You’re Not Alone … Everyone Else’s Address Book is Screwed, Too

If you’re interested in contact management and visiting our blog, you’re probably a high-achieving individual. You’re growing your professional network, building your resume, and taking on increasing leadership responsibilities within your company.

But your address book is still screwed.

It’s okay. You’re not alone. Everyone else’s is too, including mine.

How’s the Grass on the Other Side?

It’s not as green as you assumed. In fact, it has some dead spots and weeds.

In the process of building our soon-to-be-released Address Book, we at FullContact have been interviewing dozens of high-achieving professionals and teams. We conduct several interviews per week, with the goal of understanding the world’s contact problems. And we’ve learned that the contact management landscape isn’t pretty.

In our interviews, we begin by asking the person to describe their contact challenges. Immediately, the frustration in their voice ratchets up. We’ve heard everything from, “Someone needs to fix this!,” to “I want to hire an intern to manage all this for me,” to my personal favorite, “My contacts are f$%&ed!” (Note: To emphasize the point, the guy who said the last one was one of the most friendly, pleasant people I’ve met.)

Here’s a rundown of the problems we consistently hear. The good news is that we’re in the process of fixing many of these issues with our coming Address Book. Some are out of our control, but most are just healthy challenges no one has yet solved.

1. Contacts Are Everywhere

These days, professionals store contact information in multiple places, including:

  • their iPhone, Android, or other mobile device
  • their Google or other email contacts
  • their desktop contact program, like MS Outlook or Apple Contacts
  • social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
  • a variety of vCard or .CSV files they’ve exported from proprietary systems
  • their CRM, such as Salesforce or Highrise
  • their marketing automation system, like Hubspot, Eloqua, or Pardot
  • their event management system, like Eventbrite
  • and all the signature blocks in their email inbox.

Consolidating and sorting all this contact info is hard. In some respects, life was easier in the days of physical rolodexes.

2. The Contacts, They Are a Changin’

It’s tough to build your network when you spend so much time researching existing contacts. For example, one of your best contacts just changed her title. You wouldn’t know unless you took the time to research her on LinkedIn. Even worse, what if you’re a salesman trying to close a deal and your current POC switches jobs? Now you have to go track down the new POC and start from scratch.

From a pure networking standpoint, follow-ups are important. Whether that’s a one-time call to congratulate people on a new job, a monthly check-in email, or a yearly Christmas card, the key commonality is personalized communication. Without up-to-date information, it’s incredibly tough to maintain solid relationships.

3. The Gardens Have Walls

Say you’re a recruiter and do most of your networking through LinkedIn (we’re hearing this more and more often). Great. LinkedIn is a highly useful social network that is doing some good things for professionals.

What happens if you decide you want to work in a different system? Try getting your data out of LinkedIn and see what happens.

You’ll discover that LinkedIn allows you to export only a limited amount of data. And LinkedIn is not alone: other social networks limit the data you can export, also. This may be a valid business strategy for the social networks, but, as a professional, it paints you into a corner if you want to make a change in the future. You’ve spent years accumulating notes, phone numbers, and other data – it would be nice to be able to use it.

4. Too Many Cooks (and Apps) in the Contact Kitchen

As an early adopter, you’ve probably tried using different apps to clean up your contacts (Plaxo is the one we hear most often). Trying new apps is fine unless, like most people, you haven’t gone in and removed the app’s connection to your contact sources.

We regularly hear from individuals who have one or multiple apps playing around with their Google Contacts. This can create strange loops, duplicates, and problems syncing data. The good news is that you can check on this and remove unwanted apps.

5. Duplicates, Duplicates, and Duplicates

So far, in the years we’ve been at this, we’ve met only one person who had no duplicates in her address book. She’s our CEO’s wife. And she does it all manually. And it’s awful.

With multiple contact repositories come duplicates; and with duplicates come inconsistent information. You might have a contact’s first name and phone number in your iPhone, but their full name and email address is in your Google. You want them merged into one master record that propagates out to all your sources.

As it turns out, merging duplicates is hard. Most apps have a poor track record of identifying duplicates, mainly because you need a lot of data to do it well. If you try to identify duplicates based on one or two factors (such as name, phone number, or email address) you’ll identify a lot of false dupes. Think how many shared addresses or phone numbers get placed in email fields, or how many John Smiths are out there. In the end, you’ll still end up merging a lot of them manually, or giving up in the process.

6. In the Age of Smartphones, We Still Exchange Paper Business Cards

The landline phone has become all-but-obsolete, and we can teleconference with India. Yet we’re all still collecting and transcribing paper business cards.

In our interviews, we’ve had people arrive with boxes of business cards and lay them down on the table, as if to say, “Please help me with this!” More often than not, business cards you collect end up in a box, where they’re not doing you any good. Some people pay their intern or assistant good money to transcribe cards for them. Many cards get lost in transit.

Good news. FullContact’s Card Reader iPhone App will automatically and accurately transcribe your cards for you (and input them into Salesforce if you like).

7. Contact Managers Haven’t Learned to Share

Say you work on a small team, or you’re moving up the ladder and handing over your portfolio to your successor. Try sharing your contact lists with them, so that you can collaborate.

Welcome to export/import hell. We’ve spoken to numerous professionals who want a simple system for sharing contacts among their team, and they don’t want to pay the high price of a full-blown CRM. It gets even harder when you want to share contacts outside your organization. Google Contacts has a delegate feature, but it’s limited to people with your same email domain, and you can’t pick and choose which contacts to share.

Hang in There…It’ll Get Better

In our view, contact management is highly inefficient. Professionals are wasting valuable time cleaning up their contacts, searching the web for new information, and transcribing business cards. If this sounds like you, sign up for our Address Book Beta. We’ll need your feedback along the way, so come prepared to give us suggestions.