Small Business Software Review: Sage ACT 2011 - Page 2

By Jamie Bsales
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New Features in Sage ACT 2011

In addition to enhancements to Smart Tasks and Outlook integration, Sage ACT 2011 has a several important new features. First and foremost is Sage Business Info Services for ACT. Thanks to Sage's partnership with Hoover's, a business research firm that maintains a database covering 65 million companies, ACT 2011 lets you see contact information for 85 million professionals and pull that data directly into ACT.

You'll be able to identify new selling opportunities and build a prospect list by company location, industry, size and more, and sort contacts by title -- giving you a better chance of getting to the right person on the first try.

Sage ACT 2011 also beefs up its e-marketing prowess with Sage E-marketing for ACT This cloud-based email marketing service, powered by Sage partner Swiftpage, lets you execute sophisticated multi-stage email campaigns right from within ACT, with no need to import/export contacts and other data.

The service (you get 60 days free with the purchase of ACT, and subscriptions thereafter start at $14.95 per month) lets you launch an email campaign to a targeted list of contacts, then track which customers opened or forwarded the email and more. You can also easily capture additional leads with Web forms on your website, nurture those prospects automatically with drip marketing plans and identify your hottest leads using a ranked call list that tells you which prospects are likely most interested.

Sage ACT 2011; small business software
Smart Tasks let you easily program ACT 2011 to perform common tasks automatically.
(Click for larger image)

Other improvements in ACT 2011 include the capability to directly import Excel data, and compatibility with Microsoft Office 2010 and Firefox.

Improved Ease of Use

For all its features, ACT is surprisingly easy to use and navigate, thanks in no small part to a re-designed "welcome" page that makes it easier to get started. That screen (and subsequent screens) features a row of "Big Easy" buttons along the top for common activities, such as adding a new contact, scheduling a meeting, creating a to-do list entry, searching the database, creating an email message and more. This saves you from having to dig through menu drop-downs to get to a desired action.

Also on the welcome screen are "Getting Started" links to topics such as quick start for new users, importing data from Excel, organizing contacts into groups and others. You can also jump to screens to set up your preferences and email settings, import data, and other chores anyone new to the program will have to execute.

In addition, the welcome page offers links to help you make sure you're getting the most out of ACT with links to topics like new/improved features, explanations of Opportunities and Smart Tasks, searching, and using Outlook with ACT.

The far right of the page features links to video tutorials where you can see a tour of the ACT workspace, Outlook integration in action, Smart Tasks and more. The bottom third of the welcome screen is occupied by live links that Sage pushes out, and it contains items such as links to register for ACT training webcasts, links to the active online community (22,00 strong, according to the company), and featured applications within ACT.

At any point you skip all that and jump right to the area you need to work in by clicking on the desired entry in the left-hand column: Contacts, Groups, Companies, Calendar, Task List, Opportunities, Reports and Dashboard. Naturally, you'll spend a fair amount of your time on the Contacts page, which in "details view" shows the contact's "business card" info -- name, company, title, phone address and so on -- at the top.

A row of tabs below the business card helps organize all of the stuff (for lack of a better word) related to that contact. There are tabs for activities, opportunities, history, notes, documents, Web info (such as the contact's Web site, or Google directions to his place of business) and much more. Admittedly, the sheer number of choices is somewhat imposing, but the tabs are clearly labeled, making it a snap to jump to just the info you need.

We're also impressed with ACT 2011's Smart Task builder. Constructing a "workflow" sounds intimidating, but the visual flowchart interface makes it fairly straightforward. You can select one of the workflow templates, then add or edit steps as suits your particular need by clicking on the clearly marked buttons. At each step, a dialog box pops up where you can enter the particulars.

Sage ACT 2011 Pricing

Sage ACT 2011 is available in two editions. The Premium edition lists for $459.99 and includes all the program's features -- contact and customer management, Web access, group scheduling, dashboards and more. The Pro version, which sells for $229.99, delivers the basics, but does away with Web access, group scheduling and dashboards. Sage also offers specialized editions targeted at financial professionals and real estate offices.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 16 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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This article was originally published on December 01, 2010
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