by Rebecca Rohan

Rating 95

Nobody wants the future of their business to hinge on finding a matchbook with a phone number scrawled across the cover to follow up on a lead. These days, information is the key to success. It more than pays to manage each prospect’s or customer’s contact information, history, current point in the sales cycle, scheduled follow-ups, and other useful information.

Contact management software is a database program tailored for gathering information about your contacts, perfectly wedded to your calendar, schedule, to-do list, and other automatic reminder systems. Most contact managers can dial a phone through a modem, and log calls with Caller ID, if added. Many also offer remote connectivity for data synchronization via dial-up, the Internet, or through a third-party add-on for wireless phones.

We looked at two programs, Symantec’s Act, a leader among the “big” contact managers, and Surado’s SmartContactManager, a smaller program that costs about $100 less. Both are worthy choices in their own way.

Act is an extremely sophisticated fifth-generation system for tracking people and events. The mature interface is easy to customize, with choices of layouts and tools for customizing the interface. The first thing we did was cut Symantec’s logo and paste in our own.

Act integrates popular Dale Carnegie salesmanship methods and tips, and uses what they call a “Sales Funnel” to track prospects throughout different stages of the process until the sale is closed. Web links built into menus can lead to maps, driving directions, ticker symbols, and more with a mouse click.

Symantec and third party add-ons support the synching of contacts with hand-held devices or wireless phones. Take a peek at what’s available at Dragon Naturally Speaking Mobile Organizer, for example, is a $399 snazzy-looking hand-held voice recorder with speech-recognition that synchs spoken notes, e-mails, meeting times, and more into the Act Interface.

For those businesses whose contact management needs are light, SmartContactManager may be the right choice. The program has a pleasing, simple-to-understand interface with some opportunities for customization.

SmartContactManager has many of the options one would expect in a high-end program, though it has some rough edges. For example, exit buttons within some dialog boxes will actually exit the program, rather than the box, but the program does ask if that was your intention.

SmartContactManager is also a bit less inviting to poke around in because an error message will pop up in options that require a record to be selected first. Still, it doesn’t take long to learn the program’s quirks and avoid them.

Surado puts a friendly face on a serious database with standard capabilities such as phone dialing via modem and the ability to synchronize files with other machines.

Act is a better program for those that are serious about contact management. It offers greater opportunities to customize and expand its capabilities. Try saving up for an extra month while using the free trial.

But if your needs are simple, and you like it that way, go to Surado and bring back a contact manager that will get the job done just fine.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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