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The end of an era

Reader question

Katie wrote to me:

“As you know I am a real estate agent.

I have iPhone, iPad and Dell laptop computer.

My contacts have always been on my outlook contacts.

Once I got iPhone I started to keep contacts there as well. Then, with the cloud, doubled, tripled the amount of contacts, several the same with only a slight difference. I am not even sure if the two systems communicate.

So, I need a contact management system for my business so I can send mailings, keep in contact with past and future clients as well as family and friends, all in one place. This does not seem to work with two different systems. Do I need an Apple computer so all three communicate, do I just use outlook and forget updating to phone?

Are you familiar with any contact management systems you would suggest?

I also would like your advice on email addresses. I have one with my work, several with I know you can point all to one place, but my concern is if I left Weichert, I would lose all my info. If I stay with, what if they go out of business one day? Does it make more sense to go with Google, Gmail and then point to there?”

Well, Katie, here’s my two cents.

I think everyone can relate to the root issue here — multiple devices, some personal some used for business as well. Between them all you have your entire life — contacts, appointments, information, files and even presentations. The question is how do you get everything organized? Let’s break it down.

ContactsHere’s the scenario: You’re just getting off work and you think it might be nice to call up your friend and catch up over a drink and maybe dinner. You open up your phone, tap into your contacts and all of a sudden you notice that you have five copies of your number for your friend Joe. While they are all the right number and they are all the same person, you are hesitant to delete any in case they all go away, or you remember the last time you did this, you ended up getting two duplicates in its place.

This is more common than you know and for better or worse there are multiple ways you can deal with this. Since you have iOS mobile devices, we’ll look at a solution for those. This is actually similar to the situation we have at work here — we have PCs or Macs and all of our reps carry iPads out in the field. The important factor with this is that they utilize a Microsoft Exchange Server to route and store all the traffic. Since you have multiple emails already, you probably have those set up to pull into your phone. If you go to your phone’s settings you will see an option to look at your mail, contacts and calendars. If you go into that you should see set ups for all the different email accounts you have. This is where you need to make some decisions.

Within each account you have set up — iCloud, Gmail, Outlook (Exchange) or other — you will be able to look at what information you are pulling from each. Usually within each account you will have the option to pull your mail, contacts, calendars and reminders into your device. Simply, if you turn that function on it will sync, if you turn it off it won’t. What this allows you to do is isolate which accounts you pull your contacts from, your calendar from, etc. This can be used strategically to make sure that you’re not duplicating data.

For contacts, I would recommend one of two options: Keep all your personal contacts in one account and business in another, or keep them all in one account. For example, if you want to keep things super simple, you can load all your contacts into Outlook. If you do an import you should be able to eliminate duplicates as they transfer into Outlook. Once you do that, on your mobile device, you can use the Outlook (Exchange) option for your contacts and disable it for your other accounts and then you will have one, synchronized, contact list. Similarly, if you use one account, say Gmail, for personal and your Outlook (Exchange) for business, you can activate them both in your device and you will pull both lists without duplicating.

Mailing Lists

Here we see one of the flaws that I find with iOS mail. There is a lack of native ability to use distribution lists for email. If I want to send an email to the entire sales team here, I have to enter their email addresses one at a time and I run the risk of leaving someone out. Luckily there are some options. The easiest one I’ve found was an app called Groups+Free. What Groups+Free allows you to do is build distribution lists from the contacts on your iOS device and save them as one group. It’s not a perfect system — you need to initiate the new email from that app and you can’t import an existing list into it, say one from Outlook — however, it does give you the ability to send emails to a mass distribution list. There are other apps out there, some that are combined with a contact management system, but if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get the job done Groups+Free will get you started.

Keeping track of your business

I completely understand where you are coming from when you say you need a good Contact Management System. The people I work with are the lifeblood of my profession and if I wasn’t able to keep their information organized I’d be in a world of hurt. For better or for worse, the advent of mobile devices has increased the ways that we can interact with people. Near Field Communication has allowed Android users with the latest OS version to share their contact info just by touching your phones together. Bump, an app for iOS and Android, allows you to do the same if your smartphone doesn’t have NFC capabilities. Since you can combine your Outlook, you can sync information that way and Google has made it increasingly easier to keep everything within a finger’s reach. But how do you determine which method is best, get it set up and keep it organized?

