Do you keep your customer list in Quickbooks? Is it divided across every employees’ Outlook? If so, you have a problem. I’d go so far as to say you don’t have a customer list at all.
As a business owner that’s a dangerous place to be for several reasons:
- It makes marketing to your customers and prospects in an organized, effective way impossible.
- You don’t have control of your most valuable asset—your list of customers and prospects. After all, that’s where all the money is.
- Without a window into the chain of customer interactions (calls, emails, appointments) your employees have, it make you vulnerable if a key employee takes time off or leaves.
The solution to all of this is CRM—customer relationship management—software. But, frankly, the thought of CRM gives me nightmares. Over the years we’ve implemented five different CRM systems, from ACT! to shared folders in Outlook/Exchange to Microsoft CRM and Infusionsoft…
The challenge with all of these systems is that they are expensive and really cumbersome for users. The cost might be justified, if the software delivered on it’s promises of centralized contact information and access to the chain of communication.
The over complication of all of those systems kept us from seeing any of the benefits. Then we found Highrise. (Note: I have no relationship with 37signals—the makers of Highrise—beyond being a happy customer).
Highrise almost perfectly tackles the two critical functions you need as a business owner:
- Centralized contact storage
- A view of the chain of communication
And it’s so simple and fast to use that getting your staff to actually put the information in is really a non-issue.
So here’s a view of how we use Highrise:
Centralizing Contact Info
First we pulled our contact info out of our old system. The old software exported all of our contacts into a comma delimited file, which Highrise easily imported. That accomplished goal # 1—getting everything in one place.
Organizing the Contacts Into Lists With Tags
We spend a lot of time segmenting our customer and prospect lists so that we can pull different groups out for specific marketing campaigns. We created five priority tags—keywords you attach to contacts to categorize them.
- @Dream 100 - for our list of 100 or so ideal prospects
- @E-Zine - for anyone on our email list (you can signup in the form on the right)
- @Print Newsletter - for contacts who get our print newsletter
- @Clients - for clients
- @Prospects - for consulting prospects who we’ve qualified and put in the sales funnel
- @Unsubscribed - for people who’ve unsubscribed from our email list
We prefix them with ‘@’ to keep these heavily used tags together and sorted at the top of the list. We also create tags to track how prospects and customers have interacted with us—ie. did they download a free resource, attend a teleseminar, buy a particular product or service.
Tracking all of these “events” is hugely valuable, but makes for a long list—that’s why we use the ‘@’ tags to get a high level view.
Sidenote: Infusionsoft does an outstanding job of automatically “tagging” contacts based on their interactions with you. It’s our favorite system for serious marketers, but it’s significantly more expensive than Highrise.
If Highrise has a weakness it’s in it’s ability to automatically assign tags. You’ve got to do it manually. We take some time each week to run through the list of “untagged” contacts and give them the tags they need.
Tracking the Chain of Communication
This is where Highrise beats all comers. With most written communication happening via email, Highrise will be your new best friend.
To get email communication into Highrise all you do is BCC each email you send to a special email address that Highrise gives you. It reads the email and attaches it to the right contact. I’ve yet to see it get one wrong after a year of use.
To put emails that people send you into Highrise you just forward the email to that same special address.
For tracking meeting notes and phone calls it’s quick and easy to type notes into the website. I’ll often scan handwritten meeting notes and attach the file to the contact so everything’s in one place.
I’ve had more success getting people to actually use Highrise than any other system we’ve purchased.
The Bottom Line — Get Organized Now!
Regardless of the tool you use, get your customer list organized now. You won’t be able to effectively market until you do. If you don’t have anything in place Highrise is a great and inexpensive solution, but as with any software one-size does not fit all.
If you’ve got a great system for organizing your customer list share it in the comments.