Thursday, December 23, 2010

No Trial Version, No Sale

A few weeks ago I detailed the time I spent following up with contacts I had made at the German tekom conference in November (Follow-Up Is Time-Consuming). In addition, I am also receiving unsolicited e-mails inquiring about my services. Some of these seem promising, so I send out my brochure and try to track these potential clients, as well.

Until now, I've input all that contact information in Outlook with Business Contact Manager and linked all e-mail exchanges with a particular prospect to that prospect's record. Outlook seems to have its limits, though, when dealing with multiple contacts at the same agency and when trying to customize the information recorded for each contact. I use 3 of the 4 user-defined fields to track language of communication (English or German), form of address (there are 2 different ones in German), and whether I've mailed them my brochure (checkbox). Also, there is no way to directly jump from a contact's record to MS Word in order to write a cover letter for the brochure mailing.

So I began to look at customer relationship management software for small businesses. Turns out, while there are a number of such programs, most are either web-based or don't seem to offer more useful functionality than the Outlook I already own. I don't want to entrust my customer data to the web and I don't need inventory management or salesperson assignments. All I really need is a better integration of Outlook and Word and a way to customize Outlook so that the data I need to track is easily accessible at a glance and tracking communications with the client can be automated.

Rooting around my copy of Outlook yielded a feature that allows me to design my own screens. That might let me track the data I need on each contact's main screen. While that doesn't solve the Word integration problem, it seems if I start from Word, I can create a one-record mail merge that will pull name and address from the Outlook record. That does seem the long way around, though.

There is one product I discovered that works within Outlook and might have been useful. It is called Prophet and also exists for various Smartphone platforms. While it appeared to be more sales-oriented than I need, it seemed worth a try. A major drawback, though: there is no free trial edition. I am not about to spend $150 on some software without knowing whether it will, in fact, do what I need it to do. The company does have a 30-day money-back guarantee, but do I really want the potential hassle and time I'd need to spend to actually get my money back?

For the time being, I'll therefore stick with my Outlook and try to customize it to work for my purposes. I'll keep you updated on that project after the New Year.

Happy holidays!

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