Notetaking on Networking [UPDATED]

I saw a tweet this week that struck me as poetic and honest-seeming and convention-bucking and totally contrary to everything I've experienced.

Nothing is as indelible as ink

Maybe this aphorism makes more sense context but I'm convinced my dad's totally opposite declaration is right: "If you don't write it down, it never happened".

Perfect example: I find a receipt in my pocket from last week and I know that I kept it to submit for reimbursement. It's a matter of fact that if I didn't immediately jot down the who and what on the receipt itself then the only real chance I have of remembering what that receipt was for is to . . . check my calendar (AKA an indelible datebook) and see where I was that day and with whom.

Point being: If you're trying to develop relationships you must take notes on the conversations you have.

Effective notetaking:

  • Use a CRM

    • CRMs (customer relationship managers) are mostly designed for salespeople to keep track of leads and most provide the tools we'll need. I've used Highrise, Zoho, Salesforce, and Streak and started playing around with Nimble this week. Except for Salesforce, which is too powerful (or complicated) and Streak, which is too light-weight (I don't think you can manage contacts, right?) I think any of the other three and probably a few others would do the trick. Bonus points to Highrise and Zoho for having free versions. And as of the past couple weeks LinkedIn has started letting you make notes and reminders related to specific contacts. If I were starting from scratch that's probably what I'd try first.
  • Don't bother importing

    • If you want to use a CRM, I wouldn't bother importing all your contacts from LinkedIn or Twitter or your email address book. Too much noise. I say diligently enter new contacts on a rolling basis and avoid the mess that comes with importing all 600 of your LinkedIn contacts.
  • Consider what your future self will want to know 

    • What to keep track of? If it's a brand-new person I make a note of how we met: Did someone introduce us? Did we meet at an event? Thereafter, for each meeting or call I make note of:
      • Where we met (their office, a coffee shop, who called who on the phone). Useful for the next time you're getting together and need to pick a spot since you can confidently suggest a place they already know and like and you'll seem thoughtful. (Of course you are thoughtful: Writing notes requires thoughtfulness.)
      • Things they are working on at the moment
      • Work stuff coming in the future, including a note about whether they are anxious or excited by the prospect
      • Who they're interested in meeting or connecting with. Hopefully you're able to get a better sense than "anyone interesting"
      • Interesting personal tidbits. If someone's taking all of August off to ski in Argentina they'll probably be excited to talk about it in the fall. I'll admit to occasionally making note of children's ages but that may be edging towards creepy dossier development.
      • Next steps, if any.
      • (Remember: These notes are for you and are for jogging your memory so that the next time you connect you can build off of previous interactions.)
  • Create reminders to touch base again

    • Speaking of next steps and future interactions, unless a person was really obnoxious or becoming a nun, I create a task or reminder to touch base somewhere between 4 weeks and 6 months down the line. I often snooze these reminders when they come up - if there's nothing new to say, no need to force it - but I hate forgetting about people altogether.

One interesting side note: I emailed a few leading young gun BD people from the NYC tech scene and was surprised to discover that only one out of six or seven had a system for keeping track of non-active business contacts. The reasons ranged from good-natured self-deprecation to a vague sense that taking notes is too creepy or calculating. 


Tag contacts

Tagging your contacts is really critical. Being able to instantly recall everyone you've met who's involved in "business development" or "mobile ads" is very powerful. And Simplist, which indexes and searches your social networks, is a nice complement to your own tagging.