CRM's: Not Just for Sales Folk

CRM's: Not Just for Sales Folk

In this blog post I recommend Streak, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that lives inside Gmail.

Discuss on Hacker News.

What do you use email for? I’m curious, so feel free to let me know before reading further (Google form).

Personally, there are a just a handful of use cases that make up the vast majority of my email usage. Let’s list them.

  1. Organizing talks and events for ACM and Splash!
  2. Applications for summer internships
  3. Read-only-ish mail (Mailing lists announcing talks and events, class related announcements, discussions I minimally partake in, spam, etc.)
  4. Talking with friends

For about three months now, I’ve been thinking that email is woefully insufficient for managing my communication needs, particularly use cases 1 and 2. When I’m organizing a Code@Night I’ll often have 3 or more email threads related to the event. In one I’ll be discussing logistics with a company sponsor. In another I’ll be coordinating with other ACM officers. In still another I’ll announce the event to groups around campus. Often even more form when people start replying about how awesome it is that there will be fruit at the event or asking how they can contribute to making the world a better place.

I thought about how I could improve email so that managing all these communications could be better. Better ways of grouping conversations, by person or by event, would be nice. Having an indicator of what still had to be done and who I still needed to contact would be nice. I realized I could do all of this with Gmail already, combining labels and searches in clever ways. But that would be clunky, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon Streak.

Streak seems to be targeting sales and recruiting folks, and I think that’s the wrong audience for them. Their product was clearly designed with the sales-recruiting person in mind, but I think it’s equally well suited for the hacker, and not just for tracking bugs. To demonstrate this, I’ll write a bit about what the product does and how I’m using it.

I have two use cases for Streak so far, corresponding to email uses 1 and 2 in the list above. I use Streak for organizing events and for managing my applications for summer internships. I don’t know that either of these are use cases intended by the folks over at Streak. For organizing events (primarily tech talks and Code@Nights), I have a “Pipeline” in Streak called ACM Events. Into a Pipeline go boxes, one box per event. And a box contains all the emails, documents, comments, and other information pertaining to the event. It’s simple to add an email thread to a box, so I’m always able to keep everything relevant to a particular event in one easily accessible place in the Gmail web client. As the event goes from being just an idea to a complete plan to being successfully executed, its box moves through the pipeline. In this way I can quickly get at all events in a particular part of the planning process or event lifecycle, and I have a convenient archive of all past events.

For managing my summer internship applications, Streak has also proved useful. I have a box for each company to which I’m applying. And I put all the emails and documents for that company’s application into the appropriate box. On the company’s end, I’m probably being moved through a hiring pipeline in a similar CRM tool, and now the company is moving through my CRM’s pipeline in parallel.

The box and pipeline model took me a bit of tinkering with to really grok. It’s a paradigm shift that takes some getting used to. The email primitive is no longer the conversation, but instead is the thing you are trying to accomplish through the conversation. Say I need to reply to a Facebook recruiter about planning a tech talk here at Princeton. Now rather than using Gmail search to look for a particular email thread I vaguely recall having (perhaps by guessing at words that were in the thread or by scrolling through my email to the date I remember the email having been sent), I simply go to the box I created for the event, and all of the relevant emails are right there. This sounds a lot like labels, but has the distinct advantage that boxes are much more light weight than labels. Once you have more than a dozen labels or so, they become clunky and start cluttering up the Gmail navigation bar.

Don’t just take my word for it. Give Streak a try.