Relationship development is a key part of any business development initiative. That’s why we put so much effort into meeting new people, getting to know them, and following up with them over time. But how do you gather and track the relevant must-know information about your contacts?
Enter the CRM: the Client (or Customer) Relationship Management system.
(One prefatory note for the rest of this conversation: if you’re working in a larger firm, you may have access to the firm’s CRM and consider that sufficient for your purposes. Before you reach that conclusion, find out how easily you will be able to extract your contacts’ information should you leave the firm. If it’s at all difficult, given the reality of today’s professional world, don’t rely exclusively on the firm’s system.)
A CRM is most often software (local or in the cloud) that organizes contacts and information about them, but it need not be highly technology-driven. Some people successfully use spreadsheets, Outlook, Evernote, or even a Word file. CRM software offers functional advantages.
Here’s a list of features and attributes your CRM system should include:
- The system must be accessible from wherever you are.
- The system must be secure.
- The system must be a centralized and easy-to-update repository for contact data, including address, email, and telephone as well as business and personal interests.
- The data within the system must be sortable (so you can identify people who are located in a city before you visit, for example).
- The system should include a tickler function to prompt you to follow up with clients and contacts on the schedule you define.
- The system should track your communications so you can see when you last spoke with a contact and what you discussed.
- The system should allow for easy import and export of your data.
- Optionally, the system may save a library of resources you can use for follow-up contacts.
- Optionally, the system may include some automation to streamline your efforts.
Why might you not want to use a CRM? If you won’t keep it updated, a CRM may do you more harm than good. Otherwise, a CRM is a good investment to facilitate building your network.