Lukas Rosenstock posted a write-up of a group discussing their personal CRM routines he organised. A little over a year ago I was impressed with how Rick Klau (an old blogging connection) described his ‘homebrew CRM‘.

Lukas mentioned there were three groups in his conversation, one using specialised tools, one group using no digital tools, and one group using more general tools (“like Roam, Notion or Airtable“). I’m definitely one of the latter.

After reading Rick’s posting a year ago I parked it for a while, but when I adopted Obsidian for note taking, after a while I also started using it for some light weight CRM notes. Unlike Rick I haven’t added any process or automation, but I did start creating CRM notes so that something like it might become possible over time.

What I started with is making notes about people I encounter.

LinkedIn has one glaring hole in its functionality and that is allowing me to add something about the context of when I met someone. After using LinkedIn for 16 years I now sometimes come across a LinkedIn contact and then don’t remember how or why we connected. LinkedIn by now does show when you connected, allowing me to browse through someone’s CV to see what that person did when we connected and try to remember the context of that connection. Xing, mostly used in German speaking countries, had this from the start including a field for a few notes on when / how you met someone. That has proved valuable. [UPDATE In the comments Aad points out such a feature has been present at some point. Online search suggests it was introduced in 2013/4 with LinkedIn Contacts, and became a premium-only feature from 2017. By 2013 I had some 2k contacts, 8 years worth of interaction, where such contextual info was missing, and I use the free version, so the general point stands, even if factually not correct since 2013]

Back when I used a wiki on my laptop for notes, I also kept CRM style notes in it, especially 2004-2008. The useful bit was that I could link to a person’s page in the various notes I made about meetings, events etc. That ‘backlinking’ overview in itself was a great way of adding contextual info.

With Obsidian and the use of simple text files in markdown I have that back, and actually in a better way than in that wiki of old. Because those text files can be approached by a wide variety of software tools, not just Obsidian.
I’m not attempting to be complete in these CRM notes, I grow them the same way as I grow the other type of notes: when I encounter someone new I make note of it. Especially when I don’t know someone yet, or don’t have a strong connection to someone I make those notes. Not so much of people that I’m already connected to like colleagues. I’ve started a few new projects in the past few months, which is always a moment when you encounter a lot of new people in a new context. So those I’ve made notes for, as it helps understand a new client organisation, relevant stakeholders and context. For now backlinking in meeting and project notes is the way for adding a record of interaction.

Maybe in a year or so I can start doing more pro-active things with those notes, like Rick has built into his routines. Another element to me is potentially leaving LinkedIn behind at some point in the future, or at least be somewhat prepared when LinkedIn goes away, as all these platforms do.

Do you have some personal CRM-type routines or automation?

HandShakeHandshakes and conversations is what I’m interested in, not marketing instruments. Image Handshake by Elisha Project, license CC BY SA

I’ve held for a long time that whenever someone says “we’d like to hire women but we don’t know any” or “we really want women as speakers on our event but we don’t know any and if we do they say no”, it is really down to the lack of quality and balance in their network of contacts. When I organised international conferences myself, with our team we made sure to invite speakers while conscious of the lopsidedness of our own networks, overcompensating in our invitations to get a result closer to a 50/50 balance. Now that my company is hiring new people every now and then, that too is an opportunity to counteract such imbalance.

Last week I wrote about ‘homebrew CRM‘, in which I mentioned Rick Klau’s post on his contact management routines. One element that jumped out when I was reading his post was that he had taken a look at his contact lists to see how the men/women ratio was in his network. There’s nothing in LinkedIn that let’s you explore your contact list as a single data set. It’s only a rolodex still, no way to visualise the data in that list in any way (e.g. geographic or sectoral distribution, or other cross sections of the list). Rick mentioned he had downloaded all his LinkedIn data and all his Twitter data, and then used that data export to work on. I requested the same data from LinkedIn and Twitter.

It turns out that LinkedIn’s export contains a list of contact names (but not the link to their profiles, as that isn’t ‘your data’), and a key piece of information they normally don’t show you: the date you connected. (Interestingly LinkedIn offers you nothing to record the context and reason you connected. The Xing-platform, heavily used in Germany, does do that, and I find it very useful)

Having names and dates, I manually indicated someone’s gender, and then used the dates for basic insights into how my recorded network developed over time. (Typing this I realise I still have the export from Facebook when I deleted my original account 2 years ago, and I could do the same there)

For now I looked at two measures: the balance between women and men in contacts I added each year, and the balance between women and men in the total number of contacts each year. Currently I have some 2150 contacts, of which some 600 are women, for a percentage of 27%. That is significantly lower than I had intuited. I think such overestimation is a known effect.

Looked at per year for the contacts added that year, the balance over time has improved from 10% in 2003, to between a third and 40% in the last handful of years. That last number is in line with the overall percentage I had intuited, so apparently I am using my perception of recent years as the estimate for the entire period. That low 2003 starting percentage has a lot to do I think with the general imbalance of the early adopter crowd that came into LinkedIn when they launched in May 2003 (I joined in June ’03) and the low number of people I connected to those first months on the platform (11 in 6 months).

Getting closer to a 50/50 balance on LinkedIn isn’t completely within my control I realise (unlike in my feed reading), as it also depends on who I actually meet in my work, and each working environment has its own existing gender distribution. It is also not completely outside my control. There is agency in new situations and contexts, such as whom I seek out for conversation when participating in an event. Yet, getting to a 50/50 balance for the total would mean connecting only to women for a few years, adding about a 1000 new contacts that way. History does keep one back clearly.

cummulative per year

new contacts added per year