The latest editions of Best Software’s ACT and Surado’s Smart Contact Manager each try to serve you a gourmet contact-management meal with a side dish of basic sales planning and forecasting. ACT’s recipe is much tastier.
Both products cater to business users who deal with lots of people — small-business owners, real estate agents or financial services salespeople, for example. People moving up from the more basic Microsoft Outlook can import their contact data into either package. Both also import delimited text files. In addition, ACT accepts Access database files, and Smart Contact Manager can handle .dbf and .dif files, as well as files from ACT 5 or later, Excel 5 or later, and Goldmine 4 or later.
ACT, a long-time Symantec product now offered by Best Software, has a loyal following of users who value the product’s ability to group all sorts of information about a contact (from customisable details to attached documents to related sales opportunities) on one screen.
My preproduction copy of the $249 ACT 6 let me view related documents — Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat, and .bmp and .jpeg files — inside ACT. (If you click on an attached document created by any other program, ACT will launch that application.) Among its other smart improvements, ACT 6 now lets you associate Web pages or Outlook messages with particular contacts to put together a more complete history of your dealings.
Also worthwhile: you can now do lookups based on contact activity — for example, to check which people you have not called in the past 30 days. You may also do annual event lookups, in order to search for customer events that happen in the same month every year.
Notably, ACT 6’s interface still looks clean. You can easily converse with someone on the phone while finding the field that you need.
A free tool, ACT Link 2 for Palm OS handhelds, lets you download information to and from devices that use the popular PDA operating system. For workgroups or small businesses that want remote Internet access to an ACT database, the company offers ACT Web Access.
Surado’s Smart Contact Manager 2001 Rev 1 tries to match ACT’s contact-management features, and it also touts a collection of customer-relationship management capabilities, including sales tracking tools. Although a small business could use these features to obtain visual snapshots and reports, ACT 6 provides similar basic forecasting tools and graphics.
Moreover, judging from my experience with a shipping copy of Smart Contact Manager, you must fully understand sales and forecasting processes, as well as sales lingo, to make good use of this $US149 product. The same goes for the included marketing campaign module. This software is an organiser — a series of templates — not an instructor.
More important, I found Smart Contact Manager’s interface to be complicated and sometimes hard to follow. If you’re staring at a program for hours every day, you want it to look crisp; instead, this one packs in tabs and tiny cells. The company says that the next version, expected to ship later this year, will sport a major interface overhaul. That seems worth the wait.
In brief: ACT 6
Hard to beat for serious contact management if you’ve outgrown Outlook.
Phone: 1800 675 617
URL: ACT Web site
Smart Contact Manager 2001 Rev 1
A cluttered interface makes this package difficult to use.
URL: Surado Web site