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HowToScream - Community SFMC Horror Stories

HowToSFMC Community

Published on 10/30/2023

As the Winter ‘24 release finishes casting its influence on the world of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, the witching hour is rapidly moving towards us. Now, the only shadows that decorate our Marketing Automation platform are those cast from the jack-o-lanterns carved into the shapes of everyone's favourite mascots. Whether you’ve got a Wicked Astro, an Evil Einstein or Creepy Codey in your pumpkin this year, we’ve got tales from our community to share. Brace yourself, get your comforting Trailblazer hoodie at the ready and scroll through the cursed texts of their deepest, darkest and most terrifying SFMC stories.

A ghostly pause

There’s little that births fear in the heart of an SFMC user than the thought of a quick fix. A simple concoction of actions to remedy the ills of an org. Whether it’s a data extension that needs some new fields or a journey that needs a new version… Here are some examples where that simple, quick fix led to a little more than a ghostly pause. It led to despair and dismay for users and customers alike.

Sometimes when you hear a knocking in your org, it’s better for you to sit tight and wait for it to just go away on its own. When you go looking for ghosts, sometimes ghosts find you as Lesley found out…

It was a dark and stormy afternoon when I paused a crucial automation for a "quick fix" before darting off to my attic to see what was making a suspicious noise. It was not until a week later when asked "why are these essential notification not going out?" that I realized I must retreat to that attic for the rest of my life to live in the shadows in shame.

But, just because you didn’t go looking for ghosts, it doesn’t mean the ghosts aren’t looking for you. The ghost may have been in the platform all along.

I'll always remember the moment early in our SFMC usage when I learned that if a Triggered Send hit any error, it just stopped - for EVERYONE, not just the problem record - without any sort of notification of failure. I can still taste the bile that rose as I realized that critical emails had been paused for weeks.

Even if the ghosts don’t find you, time ticks for us all and whether we like it or not, time will always get us. Sometimes, times and date maths are the scariest parts of all.

I created coupon codes with 23:59 UTC-8 expiration dates; the SFMC import converted the code expirations to UTC-6. The email's AMPscript had FormatDate(@dateString,"M") with no conversion back to UTC-8, which meant the email showed the expiration as the next day.

The biggest challenge with ghosts is they can be incredibly tricky to see, you may think you’ve done the right thing but they can still appear later on or even straight away and leave you none the wiser. Duc has expressed their fears of not always knowing whether the job that was done was the only job that was done or whether the ghosts in the platform were having a little fun at their expense.

Refresh triggered sends (pause, publish, start). Did it include all the inactive ones..

As with everything you can’t see, you can never know what is happening in the background. Is there a queue of 1 thing, 20 things or 100 things in front of your request. Is the platform just cackling away in the background? Is that one of the things causing you a delay?

“Run Once" to perform Automation activities with clients in the test session. The automation was put in queue..

A small misstep

When traversing the hallowed fields of Marketing Cloud, one must always watch their step. One wrong move can turn a normal day into a weeks, months or even years long nightmare. Remember folks, the spirits behind Salesforce Marketing Cloud are old, ECMAScript 3 old in fact, and these spirits can be vindictive. They want nothing more than to see you slip.

Like a responsible developer, Aman maintains documentation of the history of their SFMC org, but, some words should be shared only through ephemeral means or locked away securely and away from prying eyes.

I just found our client ID, and Secret is available openly on Google. Good, they don’t have our login credentials

This anonymous community member summoned upon themselves the woe of misplaced contacts, sending them through the rabbit hole, never to be found again.

A user loaded a big chunk of our opted-in Contacts dataset into a new Data Extension, with smartly designed segmentation and personalisation flags to run a fancy new journey. Then they selected the wrong Subscriber Key for the Contact relationship, and hit Send…

Never trust phantom data. Especially when it comes to sending test emails as Stephan found. Nobody knows what lurks in the shadows and unless you’ve been and explored, there may be ghouls and zombies waiting for you.

We sent a test email to random generated supposedly non-existing e-mail addresses. We had clicks and opens!

Sometimes you don’t have to make a misstep to be caught out by the shifting tides within SFMC, as the tool moves, evolves and creates new capabilities it can be all too easy to be caught out by some form of new hex.

The moment you realised missing an enhancement to lookup lead records in CRM before creating new ones and your SFMC landing pages pumping duplicates into salesforce CRM over an year!

The shifting tides aren’t always on the surface, the undercurrent can look very different from the surface. What was a good idea in years past may no longer be that same good idea. What worked before may not work now. Exercise caution, especially when others have elected to freeze and stay still.

I accidentally changed the wrong FTP user password in the enterprise business unit and it wouldn't let me change it back because it didn't meet the latest password security baseline baked into SFMC. It was the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve during a tech freeze and no one was around to help me update passwords in the systems dropping off data so most of file drops needed to power customer journeys failed for 8-10 days

Be aware of mimics. What may look harmless and safe to play with, doesn’t necessarily mean it is

Delete an original data extension instead of a test DE in an accident…

You never know what's lurking around the corner...

