Importing these contacts into Autopilot will help you centralize your contacts and find leads you never knew you had.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to:

centralize contact database autopilot
Centralize your contact database in Autopilot

Gather your scattered contacts

There’s a purging fad right now, pioneered by a woman named Marie Kondo. If you’re trying to organize clothing, she suggests putting every single item you own on the floor in front of you so that you fully understand the massive amount of crap you’ve accumulated.

With that in mind, let’s start by putting all of our data on the floor in front of us. Compile contacts from the various places they live currently:

  • Email lists stored in your email marketing software
  • Leads, contacts, and/or account data from your customer relationship management (CRM) tool
  • Sales contacts spreadsheets or tradeshow lead lists
  • Scattered business cards or order requests from recent events
  • Buried email threads

Next, compile all of your contacts into a spreadsheet, organized by column headings (such as name, company, product, geography, contact type, and any other information that matters to your business). This sets the stage for your initial list import into Autopilot.

centralize contacts Autopilot
Map spreadsheet column headings with contact fields in Autopilot

Dedupe and validate your contact data

Once you’ve added all your contacts into a spreadsheet, you may want to dedupe them prior to importing. Note that Autopilot will automatically dedupe contacts using their email address as their unique identifier. If your data is already clean (or if Autopilot’s merge contact capabilities and email address deduping will do the trick), hop forward to importing your contacts.

If you want to massage your data more, open Excel or Google Spreadsheets. Then use vlookups or sort your data to find duplicate addresses, consolidate multiple rows into a single contact, and/or delete extraneous stuff. Many find this scrubbing process to be an eye-opening experience, much like browsing through old photo albums.

These deduping tools can also help:

  • DupeCatcher de-dupes your data when you upload it. Note that it won’t consolidate historical stuff; it’ll only catch duplicates at the point of entry.
  • DemandTools is specifically geared towards Salesforce users. It’ll dedupe, verify (check for accuracy and inconsistencies), normalize (organize your data into columns based on attributes), import, export, and mass delete your contact data.

Validate the quality of your email addresses, automatically

If you aren’t sure whether your contacts have opted-in, or don’t know where the contacts have been acquired from, you can validate your emails to avoid potentially being reported as a spammer once you start nurturing.

You can accomplish this by formatting and uploading your email database to Data Validation (or a similar service). This service automates the process of grading and providing diagnostics around every email in your database. It also recommends which emails to include or disclude from your marketing. By seeing the percentage of deliverable, undeliverable, and engaged email contacts in your database, you can then decide who to keep around.  

Import your lists into Autopilot

Once you’ve gathered, deduped, and validated all of your contacts, it’s time to get them into Autopilot. The most common approach is to import your list.

Follow the steps below, or watch this video tutorial to learn how to import contacts to Autopilot via a list import:

Select the green plus button located in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen, then click on “Import Contacts.”

Import your lists into Autopilot by selecting the green plus button in the Contacts app
import contact list Autopilot

We recommend uploading a CSV file to ensure your formatting is captured correctly. However, you can import a number of other file formats, including an Excel spreadsheet. Just be mindful when it comes to date and number formatting.

When importing, the first step is to select the file from your computer. To ensure the fields you’ve in your list are mapped across the corresponding fields in Autopilot, you’ll be asked to complete some simple field mapping.

Map the fields in your spreadsheet to Autopilot fields
import contact list Autopilot

You have approximately 20 standard fields that you can map across, including first name, last name, and email address. You can also create unlimited custom fields by selecting “Add a Custom Field” from the drop-down menu, entering the name of that custom field, and selecting the data type (e.g., text, whole number, integer). If you don’t want to import certain data into Autopilot, leave the Autopilot field blank for that spreadsheet field.

Map custom fields like 'Favorite Food' while importing new contacts to Autopilot
import contact list Autopilot

Once you’re happy with your field mappings, hit continue. You’ll then see a preview of the data mapping you’ve put in place.

Confirm you've correctly mapped your field to Autopilot
import contact list Autopilot

Yep, looks good!

Should we find an email address in your list that matches a contact already in Autopilot, selecting continue will take you to our duplication strategy options. We recommend opting for the default option, which will update existing contacts with only those new fields that we find in the spreadsheet. However, you can also choose to overwrite what’s in Autopilot or do nothing with the duplicate contact in your spreadsheet.

