Apr 112011

In building a network, one aspect has left me overwhelmed. How do I keep track of all the important data about the people I meet? For each person, I want to know their name, occupation, company, family facts, birthdays, interests, problems they are facing, interests, etc. Oh, and contact information, phone numbers, email addresses, mail address, company, when I met them, who introduced me, last time I talked to them, how often I want to keep in touch and….. the list goes on and on.

After many years of keeping track of people, I have identified what I feel to be deal breakers for contact management. Sure, the basic data is easy for most on the market to handle. Just about everything stores the basic information, including birthdays. What they miss are reminders, plans, searches, groups and analytics. I want to have my manager remind me a few days before birthdays, track my correspondence / phone calls and tell me when it is time to reach out to someone again.

I started keeping track of my network in Outlook. It has basic contact management with many of the fields I needed. With reminders, it would help with birthdays and reminding me when to get back in touch. It is really close to what I need when synced with an Exchange server. And then I got the great idea to go mobile. I synced it to my Windows phone and disaster struck. Duplicates. Triplicates. Suddenly my contacts were breeding like rabbits! I couldn’t weed them out fast enough.I spent hours upon hours trying to get rid of the mess. I couldn’t keep up. I still have duplicates today. Lesson learned – be careful of syncing contacts. Bad things can happen in some situations. I believe Microsoft may have the problem fixed, but I don’t trust them any more. Blackberry and Palm hasn’t done it to me. Knock on wood.

About that same time I changed companies and was hit with another problem. My contacts were on the company Exchange server. I didn’t have them at home. Suddenly, I was unemployed and without a way to contact my network. Lesson learned – control your contacts. You have to have access to them regardless of your employer.

I moved to Gmail about this time and ported my contacts over there. I figured with the power of Gmail, there would be more options for tracking contacts than ever before. Nope. Pretty much the same problem, only without any integration with the calendar or tasks. Definitely a step backward. One advantage Gmail has is that it ties with email extremely well. Another advantage is they are all in the Internet cloud and accessible from anywhere.  However, the custom fields are rudimentary and some Internet-type things like tags are missing. I haven’t figured out how search on custom fields or have dates work for me. Lesson learned – Most contact managers are too basic for use as a network contact manager.

So, the search goes on. I haven’t found anything yet. I have looked at Salesforce.com, but it is a) expensive and b) geared to sales (duh!). I have considered looking at Act! but I fear it will be the same downsides as Salesforce. I can’t justify the cost to give it a try. I am still looking. Lesson learned – Sales oriented contact manager / CRM is usually overkill for tracking a network.

If you have heard of anything I should try, I would love to demo it and report back. Having something to manage interaction with a network is critical to me. What do you use? What do you like/hate about it? I would love to hear your experiences.

This turned into a piece about what I don’t use. Wednesday, I will talk about what I do use and what I do like.