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Contact Management Solutions Aren’t Just For Corporations

Contact Management Solutions Aren’t Just For Corporations

    Whether you run your own business or you’re trying to keep your extended family organized — or maybe even both — having a robust system able to keep your contacts organized is important.

    Organization isn’t enough, though. An electronic Rolodex isn’t really enough, though that’s pretty much what most of us rely on these days. Instead, we need to be able to tell when we last talked to a given contact, if we promised to handle any tasks or any other details that our address books don’t track. That means we need some sort of contact relations management. CRM isn’t just for the folks with big fancy corner offices anymore.

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    GMail’s Contacts Just Aren’t Enough

    It’s very easy to fall into the habit of syncing everything to GMail. After all, Google is kind enough to automatically add anyone you communicate with to your address book, keeping the whole process pretty simple. But when it comes to managing your contacts, GMail just falls short. Say I want to find a doctor in the hundreds of contacts that call my GMail account home: I have to know the name of the doctor I’m looking for. Searching just for ‘doctor’ only pulls up the emails that have that word in them — far too many to sort through.

    It goes beyond missing job titles, though. Aside from very basic notes, I can’t really add information to my contacts. If I want to remember a birthday or a project that my contact is working on, I add it as a note, and hope I remember that it’s there. We’re talking about a less-than-ideal approach to contact management.

    The Practical Reason Behind CRM

    By the time you add up your second cousins, the guys you met at that networking event last year and all of the various maintenance people that keep your home in tip-top shape, you have a stack of business cards that that could rival the height of a small office building. Would you be able to lay hands on the exact phone number you need in an emergency, even after you’ve added all those numbers to your address book?

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    I don’t think I could. It’s a matter of how we remember who we’re looking for. If I needed a plumber, for instance, I’m probably going to remember who I got his name from or when I last called him long before I remember his name or company. The same can hold true for business contacts and a lot of CRM software makes allowances for the way our brains operate. Highrise, for instance, allows users to search through notes, emails and other data for keywords, like ‘plumber’ or ‘programmer.’

    Putting Business and Personal Together

    CRM software is generally developed with a sales team in mind: rather than ‘contact,’ the C in CRM usually stands for ‘customer.’ That’s why you’re able to add so much information. Anything that can lead to a sale, from remembering a birthday to a preferred work out time, has to fit.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add your personal contacts to your management system. CRM solutions can help you make both your personal and your professional life more productive. That statement assumes, of course, that you’ve managed to keep them separate. I know I haven’t, and the thought of trying to keep them separate is more than a little scary.

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    But why should we have separate programs notifying us of family members’ and sales leads’ birthdays? To manage two systems requires double the work — perhaps even more for that cousin you regularly do business with. With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn — where most people have connected with both personal and professional contacts — it seems more than reasonable to start managing all of our contacts from the same place. I get the feeling that a lot of companies discount the value of maintaining a system for personal contacts — despite the number of leads and networking opportunities that come from outside the office. Luckily, once you’ve actually got CRM software, no one can stop you from adding your personal contacts as well as those people you know professionally.

    The Sticking Point

    Your contacts of all kinds are valuable. If you’ve ever done sales for a large company you know how hard employers work to keep a Rolodex when an employee leaves. A good CRM file is worth money — it’s a matter of deciding how valuable your file is.

    The real sticking point for CRM software and those of us without companies willing to pay for it has to be the price. Joel wrote about some of the online options yesterday and none of them had a price tag I could justify for personal use. Sure, there are some free options, but they do have some serious limitations.

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    The solution isn’t precisely simple: it’s worth our while to be more productive, but much are we willing to spend on CRM? Perhaps we aren’t able to justify a high price for our personal use, but what about managing the contacts that can help us improve our careers? Our own businesses? Our outside projects? The price I’m willing to spend goes up with each group of my contacts I think about managing — how about you? How many contacts outside of your 9-to-5 job do you have? And what are you willing to do to manage them effectively?

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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