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  • Writer's pictureLeila

Troubleshooting "Hard Error" in SFMC Update Contact Activity: The Ultimate Guide

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC) is an incredibly powerful tool, but it's not without its challenges. One issue that you'll encounter is the dreaded ***Hard Error*** in the Update Contact activity, #sfmcsad :-(

When experiencing this error, don't worry! In this SFMC.Essentials blog post, we'll dive into the potential causes of this problem and provide actionable & pragmatic solutions to get your journey running smoothly again.

Understanding the "Hard Error" Issue

The "Hard Error" typically occurs in the Update Contact activity when trying to add new records with the same email address. In this scenario, the Data Extension (DE) has a combined primary key consisting of Email and CreatedDate, with CreatedDate defaulting to the current datetime.

When running the journey, the first record is added without any issues, but if the same email address is submitted again, the Update Contact activity fails, displaying the "Hard Error" message.

Identifying the Cause of the "Hard Error"

The "Hard Error" may occur for various reasons, but in this specific context, the issue could be related to the combined primary key in the DE. When using a combined primary key with the Email and CreatedDate fields, it's essential to ensure that the new record being added has a unique combination of these two fields. If the same email address is submitted again with the same CreatedDate, the Update Contact activity will encounter a "Hard Error" as it attempts to insert a duplicate primary key value.

Solving the "Hard Error" in Update Contact Activity

To resolve the "Hard Error," consider the following steps:

  1. Ensure that the CreatedDate is set to a unique value for each new record. This can be achieved by adding milliseconds to the current datetime value or using a different unique identifier.

  2. Reevaluate the primary key structure. If the primary key isn't essential for your use case, consider using a different field or combination of fields as the primary key to avoid duplicate values.

  3. Implement error handling in your journey to capture and address any errors that occur during the Update Contact activity. This will allow you to identify and resolve issues more efficiently.

Best Practices for Avoiding "Hard Error" in SFMC

To prevent "Hard Error" issues in your SFMC journeys, follow these best practices:

  1. Use unique identifiers: Always ensure that primary keys and other unique identifiers in your DEs are truly unique to avoid issues with duplicate values.

  2. Test your journeys thoroughly: Before launching a journey, test it using various scenarios to identify and resolve any potential issues, including those related to the Update Contact activity.

  3. Monitor and review your journeys regularly: Keep an eye on your journeys' performance and review error logs to identify and address any issues that may arise during execution.


Dealing with "Hard Error" in the Update Contact activity can be frustrating, but with the right approach and best practices, you can overcome this challenge. By following the steps outlined in this SFMC.Essentials blog post, you'll be well-equipped to tackle the "Hard Error" issue and ensure the smooth operation of your marketing journeys. Happy troubleshooting!

Congrats, you now have the knowledge how to troubleshoot Hard Error in SFMC Update Contact Activity

Finding yourself needed some extra pair of brains? Have a troubleshoot session with one of the SFMC.Essentials fixers

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