September 17, 2014

Organizing your business network

Relationships have always been fundamental to success in business. We normally think of person to person relationships in this context, but this can also include relationships with a larger audience, community or market. Here the topic will be organizing your person to person network in order to accomplish your professional goals. 

Why is it important to organize your network?

Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, it is vital to make the best use of your time when interacting with your network. The 80/20 rule says that you will get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts, so you want to identify where to focus your efforts.

It is important to do two things. First, have a clear profile of your ideal customer or who you can help. This will help you focus your networking efforts on the right people. Second, be able to explain to those who are willing to support you, exactly how they can help you. This may be through referrals, resources they can recommend and so forth.

Categories of contacts

In order to organize the time you spend building relationships, you want to define categories for your contacts. For example, family, friends, colleagues, prospects, customers, partners, service providers, suppliers, press contacts, and other categories as they apply. Certain generic categories may apply to everyone, but others will be specific based on your industry and strategy.

If you are in sales or business development, most of your time should be spent with customers and prospects. An engineer may spend more time interacting with peers within their organization, such as those in product development. A mortgage broker will spend time interacting with clients, banks and partners like real estate agents.

Tools

The proper tools can make all the difference in helping you to keep up with, nurture and effectively leverage your network. Keep in mind that tools work best when you set up your own system for how you want to use them and stick to it. This does not mean that you have to reinvent the wheel and develop a unique system. It does mean that the system you choose helps you to be more productive and is one you will use consistently.

Your email address book and folders organized by the contact categories you have chosen is a starting point. These categories will help you focus on your top priorities and save a tremendous amount of time. We have all experienced the frustration of wasting time searching for an email that we know we received, but cannot find.

The next step is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that enables you to record your interactions with your connections, schedule activities, take notes, export your connections for marketing and backups, and run reports.

While some will use their email contact lists for basic contact management, it is better to use a dedicated contact management tool which integrates with email. Such tools range from services offering free and paid versions such as Nimble, to mid tier solutions such as ACT!, Zoho, and Maximizer, to more sophisticated CRM services such as Salesforce or  Infusionsoft which handles contact management, email marketing, autoresponder services, payment processing and analytics.

Our next post will talk about methods of staying in touch with your connections. What methods and tools have you found helpful for organizing your network?

Comments

  1. As always, great insights.

    The choices of contact management and Customer Relation Management tools can be overwhelming for those embarking on the decision. I’ll add that its best to have a well-defined business need and objective before comparing options rather than trying to clarify your needs while kicking the tires. The latter can be paralyzing.

    Outlook (paired with Exchange) continues to dominate in power and agility of contact management but it’s far from capability of a true CRM. Unfortunately the cost of CRM’s are also one of the most difficult to budget for small businesses but the fact that few to none ever abandon using a CRM once they embrace it speaks for itself.

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