I’ve long passed the limit of what basic contacts functionality can do for me and wished for a CRM system. Customer Relationship Management: companies use such systems typically to track potential sales and then customers and multiple interactions with that customer. A well-used CRM allows the whole to become greater than the sum of its parts – that whomever you talk to from a company can represent the company as a whole to you because they can catch up on your context by viewing your past interactions with the company. That’s the ideal anyway. With the number of companies that re-ask the same information just passing me by phone from rep A to rep B I suspect the ideal is not often realized.
For me as an individual, a system more involved than just google or outlook contacts appeals because I’d like to remember not just individuals but relationships among individuals: who went to the talk given by Roy Messing on converting companies to cooperatives; who do I know who has ever attended BGI past or present? Who has ever attended a Plymouth Housing lunch at my table? Who have I had sushi chats with that would love to check out the new place on Eastlake with me? I’m getting old enough that I can remember the conversation, but I can’t remember who it was with!
I can kindof track info with labels and tagging but the tagging structure gets heavy. It’s also difficult to build queries out of multiple tags and then follow up with people based on those queries. Most importantly, with syncing and upgrading I don’t feel confident that the data will be retained intact and it’s a disincentive to put much effort into it. I decided I wanted a personal CRM. Unfortunately CRMs seem to primarily be built for sales organizations doing B2B. Even if they’re B2C, they build in the increasingly outdated assumption that each person has a single employer affiliation.
As a freelancer/consultant/community member, I also connect with people through more than just their employer – I have contacts I know as “fellow board member at X”, or contacts I know as “neighbor”. Again, tagging in theory would help me track all that, but often times I would like a contact for that organization or event itself with more information, and a way to make additional notes about the relationship – staff member, volunteer, investor. I’m working with a company now to customize a commercial CRM product but this way of thinking seems to be really against the grain. I’ve realized that the CRM databases put companies on par with people as contacts, in fact often times designing as if my relationship with the Company is the primary, and the people are just additional contacts to be tracked around that company. I prefer to think of my database as being of people, who have different ways of associating: working for a company, working on a project, associating with a nonprofit or a campaign, attending an event. Trying to set up my data that way has shown me that there are sometimes when my relationship is more with a company: when I’m getting electrical work done, for example. I make my appointment with a sales person, then an electrician comes out. The contact info I have is not for her (usually) or him (usually) but for XYZ electric. Or a favorite restaurant, for example. I just have “Metropolitan Grill” in my contacts with a reservation line and I don’t know who will answer when I call. I happen to also have Noi, the waiter we’ve had for 10 years, in my contacts, so I can ask him travel questions, but it’s a personal contact when I contact him, I don’t ask him if he’s got a table friday night. So sometimes I do have a relationship with a company and not a person, but I guess it’s driven by the company itself being set up that way, and it seems to always be about a relationship that’s more financial than personal…financial first.
Suffice it to say, spending some time focusing on my contact database has drawn my attention to noticing: when do I have a relationship with a person, and when do I have a relationship with a company?