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Keeping tabs on your clients makes all the difference

Wall Street Journal: April 23, 2001

Special Report - Breakaway: A Focus on Small Business Technology

Keeping tabs on your clients makes all the difference


TODAY, A POP QUIZ: What is your company's most valuable asset? And what are you doing to get the most out of it?

If you answered anything other than: 1. information about my customers; and, 2. managing that information to boost sales, you risk falling behind the competitive curve.

It sounds simple and intuitive. Most small businesses probably think they do a pretty good job of it. But it isn't until they've used software that automates part of the process -- often called Customer Relationship Management, or CRM -- that they realize the amount of customer information that is probably falling through the company cracks.

TODAY, LOST INFORMATION equals lost profit. "It's almost shocking to see the number of small to medium-sized companies who don't realize customer information is their most valuable asset, and that don't have any control over it's use," says Donald Joseph, president of Northbrook Consulting Group in Northbrook, Ill.

Of the bigger players in the market, ACT, owned by Interact Commerce Corp., Scarsdale, Ariz., has about 71% of the market in this category as measured by retail sales. Interact recently agreed to be acquired by Sage Group, a British software company, for $263.3 million.

Goldmine 5.0, from FrontRange Solutions Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., has about 7%, and a handful of smaller rivals round out the category.

While ACT dominates the market for individual users, the real battleground is in the small-business arena. ACT's 3.5 million users world-wide include 11,000 corporate accounts that have licensed at least 10 copies of ACT each. Most of its business users are small companies with 20 or fewer sales and management personnel who use ACT to track contacts with customers, queries left unanswered, volume discounts offered, delivery dates and so forth.

GOLDMINE, A PRODUCT with more of a focus on team-oriented selling, and more sophisticated bells and whistles, tends to compete for companies with larger sales forces numbering at least 20 to 50 salespeople. Goldmine is particularly well-suited for sales teams that, for instance, want to coordinate contacts with several different buyers within a larger company, says Rich Ackerman, president of JDS Group, a suburban Chicago Goldmine reseller and consultant. The parent companies of both ACT and Goldmine offer higher-end CRM software packages for larger companies.

Which to choose? The best entry-level CRM software package, says Phil Arduzzi, a computer network software installer in Rocky River, Ohio, "is the one you actually use." The self-employed technician uses ACT to track all of his customer contacts, including timing consulting calls, and then generates customer bills based on the phone log. He also persuaded a client, a small Ohio company, to have its 15 salespeople use ACT, arguing that it was a simple way to make their customer relationships more productive. ACT makes it relatively easy for individuals and small sales teams without any training to, at the least, track and share notes about sales contacts and to link contact information with meeting reminders on their calendars.

IF YOU'RE A SLIGHTLY BIGGER and more sophisticated company you might get more use out of Goldmine. But that's not a guarantee. Each product has its peculiarities that many users find off-putting. A big hurdle many ACT users find is how restrictive it is when processing data: Almost any information you want to keep track of must be attached to the name of a specific person as soon as you enter it into the application.

In fact, ACT bowed to widespread customer pressure when it issued ACT 4.0 in September 1999, and created SideAct, an on-screen scratch pad that lets you jot down notes and attach them to ACT contacts later, if you like, even though that seems to defeat ACT's contact-centric raison d'etre. And Goldmine, even though it shares many Windows' conventions with ACT, such as pull-down command menus and one-click icons, is still considered by many customers to be harder to use than ACT, "so they use it sparingly if at all. Which defeats the whole purpose," says Jim Carroll, a Goldmine user and the former head of sales support for a hydraulics company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

THEN THERE IS THE COST of using the software. Many small companies, after sampling free demos of the products available on each company's Web site, may want to ask a consultant to help them get the most out of their CRM software pick. While individual copies of these software packages are typically $150 to $170 each on, consulting fees can easily range from $2,000 to $10,000 for a small company sales team, says Mr. Joseph of Northbrook Consulting Group.

