Contact management devices are increasingly important for anyone concerned with maintaining external contacts and not simply for salespeople. We take a look at the different options available

Just what is contact management?

Contact management is the management of all the tasks and information related to developing and maintaining relationships with the people with whom you do business. It involves a variety of activities including:

Finding and contacting new prospects

This involves:

Following up prospects and clients by telephone, fax, mail and email

Sending product information, proposals and quotes

Scheduling appointments and meetings

Creating correspondence to follow up and to generate new sales

Managing customers' post sales requests for service and support

Maintaining accurate records of all contact interactions

Generating reports for reviewing activities and client/account status

Automating the process with contact management software

A contact manager helps you free up valuable time that you currently waste on routine administrative tasks. You can spend this time more profitably by responding quickly to customer needs and following up with clients and business partners in a consistent and organised manner. Consequently, you increase your effectiveness in building business relationships and growing your business. The need for a contact manager is typically associated with salespeople. However, any business executive who is externally focused and needs to grow their business can benefit significantly from a contact manager which can aid:

Small business owners and managers keep track of customers, vendors and business partners such as suppliers

Consultants manage client interactions as well as interactions with other consultants who provide complementary services

Real estate agents effectively farm their territories by managing relationships with sellers and buyers

Building contractors co-ordinate subcontractors, suppliers, customers and inspectors

Public relations and advertising professionals manage interactions with clients, press, writers, printers and graphic artists

Recruiters track job candidates and clients, and match people and companies faster and more efficiently

Seminar and training professionals manage interactions with instructors, promoters, attendees, facility managers and equipment suppliers

Manufacturers' representatives track transactions and interactions with manufacturers and customers

Banking and financial professionals maintain contacts with clients and financial product providers

These people have a great deal in common with salespeople. Salespeople are essentially running a business within their territory. Their major tasks are to find and target new prospects and to ensure the satisfaction of current customers. Like salespeople, small business owners, consultants, PR and advertising people, and others on the list above, need to search out new prospects and keep current customers satisfied. As a result, all these people perform common activities that can be automated and streamlined by a contact manager.

How contact manager solutions differ from other interaction solutions

A wide variety of products are available to help business executives interact with others. This paper presents the differences between contact managers and two products most closely related to contact managers: personal information managers (PIMs) and collaboration and communication solutions such as Microsoft Outlook.

Contact managers

Contact managers are designed specifically for relationship-driven professionals. Contact managers make these people more effective in managing relationships by helping them manage their interactions with people outside the organisation. Interactions include contact with customers, clients and business partners such as suppliers and distributors.

A comprehensive contact manager includes:

Calendar

Reporting module

Email

Word processor

Fax integration

Auto-dialler

Notifications and alerts

Free-form notes

Mail-merge capabilities

Built on the foundation of a contact-centric database, contact managers provide complete and comprehensive tracking of all information related to contacts. For example, if a meeting is held with a particular contact, the contact manager tracks the meeting date and time, the subject, the attendees, all associated correspondence and any meeting notes.

Contact managers add a user interface to the power of a database, allowing fast and easy access to all information associated with a contact. For example, when a client telephones, a consultant can immediately display the complete contact history for that client, including proposals, schedules, contracts, meetings and telephone calls. Contact managers also provide tools that automate routine communication and reporting activities.

Personal information managers (PIMs)

PIMs provide some of the capabilities of contact managers. However, there are important differences. A PIM is used primarily as an electronic record-keeping device that helps people move all their personal information onto their computers. It maintains information that has typically been scattered across a variety of paper devices such as index cards, Rolodexes and calendars.

A PIM usually includes an address book, a calendar and a to-do list. It typically mimics the paper-based versions of these tools. PIMs help business executives organise their personal information such as schedules, tasks and addresses. Unlike contact managers, however, the PIM contact tracking functionality is rudimentary. Another important difference is that there is little integration between the components of a PIM: PIMs don't integrate contacts, calendars, tasks, and correspondence generation. In addition, PIMs provide limited, if any, capability to attach free-form notes to contact records.

In summary, although PIMs store some of the same information maintained by contact managers, this information is not linked to contacts. As a result, it is time-consuming to gather all the information related to a specific contact and therefore cumbersome to use a PIM for contact management.

Many people, who are not externally focused and who don't need a powerful contact manager and contact database can work effectively by simply getting their personal information on their computers. However, people who are trying to grow their businesses and improve their business relationships need more than a PIM - and that's where a contact manager comes in.

Collaboration and communication solutions

Collaboration and communication solutions, such as Microsoft Outlook, are designed primarily to help users organise information on the desktop and communicate and share this information among colleagues in a workgroup, department or team. Collaboration and communication solutions typically include:

Calendar

Address book

Task list

Email

Record keeping

Document management

A major difference between solutions such as Outlook and contact managers is that Outlook is internally rather than externally focused. It facilitates sharing information and communicating within an organisation, while contact managers facilitate the maintenance of relationships with people outside. That's why Microsoft positions Outlook as a collaboration and communication solution rather than a contact manager. In addition, Outlook focuses on maintaining the user's personal information rather than information about the user's contacts.

Outlook is built on the integration of four components: email, a scheduling manager, an address book and a document management capability. As a result, it is especially well suited for co-ordinating the activities of a work group or team in that it facilitates collaboration and communication within the group and it provides document flow control.

In contrast, contact managers are usually built on a contact-centric database and are designed for the day-to-day management of contact information in an individual or small group environment. It provides an excellent solution for people who work with outside contacts and need to keep track of all their communications with them.

Symantec White Paper Series

Compiled by Mike Burkitt


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This was first published in July 1999

 

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