How to keep things friendly

Customers like the personal touch. Contact management software can help business people to recall a golf handicap or the names of a client's children
Contact management software helps you to con your clients, but in the nicest possible way. Chatting to them on the telephone, while every detail of your past dealings with them is presented on-screen, means a level of professional intimacy impossible with the British Standard Mark 1 brain.

Asking your client about his children by name or whether his golf handicap has improved shows a genuine interest, even if you haven't spoken for a year. Your customer will feel important and valued, smoothing the path to doing business.

Contact management software, as distinct from the personal-life-organising PIMs (Personal Information Managers), is designed to help businesses make use of their contacts. The software consists of two parts: the database, where all the client information is stored, and a scheduling system, to remind you of key times and dates and to help you to plan your week.

The database is designed to accept information in all its forms. Names, dates, minutes of meetings, letters and faxes can be stored and even photographs can be scanned in for future reference.

Phoning a customer is one thing. You can prepare and have your script ready with those important details such as previous purchases, key dates in their buying cycle and the names of the real decision-makers. But what if the customer, unannounced, phones you? With a good contact management package, quickly typing in a customer or company name, or even a postcode, should instantly have you up to speed on the complete client low-down.

The power of the better packages is such that the data built up over time can be analysed for use as sales and marketing tools. The database can be interrogated to produce information based on geography, products or particular markets. You can even send direct mailmerge letters or faxes from your desktop PC. Even more powerful, contact data can be shared over a network, giving all your sales force access to detailed customer information.

In its June issue, PC Magazine reviews five market-leading contact management packages. Starting on the premise that unless the product was easy to use, a sales force wouldn't use it, PC Magazine put all the packages though its Usability Labs. Here each package was tested for intuitiveness, how productive it was and the level of satisfaction felt by its users. In addition, the features in each product were considered with each function weighed up for its usefulness.

PC Magazine's Editor's Choice went to ACT! 3.0 from Symantec at pounds 189 (plus VAT). This package has been on the market for a long time and just gets better and better. ACT! 3.0 got top scores for both usability and features and is both easy to use and sophisticated. It runs under all current flavours of Windows 95, DOS and Macintosh and there are even versions for the hand-held Psion Organiser.

For the budget-conscious and less demanding user, Janna Contact Personal at pounds 49 (plus VAT) represents great value for money. Very easy to use, if less heavily featured, this product is perfect for a single user not needing to share contact data with colleagues.

Using contact management software in your business lets you capitalise on that most valuable of assets: client information built up over years. Remember your customers and they might remember youn

Nick Edmunds

Symantec 0171-616 5600

Janna Systems 01628 789878