The worst kept secret in business development is that to grow your practice, you need to develop relationships. We all know to attend networking events, strike up witty conversation and follow up afterwards.
Relationship building is like the pie eating contest where the prize is more pie. The more you network and the better you are at it, the more relationships you build…and the messier everything gets.
Our poor pie eating contest winner might rely on towels, soap and water to clean up. You should be relying on a robust relationship management tool to organize your contacts. An organized system will help you develop better relationships by helping you reach out to your contacts in a strategic manner.
So what exactly is a relationship management tool?
A relationship management tool is a system that keeps your contacts list and information organized in a central location. Using this data, you can make strategic decision regarding when to reach out to contacts, what is the ideal message to send, and how to follow up.
As a simple example, consider you’ve met someone at a conference and during conversation, they happened to mention that their dog was going in for surgery at the end of the month. This meeting, contact information and details about the conversation could go into your relationship management tool with an action item to follow up after the dog’s surgery.
Does this seem calculating or sleazy? I don’t think so. I genuinely would want to hear how the furry family member fared but I’ll be honest and say that I probably wouldn’t remember. With everything going on in my life, I even have a prompt to remind me when to mail my mom a birthday card.
The relationship management tool can be a support system to help you remember to do the things you’d like want to do anyway.
So what kind of systems are available?
There are so many different way to create a relationship management tool. You could use a software system (CRM) from any number of different providers. These will be sophisticated and robust, but you will need to consider cost and complexity. If this is the route you prefer, do some research and make sure you make an investment that is appropriate for you.
If budget is an issue, how about a DIY relationship management tool? If you really feel like bringing out your inner Martha Stewart, go for the it! But if you are not interested in either cost or glitter, go with something readily accessible to you. Consider Google Docs or Outlook.
My go-to system is excel. The cost is right. It’s user friendly and can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be.
How to use your relationship management tool.
Once you’ve settle don the system you want to implement, start building your contact list. Enter the names and details of everyone you want to add.
If you are a junior associate, this might include your college friends, law school colleagues, and other professionals you know. It might seem as if you don’t need to organize these contacts yet because the list seems manageable. But over time, if you are networking and doing it right, your contact list will grow and will become unwieldy. It will be easier to start now. Remember our pie eating contest winner!
As you become more senior, you will have clients and other people you have met over the years. Is it too late to get organized? Not at all, but it might take more work to get it set up. But again, it might not seem worthwhile, but that list will continue to grow so while sooner is better than later, later is better than never.
Tracking and data
Now you’ve got everyone entered. Decide what information you want to track. Obviously a full CRM system will have a number of fields that can be entered. In my excel sheet, I track where I first met them (conference, client meeting, introduction, etc) and our conversation status (when to next follow up and why) and maybe an interesting notes I may want to remember. And that’s it. I’m organized without spending too much time.
But if you have access to a full CRM, take advantage of every feature your particular system offers. Information is key and useful only if you know it and can remember it.
No matter what kind of relationship management tool you have, they are basically used the same way. Keep the data up to date. Even the most robust system will only be as useful as the data it stores. Track interactions and the important information you want to remember. Enter next action items and diarize them.
Let’s say you are attending an IP conference and you’ve tracked who attends this particular conference and tracked anyone who mentioned that they would like to attend. Using your relationship management tool, you can pull out the names of these people and email them about their plans and arrange to meet. Even if they don’t end up attending or you can’t arrange to meet this time, you’ve reach out and improved the relationship a little bit more.
Tracking and managing your contacts will help you develop relationships, which we all know are key to growing your business. Whether you use a full service software or create your own, keep the data up to date and rely on it to help you build stronger relationships over time.
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