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Keeping Your Data In Check

ktdicYOU’RE ON THE PHONE WITH A PROSPECTIVE CLIENT. IN the course of a few minutes you learn that she wants to see your brochure, she’d like you to call again in a few weeks, she just got a new e-mail address, and she’s expecting a baby in three months (and can’t wait to take the little tyke to his or her first Detroit Tigers game). A PIM (personal information manager) could leave you scrambling to find places to transcribe this vital information. A contact manager, on the other hand, will simply absorb the details into the client’s record in an instant. The results: a ready-made cover letter to accompany your brochure; a follow-up call you’ll be reminded to make; a record of the e-mail address; and detailed notes about the impending motherhood and future Tigers allegiance.

In today’s competitive market, you may find it’s time to give your PIM the heave-ho. Nothing is more important to your business than sales, and yet PIMs– although fine for basic organization of names, addresses, appointments, and anniversaries-don’t have the muscle to provide effective sales management. A contact manager, on the other hand, lets you schedule follow-up calls, take notes during phone conversations, print contact-history reports, and produce mass mailings, faxes, and e-mails. In short, it gives you the tools you need to sell.

Indeed, to help simplify the sales process, a contact manager should offer strong call-management features, flexible note-taking abilities, lots of customization options, and built-in database synchronization. That last feature is particularly important for maintaining the vital sales directory. Suppose you and an associate are on a business trip and have met a few potential clients. Thanks to data synchronization, you can merge your notebook’s new contact management records with the contact manager data on your desktop PC. Not only will it accept the new entries from the notebook, it’ll merge new data that may have been entered at the office that same day. Some contact managers accomplish this via direct modem, some require a special add-on utility, and others send and receive databases via e-mail. An unfortunate few products in this roundup don’t support database synchronization at all.

cmsThe market is positively rife with contact management software right now. Although some take only baby steps beyond basic PIM features, others travel light-years toward improving your business life. For this buyer’s guide, we looked for Windows and Mac contact managers that offer e-mail links, the ability to link records (so you can access a sales client with his or her partner or other firm), file synchronization, and strong customization features. We did not include PIMs, such as Lotus Organizer, Starfish Sidekick, or Day-Timer Organizer, because these products do not have the rich feature set of full-blown contact managers. The 11 candidates in this roundup have much in common, but at the same time they’re apples and oranges. We looked first for ease of operation: Could you learn the program in an hour, or would you have to spend days wading through a thick manual? Next came the interface: Was it logically structured and easy on the eyes, or was it disorganized and stark?

Speed drew our scrutiny as well. There’s only so much idle chitchat you can make over the phone with a client while you’re waiting for his or her information to appear onscreen. If you don’t have the system resources to keep the contact manager running on your desktop, you’ 11 want one that loads quickly. We clocked each Windows product’s load time on a 75MHz Pentium system equipped with 8MB of RAM; each Macintosh product was run on a PowerBook 5300c with 24MB of RAM.

Finally, because upgrading from a PIM to a contact manager shouldn’t necessitate retyping all of your data, we checked each product’s ability to import information from outside sources.

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