When you start a new business, maintaining your contacts is one of the first things you absolutely must do thoroughly, correctly, and perpetually—and it is probably one of the easiest and least expensive projects ahead of you relative to the value it will bring. Thankfully, the days of awkward and overpriced contact management software have come to an end.
It is surprising to see that a large portion of the business community takes no interest in proper contact management since technology has made it so easy to keep your information in systems such as SalesForce.com, SugarCRM, Act, or Goldmine.
Systems like these can store all of your contact names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, while integrating the data with your business calendar, phone services, PDA, Word documents, fax software, e-mail, web links, and web data.
As a side note, we are big critics of Outlook for several reasons, including that it is the most virus-prone software in existence, and it is controlled by Microsoft.
In your contact manager, you should import, key-in, save, and update detailed information on all possible leads or contacts including calendar items, dated notes, callback dates, their current service providers, their industries, quality rankings, size rankings, income rankings, links to press accounts and industry reports, and even their birthdays, partners’ names, and kids’ names.
With this consolidated data set, you can easily query the contact records when required, and pull up only the records that meet your select criteria, such as everyone who has a birthday this month, or every client organization with more than one million dollars of annual revenue, or every person with whom you went to college.
You must assertively build your data set year after year with all potentially relevant sales or commerce contacts, and ensure your follow-ups are well-timed and organized, so you can contact just the right people at just the right times to create the most long term cash flow.
If you have organized your contact management system properly, then having huge amounts of data will not be clutter; instead, it will be power at your fingertips.
The key is to have as much data as possible about each lead stored in the right fields, and to make sure every lead has a calendar date for when they are to be reviewed or contacted again. If you have determined they are a critical lead and a likely deal, then the calendar date is tomorrow. If you decide the lead is unlikely to ever close, then you can make it five years from now or delete it. In each case, your data set will be clean and meet a logical, simple business flow.
The most important source of data for you to gather and input is your personal network of contacts which includes the people you have met or solicited within your immediate business community. But this is a relatively low volume of contacts to work with compared to the broader community of those who you have yet to meet.
Vast additional raw data to upload and cull through are sold in electronic form and can be easily imported to your contact management system (generally comma-delimited ASCII text files are the easiest to move around).
One of your first tasks as a prospective business owner is to do your research, at the library as well as on the Internet, for the best sources of information in your chosen industry while taking in to account your target service area. Also, ask any of your colleagues or friends who might have insight into your industry and get referrals to additional data sources.
Decide what geographical area you want to market in (your target geographical market), and what types of customers you are trying to attract (your target consumer), and then make sure you have all the available data on every one of them.
From there, the data has to be heavily manipulated in order to allow you to extract the most pertinent information at just the right time. Again, a hard follow-up calendar date and complete data for each record are keys to your sales and marketing success, allowing you to efficiently generate good leads (leadgen) and scale your volume.
The contact management system is not just for sales. It includes sections with employees and your personal friends if you want, along with sections for vendors and competitors, among any other data you choose to add.
For security purposes, these programs easily allow any group, individual record, or part of a record to become private by its creator.
For one source of data, you can get electronic versions of the “yellow pages” and similar directories covering your target geographic markets, and then upload records from select zip codes and industries that you want to work within.
You can then see what information is available on the Internet about each company, and you can purchase filtered lists, cleaned of extraneous data, to merge with all your original data. The web social network, LinkedIn, is a fantastic source for potential sales prospects and related information.
Often, Chambers of Commerce and government commerce agencies have extensive lists of business information available electronically. You need to get all of the data you can from all relevant sources and filter through the information repeatedly.
Ultimately, you will be able to personalize large volumes of e-mail, faxes, form mail, presentations, brochures, phone calls, all while efficiently scheduling, documenting, and sharing large amounts of data. You will be able to communicate a multitude of tailored messages better, faster, and easier than your competitors.
