Bet you don’t really know. In my experience most do not. Sounds absurd doesn’t it? After all, you’ve captured business cards from all those trade shows, customer meetings, networking events, and other person-to-person interactions. You’ve made sure they’ve all been dutifully captured to your contact database in Outlook, ACT!, or whatever you use. But, do you really know what you have? If you had to pick a contact at random and dial a number, what’s the likelihood they could (would) help you with something-anything? When did you last help them?
This is a problem that had afflicted me though I hadn’t realized the magnitude. And, as I actively talk with members of my network (my friends, colleagues, and other associates) I discover they’re in the same boat, or worse. After 15 years growing my own contact database, years of customer calls, trade shows, and other activities, I recently discovered I had a total of 4,316 contacts in my dbase. Wow! Really? Impressive! Right? Wrong.
My contacts database had been treated as a dumping ground of sort. Yes, contact information had been updated routinely; even deleted a few along the way. By and large though, if I possessed a business card, it was dutifully entered/dumped into the dbase, categorized, and (for many) never looked at again. 4,316. Sure sounded impressive.
It was time to start reaching out to my contacts, doing some email/direct mailing, and renewing relationships with many of my contacts. The first step was to sift through the database. I created three categories, Cat A, Cat B, and Cat C.
People in these categories (you’ve met in person):
- Cat A:
Your strongest contacts, will return your call within 24 hours, won’t mind if you call them more than once in a week.
- Cat B:
May have been an A in the past, you’ve not spoken to in the past 12 months. Perhaps someone you’ve worked with directly for a period.
- Cat C:
Everyone else. You’ve got a card from an event, a one-time interaction, no effective relationship previously established.
Over the course of about 10 days, I sifted through all my contacts, updating and categorizing them accordingly. The results were astounding. While there were a couple other categories I used (e.g. Family, Restaurants, Info), after removing all Cat C contacts, the number was trimmed to about 1800, of which 125 were Cat As.
Have you recently (ever?) pruned your own contact database? This process is as important to you, as it has been to me. We all have finite resources and, if we need to reach out for help (i.e. you’re seeking work), we need to know where to focus. Who can we reach out to? Some people will find they only have perhaps 25 ‘A’s. Others, those who truly understand networking, may have hundreds. What I have discovered in recent months though, is that most just don’t know!
One side bar here… I’ve been working with the ‘new’ database for a few months now. As you actively start operating on the assumptions you’ve made (e.g. who’s an A, or B) you’ll likely be surprised a bit. People that truly were an A, perhaps even two months ago, won’t take your call now, and become a B (possibly even a C). Others that were a B, magically (and blessedly) become your strongest As. To borrow from a friend: You’re going on a train ride; some will come along for the ride, some won’t. Don’t be afraid to reclassify people.
You may want to pooh-pooh all this. It’s too much work. It’s not really important. As sure as the sun comes up tomorrow though, there will come a time where you need someone’s help. Might it be helpful to know who to reach out to?
PS: Your cell phone finds contacts more quickly if it isn’t congested with valueless data;).