Although Interact hasn't upgraded Act in several years, this app remains the most popular customer relationship management (CRM) software on the market. And for good reason: it's an excellent introductory program. True, it doesn't include fancy scheduling abilities as GoldMine or e-commerce site builders like Maximizer do. But for small businesses, Act's quick installation and modest learning curve help make up for its shortcomings. Act's long-awaited upgrade, due out later this year, may help Act compete with its more advanced rivals. In the meantime, GoldMine is our top pick. Although Interact hasn't upgraded Act in several years, this app remains the most popular customer relationship management (CRM) software on the market. And for good reason: it's an excellent introductory program. True, it doesn't include fancy scheduling abilities as GoldMine or e-commerce site builders like Maximizer do. But for small businesses, Act's quick installation and modest learning curve help make up for its shortcomings. Act's long-awaited upgrade, due out later this year, may help Act compete with its more advanced rivals. In the meantime, GoldMine is our top pick.
Thanks to the user guide and bug-free software, Act's installation breezes by. We were ready to enter contacts and manipulate customer data within a few minutes. The first time you start the product, Act asks you which e-mail, fax, and word-processing applications you use. If you select apps such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Lotus CC:Mail, Lotus Notes, Eudora Pro, or WinFax Pro (to name a few), Act can keep records of your communications with customers whenever and however you contact them.
Effortless data entry
As you might expect, one of Act's primary functions is to help you store and categorize your contacts. Fortunately, Act's import wizard makes it easy to bring in existing contact data from other sources, including text-delimited files, Microsoft Outlook 97 through 2002, dBase III-V, and Symantec Q&A 4.0 through 5.0. And whether you import data or add contacts from scratch, the resulting records contain all the contact information you'd expect, such as fields for calls, meetings, and to-do items. It's a cinch to modify or create new fields or attach any type of file, including spreadsheets and Word documents, to those records.
Sales help wanted
Despite Act's copious contact tools, its sales features are limited. Act's basic tools let you keep track of appointments and task lists and either generate standard reports, such as sales statistics, or customize reports to suit your business's needs. Unfortunately, you won't find GoldMine's powerful scheduling or Maximizer's e-commerce integration.
In an attempt to round out its sales suite, Act now includes the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage Training toolset, which lets you make sales forecasts and track sales opportunities from leads to product fulfillment. Although we wish Act would incorporate its own sales tools rather than one from a third party, at least Act provides a built-in presentation that thoroughly explains how to use the Dale Carnegie tools. In addition to Carnegie, you'll find several other add-ons within Act that seem tacked on but that actually come in handy. Interact's new Act Link for QuickBooks ($149.95 or $99.95 for current Act users), lets you access QuickBooks Pro or Premier 2002 accounting data from within Act, so sales and accounting teams can share and exchange contact and financial data. Plus, Act's new Act Bonus Pack CD bundles nine popular Act add-ons, including Act Link 2.0 for the Palm OS, which syncs your desktop records with Palm calendars, contacts, notes, customer histories, and to-do data. (Note: Current Act users can also download Act Link 2.0 free from Interact's Web site.)
Get some help
Act's technical support via phone is free for the first 30 days between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, PT. After that, you'll either pay $29.95 per incident or $2.95 per minute. Or larger organizations can purchase an annual contract; Act Advantage provides unlimited telephone support, even after hours, for $199 per year. And the Act Advantage Help Desk offers telephone access to a dedicated tech-support analyst for $1,500 per year. It's expensive, but at least Act does offer phone support, unlike GoldMine. Can't afford to pay? You can find a knowledge base of support documents and discussion groups for free online.
Although it lacks some of its competitors' sales and marketing features, Act delivers a decent set of fundamental CRM tools. Moreover, at $199.99, the price is right. This makes the software an acceptable choice for small businesses that have outgrown Outlook but aren't ready for an app with more CRM power, such as GoldMine or Maximizer.