Keeping an Eye on Your Customers & Prospects
Knowing who you’ve contacted (or who’s contacted you) during sales campaigns, what was said and what action plan and deadlines stem from it, is essential. Just like knowing which customers are active, which ones haven’t been in touch for a while and should be proactively contacted, or even which ones aren’t good payers and should be avoided. For freelancers creating online profiles on various online job boards, it’s also a good idea to keep track of these websites to know what to update when your profile changes (new portfolio, new services, new specialty…), to identify what works or not, to avoid creating several accounts in the same place, etc. That’s what is called having a CRM system – Customer Relationship Management.[break]
There are of course dedicated software but I personally use Excel and a very simple system; I’ve got one tab that lists all my customers along with prospects I contacted or who contacted me, and another tab that lists all websites where I can create online profiles that are relevant to my business.
• Clients & Prospects tab:
► Five columns:
○ Name of the company and link to their website.
○ Home country (I’ll write “global” if there are many offices worldwide and none of them seem more important than the others).
○ The services I advertise to this contact.
○ A pretty wide column where I summarize my interactions with this prospect or customer (observations, actions carried out and dates, answers received and dates, results, etc. I usually stop updating this once we begin working together and I feel I’ve “acquired” them, unless there’s something particularly important I must keep in mind).
○ My action plan for this contact with associated deadlines if needed.
► Color code for the text in the “action plan” cells (to avoid having to read everything every time I need to know what to do and when, since my Excel file has several hundred lines):
○ In red and bold letters everything I must act upon (for instance sending follow-up e-mails along with the date).
○ In black what doesn’t require my attention (for instance when I decide to let a prospect get in touch by themselves).
○ In purple and in bold letters things I’m waiting for to be able to act while not knowing when they’ll happen. For example having to work on a specific kind of project so I can then use that experience to justify contacting another prospect; I can’t know when I’ll have worked on that job but once I do I don’t want to forget to use it to open new doors.
► Color code for the cells of a given line:
○ In white are companies I haven’t contacted yet.
○ Yellow when we only had superficial interactions (such as asking who to talk with, or someone I know has promised to put me in touch).
○ In orange are prospects I’ve been able to properly introduce myself and my services to (or someone has done it for me).
○ Light green are prospects that have shown some interest but it’s still too early to know whether we can work together (we’re still negotiating the rates or conditions, there’s a skill test to complete, etc.). Usually a company that contacts me by itself gets straight to this level.
○ Dark green is for prospects where everything is ready but I still haven’t invoiced them (often because I’m waiting for a first project together).
○ In blue are prospects I’ve invoiced, which means my customers.
○ I also use pink to highlight companies I put on hold because I don’t want to give up on them but I’m not getting any answer.
○ And finally in red are companies I no longer wish to keep track of (customers where things didn’t go well, prospects that aren’t interested or don’t answer, etc.). Therefore a contact can end up in the red category from any other color, just like it can be moved out of it if any time; for example if an unresponsive prospect suddenly gets back in touch.
• Online profiles tab:
► Only three columns here:
○ Website’s name & address
○ A summary of my interactions with it (date for creating or updating my profile, objective, comments, rates, etc.)
○ My action plan
► Color code for the text: same as with the Clients & Prospects tab.
► Color code for the cells of a given line:
○ In white are websites I haven’t worked on yet.
○ In orange are the ones I’ve created a profile on in order to be found by potential customers, but I’m not actively checking job offers (because I can’t or don’t want to). I call these “passive” profiles.
○ Light green are for websites where I can/want to actively check offers and customers (including through notification systems) but I can’t be found by potential clients. That’s a very rare category.
○ Dark green is for websites where by profile can be found by potential customers AND I also look at their offers proactively (usually via notifications since I don’t have time to check them manually, and it’s usually not worth it given the high competition and consequent low success rate).
○ In red are websites I don’t want to focus on anymore (because they don’t suit my needs, because I created then decided to erase a profile there, etc.).
○ Finally pink is for websites that aren’t really relevant at the moment but could be in the future under certain conditions.