While these products are the most popular entry-level CRM products, there are other options. Microsoft Outlook, included in the Microsoft Office software package, offers fairly basic contact management and scheduling options. But the growing number of ACT and Goldmine users suggest that many small business and other customers are looking for more in-depth offerings. At the other end of the spectrum, a number of companies offer Web-based CRM products. (www.salesforce.com1 ) for instance, touts its seamless updates -- no need to download software to your computer or buy the latest version on CD, and quick access from remote computers with Internet access. Such conveniences come at a price. users pay $50 a month, though the first five users get 12 months for free. And while your contact information on the Web is safeguarded by the latest encryption technology, your ability to access it is only as good as your Internet connection.

All of which highlights the real competitive issue for these and most productivity-enhancing software products. Until they are even easier to use and integrate with the working world, their biggest competitors won't be each other. They will remain pen and paper.

-- Mr. McMurray is a writer in Chicago.

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December 2018
Important Act Software Notice: If you currently use an older version of Act, you should consider upgrading to a newer version by December 31st, 2018 to ensure Act continues to function properly after January 1, 2019.

Versions Impacted: 17, 16, Sage Act 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005
Why is this happening: A third party vendor made a change and you can read more here:

August 2018
Sage BusinessWorks 2019 is now available. See more details here.

July 2017
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March 2017
Swiftpage releases Act! version 19.1 (2017). Includes significant fixes to the initial release..

February 2017
Sage releases BusinessWorks 2017 service pack 2, with 2017 tax tables.

August 2016
Swiftpage releases Act! version 18.2. We have tested Sage BusinessWorks link through version 2017 with all desktop versions of Act! through 18.2 and found no issues--even though Sage no longer supports the link.

May 2016
Swiftpage releases Act version 18.1

March 2016
Sage releases Service Pack 9 for BusinessWorks 2015

July 30, 2015
Swiftpage releases statement about the compatibility of Act! with Windows 10 and the precautions to take before upgrading to it. See it here.

July, 2015
Act! version 17.2 released by Swiftpage. This release adds important new features and fixes issues with prior versions.

April, 2015
Swiftpage announces major product restructuring--Act! to be available on-site or in the "cloud", purchase or subscription.

January, 2015
Swiftpage releases Act! verson 17.1 to beta testers. This release has feature enhancements and solutions to problems found in prior versions.

November, 2014
Sage BusinessWorks 2015 is released. There are new reports, functionality enhancements, and problem fixes from the 2013 version. See release notes.

October, 2014
Swiftpage releases ACT! version 17: with integrated emarketing, which adds automation, send as, and more; the ability to attach documents from places like DropBox, Sharepoint and Google Drive, to fully connect you to where you store your documents; enhancements to web and mobile like CSV import and attaching a photo directly from your mobile device. - See more

July, 2014
Don Joseph announces merger of our Sage accounting with Sue Dunn at MicroAccounting Solutions and our ACT! practice with Brainsell Technologies, LLC to assure support for NCG's clients.

June, 2014
Northbrook Consulting Group forms alliance with Brainsell Technologies, LLC for ACT-related products and services. More to come.

May, 2014
Swiftpage announces future vision for ACT!, including summer release of ACT! Cloud and redesigned ACT! Hosted

April, 2014
Swiftpage releases ACT! version 16.1 with new features and problem fixes. Included is ACT! e-marketing, other new features, and maintenance upgrades.

March, 2014
Swiftpage releases beta of ACT! e-marketing and announces features for release 16.1 in April, 2014.

Febuary, 2014
Swiftpage announces plans for the all-new Act! Cloud, a direct-to-market, SaaS-only offering primarily targeted at entrepreneurs and micro/small business owners.

January, 2014
Northbrook Consulting Group's merger with Sue Dunn's firm (JDI Inc.) brings the gamut of Sage solutions to our clients. We can now sell and support Sage 100, Sage 200, Sage CRM in addition to Sage BusinessWorks, Sage 50, and ACT!.

July, 2013
Sage BusinessWorks 2013 is released

April, 2013
Featured Add-on of the month: QSalesData, allows connection of ACT! and QuickBooks--true CRM capabilities at a small business price.

October, 2012
ACT! HOSTED brings ACT! to the cloud. Northbrook Consulting Group brings it to you/

November 2011
Don Joseph receives certification as ACT! Premier Trainer and Sage BusinessWorks Certified Consultant.