Back in 1994, I was the guy at Deloitte who asked his assistant to print all e-mails and fax them to him. By no means am I claiming to be an early adopter of all technologies. The iPod, I could handle, and now I have one strapped to my shoulder all the time. I do admit to requiring the smallest digital camera. My Blackberry and phone are key tools, but when it comes to cool software for "networking" use, I've never been too keen to jump in. I've always believed that the key to success is developing real relationships with real people, not neat technology. And, until recently, I was dubious of the idea that you could develop real relationships through online social networking tools.

Then I realized that just as I've grown to love speed dialing, cell phones, and e-mail because they can help me connect with other people more efficiently, maybe I could give these social networking sites a trial as a productivity tool, not a networking auto-pilot. So I held back my doubts and, so far, have reached out to Spoke and LinkedIn. Here are some first impressions.

Spoke seems intuitively interesting to me, mostly because of the frustration I've had so often doing sales within big companies (or reengineering sales force processes as a consultant) in the past. Personally at Deloitte, I'd identify someone I wanted to meet for a potential consulting project, let's say, Michael Eisner. My team and I would think of the quickest path to meeting him and do a bunch of calls to friends and friends of friends and conduct strategy sessions on what the quickest path was to penetrate the account through a warm lead from someone Eisner trusts. Then, after we'd done our work and announced the win to my partners at Deloitte, out of the woodwork would crawl some senior manager in the Dallas utility practice who's not only familiar with key decision makers at Disney, but is the godson of Uncle Mikey. This is so unfortunate for companies - they don't know what rich human relationships they have buried within the company. Well, Spoke helps solve that problem. It allows you to find within a closed business system what you don't know. Through some fairly sophisticated technology, it can tell you the most efficient path within Deloitte from person A to whoever the target may be. No more blind relationships for an organization again. Now that's cool.

I also reached out to the CEO of LinkedIn to figure out how their service worked. So far, I'm impressed and excited by the opportunities LinkedIn presents also. One of the coolest things about the service is how easy it is to reconnect with past colleagues. There is a function where you input your past employers. So I typed in Deloitte Consulting and WOW. It's been years and years since I have seen one particular HBS classmate of mine who's now (I just discovered) a partner at Deloitte. I totally lost touch with him, but now I can't wait to see him this Friday night for dinner. Even past employees of mine have been rediscovered. I've also begun to get "invitations" to join friends networks and the opportunities have begun to unfold. The point is, I'm actually looking forward to logging into the system. And, I'm told that there is a fairly compelling group proposition as well, and as a member of Yale's board of alumni governors, I'm certainly interested in helping other Yalies stay connected. The "Old Blue" network can never be too strong from my perspective.

So there you have it, folks. This technology seems to be a great enabler, even for a neophyte like me. What software or technologies have you found that might enhance our networking success and your business/sales? How about contact management? Anyone find a great pipeline management tool that I can use on a handheld device like my Blackberry or Palm?