Jason Price | Seattle, Wa

Management Consultant, Entrepreneur, Urban Farmer

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Become a Walking CRM System

Some quick tips on remembering key details about your new friends and clients as a start to building lasting relationships

by Jason Price, Seattle, WA

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Here I was, in a faraway land doing my second stint internationally for a small consulting firm in the Czech Republic.  By now, I’d had a year or so of working abroad under my belt and I was feeling significantly more comfortable than when I had first started.  I knew not to be overwhelmed by not knowing where everything was or anybody in this new place besides my girlfriend (now wife) who was living with me.  I was OK with not knowing basic things like how to call for an ambulance if someone got hurt or the police if there was a break in.  I had become an expat.  I was that odd being who can just ‘figure things out’ if they have to be.  By no means was I an expert at this point.  Rather, I was McGyver in training.

If I couldn’t communicate how much I wanted to pay for something I’d bust out a calculator and show the numbers to the purveyor.  If I wanted to eat, I knew the words for chicken, pork, beef and lamb.  If those words weren’t on the menu then either I wasn’t eating there or I was taking the chance.  I had just moved from Provence and the French Riviera so I was used to getting beautiful produce and fresh green vegetables.  But here, I needed to calibrate my expectations.  Finding broccoli was a fruitless scavenger hunt that often ended with a tall glass of beer and another fried potato.  I knew where KFC was if the worst case scenario presented itself.  Yes, I was a stranger in a strange land but I had special skills learned through my own travelling trials and tribulations.  I was an expat.

Behind the Velvet Curtain

At this point in my career I was living and working in Prague in 2001.  Ironically, after having traveled in and around over a dozen countries; the thing I struggled with the most was adapting to the local culture.  True, the Velvet Revolution in ’89 had changed things drastically but things were still evolving here.  The central part of town had been, for the most part, restored to its original beauty with repainted facades and architectural marvels that only Prague can show you.  Western conveniences were available, but not necessarily convenient to get to.  The beer was good and the nightlife abundant.  I couldn’t complain.

However, living in Prague can be enjoyable and lonely at times.  The city is very interesting and taking time to understand the culture is important.  It’s easy to get caught up in the nightlife and such but that doesn’t last long.  Getting to know Czech people is key to happiness and understanding there and it’s not so easy.  After living there for a couple of years I realized that the Czech’s were a bit more wary of foreigners than some other cultures I had experienced.  What I learned to appreciate was the fact that the country itself had been occupied by some country or another for the better part of the last 500 years. Hence, a latent wariness of outsiders generally persisted.  All that being said, after taking my time I did become friends with some Czechs who were very lovely people.

A Little Context…

Most people in the consulting world have come into contact with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system of some kind.  Whether it’s been on a client site related to a project you were working on or in a firm where you were tracking details around customer meetings and their details – we’ve all been there.  It may have been Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce or SAP or some other Frankenstein Access database.  Regardless of platform, we’ve all used them.  It is true that they can be very convenient for many things: remembering that guy you met 5 years ago on a call to company XYZ, or trying to see how many times you’ve called/emailed/tried to meet with someone, or even how many times you’ve actually sealed the deal.  They can be very, very useful if set up and used the right way.  The sad fact is – many times they aren’t.  Many CRM systems are over-configured, convoluted, bureaucratic tools that try to capture and provide a zillion different data points in order to satisfy every last data need of every stakeholder who ever gave a requirement.  Hence, putting data into them becomes an unproductive time-suck for most.

Why Business Development People Hate CRM Systems

Don’t get me wrong – they all don’t categorically hate them.  But in my experience, when Business Development folks hate CRM systems it’s for three primary reasons:

  1. It takes too much time to enter data and they don’t have time
  2. They don’t get anything out of them (ahh, the irony…)
  3. That relationship data is their gold – and they don’t want anyone else to have it

The last reason, for certain, trumps the first two because face it – at the end of the day, a successful Business Developer’s cachet is their ability to develop and retain relationships.  Now why would they want to share that with anyone else?  Sure, it’s a little selfish but understandable as well.  I’ve done it – and I didn’t feel always bad about it either.  Whether you are shilling a product or service you are rarely the one delivering the goods.  Your value is in your ability to develop and grow relationships for the purpose of further developing the business.  So why give all that precious information to the next man/woman on the totem pole?  Talk about fear of working your way out of a job!

