Build a Data Extension from Scratch

Tables inside of Salesforce Marketing Cloud are called Data Extensions, or DE for short. They are the backbone for multiple features in SFMC, so it is important to know how to build one from scratch.

Below are step by step instructions – expand for screen grabs and additional best practices:

1. Log into Salesforce Marketing Cloud and go to Email Studio and select “Email”

2. Hover over “Subscribers” and select “Data Extensions”

3. Click on the “Create” button in the upper right

4. Select “Standard Data Extension”

5. Creation Method – Select Create from New

For this example, we are going to create from new. One of my favorite time-saving tricks is to create from existing – this makes a copy of the DE’s settings and fields, but not the data. You can also save a template and create a DE from a template.

6. Give the Data Extension a Name

Give the field a name that you will recognize. Be careful with shorthands. Make sure you can easily identify what this DE includes.

Avoid spaces in the names. The system will allow them, but it will make it more difficult later on. I recommend that you replace your spaces with “_”s or “-“s.

7. Assign an External Key – For this example, we will leave this blank

You can fill it in or leave it blank. If blank then Salesforce will autofill it.
For this exercise, let’s leave it blank.

8. Add in your description

Add in your comments and notes on what is in this table or any important info in this field. It will make it much easier when you have to come back to this DE in the future.

9. Change Destination – Select the folder you want to store it in

I strongly recommend that you utilize the folder option. Set yourself up a filing scheme to make it easy for you or someone else to locate the DE

10. Check “Is Sendable” and “Is Testable” and click Next at the bottom right

“Is Sendable” must be checked for this DE to be available as an email audience.
“Is Testable” must be checked to use the Test DE feature when testing emails.

11. Data Retention – For this example, we will leave this marked as “OFF”
Then select Next.

12. Set up Fields –
Data Type – Text, Number, Date, EmailAddress, Boolean
Length – This is the number of characters
Primary Key / Nullable / Default Value

For this example, we are going to set EmailAddress as the Primary Key. As Primary Key, this field will require that every entry be unique.

15. Select Field for Send Relationship and click “Create”

If this DE is sendable, you will need to identify what field aligns with your Subscriber Key, as that is how SFMC matches the users to the All contacts subscription list.

For this example, we are using Email Address to match to Subscriber Key. If you are using a separate value for Subscriber Key, you will want to set up a Subscriber key field in step 14 and check the primary key box for it.

And that’s how to set up a DE from scratch. I will do a post next week going over a couple of ways to add data to this table.


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