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Quickview: Add Automation to Your E-mail Follow-Up

If you find yourself failing to follow up with contacts that rarely reply to your outgoing messages, experiment with Contactually.

Bill Winterberg, 01/24/2012

If your e-mail inbox is anything like mine, you are likely inundated with a daily flow of messages ranging in importance and priority. It seems that for each high-priority message received, you must triage dozens of miscellaneous messages like newsletter blasts and LinkedIn updates that clog the inbox.

I found that the Priority Inbox feature in my Gmail account does a good job of separating important incoming messages from all the rest. But what I need help with is establishing good habits for following up on outgoing messages I send to important contacts.

To improve my e-mail follow-up, I discovered a new tool called Contactually from the eponymous startup based in Washington, D.C. Contactually is billed as a lightweight CRM that connects with an existing e-mail account to add contact-management automation.

The service connects with any IMAP-based e-mail account like Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo, and others, with plans to support connections via POP3 and Microsoft Exchange in the future. Once connected, Contactually passively monitors incoming and outgoing messages and begins to suggest action items and set follow-up reminders based on message recipient, context, and frequency.

Each morning, Contactually e-mails a summary message containing action items and follow-up suggestions based on my recent e-mail activity. The suggestions seem to be based on how frequently I e-mail individual contacts and highlights those with a sustained period of inactivity between e-mail exchanges. I can click follow-up buttons embedded in the summary message to open the Contactually dashboard and specify additional details about the contact and recommended action item (such as schedule a phone interview by Friday). When Friday rolls around, my morning summary message contains a reminder to schedule the phone interview with the contact.

In the few weeks that I've used Contactually, I've found it to be quite helpful. I simply cannot remember all the outgoing messages I send that don't receive replies, and I'm not always consistent at setting follow-up reminders for myself. Contactually's automation has been helpful in reminding me to reconnect with clients and colleagues to move projects forward.

Finally, Contactually features the "Bucket Game," an interactive game to quickly identify and sort contacts into meaningful categories such as Client, Vendor, Family, etc. Fifty contacts are displayed in rapid succession, and it's up to me to sort each into a relevant bucket. Again, organizing my extensive list of contacts allows Contactually to improve its automated action item and follow-up reminders.

So if you find yourself often failing to follow up with contacts that rarely reply to your outgoing messages, I recommend you experiment with Contactually and see if it improves your follow-up activity.

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Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.
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