White Paper: Making contact with your customers

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White Paper: Making contact with your customers

Customer loyalty relies on your business remaining at the forefront of their mind. Contact management software helps you build solid business-client relationships

Contact management software is typically associated with sales people. However, it can help many other people develop their businesses. This paper examines contact management software, can help business professionals grow their businesses by managing business relationships more effectively.

If you are like many business people, maintaining contact with people outside your company is a key part of your job. This includes contact with prospects, customers, clients, vendors and suppliers. It is through these contacts that you build the relationships that are so vital to your business. As a result, it is essential that you make the most of these contacts. The best way to do it is with effective contact management.

If you work with only a few contacts, you can probably manage your business relationships with a simple calendar, address book, word processor and perhaps an email system. If you work with numerous contacts, however, you need an automated and efficient system to help you maintain these relationships effectively. You need a contact management software solution such as Symantec's ACT!

Although contact management software is typically associated with sales professionals, it is an ideal solution for any business person who, like a sales representative, is externally focused and working to build a business. Examples include small business owners, consultants, professional recruiters and building contractors.

This paper examines contact management software and the many types of business professionals who could benefit from it. It points out the important differences between contact management software, personal information management software (PIMs), and collaboration and communication solutions, such as Microsoft Outlook. It examines ACT! and distinguishes it from PIMs and Outlook with respect to its intended use, capabilities and future direction. The paper also illustrates how ACT! can help an individual build better business relationships by effectively managing the many activities surrounding contact with customers, clients, colleagues and business partners.

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; following up with prospects and clients by telephone, fax, mail and email; sending product information, proposals and quotes; scheduling appointments and meetings and creating correspondence to follow up and to generate new sales. Others involve managing customers' post sales requests for service and support; maintaining accurate records of all contact interactions and generating reports for reviewing activities and client/account status.

A contact manager helps you free up valuable time that you now waste on routine administrative tasks. You can spend this time more profitably responding quickly to customer needs and following up with clients and business partners in a consistent and organised manner. As a result, 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 businessperson that is externally focused and needs to develop his or her business can benefit significantly from a contact manager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manufacturers' representatives can track transactions and interactions with manufacturers and customers

Banking and financial professionals can 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.

Contact managers are designed specifically for relationship-driven professionals. They aim to make these people more effective in managing relationships by helping to manage interactions with people outside the organisation. This includes 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 and 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 client, 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. When a client telephones, for example, a consultant can immediately display a 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.

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 people organise their personal information such as schedules, tasks, and addresses. Unlike contact managers, however, PIM contact tracking functionality is rudimentary. Another important difference is that there is little integration between the components of a PIM, that is, they do not integrate contacts, calendars, tasks and correspondence generation. In addition, PIMs only 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, the information is not linked to contacts. As a result, it is time-consuming to gather all the information related to a specific client and therefore cumbersome to use a PIM for contact management.

Many people, who do not require 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 develop business relationships need more than a PIM ( and that's where a contact manager such as ACT! comes in.

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 and document management.

A major difference between solutions such as Outlook and contact managers is that Outlook is internally focused rather than externally focused. Outlook facilitates sharing information and communicating within an organisation, while contact managers facilitate the maintenance of relationships with people outside the organisation. 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. A contact manager provides an excellent solution for people who work with outside contacts and need to keep track of all their communications with each contact.

ACT! differs from PIMs in two major ways:

Built on a powerful, contact-centric database

ACT! is built around a database that is contact-centric, that is, it links all interaction activities and information to the contact record. PIMs, on the other hand, are typically built on flat file structures that are intended primarily to store personal information such as addresses and telephone numbers. They do not have the extensive linking capability of ACT!

Far richer contact management functionality

ACT! has many features designed specifically to maximise contact management effectiveness. These include extensive contact tracking, tight integration of all activities and information related to each contact and comprehensive reporting. PIMs are designed primarily to manage personal information and do not have nearly as rich contact management functionality. As a result of these significant differences, PIMs do not even approach the extensive contact management capabilities of ACT!

ACT! differs from collaboration and communication solutions, specifically Outlook, in two key areas:

Focus on contact management

ACT! is designed primarily to help individuals and small groups manage their contacts outside the organisation more effectively. Outlook, on the other hand, is designed primarily to help internal groups collaborate and communicate with each other more effectively.

Future direction

Outlook's horizontal nature means its feature set overlaps somewhat with ACT! The two products, however, are headed in different directions. Symantec's future direction for ACT! includes evolving the product's contact management capabilities in two major areas: enhanced functionality for the sales market segment and additional functionality that enables ACT! to move into additional market segments such as small business. Microsoft's future direction for Outlook is to increase its utility as a horizontal tool to enable internally focused groups to collaborate and communicate more effectively.

In view of these differences, ACT! actually offers an attractive complement to collaboration and communication solutions rather than a competing solution.

Because of the synergy of ACT! with collaboration and communication solutions Symantec has formed a strategic alliance with Microsoft to integrate the capabilities of ACT! and Outlook.

