How to nurture unexpected connections with a personal CRM
Tips & Tricks

How to nurture unexpected connections with a personal CRM

A personal CRM helps you maintain your relationships and networks and discover new ways to connect.

There are a lot of moving parts in your social circle. On a high level we’re interested in being “power connectors” and “winning friends,” but remembering all of the fragmented information about our personal connections is very difficult.

Unless you’re Selena Meyer on Veep, and you have Gary Walsh whispering important details about every person you’re about to encounter in your ear.

We easily forget important details about the people we care about — meaning we don’t know what we don’t know. Without our realizing it, opportunities to make connections with people and enrich our personal relationships fly right by us.

Using something akin to a CRM tool—a personal CRM, if you will—gives you the power to remember important details and contacts. This helps you maintain your relationships and networks and discover new ways to connect. Let’s take a closer look at how you can use this unconventional idea to create a really powerful and positive tool.

Organizing the complexity of real-world relationships with software

Many people have used—or seen their parents use—an address book. You could think of an address book as an analog CRM.

Before software ate the world, address books were imperfect but reasonable ways to keep track of all the relevant information for your personal relationships: people’s names, mailing addresses, and maybe even a taped-in business card.

Since then, we’ve developed lot of digital systems for our social networks—but these systems are highly fragmented and decentralized. Information is scattered across email contacts, business cards, and Twitter follower lists. At the same time, some really important pieces of information might not fit in anywhere.

A good system for managing the sum total of this information would look a lot like a business’s CRM. Ideally, it would:

  • Consolidate information about all of your relationships, so that relationships can be viewed in context with one another
  • Be easy to customize based on the aspects of the relationships that you care most about
  • Make it easy to link various aspects of a single relationship so these aspects are easy to search for and find

To achieve all of this and have a personal CRM that delivers on everything you need, a simple spreadsheet won’t be enough. There are too many ways that the pieces of information that you need to manage can link together. These ways are:

  • One-to-one: Each piece of information can only link to one other piece of information. For example, imagine you want to track people and their corresponding primary email addresses. Every person can only have one primary email address, and every email address can only belong to one person.
Diagrams made using Gliffy.
  • One-to-many: One piece of information links out to many others, and many other pieces link back to one thing. For example, if you want to track people and job title, you might find that many different people can have the same job title, and the same job title will apply to many people.
  • Many-to-many: Many items in one category can link to many items in another category. For example, if you want to track people and conferences you’ve attended with them, you might find that you met many people at the same conference, and you attended many conferences with the same person.

These many-to-many data relationships are very common in describing personal connections. But you can’t represent many-to-many relationships in a simple spreadsheet without confusion. You’d have to repeat rows or reconfigure the way you display the data in order to see different connections.

A relational database can represent all of these potential connections between data. This is the only way for your personal CRM to be comprehensive and accessible — which prompts new actions that you can only see by documenting and organizing your contacts this way.

A personal CRM helps you mobilize your network, moving beyond scattered contact information into connections that prompt action.

Diversifying your social network

Personal CRMs give you an opportunity to view all of your relationships in context with one another, as a collection. This has a lot of value because the sum total of our personal interactions shapes our thoughts and actions, whether or not we realize it.

By surrounding ourselves with diverse opinions and ideas, we’re challenged to think in ways that aren’t intuitive to us. Yet the more homogenous our social networks, the more homogenous our thought processes and the fewer opportunities we have to explore new ideas.

Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover was curious about the makeup of his own social network. As an experiment, he used Airtable as a personal CRM to manage his Twitter contacts.

He used a virtual assistant to input all ~1.6k people he followed on Twitter into the view, and fill out six fields of information about each contact.

Ryan was particularly interested in the gender and racial diversity of his contacts, so he added the “Gender” column and binary “White” column. His aggregated data showed him that 79 percent of his contacts were male and 85 percent of his contacts were white, revealing a certain level of homogeneity in his social network.
Given that he knew his connections on Twitter significantly influenced his thoughts, perspectives, and his other relationships, he immediately realized that diversifying his social network was critically important to his personal and professional work.

Surrounding yourself with people who are different than you builds empathy and introduces perspectives that can lead to new and better products for the world.
Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt

The only way to recognize the makeup of your social network is to consolidate and organize information about your contacts.

You can begin with the personal CRM template in Airtable. You can start by populating it with social media followers, contacts in your email or phone, or any group that you think represents your social circle well.

Then, like Ryan did, add fields (columns) based on what you want to learn about your collection of contacts.

