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Five Tips to Creating Effective Salesforce® Picklists

A ‘Picklist’ in Salesforce (and other CRM systems) is a predefined set of values for capturing information in a specific record instead of entering free-form text. A typical picklist example would be, ‘Global Region’ with pre-indexed values of ‘EMEA’, ‘North America’, ‘South America’, ‘APAC’, etc.

Picklists are an incredibly effective way to index your data; they improve reporting and segmentation, and using them is highly recommended wherever possible in all Salesforce Objects. However, over time and with misuse, runaway picklist values can create many problems.

Tip #1- Don’t Mix Different Questions in the Same Picklist

If You Have a Picklist Called ‘Dairy Products’, it Should Contain Only Dairy Products.

The heading here states the obvious. In ‘Dairy Products’ you would expect to see values like ‘milk’, ‘cheese’, ‘butter’, etc.

  • But suddenly, over time, values such as ‘2%’ and ‘Skim’ start to appear in the picklist values because someone wants that level of detail.

  • You are now ‘mixing’ different concepts. This is a common problem. Countries appear in ‘Region’ picklists, Lead Statuses appear in ‘Lead Source’ picklists.

  • If a need emerges to capture information about ‘2%’ and ‘Skim’, an entirely new sub-picklist (ideally a dependent picklist) should be added called ‘Type of Milk’.

Tip #2 Use Dependent Picklists

Dependent Picklists Improve Reporting and Indexing

  • You need to know who buys 2% vs. skim milk. The dependent picklist created when ‘Milk’ is selected in Dairy Products …opens a second list and forces selecting the Type of Milk purchased.

  • Dependent picklists also allow for fewer and more precise value selections.

  • If you have 36 choices, when you try to present a pie chart report you are going to have 36 slices in the pie…. and some slices will not be visible in the chart because they have been rarely selected.

  • Your first selection should have six choices (better pie chart reporting) and then subsequent dependent picklists can have six values each also (more pie charts to present).

Tip #3- Beware of Repeating the Same Picklists in Different Objects

Harmonize or Use Formula Fields to Copy Values into the Secondary Object

Here is an example:

  • In collecting new leads, you ask for the prospects’ ‘Industry’.

  • Then, when the prospect is converted into an Account or Opportunity, there is another completely different ‘Industry’ field with different picklist values requiring selection. It may not even be called ‘Industry’ in the secondary object…it may be called ‘Type of Business’ but the goal of the information being requested is pretty much the same.

  • Bottom line is you have two choices:

  • Harmonize both picklists (ideally using a ‘Global Picklist’ to maintain the list of values in one place and ensure changes appear in both objects.

  • Use a formula field in the secondary object to capture the picklist value from the first object.

  • Note: When using formula fields to copy picklist values you need to enter ‘TEXT’ in front of the formula field such as: (TEXT (name of picklist field here))

Tip #4- Always Add ‘Other’ to Picklist Value Choices

And Add a Free-Text Field Called ‘If Other- Please Specify’

  • Other’ allows capturing of values which had not been thought of or are just starting to emerge. Here is an example:

  • You have an ‘Industry’ field with values of ‘Healthcare’, ‘Pharmaceuticals’, ‘Information Technology’, ‘Chemical’.

  • You are now capturing new customers and prospects in the ‘Cannabis’ industry. This may turn out to be a separate industry worth capturing (and adding to the Industry Picklist), but you would not know this if the prospect was put into the ‘Pharmaceutical’ or ‘Chemical’ industry category.

  • That’s where ‘Other’ and the free text for specifying becomes helpful. You can identify new or emerging industries more quickly.

  • Over the years many examples of huge new industries have emerged which required identification for marketing purposes.

  • ‘Timeshare’ is another great example; it should not be tagged as a ‘Hotel’ because a rigid and narrowly defined picklist forces these values.

Tip #5- Use Picklists to Create Killer Reports & Dashboards!

Identify Free Text Fields to Move to a Value List

  • Creating effective visual reports is possible when you confine answer choices to a pre-defined picklist.

  • Allowing a free text field to answer ‘Type of Milk’ will lead to entries such as ‘Buttermilk’, ‘Butter-Milk’, ‘Butter Milk’, ‘2%’, ‘Two%’, ‘Two-Percent’, etc. all spelled differently. This makes reporting difficult and messes up graphics.

  • ‘Competitor Name’ is often a text entry field also.

  • It is more effective to create a picklist with only the significant ‘top six’ competitors encountered on deals, and allowing an ‘Other’ to capture the names of competitors that are not within the big six.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. Examples cited in this article are only examples. Salesforce®, is a trademark of, inc.

© 2019 Edgemont CRM, LLC. All Rights Reserved – November 2019


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