Telling the truth about SME life today

There was a time when a contact management system was just that – a computerised version of the Rolodex that sat on every sales person’s desk throughout the seventies and early eighties. It literally recorded names, phone and fax numbers and didn’t do much else. It was around this time that ACT! was born.

Twenty-one years later, and now owned by Sage, ACT! has truly come of age. And today it does a lot more than just keep contact details.

Everything in ACT! 2008 – and the new 2009 version, which is due to be released this August – is designed to help you get your hands on sales information and manage the way your team sells. It walks your sales team through the sales process, from initial communication and sales presentation to deal closure and fulfilment.

Every company sells differently, of course – some rely more heavily on face-to-face meetings, others on the phone, others on events.  So the sales process in ACT! is not set in stone – you can mould it to your own sales process.

It also gives managers a great insight into their sales pipelines and what their sales teams are doing to close deals. The dashboard presents reports in Excel-like charts and graphs, so you can see opportunity pipelines; your top ten opportunities; closed sales in the period to date; and so on.

You can also play around with the way information is presented. Take the “look-up” function, which lets you filter your database to select appropriate contacts for a mailshot. This has been souped up in ACT! 2009 so you can choose your own parameters. If you’re running an event, for example, you could invite anyone locally who’s spent more than £1,000 with you in the past 12 months.

ACT! is also tightly integrated with Microsoft Outlook. So sales support staff can take down contact details and schedule follow-ups in Outlook, then synch it with the ACT! database – and the meeting will pop in the account manager’s calendar. In the demo we were shown, which was a pre-release version of the 2009 product, the synch ran quite slowly, but we were assured this is an area Sage has been working hard to improve.

Recent versions have also moved to a standard Microsoft database – which probably doesn’t mean a lot to most business owners, but may be a source of some joy for your techies. If they want, they can write code direct to the database, and manage the way data is transferred. That’s useful if you want to keep a central database of contacts and synchronise with individual users’ own versions of the software.

ACT! is also integrated with Sage’s basic accounting packages, Sage Instant Accounts and Sage 50 Accounts. So if you’re generating a quote for a customer, for example, you can easily record it in the accounting system.

For a big sales team, buying individual licences for ACT! can get relatively expensive. It’s only £180 for the basic one-user version, or £295 for the premium version, but multiply that by 10 or more sales staff and it starts to add up. Bear in mind that not everyone needs to have a copy of the software, though.

This isn’t an advanced customer management tool – there are plenty of those elsewhere on the market, although they don’t come cheap. If you need to do more advanced marketing projects or handle customer service queries using a single software product, then you’ve probably outgrown ACT! But if you’re venturing into the contact management world for the first time, or just want to get a better insight into how well your business is doing and what your sales department is up to, it’s definitely worth having a look at a Sage demo.

By David Longworth, Webster Buchanan Research


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