From the May 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Every entrepreneur is somehow in sales. It doesn't matter what your company does or whether the product you sell is yourself or a tangible item. Whatever it is, it has to be sold.

Why not get an edge on the competition by staying on top of your sales with a sales automation program (also known as contact management software)? And, if you have a sales force, you can make its success all the more likely by giving salespeople the right tools to get the job done.

This column reviews three popular off-the-shelf contact management programs. If you have unique needs these programs can't meet, try searching trade magazines for industry- and need-specific programs available from specialized software companies.

All three programs reviewed here (TeleMagic, GoldMine and ACT!) have recently been upgraded, making this a good time to compare them. Both GoldMine and ACT! have made the leap into full Internet support, including e-mail functions and some Web site data features. Also, both GoldMine and ACT! are true 32-bit applications that run under Windows 95/NT, while TeleMagic remains a 16-bit application that runs under Windows 3.1 and Windows 95.

All three programs offer networking capabilities for sharing data and resources between groups. The networking functionality is designed to help a team work more productively together by sharing information, schedules, tasks and more in a cohesive manner.

The trick with these programs is getting people to use them. It can take some cajoling and convincing to get salespeople to embrace a new way of working. For that reason, we'll take a serious look at the ease-of-use features in these programs.

Oh, Oh, Oh, Its Magic

TeleMagic V3 was originally created as a telemarketing program and still has some functions that are telemarketing specific. The program has evolved into a fully customizable contact management system. This means the software can be customized to enhance the way everyone in your company performs his or her job--which should ultimately result in more sales.

The program can be used by a single user or networked users. It can also integrate with most word processing and accounting programs, which makes adapting to TeleMagic relatively easy for your entire staff.

The following example illustrates how the program can work for a company that conducts direct-marketing campaigns: After a direct-mail piece is sent out, the marketing manager can track leads generated by the campaign and assign them to specific telemarketers. Each telemarketer can then pass the lead on to someone in sales while noting which actions were taken. At the sales desk, all salespeople will have access to customer information so it's easy to assist a specific customer whenever he or she calls.

After the sale, a customer service representative can contact the customer and offer add-on products. The accounting department will be able to keep track of the customer's payment history, credit terms and more. Each user has a "screen view" that can be customized with the information that is important to his or her job. For security reasons, not all users will have access to the customer's entire file.

This may be overkill for a one-person company that is just beginning to sell and market products or services, but it's an effective approach for a growing office that needs to track information from the beginning to the end of the sales process.

Using the program is fairly easy, though its Windows 3.1 interface becomes apparent in its menu structure and dialog boxes. It also doesn't support the right-click mouse functions found in Windows 95 programs. Icons at the top of the screen let you navigate the basic functions of TeleMagic, including viewing calendars and to-do lists, activating the word processor (which is Windows' WordPro), faxing and
e-mailing.

TeleMagic's ease of use didn't "wow" me, and after reading the manual for a short time, I was still unable to easily determine how to perform some basic functions.

Striking Gold

GoldMine 3.2 is a feature-rich sales automation program that includes every bell and whistle imaginable in this category. Its notebook-style tabbed format makes it easy to point and click around its interface. Its calendar functions make it easy to plan your activities, while a group scheduling function lets users schedule activities for multiple contacts and users. There's plenty in this program for salespeople, including some fine-tuned tools to assist in sales forecasting, quota tracking, call-success ratios and more. Telemarketers will also find integrated call scripts.

This program has truly latched onto the Internet as the "next big thing" in information management. In addition to extensive Internet e-mail support that lets you easily track your contacts' e-mail messages, it also facilitates Web data import for capturing information on the prospects that visit your Web site. GoldMine's Automated Processes feature comes in handy for creating an automated response to a Web site inquiry. This means users can pre-plan how an inquiry will be responded to (with a form letter sent via e-mail, for example), and GoldMine will perform those functions without any help--until a real person is necessary to complete a function. The idea is to take some of the mundane chores out of users' hands.

The program is easy to use and did not require any manual reading to get to the meat of the software.

ACT! Now

Successful salespeople have learned that if you build relationships and stay on top of your leads, you will make more sales. That's the theory behind ACT! 3.0.

This version of ACT! is customizable so users and work groups can design their own environments to run the way they need to. It also includes direct links to Microsoft Word and WordPerfect and allows you to attach files, such as letters and faxes, to a contact entry.

Because ACT! has such a huge following, the program is supported by numerous third-party products designed to enhance ACT!'s functionality. These include CardScan 300 Plus, a business card scanner that lets you scan and import data from a business card directly into the contact manager. There's also MapLynx, a mapping program that can be used in conjunction with ACT! to organize your contacts. There's even an add-on product designed for the real estate industry to manage leads and marketing efforts.

Though ACT! has always had the greaBODY market share of all contact managers, it suffers from a long learning curve. It can take hours for users to familiarize themselves with the program. In version 3.0, ACT! attempts to address this problem by giving users a handful of layouts to choose from when entering data. This helps somewhat, but I still found myself more comfortable with GoldMine's interface and way of working.

All three of these programs have something strong to offer. TeleMagic should be seriously considered by companies that use telemarketing or require extensive customization for the various departments in their businesses. If you're a single user, GoldMine and ACT! are better bets; my preference is GoldMine for its ease of use. GoldMine also includes some interesting features, such as Automated Processes, that should take some work away from the user and give it to the computer. Both ACT! and GoldMine are also far more Internet-capable than TeleMagic, offering Internet mail support and hot links to Web sites.

Report Card

4: Excellent 3: Good 2: Fair 1: Poor

GoldMine 3.2 List Price: $295

GoldMine Software Corp.(800) 654-3526 (http://www.goldminesw.com)

Grade: 4

Pluses:Easy-to-use interface, extensive Internet support

Minuses:None of note

ACT! 3.0 List Price: $199.95

Symantec Corp. (408) 253-9600 (http://www.symantec.com)

Grade: 3

Pluses:Numerous add-on products enhance core package

Minuses:Not very intuitive

TeleMagic V3 List Price: $500 (single user), $1,300 (network)

TeleMagic Inc. (800) 835-6244 (http://www.telemagic.com)

Grade: 3

Pluses:User-customizable, very appropriate for telemarketing industry

Minuses:Interface needs face lift

Hot Disks

GoldSync Remote Synchronization: If you opt for GoldMine 3.2 as your contact manager, you may find a need for GoldSync, GoldMine Software's new product that updates data at multiple sites and for multiple hosts and users at predesignated times. This means all your GoldMine users can be up-to-date and in sync no matter where they are. GoldSync retails for $495 per server, which includes support for up to three remote sites.

Direct Mail Express: IMarket Inc. has joined forces with Dun & Bradstreet and Pitney Bowes to create a cost-effective, efficient way for small businesses to market themselves with direct-mail campaigns. Direct Mail Express uses the Internet to facilitate this process. Users follow a template-driven, six-step process to execute mailings. The least expensive job is $0.44 per piece plus postage. Visit (http://www.imarketinc.com), or call (800) 590-0065 for more information on how to use Direct Mail Express.

Contact Sources

Direct Mail Express, 460 Totten Pond Rd., Waltham, MA 02154, acctmgr@imarketinc.com;

GoldMine Software Corp., 17383 Sunset Blvd., #301, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, (800) 654-3526;

Symantec Corp., 10201 Torre Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014, (408) 253-9600;

TeleMagic Inc., 17950 Preston Rd., #800, Dallas, TX 75252, (800) 835-6244.

Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for eight years.