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By now it's clear CD-ROMs are no passing trend-a book titled CD-ROMs in Print 1996 (Gale Research) lists 9,000 different titles. These silver disks are not only the most efficient means to distribute software and multimedia programs, but with 650 megabytes of space, they're also undeniably adept at delivering large amounts of data. That's why we thought we'd take a look at a few of the titles designed to help you do business a little smarter.
CD-ROM drives have also become standard features on desktop computers, like the Packard Bell Platinum Pro we used to test these products. This machine is packed with features, including a six-speed CD-ROM drive, 150 MHz Pentium processor, 24MB RAM and a 2GB hard drive. As you would expect from a machine of this caliber, access time to the CD-ROM drive was impressively fast and data flowed quickly from disk to display. Don't worry, though: You won't need nearly this much horsepower to run the four products reviewed here.
In the Market
Every savvy entrepreneur knows that when business needs a boost, it's time to implement a new marketing program. Depending on what type of business you have, you may opt to do a direct-mail piece or a telemarketing pitch. But how do you locate those elusive customers?
The traditional answer is to go to a list broker and purchase a list-which can be very costly and not always effective. Or, if your computer is equipped with a CD-ROM drive, you can turn to D&B MarketPlace from MarketPlace Information Corp. instead.
This CD-ROM features a list of 10 million businesses, from one-person shops to large corporations. Compiled from Dun & Bradstreet data, MarketPlace is updated quarterly and claims to include virtually all businesses with an SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code. Annual subscribers pay $249 yearly for four updates; single-quarter updates are available for $129 each.
Each entry includes the business's name, address, phone number and contact name, and specifies the company type, annual sales, number of employees, year founded and geographic location. These variables help you narrow your search. For example, if you want to sell your wares to small architectural firms in Los Angeles, you could define your search by ZIP code, revenue information, and number of employees.
Before you can use the information you've compiled-and before you can glean more than the basics, like company name, city and state-you'll have to "license" the list. Here's how: When you purchase MarketPlace, you receive a meter that attaches to your PC's parallel port or Macintosh's mouse port and essentially tracks the number of "credits" you use to create your list.
It costs one credit (or 10 cents) for a mailing record and another half credit to add the phone number. If you want demographic information, you'll need two more credits. Users are given 3,000 credits when they purchase their first disk for $849; after that, credits can be purchased in blocks of 5,000 ($500). As you compile a list, the software monitors how many credits are being used.
Once the list is compiled, you can use it to create reports and generate mailing labels or export it to other programs. The list is yours to use however you please for one year-after that, you're on the honor system to renew the list.
Getting started with the program is very easy. A guided tour takes you through the basics, making it simple to understand how to navigate the program. MarketPlace runs under Macintosh or Windows operating systems and works best with 8MB RAM.
American Business Information's (ABIs) Credit Reference Directory is the CD-ROM to turn to if you need to research companies you intend to do business with. The product, available for a somewhat steep $1,330, contains information on more than 10 million U.S. businesses.
ABI does its own research, verifying the accuracy of the database every year, and also lists its own credit- rating codes, which are grounded in basic statistics. The company compiles information on a business, such as the number of employees, sales volume, industry stability and census data, then runs the data through a program that calculates the final credit rating. The program is a good place to start when it comes to credit checks for small to midsized transactions, but ABI admits that large transactions require more research.
It's easy to use-just enter the name of the company you're looking for along with any other information you have, such as city, state or ZIP code, and the program lists the results. Of the companies I tried to look up, many were included.
Included with the CD-ROM is a 12-volume set of Credit Reference Directories that lets you look up companies alphabetically, as well as access to an online service and an 800 number where you can get more detailed information about the companies you're interested in.
The Credit Reference Directory is available for Windows systems and runs best with a minimum of 2MB RAM.
