Wake up. Check your email to find a shiny new lead. Eat breakfast while running through your schedule for the day. Back-to-back client meetings keep you out of the office until lunch, but you still need to check in with a vendor about an ongoing project before noon. You should also probably return that call that came in late yesterday. At lunch, your favorite cafe owner mentions that they need some repairs in the kitchen. Who was that guy your business hired last autumn, and were you pleased with the job? Glance at your watch and realize it’s only 1:00 p.m. 

Your days are busy. It would be impossible to keep track of all the people you encounter without some help. That’s where contact management comes in.

For a small business owner, managing contacts is one of the most important aspects of running your business, but it can also be daunting. Here’s how to stay on top of it — whether you’re working with a digital address book or something fancier like lead gen CRM software. 

What is contact management?

Contact management is the organization and maintenance of contact data, such as addresses, emails, and phone numbers.

Proper contact management is essential to customer relations and operational efficiency. It lets any member of your team access accurate customer data quickly and allows you to distribute marketing materials to customers and prospects.

What is an example of contact management?

If you have a personal address book or stored contacts on your phone, you’re already experienced in contact management. In business, an entrepreneur might manage their contacts by creating a master contact list in a spreadsheet application or using an email marketing platform to keep track of customer addresses.

How to manage contacts

Contact management isn’t hard, but it does require discipline. Here are a couple of best practices.

Have one central location for contact information

Contact information may be accessed in multiple places, but identify one central location for your contacts. Whether you use a spreadsheet or sophisticated software, a single, authoritative source of information prevents confusion.

Develop a system for collecting and storing information

This helps keep everything running smoothly. Decide how you want to collect contact information, what type of information you want to collect, where you’ll gather that information, and how you want to organize contacts.

Make these processes automatic. That way, when you’re sprinting between meetings while juggling multiple tasks, you don’t have to spare precious brainpower to think about what to do with client information.

Update your database rigorously

People move, change their names, switch jobs and email addresses, and generally evolve throughout their lives. Keep your database up-to-date.

Remember that acquiring a new customer can cost five to seven times as much as retaining an old one. Stay connected with your current clientele and build lasting relationships for the years to come.

Back it up

If you house all of your contact information on your desktop or in a notebook, back it up. (I’m not sure what that looks like for a notebook. A photocopy in a second location?)

I know little about the universe — except that if you tempt it with a single set of records, it will make them disappear.

To make all of the above easier, use contact management software.

What is contact management software?

Contact management software is nothing new. It’s been around ever since computers caught on and digitized our relationships. The category includes any application specifically designed to organize and store contact details. In many cases, you get a contact manager as part of a suite of applications.

For example, Google Contacts and iOS Contacts are popular contact management options for your personal life. While few people pick out these applications specifically, they often opt for packages that contain other apps they need or want and happen to come with these contact management apps as part of the package.

What does a contact manager do?

Ideally, you want all members of your team to be able to find the information they need whenever they need it. Some businesses opt for desktop-application contact management systems. If you deal with particularly sensitive customer information, you may prefer the additional security of housing all the details on-site.

For others, cloud-based contact management provides much-needed flexibility. With it, you can update or search your contacts from different devices and locations.

Many contact managers also allow you to import information, saving you some time on manual entry.

What is the difference between CRM and contact management?

First of all, CRM stands for customer relationship management. These words — “contact” vs. “relationship” management — are the key.

Contact management tools help you to keep in contact with people. They provide a place to collect and store contact details, such as birthdays, social media accounts, and purchase histories, and even add personal notes. And most often, you can integrate your contacts’ information with your calendar so you can pull up crucial details when necessary.

CRM solutions evolved from contact management. They contain the same information as contact management tools but go further by collecting more data on your customers and giving you tools to manage these relationships. They offer more integrations, analytics, and access to real-time data.

lead-gen CRM solution will let you choreograph interactions across a full customer journey map. Track everything from ad campaigns to emails to conversions, and sustain the engagement moving forward.  

Contact management captures your customer information, while CRM also gives you features that let you better engage your customers and streamline your operations.

Contact managers+

Here’s where it gets tricky. There’s a third category… which I’ve just made up. Simple contact managers are databases for you to store and organize information. However, contact managers can also come bundled with other services — without being all-encompassing CRMs.

