Small Business Software Review: Sage ACT 2011

The most powerful small business contact and customer management software just got better, with new access to business info databases and improved email marketing features.

Whether you’re new to contact management software or a long-time ACT fan looking to upgrade, Sage ACT 2011 offers a lot to like. Already arguably the most complete small business software package available, the latest version adds new features — most notably the Sage Business Information Services — while also streamlining ease of use.

Small Business Software with CRM Functionality

Sage has carefully positioned ACT as “contact and customer management” software: a step up from spreadsheets or a simple Access database to house your customer information, but a step below a full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) platform. To put it another way, ACT delivers all the features you are likely to need, without the complexity and cost you don’t.

Sage ACT 2011; small business software
The new welcome page in Sage ACT 2011 makes it easy for newcomers to get started and for old hands to find new features.
(Click for larger image)

Originally launched in 1987 (to call this small business software “mature” is understatement), the premise of ACT has always been straightforward: To let you store and manage your business contact information. Over the years the product has evolved as a sales force tool by including more advanced customer-management features, such as better tracking of opportunities and automated follow-ups to proposals.

Today, the goal of ACT is to ensure meaningful interactions with customers and clients by giving small business sales and customer-relations pros an organized view of the individuals they do business with.

Sage ACT Features and Benefits

ACT has a range of features that let you be prepared even for unexpected customer conversations. A history of past deals and interactions — including email messages and your personal notes regarding phone calls — are available when you drill down into a particular customer’s entry.

This will save you from those awkward moments fumbling on the phone, madly searching in Outlook for the latest email thread to refresh your memory. ACT can even incorporate information from a customer’s Facebook profile; so you can ask about the kids, for example, and show the customer he or she isn’t just a number to you.

The program also helps you manage prospects with built-in sales-process workflows that you can customize to fit your business. You’ll be able to keep detailed progress notes as an opportunity unfolds, and even see the probability of successfully closing a given deal.

Need to see how you and your staff are performing? ACT offers 85 built-in reports and quick-view “dashboards” that let you see opportunities at-a-glance by status, the percentage of deals that do and do not close, potential revenue of deals in the pipeline and more.

Another benefit is the time savings ACT provides by automating common tasks, such as sending follow-up “thank you” emails and the like. Key examples include the Sage ACT Smart Tasks: Handy in-program “digital assistants” that can handle mundane but important chores. For instance, a Smart Task entitled “closed opportunity follow up” can contain steps to automatically send an email notification to a designated manager when an opportunity is closed and won, send the new client a “welcome” email, and put an entry on your calendar to follow up with the new client by phone in seven days.

ACT includes a range of Smart Task workflow templates (and accompanying email message templates) covering what should occur for contacts with no recent activity, high-value opportunity alerts, new contact welcome and more. You can use a template as-is or customize it to suit your work habits.

ACT integrates with the software you likely already have and use, including Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel. This lets you easily move information from ACT to Excel for example. More importantly, you can have your ACT and Outlook calendars and contacts sync automatically, rather than having to key in entries in both programs.

For example, if you accept a meeting invitation in Outlook, that meeting will also appear in your ACT calendar automatically, eliminating the need for double-entry and avoiding the possibility that information in one program fails to show up in the other. Similarly, ACT offers bi-directional integration with Sage’s popular Peachtree Accounting package, so when you change customer information in one program, it’s updated in the other.

Unlike earlier versions of the program, you and your sales staff are no longer tied to a PC to benefit from ACT. The ACT Mobile Live feature lets you access your ACT database — including contacts, calendar, meeting notes and conversation history — from your BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device. You can even add contacts or make changes to entries from your smartphone, so you don’t have to worry about misplaced phone numbers or forgotten customer details as you work on the road.

If you want a full-on “cloud” implementation of the product, where you and your staff access the program via a Web browser, you can set it up that way on your own server or sign up for a subscription with one of Sage’s SaaS (software-as-a-service) partners — saving you from the hassle and expense of deploying the software yourself, while giving employees access no matter where they are located.

Must Read

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.