Creating a Contact Management Strategy For Growth

A successful business is made up of two key elements:

  • Good People.
  • A product that customers want to buy.

Good People is number one on that list for a reason. Your business cannot function and grow without good people. And that doesn’t just mean your employees either. The better you curate your connections and support network then the easier it is to ask for help when you need it. More importantly, you’ll know who to call when the time comes. Even as a solo entrepreneur, you still need a support network. Even if it starts with an encouraging wife, a guy you know who knows a bit about IT and some people sharing good advice on Twitter, you have the foundations of a good network.

In any competitive environment the person who has the wider, more global perspective will inevitably prevail. Without guidance, you’ll waste valuable years trying to gain knowledge and perspective that your connections can give you. Through person to person relationships you’ll absorb new ways of thinking and applying problem-solving skills. Personal interactions are the most efficient and productive form of learning.

The right connections know where to focus your attention and how to challenge you. Their knowledge and experience become yours. They provide immediate and realistic feedback on your work, so you can improve more rapidly. When designing the Apple Watch, Jony Ive reached out to his network to look for watchmaking experts and horologists (timekeeping experts) from the watch industry for advice. And now the company that famously said they don’t do market research, nor use outside consultants, owns a 32% share of the global watch market. That’s the whole market, not just the smartwatch market (of which they own a 55% share as of writing this).

It’s not what you know but who you know, goes the old adage. But it’s not. It’s about how much you care. Going over and above to connect on an intimate or personal level is the most important thing anyone can do to ensure success - not just in business but in life. More visible people, have a reputation and stand for something do better than invisible people.

What is a Contact Management System and Why You Might Need One?

A contact is anybody you or your company markets to, sells to, partners with, engages with, employs or anybody that provides support to you. They’re the real people that you provide value to. In return, these are the people that provide you with value and helps you grow your business. For you to provide value to your contacts, you need to know a lot about them and their needs. Developing your own contact management strategy will help you boost your business’s revenue and accelerate productivity.

There are many options out there to manage your connections. Most traditional CRMs such as SalesForce, HubSpot and Zoho are aimed at big businesses, cost a lot of money and usually need an engineer to set up for you. You could go down the route of using Apple or Google’s built-in contact managers but they lack some of the requirements that we’ll talk about later. Oftentimes a simple spreadsheet will suffice, ultimately you’ll need to take a look at your needs and decide what tools work best for you.

One caveat, having your contacts spread over a wide variety of apps, social media and email rarely works. Finding someone’s information is time-consuming and maintaining it is almost impossible. Connecting over social media is even worse when your well-crafted message gets lost in a constantly rolling news feed. You need to sustain direct connections to become a true curator of your network.

You should be able to make serendipitous connections between individuals in the system. For example, say you were thinking of Bill. He’s a great guy in the tech industry and loves golf. Who else loves golf that it might be worth Bill’s time to connect with? You don’t even play golf but Bill’s in town and you’ve just made his week worth the journey by connecting him with John who shares Bills passion. Bill and John are going to remember that for a long time.

Qualities of a Good Contact Management System

A good CMS for a freelancer, consultant or small business does the following:

  • Keeps track of all the people you meet (new and old).
  • Helps you stay connected to these people.
  • Identifies connections with particular skills and areas of expertise.
  • Helps you to organise connections with common interests.
  • Requires a minimal amount of work to maintain.
  • Is accessible from any device.
  • Has a robust search function.

What Should Your CMS Contain

Set up your CMS

Who should be in your CMS? Well, contacts, obviously. But who should you keep track of? The answer is simple. Anyone who provides you with value, anyone who you can provide value to and anyone who might have a positive impact on your work and life. This goes for everyone from customers to employees and suppliers. Mentors, business connections and anyone in your support network.

