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There's no greater panic-inducer for an entrepreneur than the loss of computer data. At the end of 2001, in my infinite cleverness, I unwittingly changed my computer's preferences while attempting to pull off some PC acrobatics. (I simply must stop watching Tech TV's The Screen Savers.) The devastating truth was discovered on Christmas Eve: Everything, from Word files to e-mail folders, was gone. In full-on freak-out, I soon discovered I no longer had my ACT! contact database, either. After a year spent nurturing my modest but vital database, I was bereft without its flashing "to-do" boxes and "notes" (a feature I use to its fullest potential, crafting detailed descriptions that are Michener-esque). In my solo shop world, I've come to rely on ACT! to record items, set alarms and create documents. ACT!, like any good assistant, makes my work life easier.
Pre-ACT!, my method for managing leads and current clients was an intricate system of Post-It notes and spiral notebooks. Turns out, I'm not the only entrepreneur not treating customer data with the deference it deserves. "Most business owners would never let important financial information exist in a haphazard fashion, scattered across a number of different places. Customer information deserves the same care and attention financial data gets," explains George Colombo, author of The Mentor's Guide to Killer Customer Care (Entrepreneur Press). "For most businesses, customer information is the business's most important asset, even though it doesn't appear on the balance sheet."
ACT! 2000 is a program from Interact Commerce. The single-user version costs $200 (all prices street); $900 gets you the five-user bundle. This heavyweight contact manager is used by more than 3 million professionals and 11,000 corporations worldwide. "ACT! forces us to document every time we interact with a customer, and [it] helps track our successes," says Patrick Reardon, 36, founder and president of Workplace Management Solutions, a Woburn, Massachusetts, company specializing in furniture-management services.
If you're using ACT! 2000 on a PC, invest in Jeffrey Mayer's ACT! 2000 for Windows for Dummies (Hungry Minds). After a quick perusal, I learned new options and shortcuts. Other software programs to check out are Front Range's Goldmine and Maximizer from MultiActive Software.
For those looking for other options for managing sales, consider an online service like UpShot. Founder and chairman Keith Raffel states that while contact management programs focus solely on contacts, UpShot focuses on "opportunity management." Explains Raffel, "Contact management software can help keep track of prospects' and customers' addresses. But it isn't enough. The economic downturn has put fierce pressure on sales teams to sell more and at a faster rate. That's more than a contact manager can do." The Upshot service, which allows internal and external sales teams to share the same sales process information, costs $65 per user per month. You can also try Salesforce or TIPS Technology.
Once you've decided on the right program, you need to train your staff. Colombo advises not to skimp on training and to build in rewards for sales pros who embrace the system, such as the elimination of weekly sales call reporting. "If you can save the salesperson an hour or more of unproductive paperwork," says Colombo, "you're well on your way to success."
Oh, and after restoring my system to its functional glory, I advise you to never mess with anything that's buried more than two clicks into your Control Panel.
Kimberly L. Mccall is president of McCall Media & Marketing, a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.
- UpShot Corp.
- Workplace Management Solutions