Few Salesforce features have stirred as much debate as person accounts. The idea behind them is clearly useful — they offer the ability to create accounts that also function as contacts. But for years, users remained wary of them: Nuances of this feature kept some businesses from using Salesforce person accounts the way they wanted, and the permanency of enabling them scared others off.
Salesforce has invested significantly in this feature recently, however, bringing it up to parity with other parts of the platform. For example, it is now available in Professional Edition, offers customizable duplicate management and can be edited through the Lightning Object Manager.
So when deciding whether to enable Salesforce person accounts, the question isn’t about pros or cons. It’s instead about understanding the nuances of the feature and seeing whether its use cases fit your needs.
What are Salesforce person accounts?
Before we get started, it helps to explain what person accounts are. Enabling person accounts opens an entire new account-contact model in your org. Without it, your users must attach every contact to an existing account — a customer, a partner or some other type of business. But when you create a person account, you’re in fact creating two records: A contact and an account married together. As a result, a person account can function as either a contact or an account in your org.
Use cases for person accounts
Clearly, the ability to create contacts without attaching them to a business is useful for B2C customers. They can store every customer in Salesforce without needing to know where they work.
One common misconception about Salesforce person accounts states that they’re just for B2C companies. This idea isn’t accurate, though — they’re useful for any company that works with individuals on a regular basis. Examples include:
- Market research companies tracking survey respondents
- Wealth management businesses with individual account holders
- Utility companies working with homeowners
- Healthcare or medical device companies that interact with patients and/or physicians
- Tracking independent contractors, freelancers or those who otherwise own a one-person business
These use cases all speak to the significant benefits of person accounts: the ability to quickly add individuals and the flexibility to treat them as either accounts or contacts. You can attach opportunities to them, include them in cases as either the contact or account and relate them to multiple other accounts if you wish.
Nuances of using person accounts
As mentioned above, the unique data model of person accounts leads them to behave differently than other Salesforce objects. For example:
- Enabling person accounts represents an irreversible step. But you can hide them in your org and convert person accounts to regular ones. So this fact shouldn’t keep you from using them.
- If you use person accounts together with regular accounts, it can confuse users because both types show up in the “Accounts” tab. So if you’re using a mixed data model like this, you should invest in extra end-user training to help them understand why some people appear in account lists while others show in contact lists.
- Person accounts can only fire workflow rules and triggers built on the account object (not the contact object). Process builder doesn’t have this limitation, so we recommend relying on processes when working with person accounts.
- Because each person account constitutes a contact and an account, it counts as two records worth of storage. Keep that in mind when using large volumes of person accounts!
- Person accounts can integrate with most other systems, but because other platforms likely don’t follow the same model, you need to be thoughtful about what information you classify as an account field and a contact field. On a person account, these fields appear together, but the difference could affect your Salesforce integration with a different platform.
- Similarly, when downloading an AppExchange package, make sure it works with person accounts. Most do, but it pays to confirm.
- Companies using marketing automation tools with person accounts: We recommend using Marketing Cloud over Pardot. Pardot requires leads to contain a company name when syncing to Salesforce, and this functionality presents difficulties when converting leads into person accounts.
So again, the question around person accounts isn’t necessarily about their limitations, but instead about how to mold your Salesforce instance to work best with them.
Alternatives to person accounts
If you’re still hesitant about enabling person accounts, alternatives do exist in the Salesforce ecosystem:
- Philanthropic orgs: Check out the Nonprofit Success Pack. This package includes a coded solution to automatically manage contacts via households, individual accounts or a large bucket account.
- Educational orgs can use Salesforce’s Higher Education Data Architecture instead. It runs on a similar 1-to-1 account-contact model, with the flexibility to associate each contact with multiple accounts (extracurricular teams, departments, households) and other contacts (professors, advisors, coaches).
- Not ready to use person accounts? You could try allowing contacts to associate with multiple accounts. Every contact will still need a primary account, but this solution offers more flexibility than Salesforce’s out-of-the-box structure, without the changes that person accounts bring.
Still unsure whether to make the leap? Let us know about your situation. We can advise you on whether Salesforce person accounts are right for you.