The bottom line is that if you don’t optimize your contact management, you will be in the same marginal class as all the folks who are not at the top of their respective business categories. Assertive contact management cannot be overlooked since this process involves inexpensive leads that result in large profits.
One good example of the power of contact management relates to keeping track of your competitors. If you maintain a field in your contact manager program called “current service provider” (denoting the competitor of yours who your prospect is currently giving their money to), and you have been updating this field across thousands of sales prospects for years, you can target your competitors for extinction one at a time as they expose their own shortcomings.
You can instantly identify all of the potential customers in your database who work with any given competitor, as long as you have marked them over time in the ordinary course of business and in the correct field in your contact management system.
If you know of a particular weakness of a competitor at any set time, you can exploit it by instantly identifying and contacting his customers with a targeted sales promotion, which may allow you to take away those customers.
The most important—and time-consuming—part of contact management is cleaning out the raw data files. Right from the start, you should focus on filling in the field that lists the proper person who will be in the position to purchase your product, and that is within your predetermined market niche or geography, even if that’s the whole world. So to the extent you lack this information, you or an associate need to call each of your target businesses, e-mail them, “Google” them, or go visit them in an attempt to uncover the data.
In addition, you should search each organization’s website to collect further information. You should be able to copy and paste the most relevant information off the websites to the notes field in the contact manager. On the web, you can find articles that include information on your prospects, too. In Google, for example, you would enter +“Acme Corporation” +president +email to uncover the e-mail address and name of the president of your target prospect from a press release, a conference he attended, or even his own website or blog.
Alternatively, you can try to find the common syntax used at their company with other employees by discovering their domain and typing into Google “@acmecorporation.com”, including the quote marks. This might find the record for Mary Jones to be email@example.com, and Tom Williams to be firstname.lastname@example.org, so then if you know the president is John Smith you can assume he utilizes the same syntax in his e-mail and try to contact him at email@example.com. If that doesn’t work, don’t give up: try firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and so on. Or call the secretary and pretend you know something and are important, and ask for the president of the company or his e-mail address. In any event, persistence truly pays.
Bingo! You just bypassed a bunch of bureaucracy and got to the boss. Even though you may ultimately be ignored or rejected, statistically speaking, it’s another “notch on your belt,” and having it over with means you will be one step closer to the ones who won’t ignore you.
As you continuously collect additional information on your prospects, you will find that you are able to understand them better. As a result, you will be capable of offering solutions that are ever more tailored to their specific needs, while relating to them in ways that you could not have predicted without that research.
Moreover, you can easily share leads, information, and notes with your own team and your business partners if you have a reliable CRM with trained users and tight security policies.
Most notably, you will realize that you have common associates from the business community who can potentially provide you with a pyramid of referrals, thereby hastening opening and closing deals.
Understanding the targets will help you focus your service offerings and sales approach to increase the percentage of deals you close. In turn, this will save you time and make you more money—yet again. Whatever you can do to reach an ever-expanding number of prospects will provide you with exponential financial benefit. Yes, I realize you appreciate all these moneymaking ideas. While I do not need gifts directly, you can help improve the world efficiently and thank me at the same time by donating to Grassroots.org.
Keep in mind that you can’t waste time on prospects if there is a low likelihood of closing. You need to get as many relevant prospects as possible in your contact management system and sort through them by natural selection. That means you will be left with a bunch of unqualified records—a low percentage of the total but a large number nonetheless—which can be kept in the database and calendar with a callback or review date far in the future. These records should not represent any problems; instead, they will only represent potential opportunity as the best prospects can rise to the top of the calendar.
As you sift through and re-sort large numbers of prospects, you will be left with many unsuccessful attempts in order to get to the successful closes. The goal is to constantly expand your deal closing success rate while simultaneously increasing the daily number of new prospects being reviewed. The review itself should be as automated as possible and delegated to lower level co-workers when possible. This saves you precious deal-closing time for good quality prospects.