Becoming ‘The Walking CRM System’

This is when I started thinking about the concept of becoming the walking CRM system.  Aside from the near impenetrable barrier to friendship that the Czech’s put up at first; I was lacking anything to speak about with them after the normal colloquial conversation topics.  Mind you, I can have a conversation with a complete stranger for a couple of hours if I want or have to.  I’m just wired that way – I’m truly interested in people and what they have to say most of the time.  I’ve been in so many situations around the world where I’ve been seated next to someone at a dinner who I barely knew and had to make a go of it for a few hours.   Generally, I’ve left those conversations having learned something that has stuck with me.  And it’s given me ammo for the next time I see that person to have a much less awkward and much more personal conversation.  The wall is a little less formidable, the conversation is a little more familiar.  It’s just easier.

My main struggle in this new land was remembering names.  Up to that point, I’d really only worked in places that used romance languages.  Everything was somewhat familiar and it wasn’t too difficult to relate Paul to Jean-Paul or Steve to Stephane.  Coming to the Czech Republic I was faced with a Slavic language that was difficult for me to understand and a host of names I’d never heard outside of the National Hockey League.  There were your Jiří’s, Milos’s, Pavel’s, Miroslav’s and Honza’s.  Your Marketa’s, Šárka’s, Dobromila’s and Radka’s.  And they had all manner of different accents and symbols in their names that I’d never seen.  And what the hell is a háček?!  Imagine walking into a room of 25 people you’ve never met and nearly every single one of them having a name you had a hard time pronouncing let alone remembering?  I needed a solution…and fast.

Ask 5 key questions

I needed a way to remember names and faces.  It didn’t help that it seemed like every 3rd guy in the Czech Republic was named Pavel, Petr, Jiří or Jan.  So for me, it was about asking the right questions and remembering key details to wrapper around that name and face.  Is this the Jan that is from Plsen and has 2 dogs and a wife or the Jan who lives in Prague 2 alone and likes to party?  I needed to become my own walking CRM system in this case because: 1) I didn’t have one to use, and 2) I needed to survive and make friends without becoming ‘just another expat’.  It doesn’t have to be complicated – but it’s important to have in your arsenal some basic questions that help you understand the person you are talking to.  More importantly, it’s important to remember what they have to say.  The former is nothing without the latter.

The questions I like to go with are as follows.  You may have others that work better for you but for me these were easy to remember and gave me enough to dig deeper if the conversation allowed:

  • Where are you from originally/where did you grow up?
  • Where do you work?  How long have you been at ‘insert current employer here’?
  • What is your favorite place to dine out?
  • What do you like to do in your free time/hobbies?
  • Where have you traveled?
  • Bonus points - if appropriate, ask about their family.

These are certainly not groundbreaking but it’s a simple enough list to follow and get good, basic details about the individual in front of you.  They are also good lead-in’s to many follow on questions which can take you in a lot of different directions if the conversation allows.  Find ways to retain this information or else you are wasting time with idle chatter.  There are so many people out there that don’t really give a damn about you and just want your money.  Don’t be them.  Be interested.  Learn about the person in front of you.  Be genuine.  It shines through.

Authenticity = Success

Remember what your clients tell you and focus on remembering the details.  Use this info wisely.  If you don’t need to either enter it somewhere or look it up every time you go to meet with this person then you are truly building a relationship with that person – because you care enough to remember the things you learned when you asked the 5 questions above.  Believe it or not, this shines through when you are talking to people whether they be clients or someone you met previously at an event or your kids’ soccer game.  I believe people can perceive the difference between someone who actually cares about what they have to say vs. someone who is going through the motions.  I’ve worked with the latter and, while at first those people may seem like your long lost pal, most will forget the conversations they just had a day earlier and move on to the next victimclient.

And at the end of the day, people buy from people they like and trust.  If you can become your own walking CRM system you will have a leg up.  I have always aspired to this because I ask questions, listen, and remember what I’ve been told – and I do care.  It’s important for me to show you that I’m interested in you.  Those key personal details you remember will help to create the positive perception that you are authentic and that you are genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.  It’s not every ingredient to making a relationship positive and successful but it is a very good start.

customer relationship management collage by Jason Price Seattle

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