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The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 12: Building an Active Contact List

Track and Remember Your Contacts

Keeping business cards in a shoe box is generally ineffective when it comes to tracking your professional contacts and correspondence. Fortunately, you have other alternatives.

The first is to create a tracking database. I developed exactly such a database when I had my consulting company. It tracks vital company information and virtually every correspondence that I, or one of my consultants, have had with a company. In addition, it tracks billable hours spent on project work.

Microsoft Outlook is my primary means of contact management these days. Because much of my correspondence is e-mail, it is the primary source of information. It also synchronizes with my Palm handheld so that I have my contacts with me at all times.

Both Act and GoldMine create products that are specific to tracking and corresponding with clients. Each can be modified to capture the information I cover in the discussion that follows. If you are already using a contact manager and are comfortable with it, simply incorporate the pieces of information that follow. The program or method that you use is less important than your ability to get to the information that you need.

I customized Microsoft Outlook quite a bit. I utilize categories extensively to track my contacts, and I've altered many of the views to show my contacts, tasks, and appointments in particularly useful ways.

Regardless of the method used, I perform key contact enhancers. I make sure, when I speak with people and get cards, that I write a few short notes about the conversation:

  • Are they married?
  • Do they have children?
  • Did they mention any special areas of interest?
  • Did they mention a specific concern?

I then enter this information into the notes for Outlook. The notes serve a dual purpose. They serve to remind me of the conversation. In today's world, we have a lot of things to remember. I would love to say that I remember each person I meet. However, sometimes I meet someone and we do not speak again for six months or even a year. The notes jog my memory so that I can recall our conversation.

The notes serve another important purpose. People are flattered when you remember them. Rather than call someone and say, "I have your name here, but I can't remember anything we talked about," you can recall particular elements of the conversation.

You might call and say, "Hello, Jim, it's Matt Moran. We met at Starbucks last year and talked about your insurance company. You had just installed a new conference room. How is that working out?"

Jim is much more likely to remember you, too, with that approach. In addition, your interest in his company and a specific project will have a tremendous impact on him.

I always enter a next contact date. I can use this to bring up a list of records to contact for the next week. Sometimes these are in the form of a short e-mail. Other times, they are in the form of a phone call. After I make the connection—and based on the feedback, if any—I enter the next contact date.

Other key pieces of information to note with regard to your contacts are as follows:

  • Birthdays It is hard to go wrong sending someone a birthday card or a birthday e-mail or making a phone call.
  • Children Few things are as near and dear to parents as their children. If someone mentions kids during your conversation, enter the information into your notes.
  • Spouse Enter the spouse by name if you can.
  • Special interest If the person mentions that he is a fanatical hockey fan (yes, I am, if you have extra tickets), make a note of it.
  • Demeanor and attitude This requires some introspection, but I try to list what my impression of the person was. Most importantly, I want to try to determine the person's style of conducting business. Is the individual a bottom-line type of person? Is he a communicator?

I am sure, as you develop your contacts, that you will determine the information you find important. It is all about making an effective connection. You will find those areas that are effective for you. Mold your contact management and tracking to address those areas.

All of the information in the preceding list is to convey the message that you remember that person. Few things are as critical to an individual as personal recognition. If you are able to recall a conversation or an individual's interest or family information, you will make an impact.

Some might ask if this is contrived or artificial. I don't believe so. You have the opportunity to meet hundreds of people over the course of a year. It would be irresponsible of you to simply log them into memory and then hope you remember them. That you would take the time to write down notes to help you remember someone shows interest in cultivating some type of relationship.

In fact, when I take someone's card, I tell him that I'm going to write some notes about our conversation. I say, "I'm going to write on the back of your card so that I can be sure to remember our conversation."

No one has ever complained about that.

Typically, I contact people within a few days to a week, just to thank them for the meeting and short conversation. Believe me, doing this will separate you from others they have met.

This is particularly important if the conversation did not produce an immediate opportunity. It is easy to get back in touch with someone who has something you desire. It takes a bit more effort to get back in touch with someone just to say hello.

Ultimately, most people are opportunists. However, you must carry the perspective that you care about the people you meet beyond what they can "get you" in the short term. The long-term benefit of building such relationships is both professionally and personally satisfying.

You should care! If not, you will soon be discovered and categorized as a "user" or a "player"—someone who networks and cultivates relationships just for what he can get out of it.

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