At a minimum you should be keeping track of the following details:

  • Name (obviously)
  • Function (e.g employee @ my business, finance director @ some other business)
  • Contact details (email and telephone number at a minimum)
  • Location
  • Industry
  • Hobbies interests outside of work
  • Last connected (very important for maintaining lasting connections)

Most of this requires only a simple spreadsheet that, if maintained correctly, you’ll be able to search and make connections that might not have been obvious. At most, you require a simple tagging system and it can be accessed from any device, anywhere on the planet with an internet connection. You have only so much time and so much energy to expend but should only take a few minutes to update once this is all set up. I’m not going to go into all the practical details about how to set this up in this post, but if your looking for more details about how to set up a basic spreadsheet system Khe Hy has a great post over on Rad Reads

Be specific in maintaining your contact details. What if in the future you need to reach out to someone at Acme Corp and you find you have a connection with Jane Doe, a project manager there. Great, let’s give her a call. Only, you don’t know if she works in operations or marketing and therefore don’t know how to broach your original question? Maintaining good, regular contact management practics will avoid this ever happening.

Contact Decay

According to Marketing Sherpa your contact database naturally decays by about 22% every year so it’s important to have a strategy to make up for lost contacts. Emails change when individuals move from one company to another, users abandon old services like Hotmail, people upgrade their phones and get a new number. Unless you are refreshing your contact database by communicating with these people regularly your contact management strategy will be based on a dying asset. Your records need to be updated or deleted from your database regularly to make sure you have the most accurate and usable information about them.

How to Be a Curator

Curation is the ability to bring people who should know one another together. It can be one of the most valuable things you can do for another, connecting the dots at a higher level for those being curated. If your out to grab value from every person you meet you’ll get nowhere but if you can create value for others it will come back to you tenfold. Stay connected with your network by making mutually beneficial introductions, sharing information and asking questions regularly.

“‘Authenticity’ is a new f***ing T-shirt! Networking has become the dirtiest work in business. You have to come to people with rawness—with what your message is.”

Steve Sims, author of Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen

When most people add a new connection to their contacts they jot down the basic information. Phone number, email address. Go the extra step and take notes. How did you meet? What’s your first impression? What can you do to provide value for that person? Take the time to digest what you learned and follow up with any ideas you have. Track your interactions with intent. As a curator, you should make note of anyone that you connected another to and why.

One of the first questions you should ask as a curator is “how can I help you?” This question is used to figure out exactly what it is a person wants so you can immediately create a lasting relationship by figuring out how to help them achieve their goals and who can help them get there. You need to be constantly “in the loop.” Knowing who is in your network, what each connection is capable of and what they need or are looking for in invaluable. It allows instantaneous connections to your other contacts based on needs and abilities while increasing your own value in the process.

Make Time For Your Connections

None of this is going to work if you don’t keep in touch with your connections. How is anyone going to provide value for you if they don’t remember you? It’s not a race to rack up contacts or is it a license to give your elevator pitch to everyone within hearing range. Think of networking as the practice of cultivating authentic connections over time. Make connecting a habit, part of your lifestyle. Taking ten minutes a day to rack up casual “hellos” pays off big time in the long-term.

Keep your connections up to date with your travel plans and you’ll always have someone to connect with when you’re in a new area. Even if the person you contacted isn’t available to meet they might have a suggestion as to who you should see and if not they’ll remember they were invited when you’re next in town.

Tight and Loose Connections

You’ll probably have different levels of connections, people you connect with at least once a week where the conversation flows, then people you don’t really know. to well. You’ll want to solidify those connections. Don’t be afraid to loop everyone in.

If you have a question about something it’s important to have someone on hand who you can ask. If something looks suspicious add everyone involved on an email and ask. This is what makes connectors transparent and in control of their network and the more you do, you’ll solidify those lose connections through communication.

Whenever you feel like you are settling into the same old circles, force yourself to shake things up and look for new, unseen connections. Try to grow your circle as much as possible by connecting the dots between the people in your life. No matter how efficient your strategy is, there’s always room for improvement. But the thing about connecting the dots is, your network will grow both in depth and breadth, organically over time with a minimal amount of input from you. After all, what’s so hard about a simple “hello.”