For networking to be effective, you need a simple way to document, store, and access contact information, your notes, and past records of correspondence. You need an organized Customer Relationship Management system or CRM for short.
A CRM system is more than a contact list in a spreadsheet. It’s more than an address book. It’s more than LinkedIn or your Instagram account. It’s a dynamic system that has structure and logic.
A good CRM system is able to make complex connections. It can help you map who knows who, who works where, where you met someone, and how all the various companies you know are interrelated.
A great CRM system is flexible enough to grow with you over space and time while giving you the ability to think three-dimensionally. A great CRM design allows you to sort contacts based on the degree of the relationship, to pivot on mutual overlapping shared interests and to filter based on occupation.
Since the whole point of effective networking is turning contacts into relationships, you need to incorporate a sliding scale that helps you track the degree of the relational bonds. Think of this like a game. Complete strangers start off at level zero while your closest friends and family are at the top, level five. The goal is to try and slowly move strangers up the ladder to higher levels.
For example, people that you read about in your trade publications and who you want to meet one day rank at zero. People that you casually meet once or exchange business cards with are a one. People who know your name and who know a little bit about you are a two; twos are casual. To bump up to a three, you have to have a lot of interactions but they don’t all need to be positive; they just have to be familiar. That guy you don’t actually like at the office; he might just be your three! Fours are people whose company you genuinely enjoy. And fives are your inner circle. Build this scale into your CRM system and you have a foundation for what networking success looks like.
As your system evolves over time, it becomes more intelligent and robust. You’re moving contacts along two axes. You are measuring quantitatively how well you know someone and then qualitatively how you know them. As you move strangers from zeros to fours and fives, you’re also learning about what makes them tick and you’re filling out their interest-profile. The sheer act of doing this allows you to deepen the relationship simply by sharing things that are meaningful and useful.
The third axis that you need to track is occupation—as it relates to your professional world. Your position requires you to interact with many similar yet different job titles. List them all and add them to your database system. If you’re a front of house sound engineer, your database will be full of tour managers, monitor engineers, lighting directors, production managers, and many other FOH engineers. Be very specific with occupations that relate to your world and be broader the further you get from your center.
When you start to organize by profession, you see just how small and limited your world really is. We group together—so if you really want to get good at this, master your world first and then become an explorer. Jump universes and go to different pockets. Hang out with different people outside of work completely. That’s why whenever anyone asks me for career advice, the first and only thing I say is to double down on your hobbies and extracurricular activities. Those will always be your biggest assets over the course of your lifetime.
Putting all this together, when you systematically organize your contact database on these three dimensions, you can contextualize anything and you become a super connector. When an associate asks you if you know a great drum tech from Philly who’s a good hang, a vegan and available, you’ve got that. When someone asks you for a guy who knows IEMs and who loves bar-b-que chicken and cacti and will talk your ear off about Why Nobody Likes Networking and What Entertainers Can Teach Executives, you know right where to look!