April 05, 2012

An Entrepreneur's Guide to Relationship Management

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Founder's note: "Dogfooding" my own product is for me an incredibly important component of our product development. While we rely heavily on metrics, customer development, and intense feedback, retaining that gut feeling that we're building a product of value for all of us is key. I'm going to explain how important maintaining relationships is for a founder, how I do it, and how I use Contactually to manage it all. I hope you'll learn something, and consider giving Contactually a try, as thousands of other entrepreneurs have.

When running my previous company, staying in touch was crucial to my business. For three years, we never spent a penny on advertising, rather, all our business came through referrals. Current clients, former clients, partners, vendors, etc. - all of whom provided not only a steady (overwhelming, at times) flow of incoming high-value opportunities, they were also my avenue of talent acquisition, business development, and back-office services. It completely makes sense of course; we live in a world where everything is becoming increasingly commoditized, ratings sites can become stale, inaccurate, or corrupted, so our sphere of influence becomes all the more key. We were one of dozens, maybe hundreds, of web development firms in the region, but a recommendation from a past client that we were the best in our game set us apart. At the same time it allowed us to properly score incoming opportunities, based on who they came from. Come to think of it, I never accepted a client that came via anonymous websites (read: my own website). So relationship management was a core aspect of my role as founder.

Fast forward to 2012, where I've now transitioned to co-founder and CEO of Contactually, an early stage, venture backed startup. Relationship management now plays not just a core part of my responsibilities, it's absolutely live-or-die to so many different aspects of the company.

  • Users

  • Partners

  • Fundraising

Let's dive in to how I manage all the relationships for Contactually.

Who do you need to keep in touch with, and how often?

Here is how I've set up our relationship management. In Contactually, we allow you to set up "buckets" as a way of grouping individuals, and then allowing you to set up different rules for them.

  • Top Users (keep in touch every 15 days) - I ensure that I or another co-founder talks to all of our top users every couple weeks. We ping them about new feature releases, ask for their support, and in general, just touch base to see how Contactually is working for them. They love it. We also sync these contacts to our company CRM.

  • Partners (keep in touch every 30) - These relate to some of the deals we have in the pipeline, API providers, business development relationships, resellers, etc. I'm usually in touch with them more often, but I set up Contactually to ensure I don't fall out of touch with them. We also sync these contacts to our company CRM.

  • Sales Leads (keep in touch every 10) - While we're a self-serve software as a service, I'm in touch with many people who are actively considering Contactually, and I use our own product to follow up with them until the sale is closed.

  • Advisors (keep in touch every 30) - Through our network, as well as 500 Startups, we've gained an incredibly valuable set of advisors and mentors. Again, I'll reach out to them as we need something, specifically, but it's helpful for me to touch base with them, give them a quick status update, and ask them for a particular connection. Some of our advisors are close enough that we can simply ask "how are we doing?" and they'll give us an all-around review.

  • Current Investors (every 15 days) - Given our early stage, we stay especially close to our angel investors, given them incremental status updates, asking for guidance and introductions, and in general, giving them some pride in their investment. It also helps to have a high frequency of communication, as it helps me ensure that we are making enough progress that it's worth reaching out.

  • Potential Investors (every 7 days) - Every entrepreneur in fundraising mode will tell you how important it is to be persistent and continually follow up with investors who are evaluating your company. I provide constant updates on metrics, answer any questions, etc.

  • Future Investors (every 30 days) - If you haven't read Mark Suster's excellent blog post about investing in lines, not dots, read it now. Read it, and you'll understand why this bucket exists.

  • Potential Hires (every 7 days) - We're in touch with a number of potential candidates - keeping in touch with them often works both ways, as we're able to show interest, at the same time ask them any questions we may have.

  • Other Entrepreneurs (every 30 days) - We've had the chance to meet so many other awesome founders from other companies - both through networking, then also our 500 Startups batch. While we're always exchanging introductions, support, etc - it's generally nice to get in touch with each other just to see how things are progressing.

What's the process?

  • Initially it's all about setting up your different groups of contacts. Deciding how often you want to keep in touch with them is the first step.

  • As you're reaching out to people, categorizing them appropriately. As I'm using Contactually, my way of handling this varies as our product evolves. I may drag and drop contacts through our web interface, play the bucket game to quickly process (and it's fun too), or use some of our new client plugins to do it as I'm sending an e-mail (stay tuned).

  • Set Reminders - If you're using your own system or calendar to set reminders, set a follow-up calendar appointment for each one of your contacts. If you're using Contactually, you simply tell Contactually how often you want to stay in touch with each group of contacts, and we handle the rest.

  • Process Reminders - This is important. While you may receive notifications that it's a good idea to get in touch with someone, you have to decide whether or not it's appropriate at that time. Choose to adjust your parameters, reschedule for another time (our product allows you to "snooze" a contact for a certain number of days), or, worst case, delete them.

  • Get in touch - For each of your contacts you want to reach out to, it's helpful to send them something other than a "hey how's it going?" e-mail. I use Contactually to review our past conversations, see their recent tweets and Facebook updates, and decide what else to include (subscribe to our newsletter or sign up for Contactually for more advice on this coming up).

  • Fall off the wagon, and recover - This is the hardest part of relationship management. Realize you're going to screw up. You're going to be too busy, not feel its the right time, procrastinate, etc. That's totally OK, and to be expected. What we've found is that getting back into the groove is much easier than you expect.


What did I leave out? How do you ensure that you stay in touch with all the people that are important to your business?

So here's the pitch: We built Contactually to help professionals do their job better by making it really easy to manage their relationships, follow up, and stay top of mind. While we'd love for you to use our product, figuring out some method of staying in touch with everyone that matters, both short term and long term, is vital. So not only do we see thousands of users using Contactually, it also is an incredibly useful tool for entrepreneurs. Drop me a line, I'd love to have you on Contactually.