Best Software Act Premium for Workgroups 2005 helps you track customer interest in your product from first contact through payment and beyond. This year's version introduces several important upgrades, including Act's move to a relational database, which allows you to quckly update information across several different contacts; the addition of new synchronization options so that you can update customer contacts from the road; and an excellent new report generator called the Opportunity List View--all valuable features at a price well suited for most small business. However, for growing businesses, we feel the comparably priced , the contact manager version of Maxmizer Enterprise, offers more customer relationship management (CRM) tools, such as access to order forms and invoicing features. Nonetheless, Act remains an excellent choice for most small businesses that simply want a powerful yet versatile contact manager with a very low learning curve. Act Premium for Workgroups 2005 sets up quickly and features an easy-to-use interface. During installation, Act, which requires approximately 125MB of hard drive space, associates its files with other programs, such as Microsoft Excel and Outlook, so that it can pull information from a variety of sources. Where more than one option is available--for example, if you have two e-mail clients--Act allows you to select a default program. We reviewed the premium edition of Act, which allows up to 50 users to share data from a database of up to 100,000 contacts. A single-desktop edition, Act 2005, is also available.
With no other programs active, it took us a mere 15 seconds to load Act Premium, including the enclosed 3GB demo database. Slower machines, and those running resource-heavy applications at the same time, will require much longer. Once installed, Act also checks online for any program updates each time you load the software, a good first step for eliminating dangerous security breaches.
Considering its many features, the Act interface is uncluttered. The left side of the screen displays a navigation bar with buttons for Contacts, Calendar, Task List, and E-mail Services, while the top displays menus and toolbars appropriate for the current screen. Act assigns many hot keys and key combinations, such as Shift+F11, making it easy to jump across views or start new activities. Given the scope of this contact manager, Act remains easy to use and reconfigure according to your needs. Act Premium for Workgroups 2005 excels as a customer-tracking database, especially when it comes to simple tracking and search-and-retrieval skills. For example, an auto mechanic's shop could use Act to track not only individual customers, but each of their cars, along with past repairs and attached product lists, automatically generating pop-up reminders when a vehicle's tune-up is due. Its ease of operation makes it practical for temporary personnel with little prior experience in contact management. Even better, the Premium version of Act, which we reviewed, also adds synchronization over the Web, so sales reps in the field can update customer files with Act while on the road. Even if the host database is unavailable, you can still queue files to be synced.
Maximizer, however, maintains a slight edge over Act, thanks to its bundled customer relationship management (CRM) tools, which help communicate with customers as well as track them. For example, Maximizer includes Crystal Reports from Business Objects, a toolkit for the creation and viewing of custom customer and sales reports. Act, on the other hand, makes Crystal Reports available only as an add-on. Act also has an add-on for use with . However, if you're currently using Act and feel you need to add sales invoicing and accounting features, Best Software offers SalesLogix.
That said, Act Premium for Workgroups 2005 makes its own reporting inroads with the Opportunity List View, a report generator-cum-searchable database. The Opportunity List View, accessible via the left-hand navigation bar, displays your contacts and customers in categories according to where they are in your sales cycle (categories include the likes of Initial Communication, for when you've just received a call from a potential client, and Closed/Won, for when you sign the contract). If you'd like to chart your customer standing to establish regional and seasonal trends, for example, or forecast probable sales revenues, just filter these lists by date, status, or probability of sale (you tell Act how likely the sale is). Act then spits out its Opportunity Pipeline Graph to give you a quick glance at your stats. A sales manager could use the results, for instance, to sense regional and seasonal trends, forecast probable sales revenues, and determine resource allocations. Not only does Best Software furnish an excellent in-product help system with Act Premium for Workgroups 2005, it also includes four animated "feature tours," named Customization, Groups and Companies, Handheld Link Installation, and Opportunity Tracking, to ease users into some of its operations.
Act's free, online tech support includes peer-to-peer discussion forums with some very well-versed users, with an extensive FAQ and knowledge base that you can search by keyword. Unfortunately, there's no e-mail support (surprising in this day and age).
Free live phone support is available from Best Software, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, but for only the first 30 days. After that, you'll have to pay $50 for the first 10 minutes, followed by $5 per minute. Alternatively, there are several yearly pay plans, such as Act Advantage ($299), which offers database repair discounts and unlimited phone support with priority queuing. The costs are typical for software packages of this caliber.