Re:Tooling -- Contact Management: Business-Card Shakedown

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Dave Lee, vice president of marketing for Gilbert, Ariz.–based marketing automation software company Infusionsoft, is a recent convert to the Apple iPhone. (See one of this month's features, “CRM and the iPhone.”) Harkening back to the old days of transmitting contact information between his Palm Treo smartphone and compatible devices, he wants to be able to do the same with his gorgeous new gadget.

“I’d absolutely be comfortable with swapping contact information using my iPhone,” Lee says. “It’s fast and easy.

The problem is that even if I know the other person has the same phone as I do, I’m not sure [if] they have the right application to be able to [virtually] handshake with me.”

That’s the crux of the problem with this burgeoning space.

Since this latest wrinkle is still evolving, it’s almost impossible to find traditional market-share reports or other research covering the topic. “It is an awkward area that fits between a few different enterprise technologies,” says Vuk Trifkovic, senior analyst at New York–based research firm Datamonitor.

Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Stoughton, Mass.–based CRM consultancy Beagle Research Group, explains that, in a way, this is another form of the electronic vCard that one can add to an email sent in Microsoft Outlook. “The question you have to ask yourself is how this is better than a vCard or having a bar code on your name tag at a trade show,” he challenges.

The key, according to Martin Zagorsek, executive vice president of Menlo Park, Calif.–based research firm Knowledge Networks, is monetization. “Charging prices like 99 cents or $2.99—you can’t survive,” he says. “You have to establish value in the eyes of your users, but the real challenge is going to be if you can get a sizable audience and a revenue stream you can survive on—an ongoing service. People are reluctant to add another monthly subscription, but if it’s business-funded and expenseable, it becomes much easier.”

Trifkovic says the traditional swapping of business cards is awkward enough already—making this exchange electronic has the potential to make things a bit more complicated. “You’re assuming the other person has a compatible phone,” he says. “Assuming they want to pull up their device as well, it can be more unnerving in that respect. But perhaps there’s going to be a new social context that emerges.”

Zagorsek echoes Trifkovic’s sentiments, explaining that making the electronic swap seamless is a difficult yet necessary barrier to overcome for application developers. He believes that the usability standard that must be met is extremely high because of the situation—but this could be the start of a beautiful business relationship. “It hasn’t taken off because people can’t literally—with two or three button pushes—fire off contact information to another device without looking like a geek,” he says. “That’s the standard that must be met…to cross over from novelty to mainstream.”

That promise keeps the idea of e-contact swapping afloat for now, as no one believes that this will entirely take over the traditional form of swapping information. “Will it replace handing out a physical card? I don’t know,” says Elaine Coleman, vice president of strategy and analysis for Santa Monica, Calif.–based new-media market-research firm Interpret LLC. “I don’t think it has to—both can coexist. There’s something nice about the physical nature of exchanging, greeting, and looking at cards…. This isn’t about that. It’s about ease of use, and updating contact information automatically.”

That kind of automated swap of vital information is something Infusionsoft’s Lee is looking forward to doing again at the various business functions he attends. The problem is that he needs others to feel the same way. “I’ve downloaded FriendBook and Nameo,” he says. “I’m just waiting for others to do so as well.”

    >> e-Contact Swapping Short List

ApplicationProminent FeaturePricingRelease Date in the App Store
Send your personal or business card from the iPhone to any desktop Mac or PC, as well as to any other mobile device, including a BlackBerry, Android phone, or Palm Treo.FreeOct. 24, 2008
Strange as it sounds, physically shake two iPhones together to swap contact information.$0.99Nov. 14, 2008
Can exchange contact information and photos, as well as save to contact list with one click—no manual typing of information.Basic version is free; premium version (no ads) is $2.99Nov. 19, 2008
Doesn’t require Wi-Fi, third-party log-ins, or an Internet connection to swap contacts.FreeJan. 3, 2009
After starting the application, pressing the “Connect” button will locate anyone close by with whom to exchange contact information.$0.99Oct. 1, 2008

Contact Assistant Editor Christopher Musico at cmusico@destinationCRM.com.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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