If your idea of a contact manager and appointment scheduler is a paper-based organizer, you may be missing the boat. To track information relating to people and appointments, you can't beat contact management programs. They allow you to keep schedules, maintain complete contact information, coordinate projects, generate correspondence and maintain to-do lists. In short, contact management programs make it easier to turn curious prospects into paying customers.
For years I've relied on Act from Symantec ( 441-7234; http://www.symantec.com) and was pretty excited when version 4.0 arrived a few months ago. I tried it but quickly discovered that my needs had outpaced Act's upgrade schedule.
I took a look at several programs to replace Act. Microsoft Outlook 98 ( 426-9400; http://www.microsoft.com/products/prodref/608_ov.htm) is packed with features, but the program makes you work to find them. You have to drill through complex menus, and what might take a mouse click in Act requires a series of steps in Outlook.
After uninstalling it, I gave Multiactive Software Inc.'s Maximizer ( 577-7809; http://www.maximizer.com) a try. Maximizer gets points for its Internet tools that allow you to collect online order information from your Web site and import directly into the program. However, I gave up when, after trying to import my Act database for almost four hours, not all the contact information transferred.
Then I found GoldMine from GoldMine Software ( 654-3526; http://www.goldminesw.com), another contact manager that's on version 4.0. I've found it does an even better job than Symantec's Act of handling the coordination needed among departments and work groups.
Act and GoldMine both do a bang-up job of organizing contact information, and--especially important today--they're both Internet-savvy. For example, both programs allow you to enter e-mail addresses and Web addresses for your contacts.
Both Act and GoldMine come with a built-in e-mail program, but you can also use your existing program, such as Qualcomm's Eudora. You can send e-mail directly from the contact record; when e-mail is received, it is linked to the contact record. This way, when you look up a contact, you see an e-mail icon that, when clicked, displays the message. Talk about a time-saver. No more searching for e-mail sent to or received by a particular person.
Likewise, a click on the contact's Web address will launch your Web browser of choice and take you right to the contact's home page. Both programs will also dial the phone for you, send faxes, merge letters and track the actions you take with a particular contact while using the program.
The big difference between these two programs is that while Act is geared more to be a personal contact manager, GoldMine was designed from the ground up to serve as a contact manager for entire work groups. This means that staff from your accounting, sales, technical support, marketing, customer service and various other departments can all access the same contact record and make any necessary modifications to that contact's information. In other words, the right hand always knows what the left is doing.
Here's one possible example of GoldMine in action. Suppose someone calls your company to inquire about a product or service. An operator in the phone center can set that prospect up as a contact in GoldMine and then fax or e-mail the person some general information right from within the program. Then the operator can schedule a sales call on the calendar of someone in the sales department. On the day specified by the operator, the sales call appears on the salesperson's GoldMine calendar along with the historical data relating to the prospect.
After the sales call is made, the salesperson can generate a follow-up letter and instruct his or her administrative contact to send the contact a sales package--all from within GoldMine. The salesperson can then track all progress on the deal, generating a chronological record of all that has transpired with this prospect.
All this work-group functionality makes GoldMine an outstanding tool for a small to medium-sized company, but it may be overkill for a home-office user. If your work group needs are not quite as demanding, Act offers a simpler but less robust solution. As I mentioned earlier, Act is designed more for the single user, but it does have some built-in work group features.
For example, Act's synchronization feature allows you to update information in one Act database with information from another. This comes in handy if you need to synchronize the information between your notebook and desktop computers, or if you want to sync information between your own Act database and one shared by other members of your company.
Act also allows you to share your own database over a network by setting up additional users. As with GoldMine, you simply create as many user names and corresponding passwords as you need to make sure everyone who needs access to your database has it. You can set up a different security level for each user.
There's one other area where Act has a distinct edge over GoldMine. While GoldMine is available exclusively for Windows 95/NT, Act is available for Windows 95/NT, the Macintosh OS and Windows CE, the standard operating system for most palmtop computers. This makes Act a better solution for a mixed OS environment.
If you decide that your organization needs all the power of GoldMine to get the job done, the single-user version of GoldMine will set you back $295. A five-user version is available for $895, and a 10-user version goes for $1,695.
For anything less than 10 users, you'll save money buying Act; the single-user cost is $199, but the 10-user version lists at $1,800. Act for the Mac (which is on version 2.8) sells for $169, and the recently released Act CE has a $99 price tag.
Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host and author. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at email@example.com. Her national talk radio program can be heard on Saturdays from 7 to 9 a.m. on 97.1 KLSX-FM.