The traditional CRM may still be your best bet — companies like SalesForce, Sugar and other software giants have long made it their business to help keep yours organized. They tend to cost money, sometimes a pretty big chunk, but the immediate benefit is you are getting something that was designed for that specific purpose. Depending on what functions you like, and your budget, you can find multiple options that you can download and install. These will work across PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices, and will give you a system that can help track sales, contacts, prospects, etc. One thing to keep in mind is since you use Outlook and other programs already, it should be on your list to look for a CRM that will integrate with some the existing programs you use. This will save you time in set up and should make for an easier learning curve.

Another option would be to look at some specific apps, or suites of apps, that you can find for your devices. There are dozens of apps available for Android and iOS. Some are completely free and some require a subscription but they can work as standalone programs you can use without the overhead that sometimes comes with the larger made-for-corporation standards. One thing to keep in mind is where the majority of your work will be done. Not being a Realtor I can only speculate but I would imagine that in addition to your office, you have a decent amount of work being done on-site. To that end, it may be beneficial to have a CRM that is just as easy to use at your desk as it is in the field.

Finally, one more option to consider — go a little rogue and don’t use a traditional CRM or app. Instead, look at the tools that you are already using. In my line of work I tend to have a lot Excel templates I use for forms, models and equations. I also tend to use video, Prezi and other presentation materials. Because of the wide range of tools I use, I can’t always rely on a CRM to house those for me. Some apps and CRMs are not designed to be a mobile “everything” space and were only designed to perform the contact management side of things. So, in addition to the CRM that we use here, I supplement that with cloud storage, note taking tools like Evernote or Paperdesk and the presentation apps like Prezi as a kind of Swiss Army knife to give me the most options.

Email me at... no wait... what about... no I don’t use that one...

It seems to be the trend that the longer we’re alive the more email addresses we feel we have. My personal recommendation is that you should have a personal email, a business email and that’s it. Anything more than that and all of a sudden you are trying to remember multiple logins, passwords and what you use one or the other for. I used to have five or six emails, and it got to be unbearable so I cut out the waste. Now I have my personal email and my work email and that’s it.

There are some circumstances that make this difficult sometimes — my wife is a good example. When we got married she changed her name and also created a new email with that name. However, having used her previous email for so long, she had emails there that she kept for reference, contact information etc. So, what to do? She couldn’t just stop using it but she was handing out her new one too. Fortunately, we were using Gmail. Gmail, along with other email services, often allow you to forward email automatically from one address to another — sometimes called delegation. This process usually involves using either a POP3 or IMAP protocol in your email program. Essentially what this does is when you receive an email at a specific address, for example my wife’s old email, it will automatically forward that on to a new email that you determine. This means that she only has to remember one log in and password and she doesn’t miss messages. On your iDevices you can set up each email individually too if you still actively use them, but they also have a feature where you can see one inbox. Many email shell programs, like Outlook, will also allow you to have more than one email come into that inbox.

My recommendation is to eventually start consolidating your emails, in the long run it will be easier to keep track of. One way you can do this is to use POP3 or IMAP to begin using one email exclusively and as your contacts start seeing email from only the one account they will be begin automatically sending and replying to that one. There is always a risk of having a service stop or go out of business but many of these services are going to be around for quite some time. If you’re really worried about that, if you pull them all into Outlook, you can archive and back up your emails to an external drive and then you will have them forever.

It’s not quite a nutshell, but hopefully that gives you some ideas for all your questions. The options I talked about are really only some of the options out there right now and you can certainly explore some of those. One thing that might be beneficial is to check out Google and YouTube. Simply searching for your questions may bring you to some good ideas and if you can find them on YouTube you can usually find a step by step walkthrough on how to set it up.

I hope this helps, and if you decide to try any of these ideas I’d love to hear what success you have implementing it, or if you still have questions I’d love to hear about those, too! Thanks, Katie, this was a great topic and I think we got a good look at some ideas.