Gone are the days of Rolodex organizers, piles of businesses cards and cumbersome address books. The new style of contact management is all-digital and more efficient than ever.
There are two main types of computerized CM solutions: standalone database software and Internet-based CM. In each of these categories, we will highlight and review the most economical and highest-rated product of its kind.
Standalone CM Software There are hundreds of different software programs that provide reliable CM. ACT!, named PC World's World Class Award Winner in June 2001, is the number-one selling CM software. Here are some of the major benefits of this software:
- ACT! goes beyond simple address book capabilities. With ACT! you can manage all of your customer information in one place; stay on top of your schedule with ease; and even create and send personalized letters, faxes and e-mails.
- ACT! stores complete contact information, including name, company, phone numbers, addresses, Web sites, e-mail addresses, last meeting date and much more. It also includes unlimited date- and time-stamped notes for each contact to keep track of important conversations, commitments and meeting notes. You can also attach important files, such as price lists, memos, letters, presentations, contracts, pictures and e-mails to specific contacts.
- The scheduling abilities are superb. Users can view and print schedules by day, week or month; set alarms to be reminded of important events; schedule recurring events for daily activities, weekly meetings and other repetitive events in one easy step; avoid scheduling conflicts with automatic calendar notifications; filter calls, meetings, and to-do items by priority, date range, or user; and even print the calendar and address book using any of 20 supported calendar formats.
- If needed, ACT! supports the ability to share customer information in a workgroup environment. This means that users can share databases over a network or synchronize remote workers via e-mail so everyone has the most up-to-date contact information. If security is a concern, ACT! includes built-in record locking and password protection for safe sharing of data. In addition to sharing contact databases, users can share calendars for easy lookup of free and busy times, which eliminates double-booking and the hassle of trying to check multiple schedules.
- Handheld users have the ability to synchronize ACT! with Palm OS handhelds. You can synchronize your ACT! calendar, contact and to-do information, along with notes and history items, to any Palm-powered handheld. Also, while away from the computer, you can change schedules or add contacts and then synchronize with ACT! upon returning.
At $189.95, ACT! is a relatively expensive program, but well worth the money if you can find ways to justify it. Calculate how much time and money you will save by not having to deal with calendars, address books and confusing filing systems.
If you're always on the go and hate carrying around organizers, schedules, PDAs or laptops, a Web-based system may be just the answer. Norada, selected as Forbes' 2001/2002 "Best of The Web," provides a service called Solve360, an online solution providing e-mail, group scheduling, real-time conferencing, a centralized contact database, shared project manager, company directory, shared files, and integrated bookmarks, tasks and notes. Here are some of Solve360's features and benefits:
- Solve360 is instantly available through any Internet-connected device and requires software to install. The main benefit of a centralized system like this is the immediate access to important information at anytime, from almost anywhere, using only a standard Web browser or WAP-capable wireless device. In addition, users are always working from the original data, not from outdated copies.
- All data entered into Solve360 is automatically backed up on a regular basis, so users have greater peace of mind than they would using software like ACT! Norada also provides security to Solve360 accounts, helping to ensure that information is not stolen or compromised.
- Like ACT!, Solve360 gives you the ability to enter all your contacts into a database that can later be searched using everything from a contact's name, to employer, to gender. The online tool also provides in-depth scheduling tools that can remind you of upcoming meetings, birthdays, holidays and important tasks.
- Users can also share information on contacts, tasks, calls and scheduled activities in real-time as well as maintain their own calendars and even schedule group meetings if necessary. Online conference rooms make it possible for multiple users to come together for a chat, no matter where in the world they are, which is very cool if you work with consultants or partners abroad.
For as little as $2.95 per month, Solve360 packs quite a punch for the price. With scheduling and CM features equally as powerful as those found in ACT!, the only downside looks to be for users who don't readily have access to the Internet or don't have broadband speeds. Using dial-up to access Solve360 is possible, but extremely slow compared to an installed program like ACT!
Whether you decide on a standalone program or an Internet-based service, you must consider ditching your Rolodex and bulky address book. Find a computerized method that works for you, and you'll find that CM is a much more efficient way to run your business.
Joel Holland, age 17, has been starting and running businesses since he was 12 and is currently the chief marketing officer for Nortel Networks Kidz Online, a digital studio that creates educational content about technology for schools nationwide and in Canada. Holland is ranked in the top 10 nationwide for his marketing skills through DECA, a national organization with more than 300,000 teen members, and was named Business Student of the Year by the McLean, Virginia, Chamber of Commerce. To contact Holland, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joel Holland, 25, is the founder and CEO of Footage Firm in Reston, Va.