For example, professional email services come with a contact management tool integrated into their platform.

Constant Contact’s Email & Digital Marketing product comes with an integrated contact management tool.

Benefits of contact database software

Having the right contact database software is essential to keeping track of your clients. You need it for daily operations, marketing, and the insights that let you plan for the future. A good application brings you multiple advantages.

Improved data organization and accessibility

Business contact management software makes it easier to manage and access data. You can organize client information with various folders and tags, search by name or other attributes, and filter to focus on segments of your clientele.

Additionally, a cloud-based contact management database makes it easy to collaborate — particularly when remote work has become more common.

Improved sales and marketing outcomes

With sales contact management, you can optimize your customer outreach. Capture contact details for potential leads, store relevant customer data, and reach out to people based on previous interactions. Shape your engagement strategy based on information such as:

  • Date of their last purchase
  • Products purchased
  • Source of referral
  • Indicated interests

Good organization also lets you shorten your response time as inquiries and opportunities arise. Nearly half of today’s customers expect companies to respond in less than four hours. (Twelve percent of them expect you to get back to them within 15 minutes, but I think those people should drink less caffeine.)

You’ll also step up your marketing. Build contact lists for email or SMS campaigns, refine your message based on customer demographics, and discover where to focus any social media efforts.

Better insight into customer behavior

Strong contact management solutions afford you better insight into individual customers’ behavior, helping you optimize marketing campaigns.

They also give you the data you need to take advantage of your analytics. There’s been a lot of recent buzz about big data for small businesses — ways smaller companies can take advantage of larger data pools.

But the best data is your data, the information that comes from your actual customer base. Identify trends across customers, and refine your offerings or outreach based on this concrete feedback. 

You can even monitor customer satisfaction — and add some qualitative feedback to the mix — by distributing surveys or polls to your contacts.

Two of the biggest trends in contact management systems are automation and personalization. Each is individually useful, but they really shine when working together.


Automation allows businesses to streamline their processes and save time by automating repetitive tasks such as data entry. Some applications will automatically import new contacts or update old information. For example, when you receive an email from a new lead, your software may instantly store their name and email address.

You can also use marketing automation in “contact managers+” platforms that combine contact management with another service — such as email or SMS marketing. Automate replies to certain triggers, such as a signup for a particular list, or have your platform add them to a new segment when they achieve a given milestone.

Personalization and customer experience

Personalization is the art of creating a unique experience for each customer based on their individual needs and preferences. Contact management software that allows for custom fields and segmented lists enables you to tailor the messages that you send your audience.

Personalized messages build customer loyalty as people learn to trust you to send them only offers that are relevant to their interests. By targeting the audience most likely to purchase a product or service, you also increase sales.

How do you gather this information? Use progressive profiling, the practice of gradually gathering more information on an individual throughout their interactions with your brand. You’ll sharpen your image of each customer without overwhelming them with a single barrage of questions.

Automation and personalization are better together

When you combine automation and personalization, you can design even better interactions between your brand and its audience. For example, you might automatically send contacts a message on their birthday, include their names in emails, or let them know when their favorite products are back in stock.

Nobody likes to be just one of the crowd. So stand out from your competition by treating people as individuals.

Do you need contact management or CRM for your business?

The way to know whether you need contact management or CRM software is to ask yourself what you need your software to do:

  • What type of customer relationships do I need to manage?
  • What information do I want to collect?
  • How do I want to organize my contacts?
  • What features or tools do I want in my system?
  • How much do I want to pay?

CRM contact management will cost more and offer more. Are you set up to take advantage of these features? Don’t buy a Bugatti if your driving style and needs are better accommodated by a Toyota. Then again, don’t buy a clunker that will break down on the way to the store if you can afford the Toyota.

Get organized with contact management

There you have it — the importance of good contact management, its best practices, and the difference between it and lead-gen CRM software.

All that’s left to do is to settle on the best solution for your business. When comparing apples to apples (assuming apples are contact management software), consider these points:

  • Is the system user-friendly and easy to use?
  • Does the system integrate with other tools that I use in my business?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Does it offer customer support if I run into any issues?

Pick a good one, and then you can get back to your hectic life without worrying that you’ll lose that slip of paper that has the email address of a hot prospect scrawled on it.

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