I Have a Dream: CRM on a Personal Level

Alexis Gutzman

Updated · Sep 28, 2001

Earlier this week, my work came to a screeching halt because of the very aggressive Nimda virus. I use Outlook Express, which does about 80% of what I need. Most non-America Online users use Outlook Express, which makes them a prime target of virus writers. Also, Outlook Express users frequently are not the most technically savvy users. While you can set Outlook Express not to open HTML email – the source of this virus – few do.

Nimda: Exploiting Outlook Express Users

The Nimda virus exploited a bug in Internet Explorer, which Outlook Express uses by default to display HTML email. I actually saved the infected file to a text file so I could see the genius behind the destruction. In short, the blank email that carried the virus told Outlook Express it was an audio file, then as the source of the audio file, it provided an executable virus file. Consequently, one need not even have opened the attached virus to get infected. Simply previewing the file was enough.

This virus was really the last straw for me. I had wanted to move from Outlook Express to something that could really provide customizable contact management, complete with some sort of calendaring and journaling, and would double as a marketing tool.

CRM Light: More Than Contact Management

I realized that the theory behind CRM applies even to the smallest business. Although, we rely on personal contacts, there comes a point when there is simply too much information to manage using Outlook Express, or even Outlook. There comes a time when a full-fledged contact-management system is necessary.

CRM – customer relationship management – is, of course, more than just contact-management. It's a three-legged stool, with sales-force automation (SFA), customer service, and targeted marketing being the three legs (see CRM: A Three Legged Stool). What I need, and what I believe many small businesses need, is CRM Light: all of the SFA system, some of the customer service system, and some of the targeted marketing system.

In a very small business, there is no sales force. On the other hand, there may be many, many relationships with different individuals in different fields that you want to manage.

I'm not sure whether this software is out there, but in the spirit of determining the features you need before you go shopping for software (see Prevent Project Failure), here are my must-have features – my dream-list, if you will – for the ultimate personal CRM software.

  • Full-featured contact management system, including the ability to create new contacts automatically. For example, for every new e-mail I send, the recipient becomes an entry in the address book. If the software recognizes that the name associated with a message – when replying to messages – matches a name in the address book, it should prompt me as to whether it should create a new contact, or replace the e-mail address of an existing contact, or add this e-mail address as a secondary address for the existing contact.
  • Customizable contact records with the ability to assign record types to each contact and the ability to group contacts. No contact management system is going to have pre-existing fields for the kind of data I need about my contacts. For example, if I create a record about a company, I want to be able to say what industry that company is in, who their major clients are, and even link to an article or two about the company. The link would permit me to find the details about facts that might be relevant to a future interview, for example a legal dispute about patents. Then I want to be able to indicate with a checkbox or drop-down list which category of contacts this falls into. For example, the individual may be a chief technology officer, so I'd want to select that title from a list, but his company might be an ASP, so I'd want to be able to check that box. When I'm doing research for columns or books, I want to be able to blast a message to all ASP executives to ask them, for example, how they would suggest companies plan to include ASPs in their contingency planning.
  • Ability to send rich text or plain text email. This should include the ability to send both so that the recipient automatically opens the one that works best on his own system.
  • Advanced security settings based on sender's address. I want the ability to set a higher level of security on e-mail from “untrustworthy” sources so that I am prompted to decide whether or not I want to hear the audio or see the flash before it automatically starts in my browser. An empty message with only an audio link should be a dead giveaway.
  • Journaling system. When I call someone, I want to be able to record notes or provide the name of the file into which I saved the notes on this company. If I interview a company three times, I want to have a history of every interview, any phone calls in the interim, and even links to messages received from this company -automatically provided based on which contacts are associated with that company.
  • Blast e-mail or customized blast e-mail capabilities. It's not that often I want to send the same message to a group of recipients, but when I do, I don't want to have to cut and paste and then wonder if I missed anyone. I should be able to indicate, based on the criteria I set for each record, whether a message goes to all PR folks, all ASP folks, or all contacts in the utilities industry.

  • This application should work with my Palm Pilot. I don't need to send mail from my PDA, but I would like to have at least skeletal contact information about each contact available in my Palm Pilot (or any other PDA).

If you know of such an application that can handle these demands, please let me know. I'm planning to evaluate and write about a few over the next couple months. Perhaps if I can use this virus as an opportunity to solve the contact management issue, it won't have been 18 wasted hours, after all.

Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and
e-commerce topics. She's the producer of The Online Marketing Report. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12
Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena
, was named one of the
30 best business books of this year. For up-to-date information about her research and speaking engagements, visit The Alexis Gutzman Group's Web site.

Reprinted from ECommerce Guide.

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