Can you still keep it personal in a GDPR world?
My secret is out! In a GDPR world, where recording and storing data is no longer as clear cut, I am required to let you know that in the past, I have gathered and recorded personal information on you*.
(*Well possibly not on you, but certainly many of my strong contacts within my network.)
I have spent years noting down what you like to eat. Where you want to go on holiday. What sport you enjoy. The kind of books you enjoy. What stage your children are at in their education. Your dreams for the future. Of course, I also keep track of what you are focused on in your business challenges.
Does that make me a stalker?
Someone who knows that building strong and lasting relationships requires taking an interest in the whole person, not just their business persona?
Like many people effective in creating engaged business relationships, I used to make notes with bits of personal information – on slips of paper or on spreadsheets or on business cards.
For example, I know that –
Ben* does not like spicy food. Useful? Yes when we catch up quarterly for lunch. He is impressed that I always suggest the kind of food I know he does like.
Tina* is an ardent lawn tennis fan. I make a point of engaging with her around the time of Wimbledon. It’s a useful prompt to reconnect and put a catch up in the diary.
Anthony* is the CEO of a FTSE-listed company. I receive Google alerts on the company’s performance and any announcements he has made. Last time we met he told me he was looking for a new CTO. I know a few of them.
Eleanor* is planning a trip to Kerala but is worried about taking her two small children there. I must introduce her to a friend of mine who has just come back from Southern India with her young family.
(*all names were changed in the spirit of pseudonymisation)
Here’s the spanner in the works….
The new European Union general data protection regulations put tough requirements on organisations and sole traders that store personally identifiable data and sensitive data.
Corporates have been using personal information for years to develop a stronger relationship with their customers – big data, transactional data and granular/social data.
A supermarket chain knows that you like organic eggs and low-fat yoghurt and tend to pay for your groceries with your Amex card. An airline keeps track of what your favourite seat is on their aircraft. Your on-demand subscription movie service determines what other films you may want to watch based on your repeat watching of every Mission Impossible. Armed with this information these businesses can build loyalty and in time create an army of brand advocates.
Similarly, an accomplished networker, connector and relationship-builder will use personal information that they gather to gain deeper understanding of what motivates and interests their connections, which in turn enables them to engage more fully. It also helps them add value to that relationship and spot opportunities to connect people in their network with each other, based on mutual interest, values and business goals.
Is the golden opportunity of personalisation dead?
We all know that some businesses have been careless with customers’ personal information and some have been downright unscrupulous – the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal stands front and centre. The ICO will continue to hunt down data breaches and flouting of GDPR regulations that will inevitably crop up.
Meantime, most of us are trying to find the new normal.
As I see it I have 2 options:
- Tell each contact exactly what personal information I am collecting and storing on them, justify why, create pseudonyms, encrypt it.
- Rely on my memory – as far as I know, the ICO has no remit to audit my brain power!
The first is messy and kind of unveils the mystique of rapport-building techniques.
The second is mostly impractical – at least for this insomniac and peri-menopausal woman! However, it is not impossible. Apparently the human brain has an equivalent storage capacity of between 10 and 100 terabytes!
Here are a few tips and tools that I use anyway that allow me to keep track of the small things (without needing to store personal information in note form on my computer or on paper):
1. Use what’s in the public domain
Set Google alerts for your key contacts and their company. Keep an eye out for press releases or conferences they are speaking at. You will soon get an idea of their focus areas right now. Think about any key changes in their company that may impact their role or career. This is public domain research and so does not contravene the GDPR.
2. Make following-up an automatic habit
Every time you meet up with one of your contacts or after a business development meeting, summarise what you discussed and reference anything of interest – such as wishing them a good holiday in Costa Rica with the family, or good luck in their upcoming interview, or sending a book recommendation relating to something you discussed. This gives you a traceable aide memoire, rather than writing surreptitious notes to yourself. It is effectively an extension to your face-to-face or telephone conversation.
3. Let social media help you keep it personal and relevant
Find out what social media tools your contacts use and develop your own professional social media presence – Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. This allows you to keep the conversation going. It makes future conversations so much more fluid. Follow and interact with their blog posts. As a result, you will know what they are focused on and talking about. You may also glean some personal information and interests to touch upon next time you meet.
Noting personal information takes effort, focus and time. But it can lead to richer engagement for working together and for ensuring your connections are out there talking about you and supporting your ventures.
I encourage you to start or continue to take note of the small things. The things that matter. The things that interest your connections, which will make for a much more rounded human interaction as the relationship develops.
What do you do to personalise your business relationships? For more tips and to develop your own relationship-building and networking strategy, book onto my September Masterclass or contact me to arrange a session for your company.
Dinah Tobias is a passionate Speaker, Trainer and Consultant. She designs and facilitates public and bespoke workshops and masterclasses. Her specialist areas are on building networks/influential circles of connections and on business and brand storytelling. She also provides consulting and coaching in these areas to organisations and leaders.