Choose how you'd like to handle any duplicate contacts
import contact list Autopilot

Selecting continue again will add all contacts from your list to a predefined Autopilot list that matches the name of your spreadsheet. Alternatively, you can create a new one or select a different list to add the contacts to.

Select the list(s) to import your contacts to
import contact list Autopilot

Clicking “Import Contacts” begins the upload process. Once complete, you’ll receive a confirmation pop-up. You can find your new contacts in the “All Contacts” list as well as any lists you selected or created when uploading.

Add contacts manually

If you don’t have a full list of contacts to import, you can also manually add one contact at a time by selecting the blue icon above the green list import button.

Add contacts manually by selecting the blue icon in the Contacts app
add contacts manually Autopilot

As with the bulk upload, you can also add custom fields to single contact records by clicking the “Add Custom Field” button in the top-right corner, then selecting “Custom Field” from the dropdown list. If you are going to add contacts manually, please ensure you provide an email address, as this will be used as their unique identifier in Autopilot.

A few points to note about list imports and manual additions:

  1. Whenever a contact is added to your account, they will automatically be added to the “All Contacts” list.
  2. If you ever want to delete a contact, select the drop-down arrow to the right of their name and click “Delete”. You can also perform a mass delete by clicking “Manage”, and then choosing the contacts you wish to delete from the list.
Mass delete contacts in Autopilot
Mass delete contacts Autopilot

Note that this works in lists and smart segments as well as the “All Contacts” list.

Integrate your CRM

For small teams or companies, or businesses without direct sales staff, Autopilot can be used exclusively to organize and grow your contact base. But if you have salespeople who need leads and lists as well as a system to track customer interactions, you may need to adopt CRM software.

Using Autopilot in conjunction with CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) software stores prospect, customer, and account information as well as leads and sales opportunities in one central location. You can use a CRM to manage the sales process, record your customer engagements, manage your pipeline and forecasts, and measure sales results.

Here are a few CRM systems worth checking out:  


Salesforce is the most well-known and widely used cloud-based CRM, which has a deep, pre-built integration with Autopilot. Salesforce is highly customizable, which makes it a viable solution for small- to mid-sized businesses and enterprises alike. Salesforce also has a large ecosystem of partner apps and services (AppExchange) that offers an online directory comprised of add-ons and tools that improve your sales efforts. The main downsides to Salesforce are its relatively high cost and upfront complexity to install and configure.


Pipedrive is great for small teams. Its key differentiator is the visual sales pipeline showing what stage all of your deals are in. Autopilot can be integrated with Pipedrive via Zapier.


Insightly was built for small businesses and companies that are just getting off the ground. It offers integrated project management features as well as a forever-free plan (if you just need the basics). Insightly can also be integrated with Autopilot via Zapier.

Syncing CRM contacts into Autopilot using Salesforce

After the initial import, changes to your Salesforce leads, contacts, and accounts will continuously sync between Salesforce and Autopilot.

You have two sync options:

  1. Sync all leads, contacts, and accounts
  2. Selectively sync leads, contacts, and accounts

By default, Autopilot will sync all Salesforce leads, contacts, and accounts. We recommend this because it gives you easy access to your entire Salesforce database in Autopilot.

Choose between selectively syncing your contacts or syncing everything
Autopilot selective Salesforce sync

However, if you’d prefer to only sync a selection of your Salesforce database, choose the “Selectively Sync Leads, Contacts & Accounts” option. For each object, this allows you to sync all records, only sync records that meet your criteria (e.g., status is not “junk”), or not sync any records.

Here are a few other things to consider when syncing with Salesforce:

  • During the initial sync, you select which record serves as the master (if contacts exist in both Autopilot and Salesforce)
  • After the initial sync, the two systems will bi-directionally update every 10 minutes
  • Real-time data checks occur using shapes on the Autopilot canvas (e.g., a check Salesforce field value condition prior to an email send)
  • Contacts synced into Autopilot from Salesforce do not comply with the de-duping capabilities as described above for contacts imported into or captured by Autopilot

Interested in learning more? Read through the nitty gritty configuration steps or browse frequently asked questions about the Autopilot and Salesforce connector.

Syncing CRM contacts into Autopilot using Zapier

Zapier is a third-party application that sends information between Autopilot and other tools, such as Pipedrive or other CRM solutions. When a new contact is added to Autopilot, Zapier automatically sends that contact to your CRM, and vice-versa.

Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Export all of your existing contacts to a spreadsheet (e.g., CSV file) from your CRM.
  2. Import the spreadsheet into Autopilot and map any required custom fields. This will complete the initial import of your existing CRM contacts into Autopilot.
  3. Set up Zaps between Autopilot and your CRM to capture any future changes made within either system.

For example, if you use Pipedrive as your CRM, you’d create the following Zaps to sync new contacts from each app.

Make two Zaps, one that creates a new person in Pipedrive whenever a new contact is added to Autopilot and vice versa
Source: Zapier
  1. Make a Zap that creates a new person in Pipedrive whenever a new contact is added to Autopilot. Click here to make this Zap.
  2. Make another Zap that creates a new contact in Autopilot whenever a new contact is added to Pipedrive. Click here to make this Zap.

Follow the step-by-step instructions in Zapier to finish setting up your Zaps, mapping all relevant custom fields between the two solutions.

Check out this detailed guide to setting up Zapier and check out other Zaps you can create with Autopilot

Sync contacts via API

This section is most relevant for customers with 50,000 contacts and above, who have their own team of developers.

The Autopilot REST API is designed to integrate your app with Autopilot. It will improve and customize your experience in Autopilot while enhancing the data being pushed into your app.

Here are a few example applications of the API:

  • Add contacts from your app into Autopilot
  • Send leads from Autopilot into your own app
  • Trigger Autopilot journeys from your app
  • Keep unsubscribes in sync between Autopilot and your app
  • Add updates to Autopilot’s activity feed
  • Enhance contact profiles with custom fields and other data from your app
  • Get data from your app into and out of Salesforce using Autopilot’s deep integration

This is a more advanced approach. Nonetheless, it’s an option for adding contacts into Autopilot. For more information, check out Autopilot’s API documentation.

Add contacts with tracking code user association

Once Autopilot’s tracking code is in place, you can leverage the user association method to add or update contacts across your web properties. Here’s how to set it up.

In your website HTML, after the Autopilot tracking code script, associate your app user with an Autopilot contact by adding the following:

add Autopilot contacts with tracking code user association
Add this after your Autopilot tracking code in your website HTML

Users who log into your app, but aren’t yet an Autopilot contact, will automatically be added as a new contact. This comes in handy when you have a form that isn’t captured by Autopilot’s tracking code.

With this method, you can also provide further contact details in addition to the user’s email address. For example:

add Autopilot contacts with tracking code user association
Append contact details such as first name, last name, and in-app behavior to Autopilot contacts

Please note:

Update contacts via Segment pushes

Segment, an analytics API and customer data hub, is another way to add and update contacts in Autopilot.

If you’ve set up Autopilot’s Segment integration, then Segment will forward any Identify or Track Event calls it receives from your users’ activity into Autopilot.

Say a new user signs up for your mobile app. A Segment Identify call would immediately pass their contacts details, such as name, email address, and pricing plan, on to Autopilot. If they’re not in Autopilot as an existing contact, then Autopilot would instead auto-add them as a new contact.

Autopilot Segment
Example of a Segment Identify call containing user traits

Once Autopilot’s Segment integration is configured, these traits translate into a new contact in Autopilot:

View of an Autopilot contact synced with Segment
Autopilot Segment

Keep your contact records updated

Like jogging in the morning, keeping your contact database organized is something that you just need to do. Having a clean, up-to-date contact database will allow you to personalize your messaging and target your marketing to specific users, using up-to-date demographic, engagement, CRM, or app usage data.

Follow these steps to make contact management an ongoing initiative:

  • Review the status of your contact database each month. How many contacts do you have? What was the month over month change? How many unsubscribes?
  • Plan ahead. Create a spreadsheet template for contact details you want to capture from any marketing event or campaign.
  • Define processes for logging every sales interaction, lead status change, and new sale in your CRM. Which fields are required? Consider including activity logging in your sales team’s compensation plans.
  • Connect other marketing apps into your contact database to grow and extend your contact record. For example, Zapier and Segment can help pull data from over 800 different tools into Autopilot’s marketing automation software, including from within your own product.

This knowledge forms a foundation for your sales and marketing teams to connect with contacts at the right time, on the right channel.


Next Lesson

Lesson 4: Identify Key Audience Segments

72% of consumers are frustrated by generic, untargeted marketing. Fix this with smart segmentation. Your contact database is a living, breathing record of the people who engage with your brand ...

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