The definition and very nature of contact information is changing.
Why is this important? If you are not able to connect with people, you cannot sell to them, you cannot recruit them, you cannot market to them. As I talked about in the video intro, things are changing. If there was a contact information historian, it would be me.
What gets me irritated is when something gets reported as the "next best thing", when in reality, it is simply, the next, extremely predictable innovation in a continuum. In this blog, I'm going to play part historian, part reporter and part futurist as it relates to contact information. When the "next big thing" happens, and I'm including social networks, you probably won't be surprised.
First, a definition is in order. What is Contact Information? I define it as:
"an information venue that facilitates communication with a person"
Why am I spending my time doing this? My day job is steering the ship at Broadlook Technologies. Broadlook provides technology that empowers sales and recruiting professionals with contacts at corporations. To stay ahead, we must innovate. To innovate, we must research. To research we must watch, listen, learn, explore and dream a little.
One interesting aspect about contact information is that very rarely does a new form replace an old form. For example, with the advent of SMS (or texting) people are still using email; perhaps not as much, but they are using both. Even faxes have not been fully replaced by email. In some cases, legal wants the paperwork. Take it a step farther and faxes are not enough and good old paper mail is still being used. What does that mean?
1. The nature of new venues of contact information is additive.
2. New venues lead to more specialized usage of existing venues.
3. The nature of contact information must be part of system design.
Why is this stuff, in turn, important? Example: If you are designing a CRM for holding contact information and you "hard code" (design something inflexible) to store phone, fax, email and that's it...big problem. Each time a new type of contact information is created, a hard-coded CRM would have to be updated and reprogrammed. Some may think that a SaaS model overcomes this, but it does not. A good CRM will have the changing nature of contact information built into it's design and not solve it with revisions.
"A good CRM will take into account the changing nature of contact information and design for that nature from the start and not solve it with revisions."
This is how I look at contact information. It is moving and evolving. No one piece replaces all the others, it is a complex ecosystem
This is why understanding history, being agile, and having a philosophy-based component to software design is critical. If you are simply reacting to what others in the market, you end up with cargo cult software.
So what are the venues moving into the future for contact information?
First the base elements that do not need further explanation:
IM (instant messaging) - Made popular by services such as MSN messenger & AOL. Used widely by consumers as well as inside the corporate firewall.
SMS (texting) - I am going to break SMS into 2 distinct categories, as they have different uses and require different information to utilize.
SMS - Phone to Phone - The only requirement is having the phone number of the recipient
SMS - Email to Phone - Requires the carrier plus the phone number. This is a good reason to record the carrier of the person you want to reach. There are several services that will fill in the carrier for you if you don't have it. (mailbeep.com, nowsms.com, ipipi.com ). You can also do it for free if you know the carrier and follow the conventions below
Virgin Mobile USA
[10-digit phone number]@vmobl.com
Domain - The corporate domain has been shown to outlive the company name. Having the company domain is a launching point for doing all kinds of research.
Handles - This is a questionable area to track and store. From my research, people are creatures of habit. If they had the handle of firechief5150 in the early days of AOL, then most likely it is the same person who has firechief5150@gmail today. Crazy stories about people using the same handle on different services and thinking they were stealth. Ask me about this one if you run into me at a conference.
VOIP (voice over IP) - Skype & MagicJack are the best know example here. While corporations and individuals are using VOIP to replace traditional phones, this is really not a change in venue from a regular phone number. However, when you reach a person with a username (i.e. I am DonatoDiorio on Skype) and you do it over your computer, that changes things enough to consider it a change from traditional phone lines.
Blogs - Someone can learn a good deal about me from my blog. Not only what I write about, but who I link to and what I read. Today, starting a blog can be done in 5 minutes. Information can be found on a blog that goes beyond the basics of contact information.
Microblogs - Twitter is an example of a microblog. Where a blog may be a full set of thoughts, written down. Twitter is more like a set of single thoughts. In addition, Twitter has become a complex social network. While many are still trying to figure it out, others are already using it successfully for sale, marketing and recruiting.
GPS - GPS technology has significantly improved over the last few years and it is continually being advanced. It has moved from our cars, to our phones and beyond. I content that *where* someone is has become an aspect of contact information. Think about it. Their are rules to calling people; don't call before 8am or after 7pm, etc. The same goes for GPS.
Social Networks - As prevalent as they are today, social networks are in their infancy. Sites like LinkedIN, myspace and facebook will need to evolve in order to survive.
Proximity Networking - Building on GPS, a proximity network will combine someone's GPS location with a set of rules within the network. For example. If a fellow Alumni of your school is within 100 yards, and it is lunchtime, and you are currently eating alone, broadcast an invite on the proximity network. Look for online dating services to pioneer this area.
Virtual Private Social Networks (VPSN)- Family only, company only or husband and wife. There are lines of communication that are very exclusive. VPSN's will facilitate the private communication and interaction that is possible via the Internet and mobile, but it will be disconnected from public networks such as Facebook.
Availability Portals- Recently, I've had some exposure to Tungle.com which is a free website that helps to schedule appointments. It works by simply sending a web link to someone, they click on the link and get to pick from available time slots on your schedule. Tungle is not quite ready for prime time (some process hiccups) but I expect that Tungle and other applications like it will improve.
Preference Portals. - With the high signal to noise ratio in social media, people are looking for a way to manage the chaos. How should the world engage me? What are my rules for people to sell to me? A new site called sell2me.com is doing just that. Right now, it is in private beta. The concept is simple, user can sign up for free and list their rules for engagement.
"The future of the Internet will be permission and preference based. "
Tie it all together and there will be many many way of getting in contact, engaging, understanding and knowing information about people in the near future. The number of venues will continue to increase. The key thing for people in sales and recruiting to do is keep on top of it.
My prediction. Look for a solution that ties it all together having something to do with preferences. Personally, I don't want my preferences stored on anything controlled by Google, Facebook or anyone. In the end, preferences must be retained with the individual.
The future of the Internet will be permission and preference based. Remember: You heard it here!
It may take time to happen, but if you put 2 & 2 together, it is not hard to see the backlash that will eventually happen. How do you feel getting a telemarketing call at night when you are sitting down to dinner with your family? Do you like getting 50 emails to webinars per day? I don't. How can you get ready to take advantage of this eventuality? It comes back to the human element. Use all these venues of contact information to further the quality of human relationship and interaction. We are human, it is what we crave. Take time to read someone's blog before you reach out to them. It works wonders.