When you add new fields, you can customize the field types to best display the kinds of information you want to connect. For example:

  • The “Overlapping personal interests” field links to records from the “Personal Interests” table
  • “Have we worked together?” is a checkbox field

Once you’ve uploaded one group of people to your CRM, you can prune records for people that you don’t keep in touch with, or input additional contacts from other sources.

Visualizing your personal connections this way gives you insight into what kind of relationships you’re cultivating and what you’re lacking. Then make changes as you’re inspired.

Sorting through contacts for personal projects

Each personal relationship is much more than a discrete piece of information. It’s history, conversation, shared interests, and memories.

You’re not going to be able to capture it all in your personal CRM. But one of the benefits of using a customizable tool is that you can define the fields that you want to track. By keeping that information at your fingertips, you’re able to pull up specific queries and find exactly what you need really easily.

For example, you might have a founder friend that needs to begin seeking funding. Then you’d ask yourself, “What investors do I know who do work with early-stage startups?” You’d include a space to tag a contact as an investor, or an early-stage investor.

Sometimes you need to get even more personal. For example, Shaan Puri, founder of the streaming app Bebo, built his own personal CRM to manage his contacts and included fields such as “likesme” and “underrated.”

If these are things you care about, they’d also be useful. It would definitely be helpful to know if someone likes you before hitting them up for an investment, or to reach out to talented but lesser-known individuals to participate in events.

In Shaan’s hand-built CRM, he can search for “thought leaders who like him” by running this query:

select * from network  where “likesme” = yes AND tag1|!= “thought leader”;

But if you use a tool like Airtable, you don't have to do any of the coding yourself: searching is as easy as adding filters and sorting fields.

For example, say you're interested in a freelance position doing website design for someone's blog and you want a recommendation from someone who knows your work.

First, you could add a filter to only display contacts who have “Design for personal blogging” in the “Overlapping personal interests” field.

Then, among the remaining records shown, sort the field “Have we ever worked together?” to display records with that field checked at the top. Click on the drop down menu in the field’s title and select “Sort.”

You can then easily see who to contact.

The beauty is that this sorting process will look different every time you want to search through your personal CRM. And when you use Airtable, you can set up the fields and search through them without any coding of your own. If you’re planning on returning to the same configuration of filters and sorts again, you can even save it as a view, to access it again as many times as you need.

Adding context to give depth to relationships

The ease with which Airtable can model many-to-many relationships makes it great for adding organizational detail into your CRM. For example, you can link the records in the People table to the records in the Personal Interests table—making it just as easy to see each person’s numerous interests as it is to see every person in your network who’s interested in a particular topic.

Showing this relationship is as easy as linking records from these two tables together.

In some instances, simply seeing these links might be all the information you need. If you know someone is also interested in cryptocurrency, you know that you can reach out to them to get their opinion on recent Bitcoin news.

But in other instances, you might want to store more context about that overlapping interest. For example, consider the people with whom you have an overlapping interest in biking: were you on a cycling team together? Did you train together for a race? Do you keep track of each others’ personal records?

At this point, it’s not clear whether you should save this information in the People table or the Personal Interests table, since that information isn’t just about the person, or just about their personal interest—it’s actually metadata about the relationship between that person and that personal interest.

The best way to store this kind of metadata is to build a junction table, which allows you to store additional relevant information about each of the relationships between a person and a personal interest (e.g. person A is interested in biking, which I know because we were on a college cycling team together; person B is interested in cryptocurrencies, which I know because they created a cryptocurrency Slack community).

To set up a junction table, you’d start with the two tables you already have, People and Personal Interests. Then, create a new table and give it a name that will explain how it works as a junction, like “Context around personal interests.” Link the records in this new table to records from your People table and Personal Interests table.
Then, name the primary field in this table by using a formula that uses the values from the other fields. First set the field type as a formula. In this case, you can use the CONCATENATE function to create a name for each entry that uses values from the People linked record field and the Personal Interests linked record field.

Then, you can also put in another field where you can store the additional context for the relationship between a person and their interests.

With junction tables, you can choose the depth of any relationship that you represent in your personal CRM.

Using your personal CRM to recognize new opportunities

The information that you uncover while inputting and organizing data around your personal relationships will highlight opportunities for action. These actions can range from reconnecting with an old friend to discovering a new job opportunity.

Your personal network holds so much potential. Using a personal CRM isn’t about breaking human connection down into isolated data points: it’s about using what you already know about your personal relationships to make them more impactful. By using software to organize and uncover the richness of your connections, you can make surprising and meaningful discoveries.

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