The ACT!/Outlook alliance allows ACT! users to take advantage of email and to share contact and calendar information. For example, an Outlook user can attach a meeting or contact record (vcard/vcal) to an email message and send it to an ACT! user. When the ACT! user receives the message, he or she simply double-clicks on the attachment (vcard/vcal item), and the contact or activity record is merged into the ACT! contact database. ACT! users can also send contact or calendar items to Outlook users by attaching them to email messages. In the future, look for even more integration between ACT! and Outlook, allowing ACT! users to take advantage of more of the powerful Outlook communication and collaboration features.

How contact management can expand your business

Allen works as a representative at a small plumbing supply company. Here's an example of how contact management helps him using Symantec's ACT!.

Allen checks his calendar to see what appointments he has over the next few days

He prints a to-do list showing the tasks that are due today

ACT! generates a list of contacts that require follow up today:

( For mailers he sent last week

( For two proposals he recently submitted

( For key contacts who requested a callback

He checks his email and sees a message describing a promotion that a supplier is offering on products

Allen sets a task to send an email message about the promotion to all customers who might be interested

Allen checks his voice mail and makes notes using SideACT!. He then transfers some of the notes into his ACT! database

He displays the record for the first contact he needs to call and brings up his notes to find out what he needs to do

He clicks on the Dial Phone icon in the toolbar and ACT! dials the contact automatically

The client is preparing budgets and needs an updated price list

While he is talking to the client, he creates an email message, attaches his most recent price list, and sends it

ACT! addresses the message automatically from his contact record

He attaches the email message to the contact record to keep an up-to-date history

He asks when funding for new purchases will be approved and schedules the next follow-up for that time

He dials the next contact to discuss the quote he sent last week

The client wants Allen to do a presentation to senior management

Allen checks his schedule and the schedule of a co-worker whom he wants to attend

He schedules the presentation meeting. While scheduling the meeting, Allen selects to have ACT! send a meeting notice to the co-worker to inform him of the newly scheduled meeting

He adds a task to his to-do list reminding him to prepare information for the presentation

Allen completes his remaining telephone calls

Here's another example:

Allen makes his phone calls

Allen needs more information on the vice president he sat next to on the plane last week

He enters her name in the Internet Directory Lookup. ACT! automatically connects to Yahoo!, sets up a search, and retrieves the contact's email address

He adds this contact information to his ACT! database with a single click

He creates an email message addressed to this new contact

He sends the email message mentioning the conversation on the plane and attaches information about his company and products

He enters the contact's web address and with one click goes to the website to learn more about their company and its products

He copies some important information from the site into the notes section of the contact record

He schedules a follow-up activity for this new contact

He reviews the email message regarding the special promotion and creates a letter describing it using his word processor

He reviews his contact list and identifies people who would be interested

ACT! merges the selected contact names into the letter and prints the letters and envelopes

He schedules the contacts that require telephone follow-up

The phone rings. It's the purchasing manager from ABC Company. She needs some modifications to Allen's recent quote so he can create a purchase order

Allen displays the contact record, which has the quote attached

He reviews the quote over the phone, adding some items and deleting others

He faxes the new quote immediately by simply clicking on the QuickFax button

A reminder pops up on his computer screen indicating that the proposal for XYZ Company is due tomorrow morning

He opens the proposal document, puts a few finishing touches to it and prints it

He decides to deliver it in person to the client tomorrow and sets a reminder so he won't forget

He selects the Driving Directions Internet link to direct him to the client's office

Another reminder displays, letting him know that one of his clients is having a birthday

He dials the client by clicking on the Dial Phone toolbar button

Before leaving on a two-day trip, he prints a copy of his calendar to take with him

He also synchronises his Palm Pilot with ACT! using the free link supplied with ACT!. This ensures the information in his Palm Pilot is up to date

While he is on the road, he enters changes into his Palm Pilot

When he returns to the office, he synchronises his ACT! database with his Palm Pilot to keep the database up to date with the changes he made while on the road

Allen wants to see how he spent his time last week to gauge his effectiveness

He prints a report that shows his activities for the week and how much time he spent on each one. The report shows the date, time, duration, and associated information for activities related to each contact during the date range Allen specified

He also prints a contact report and contact status report

ACT! helps Allen accomplish all these tasks quickly and easily, with a minimum amount of time spent on routine administrative tasks, such as record keeping and faxing. That gives him more time to spend on critical business tasks such as attracting new customers and maintaining the satisfaction of existing customers. PIMs and collaboration and communication solutions simply aren't designed to handle the complex interrelationships of the various contact management activities that ACT! handles with ease.

Contact managers were designed originally as powerful tools for sales professionals. However, as contact managers such as ACT! grow in popularity and capability, their value is becoming apparent to a much wider audience. That's because contact managers help people manage their business relationships more effectively, whether they're sales representatives or other business professionals. And effective management of relationships is the key to growing a business.

Contact management software has enormous potential to help business professionals across a wide variety of business functions and industries grow their businesses.

Compiled by Rachel Hodgkins

(c) 1999 Symantec


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This was first published in September 1999

 

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