Garlic, stakes and choosing the right tool for the job

We all need to know the best tools for the job we need to do and we all need to use them wisely. Whether you’re looking to hunt vampires or crush bugs, getting the right tool can be the difference between success and failure. But, sometimes we have to make do with the only tools we have.

Billy found this out first hand when trying to overcome the creatures of SSJS in SFMC.

Not feeling as comfortable with SSJS, so I build out the original solution in a cloudpage just so I can get a feeling of any errors as opposed to putting it all in the SSJS and then running it and hoping that it won't error. There as to be a better way!

Sometimes the right tool for the job doesn’t exist in our own tool kits. We should look at all of the tools available to us and perhaps the right tool is in the software next door. But if you use the tool badly, the issue may persist or even get worse as Cam alludes to…

Once upon a time there was a business who self implemented Marketing Cloud and Marketing Cloud Connect. Their Salesforce Org was full of duplicate records due to bad merge rules, and rather than cleaning up the source data, they built a SQL solution in Marketing Cloud to dedupe records and assign them a new subscriber key - which was a random number generated in a SQL query

Whilst some tools may not do the job and some tools may be supported a little further away from home than we’d typically be used to, sometimes the right tool is in front of our eyes within SFMC. These zombie links could have remained alive rather than undead in Content Builder.

We used external social media icon URLs for every MC email template. The URLs are broken after 3 years...

Even if we’re using the right tool, things can still go wrong in the shadows. Things can still not go according to plan as highlighted in this warning for everyone who activates journeys. Not all that appears fine is always fine.

Journey ran perfectly when I checked on the UI. Recipients didn't receive the EDM..

The wisened veteran Pato was seemingly using the right tool at one point, but in an effort to enhance things may have instead opened a crypt of configuration requiring 120 re-integrations!

One hundred and twenty BUs, I decided to turn on multi-org. One by one all users had to be re-integrated again.

Getting the communication right

At times in our lives in SFMC, we need to communicate with the other side, whether that is customers, clients or contacts. These communications can sometimes be fraught with danger, with or without a ouija board it’s easy for requests or requirements to go astray.

Unexpected voices bring about a fear and sense of Halloween dread unlike any other. Seeing an unfamiliar name, sensing an unfamiliar presence can bring about a swift change of priorities, especially when it’s throwing the bile of a bad customer experience into the world as Pep once found out.

Yes, it's me... WHAT????... call center says customers asking us to stop sending duplicate emails?... MORE THAN 200 TO EACH CUSTOMER!!!?

Lesley has seen a fair share of horror stories, but nothing could have prepared for the sheer pain of logging in to find someone else lurking in the shadows and releasing wickedness into the world!

It was a seemingly normal day when my client allowed another contractor into their org. They created an all subscriber data extension and made it testable.

Sometimes the communications are all hidden away where mortal eyes cannot see, the beasts of the back end can play havoc with your finest technology work and just rear their ugly heads without warning as Duc found out.

Script activity, SQL query activity worked perfectly with test records. Runtime error occurred when running with real data volume..

But the worst can sometimes be what is not said. Rafał shared this tale of something going wrong, something being acknowledged as wrong and everyone being left in the darkness knowing not what happened, nor what to do. The anticipation of finding out whether something was getting better, getting fixed or even getting worse playing on the mind is a fear that will keep even the most stalwart of us all on edge.

In the shadowed realm of the server stack, a ghastly silence stretched for 12 hours, ensnaring a team in a maddening abyss of worklessness and desolation. Like characters in a cursed tale, they languished, their souls tormented by the absence of updates on the incident report and halted communication

At times communication can lead to a sacrifice that you may not be ready to make. It may not be avoidable and it

I cc'd my boss on the SFMC email blast today. However, for some reason, I can't log in now.

Are clients the real thing to be scared of?

After seeing all of these horror stories, we should remember that sometimes the biggest reason to scream in fear is a little closer to home. It’s not the ghouls, ghosts or gremlins that live in the SFMC platform that can strike fear into our hearts. Sometimes it’s in the friends we meet and the people we collaborate with where the fear can come. We know everyone involved means the best, but sometimes it cannot be helped that these scary challenges will come across us. Here are a few horror stories that have led to some of our community having to wrap up extra safe in their Salesforce swag.

The client asked to update an EDM. Not aware where it is but only the EDM screenshot is given..

The client asked for keeping their contact counts not overage, but... They ingest and consume new data every day

The client was not happy with the cost. Now they are starting to compare other competitors with SFMC.

What are your scariest SFMC tales? What has spooked you out or made you scared to turn out the lights for bed? Come and join us on Slack and share some of the things that taught you HowToScream.

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