Growing up, I remember going into the office with my dad just about every Saturday morning. My grandfather started a kitchen and bath company back in the 60s, and it was a family business with my dad as Vice President of Sales. The office smelled like burnt coffee, printer ink and cigarette smoke. I’d tag along with my dad and draw pictures for the secretaries while he read through his messages and checked on construction schedules. File cabinets lined the back wall of each office, and the sounds of those metal drawers slamming, printers chugging along and faxes coming in created a background drone that I will forever associate with “business.”
After I graduated college and started my first real job, I remember asking my dad how he stayed in touch with all those suburban developers, construction crews, potential clients. “Whatd’you mean, hun?” he asked.
“How do you remember who to stay in touch with? And how often? What their upcoming projects are and when they start?” I asked, feeling overwhelmed by the volume of clients I was learning to manage.
The thing is, he just knew. He’d been working with the same clients for 20 years. The relationships he had with those guys were developed on the golf course and over dinners spanning dozens of projects. Plus, his secretary handled all the files. I think her name was Shirley. She’d talked to clients’ secretaries, and they set up lunches when it made sense. All those metal filing cabinets were filled with the details of every client and project since the company began, and those secretaries’ existence depended on knowing what was happening and when.
When I told him about the first Customer Relationship Management tool (CRM) I was working with, you can imagine his reaction. “Hmm, I guess that’s a good idea”.
I think the idea of a program telling you who to call just didn’t jive with a guy who knew his clients’ kids personally. Plus, collecting everyone’s sales numbers and projections to report at the end of each month was part of his job. How weird for it to be done automatically? I think it seemed a bit like a robot replacing his secretary. I can’t really argue with that. Over the years, I’ve used a few: ACT, Recruitmax, ZOHO. They are what you make of them. For me, it’s a nice reminder to have a conversation with someone. I follow clients on LinkedIn and Twitter to hear how they’re doing.
But oh! business before computers and smart phones and the internet, when secretaries greeted you with coffee and your schedule for the day. Have we lost something? How do you manage your clients? How do you keep in touch without sounding like a robot?