Best Practices for Using Microsoft Outlook from a Sales Perspective

Arrow-Tips #59 Categorize Your Contacts

This Arrow-Tip was inspired by writer Dan Schawbel in his June 3rd post HOW TO: Organize Your Contacts for Networking Success – thanks, Dan!  He has some great tips in the article especially regarding capture of social media contacts, but one of my favorites is the concept of taking the time to categorize your contacts.  I’ve talked about categorizing contacts in several Arrow-Tips posts before, but in honor of Dan I thought I’d actually list some of my favorite categories and describe why they are useful.  Please feel free to name some of your favorite categories in the comments section!

The Obvious

In general it is important to distinguish between major categories of contacts especially since most of us don’t want to keep our personal and business contacts in separate places so that we can synchronize them all on our smart phones.  The beauty of the Outlook Categories feature is that you can assign as many categories to one contact (or any Outlook item for that matter) that you like.  It is always a good idea to start with the general relationship and then add more specific categories from there.  The following are some general categories that either one of my clients or I use:

  • Business
  • Personal
  • Vendor
  • Partner – company that offers a complimentary service or product to yours
  • Colleague – someone who works at your company
  • Client – someone who has already purchased or agreed to purchase your services or products
  • Prospect – a potential customer that has not yet purchased your services or products
  • Family
  • Networking – people you meet through general networking activities – see subsets for this category next
  • Sphere – people who are in your sphere of influence such as family members, neighbors, childhood friends, etc.

Next Level

Now that you’ve assigned major categories to your contacts, you might want to get more specific.  Nailing down specific organizations that you participate in with contacts makes it easier to create things like mailing or distribution lists for group activities.

  • Specific Networking Groups e.g. BNI (Business Networking International), Vistage, TAB, breakfast or lunch clubs, etc.
  • Specific Trade or Service Organizations e.g. ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), AMA (American Marketing Association), Kiwanis, Jaycees, League of Women Voters, etc.
  • Charitable Organizations e.g. board members or volunteers that work outside the charity
  • Social Networks – are you connected to this person on LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • School – for contacts associated with one of my sons’ schools
  • Soccer Team – My husband and I often get involved with our son’s soccer teams as either coach or team manager so I like to be able to easily pick out parents or other contacts associated with those teams.
  • Neighbor

Cross Industry/Partner

From time to time you may want to find groups of a specific type of contact that is not necessarily affiliated with any one industry.  These contacts may be your referral sources or people that you like to refer to your clients, friends or family.

  • Home Vendor – B2C (business to consumer) vendors that you use in your home or for personal services and products like hair stylists or doctors
  • Business Coach
  • Marketing Firm – In my work I often refer clients to full service marketing firms that can help them with branding strategy and other services outside my area of expertise.  I assign these companies to the general “Partner” category as well.
  • IT Support – another “partner” type of company that I often refer to my clients
  • Recruiter – again, when I’m working with a client that needs to supplement their sales team, I often refer in recruitment firms
  • Attorney
  • Developer
  • Graphic Designer


I work with clients in several industries, but I find it helpful to distinguish between them when I have information that I want to pass along.  For example, I may learn some tidbit that is going to affect clients of one of my clients in a particular industry so I may want to focus on connecting with them for that week or I may want to send out a targeted marketing piece for that group.

  • Energy
  • Petrochemical
  • Information Technology
  • Financial Services
  • Residential Real Estate
  • Commercial Real Estate
  • Health care

Common Interest

A great way to connect with people is in areas that are not necessarily business related.  If you make a note of some of these areas of interest and take the time to update your contact records, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it can be to reconnect with latent contacts.

  • Veteran – I send a thank you email every Veteran’s Day to contacts that I know have served and you would be amazed how much many of them appreciate it.  I know I certainly appreciate them!
  • UT Alumni – I’m an alumni of the University of Texas, but I try to keep track of LSU, A&M, Rice, U of H, and other alumni as well.  For one thing, LSU fans are not particularly gracious so I may not want to call one of them the day after my team wallops them in football (no offense, Mushahid Khan AKA my husband).  And even more importantly, I find it useful to send out a pre-emptory congratulations email to my Aggie friends so it will take the wind out of their sails before they can call me and gloat after they’ve beaten my Longhorns in some sport.  This is all in good fun, but the main idea is to maintain top of mind awareness in a way that will be welcomed by your contacts instead of seen as an annoyance.
  • Dog Lover – you know those people who have everything and you have no clue what to get them for Christmas?  I sometimes skip them and treat their pets.  I also had a residential realtor client that liked to track pet owners because she could update them on ordinances and regulations affecting where they live or are looking to live.
  • Cat Lover
  • Marathoner – Although I like to call myself a runner, I’ve only completed one marathon.  That is enough though to identify with some of my running clients and exchange news about new training techniques or deals on running shoes as I come across them.  Also good intel for holiday or thank you presents.
  • Golfer – Ever decide to sponsor a foursome for one of your favorite pet charities and then have a hard time finding four available people?  If you have golfers identified in your database, they are easy to find.


I like to apply some more practical categories to my contacts as well such as “Do Not Email” for contacts that have asked to be removed from my mailing list.

  • Do Not Email or Unsubscribe
  • Arrow-Tips – for contacts that wish to receive Arrow-Tips newsletters
  • Seminars – for contacts that like to receive information about upcoming seminars or training
  • Bounced – for contacts whose information is no longer valid
  • Dormant – for client or prospect contacts that have gone dormant for over 6 months
  • Event – If I invite a contact to a specific event such as a fundraiser that I regularly participate in, I usually tag them with the event name and year so that I don’t bombard them with too many invitations
  • Trade Show or Meeting – If I meet someone at an industry or personal interest event, I like to tag them with that event name so that I can easily include them in distributions for things like pictures, etc.

These are some of my favorite ways to identify groups of contacts – I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment below.  In the mean time, happy hunting!

This post was written by MistyKhan and published on June 11, 2010 in the following categories: Arrow Tips, Contacts, Front Page, Social Media. You can leave trackbacks on this post at this address. To follow the comments on this post subscribe to the RSS feed.


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