The Timeless Truths of the Database
“He who counts on his memory has a fool for a filing system.”– Harvey Mackay
My big break in publishing came when HarperCollins hired the former deputy editor of Esquire, David Hirshey. One editor gushed, “He has the ‘Golden ROLODEX®.’ He knows everybody!” When Hirshey hired me to be his editorial assistant, one of my many tasks was to keep his ROLODEX® up-to-date. When Hirshey’d return from a networking lunch, he’d dump receipts and business cards on my desk on his way to his office. From each business card, I’d type a ROLODEX® card (with a manual typewriter no less.) If it was someone cool, I’d make two. One for David and one for Jay.
Years later, my assistant asked me how in the world I had author John Irving’s home address and phone number. “Old work contact,” I replied.
In the age of Gmail, LinkedIn, and CRMs like Command, it’s easy to forget how important ROLODEX® was for business people. If you’re young enough to have no idea what I’m talking about, ROLODEX® was the original way to organize your business contacts. The brand name is a “portmanteau.” Just as “motel” comes from “motor” and “hotel,” ROLODEX® is a combination of “rolling” and “index.” And those drab wheels of typed contact cards adorned desks world-wide from the 1950s to the early 2000s. The brainchild of Brooklyn inventor Arnold Neustadter, ROLODEX® is the progenitor of the modern database.
Researching a quote for our writing team, I purchased a copy of The Harvey Mackay ROLODEX® Network Builder, published in 1990. Substitute “database” for “ROLODEX®” and the book is as relevant today as it was then. Here are thirteen nuggets still applicable today:
- “When you meet someone new, make a note of when, where and how you met and anything interesting about that person…hobbies, family data, special interests, etc. As soon as you get back to your office (and by this I mean the same day) make up a [database contact] and file it immediately. You should also note any follow-up contact–a thank you letter, an article sent out, whatever–and when your next contact will occur. That way you can make sure your [database] is working actively for you, not just sitting on your desk.” Build the habit! How many contacts in your database are just a name and number?
- “Meeting new people and developing your network doesn’t mean much unless you creatively and painstakingly keep the relationship going over time.” It’s not how many people live in your database that matters. It’s the frequency and quality of the outreach!
- “Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory.” Preach!
- “The benefit of making a few notes on things that interest me about people is that when I meet them again, we can pick up where we left off.” I’m always impressed when people I see once a year magically remember the details of my life. It’s not magic.
- Conrad Hilton, founder of the hotel empire, added notes on what people liked. “From that time on I began collecting and storing away little preferences that would make me a better gift giver, both personally and professionally.” I create holiday gift lists each year. Why shouldn’t this information live on each person’s contact record?
- “Caring enough to remember puts you on a special footing with people that is deep, lasting, and ultimately, the most satisfying aspect of your career.” See #4 above!
- “If the [database] isn’t working at least as hard as you are, there’s something wrong.” With all the automation in today’s CRMs, this is truer than ever.
- Mackay had his assistants create duplicate contact cards for his home and work office. Syncing circa 1990! One wonders if his assistants sometimes synced their personal contacts…
- Mackay used colored tabs to organize his contacts by type: red for business, green for prospects, blue for friends and family, etc. Segment your database!
- Mackay recorded birthdays, anniversaries, special interests, favorite foods and vacations, career accomplishments, and any relevant conversations. “If all I wrote down was name, address, phone number and place of business, I’d be limited to those kinds of connections. But I like to keep track of the special things–the extra things people do with their lives.” By the way, all these details are the very things that make for artful introductions! (See The Art of the Email Intro.)
- Mackay had a special “wow” section on his contacts. “This is a space I use for recording any tidbit of information that could make our next meeting unforgettable.” He told the story of buying Swedish language newspapers for a Swedish colleague who pined for home. Remember, this was before the Internet folks!
- Mackay cross-referenced his contacts by city so he could easily call on people when traveling. Anyone remember when you could search your Facebook friends list by location? Everyone screamed bloody murder when that feature went away but your database never stopped telling you who lives where!
- “Never say no for the other [person]. Most people avoid risks their whole lives by assuming the other [person] will say no.” Folks, you’ll never know your potential for referrals unless you ask!
In The Millionaire Real Estate Agent we wrote The Four Laws of Lead Generation on page 188: “1. Build a database. 2. Feed it every day. 3. Communicate with it in a systematic way. 4. Service all the leads that come your way!”
Time and technology may have changed how we follow these four laws. Even if we’re no longer updating our ROLODEX® cards, we’re tending to our CRM in similar ways. The fundamentals of what we do are still the fundamentals.
One question to ponder in your thinking time: How can I build the habit of updating my database regularly?
Make an Impact!
Co-author of The One Thing & The Millionaire Real Estate Agent
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