CD-ROM phone books offer an affordable way to create mailing lists. Though not nearly as comprehensive as D&B Marketplace, Select Phone from Pro CD is a great resource to have when generating or updating mailing lists or when in dire need of a phone number. This six-CD-ROM set lists more than 100 million businesses and residences culled from phone books nationwide. You can search by name, address, city, state, ZIP code, phone number, SIC code and geographic location.
The best thing about Select Phone is it allows for a margin of error. If you input a name, the ListMagic feature includes all potential spellings and listings of that name.
Select Phone's interface is nice, though the icons are a little difficult to decipher. The program is available in DOS, Windows and Macintosh versions and requires 4MB RAM.
The Numbers Game
Select Phone's competitor is Phone Disc PowerFinder from Digital Directory Assistance (DDA). Like Select Phone from Pro CD, Phone Disc includes more than 100 million listings on five CD-ROMs.
I appreciated the fact that you can run Phone Disc off the CD-ROM drive without having to actually install the entire program. (All the other programs reviewed here have to be installed prior to use.) Though Pro CD's Select Phone is slicker in appearance, Phone Disc is just as easy to use, and my search results were the same with both products.
The program is structured as a continous list of names and phone numbers, much like a library's database. After you've outlined the parameters of your search, which can be done using a person's name, business name, address, zip code, phone number, geographic code, household income or SIC code, the program essentially "jumps" you to the appropriate section but also allows access to all other information in the database by scrolling up or down. As with Pro CD, you can import the information into a database.
The Phone Disc set features business and residential listings for $199. For fax numbers, DDA recently released Phone Disc Fax, which lists more than 250,000 numbers.
Phone Disc is the one to buy if your hardware is limited: It requires just 1MB RAM to run under Windows, Macintosh or DOS platforms.
Obviously, these products are just a small sampling of the CD-ROM titles available for business applications. Take some time to analyze how you might improve the way you do business-then go shopping. You'll find a terrific selection of products out there that can help.
4: excellent 2: fair
3: good 1: poor:
MarketPlace Information Corp.
List Price: $849
Pluses:Lets you create and manipulate your own targeted mailing list
Minuses:Each name and phone number obtained for your list uses up "credits"; when the credits are gone, users must purchase more
Pro CD Inc.
List Price: $99
Pluses:Easy to use; excellent search capabilities
Minuses:Data takes up six CD-ROM disks; icons are difficult to decipher
Digital Directory Assistance Inc.
List Price: $199
Pluses:Great exporting capabilities; takes up just 1MB RAM
Credit Reference Directory
American Business Information
List Price: $1,330/year
Pluses:Quick credit information at your fingertips for more than 10 million U.S. businesses
Minuses: A little pricey; requires quarterly updates to keep it current
New and notable software
FocalPoint: Tired of fumbling around between multiple communications packages? Global Village's FocalPoint promises to eliminate that hassle by integrating all your communications needs, including fax, data, e-mail, Internet, voice mail, speakerphone and paging capabilities, into a single program. The product works under Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. Call (800) 329-9675, or visit the Web site at ,a href=http://www. globalvillage.com>http://www. globalvillage.com. Retail price: $99.
WebCompass Professional: If you're a nonstop Web cruiser, check out Quarterdeck's WebCompass Professional. It's designed to be the ultimate search engine, using built-in intelligence to help organize the data you're searching for. WebCompass can also be set to automatically search the Web at regular intervals, bringing back pre-selected news and information. Set your browser to http://www. quarterdeck.com, or call (800) 683-6696. Retail price: $79.95.
The following CD-ROMs are available from Entrepreneur in conjunction with Allegro New Media Inc. for $29.95 each:
Top Low-Investment Businesses for the 90's
Best Part-Time Businesses for the 90's
25 Hottest Businesses for the 90's
Guide to Raising Money
1000 Business Forms and Letters
Small Business Encyclopedia ($59.95)
Call (800) 421-2300 to order.
Cassandra Cavanah is a former executive editor of PC Laptop magazine and has reported on the computer industry for seven years.