Keeping in contact. (contact management software)(includes related article and product listing)
by Daniel S. Janal
You can't do business without contacts, and poorly managed contacts are worse than no contacts at all.
Hundreds of Post-it notes greeted Ken Holyoak every morning when he went to work as president of Better Modular Buildings in Indianapolis. Not surprisingly, dozens of details fell by the wayside.
"I thought I could keep track, but this was not effective," he says. "The hard disk inside my brain was getting too full." If you've ever forgotten about a meeting or blown due dates, you can sympathize with Holyoake. He let perfectly good leads slip through his fingers because he couldn't keep track of the details.
One Percent Inspiration
If genius is in the details, contact management software programs that manage your contacts, notes, and meetings can help you become a genius.
These programs let you create a note card for each contact, complete with name, address, and phone number. You can then use the computer to automatically dial the number and open a notepad so you can keep notes. After the call, the computer asks when you need to call back. On that appointed date, the computer reminds you to make the call. The same process works for keeping track of your meetings, appointments, conferences. Most programs will let you print your notes as letters or faxes, or they'll hook into your word processor and keep a log of your correspondence. That way, you'll be able to look at a contact's records and see exactly how things stood the last time you spoke or corresponded. The program can keep track of any kind of information. If you're the type of person who forgets birthdays or needs to remember which client prefers gifts of white wine instead of red, then a contact manager is for you.
With more than 600 contact managers on the market, you can certainly have your pick. Although many offer generic call, record, and schedule functions that can be used by sales-people or anyone else who makes a lot of calls, others are targeted to specific industries, such as construction or public relations. Some are designed specifically to assist people on the road in exchanging data between desktop computers back home and palmtop computers.
For Holyoak, relief came with a program called PowerLeads!, which works under Windows.
"I call it up first thing in the morning. It tells me whom I need to call. It lets me prioritize my schedule and keeps track of what I am doing," says Holyoak, whose company makes modular buildings for commercial use. "It's always up and running. I found it keeps lots of little slips of paper off my desk and reminds me of things to do. The main thing is that it lets me keep track of leads, customers, and things I thought I could track of in my head."
Lost Time Is Not Found Again
Missing appointments and deadlines not only can be costly to an attorney but can lead to malpractice cases, according to the American Bar Association, which estimates that 60 percent of such cases were filed because attorneys blew deadlines.
That won't happen to Michael Jimmerson, an attorney in civil litigation and personal injury practice with Mesch, Clark, and Rothschild of Tucson. He uses PackRat, another Windows contact manager.
"It helps me prepare for court by keeping track of deadlines, dates, and phone conversations," he says. "I was looking for something to help me keep track of phone numbers, addresses, notes, and briefings. I need to be able to merge that data with my word processor."
He also manages to-do lists and calendar notes with PackRat. Before using this program, he experimented with other applications but found they did only part of the job.
"I used other packages, but they didn't integrate the information. For example, I called people with PC Tools but had notes in WordPerfect." To find data, he had to switch applications. "Now all the information is linked together. It has really opened up a whole new world of productivity for me."
Having all your records in one place is a prime benefit of a contact manager, because it can find data fast and plug it into the right spaces.
So if Jimmerson's writing letters, PackRat will type the names and addresses onto fax cover sheets or letters and envelopes. He also integrates the program with an electronic mail package to write to colleagues on ABAnet, an online service offered by the ABA.
"I talk to about 30 to 40 people a day, sometimes more," says Jimmerson, who has to manage more than 600 names in his telephone list. "PackRat saves time in small increments. It adds up to more than a half hours a day. You don't have to spend hours of time looking for notes. It is subtle but very powerful. I could not get along without it."
Management by Contact
Running a business with several people can be a challenge, but YourWay contact management software has helped Channing Blackwell, consultant and civil engineer, bring more regularity to Blackwell Engineering in Washington, D.C.
"It keeps our lives in order," he says. "With YourWay, we all have a general idea of what's going on the next day when we look at the master task list. Our plan is to network the software so everyone is cognizant of what is going on during the day. That way no one can say, 'I left my notebook at home." There are no excuses."
The software keeps track of meetings with employees and with clients. Like many contact managers, YourWay rings an alarm to remind Blackwell of meetings.
"I was engrossed in a project, and the alarm went off," he says. "It's like this computer reaches out and taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Excuse me.' It gives you lead time. If you have to be at a certain place in an hour, the computer will tell you when to leave."
TeleMagic, another contact manager, has changed the way Bill Brawner does business.
"I can now think about solving the clients' problems instead of trying to keep track of them," says Brawner, whose four-year-old company in Morgan Hill, California, helps corporations lower their taxes through innovative programs--or at least lowers their cost of income tax preparation by 35-75 percent. "I talk to a lot of people, and I need to track the sales call results. Because of the way TeleMagic stores information, I can cross-reference my sales results. People tended to fall through the cracks of my 3 x 5 note card system. Now they get callbacks and letters on time. With the push of two buttons, I can send notes saying, 'Thank you for requesting information,' and confirming appointments and have it be so personalized without my having to think about it. It's so great. It's really increasing my productivity."
Clients have noticed the difference. "A couple of clients say, 'You seem to be right on time.' When I say, 'I'll give you a call next Tuesday,' and they get a call on Tuesday, they're impressed with the follow-through," he says. It's easy to follow through when you have the whole history on the screen. That way, you don't have to leave the phone to run for a file folder and shuffle index cards while trying to make small talk. When you make 20-30 calls a day, as Brawner does, that saves a lot of time.
When he visits clients, their information is at his side in a notebook computer.
"I can use it from the car with my car phone or in someone else's office. I can work on the client's project right there. It is extremely fast. I can usually find anything within five seconds," he says.
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
Keeping clients happy is one thing Pat Meier can do with ACT!, a contact management program with versions for DOS and Windows.
"One of the things our clients like is that they can call us and say, 'What have you done for me lately?' and I can say, 'Let me show you,'" says Meier, president of Pat Meier Associates, a public relations agency in San Francisco representing high-technology clients. "With a couple of keystrokes, I can pull out a contact management report and show them whom I contacted and what the results were."
She remembers in particular one time ACT! saved her: "One client asked me to call one reporter. After a few days, the client said, 'How come we haven't heard from this person yet?' I pulled up a record and showed how many times I called and there was no answer and I left messages," she says. "Turns out the reporter was out of town."
She can also improve productivity through ACT!'s word processor. Every month she creates a transaction list of out-of-pocket expenditures for each client by using Quicken. She saves the file to ASCII and then loads it into an ACT! template letter. "Voila I had an instant invoice. Complete with invoice number."
Contact managers can also be used to update employees in field offices. Waterside Productions, a literary agency in Del Mar, California, uses TeleMagic to keep track of calls to publishers and writers. Every night, the computers talk to each other and update each other's databases so everyone knows the status of each project, says Matt Wagner, a Waterside agent who works from an office in Santa Monica.
Little wonder contact management software is one of the fastest growing segments in software development. Whether you need to be reminded of calls, meetings, appointments, or notes, there's nothing like the easy access to data in a contact manager.