The benefits of keeping information centralised and up to date are obvious for all parts of your business. ZDNet Australia looks at software packages designed to help your sales force stay on track.
What is sales force automation (SFA)? To be honest, when you take a look at many definitions, the distinction between SFA and customer relationship management (CRM) is very blurred.
There is no denying that SFA is a subset of CRM, but while one vendor or client may define a sales tool that links to their accounts and invoicing system as SFA, others may say it has overstepped its mark and these extended features are more in the full blown CRM territory.
At the other end of the scale there are SFA tools that barely have more features than basic contact management software such as Outlook. Properly configured and with the right discipline, Outlook can quite happily mimic an SFA and encompass a good deal of the functionality one would expect.
You can reasonably expect SFA software to be more than just a pretty and functional wrapper around a client database. In a nutshell, an SFA package should help you manage your customer information, track your sales closely and in detail, and provide detailed reporting.
A quick list of desirable features includes:
In-depth client contact information including addressing, phone numbers and the like but also status--for example, new lead or long term client, and when they were last contacted. This can also extend to the client's previous sales history and last purchase date. Links to all e-mail, letters, and memos related to the client are also desirable.
A comprehensive calendar that has the ability to apply priorities to client meetings, and to automate prospecting, follow-up, and sales activities. It should be able to synchronise with various applications such as Outlook.
Integration with various applications such as your fax software or word processor, with standard and customisable templates for faxes, memos, and letters.
The ability to synchronise with handheld PCs and PDAs.
Share databases over the network for a multi-user environment with record locking and password protection.
Account management with tools for forecasting, and graphical reports to allow tracking sales cycles and performance.
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When the application is run for the first time, the user is presented with a configuration wizard which simply allows the user to select their preferred word processor--either ACT's own, complete with built-in spell checker, or MS Word-the fax driver if present, and finally e-mail and contact database setup, all quite straightforward and painless.
There is a small demo database to play around with, but given the application is relatively easy to drive, at least in comparison to some of the others, you will probably leap right into it.
Setting up clients is easy and should you wish to import existing data ACT can handle Dbase III to V files, Q&A V4.0 to 5.0, and delimited text files. Export is a little more limited and other than previous versions of ACT, only delimited text is supported.
The user interface is quite straightforward but it's not as easy to use as Legrand, for example. Although it does not seem any more powerful than the other applications tested, the menu options are extensive and of course are context sensitive.
Selecting an item from the task bar down the left side results in a change in the menus presented and the small tool bar on top of the data window.
The contact layout is not set in stone; there is a tool for customising the contact template called "design layouts", that allows the user to add more fields or modify the overall layout. At this point you can also nominate which fields are mandatory and which are optional in terms of data input.
The default layout is perfectly usable and certainly the provided fields should more than suffice. Contacts can be viewed individually, as a list (in which you can edit and tag contacts), and finally as groups, which is represented in an easy-to-navigate tree structure.
Searching the contacts is powerful--it can search on any field you like--but is menu driven by default; there are no search buttons in the tool bar. Not to worry, you can customise the toolbar extensively by adding buttons corresponding to any of the menu items.
The calendar functions are quite standard, the daily, weekly, and monthly displays are clear and easy to follow. Items can be rescheduled on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or a fairly simple user-definable basis.
And while you can create an "activity series" to remind you to follow up a sale with a courtesy call in a week or so, it is not an automatic procedure, and the reminder must be manually set.
As an example we set up an activity called Sales Follow Up, that reminded the salesperson to ring the client seven days after a sale, but we could find no way to have it automatically schedule itself after a sale. The calendar can synchronise with a Palm PDA and Outlook.
The e-mail client can also link to Outlook and Lotus Notes, which allows the user to create and track e-mails from their contacts. Correspondence such as mail merges, faxes, and the like are also linked to your clients, and its simple to personalise a fax out.
Networking features are perhaps not handled as elegantly as some of the other products, but ACT shares the database over the network and allows you to synchronise with other sales staff via e-mail thus seamlessly sharing information and schedules. Of course, record locking and password protection are included.
ACT has quite an impressive array of default reports and the user is free to customise the report templates any way they see fit. The reports range from simple monthly appointment listings, to forecast sales for the month, or any other time period.
In the case of sales, the report can take the form of a graph, although there only appear to be three options here-opportunities, forecast adjusted for probability, and closed/won.
Very good feature set, reasonable user
Free installation support, service plans
Legrand CRM Standard Version
It appears that Legrand was designed with one goal in mind; create a quite powerful SFA tool that is very easy to use. This application would have to be the easiest of the five packages to use and navigate; without any SFA experience, the novice can feel quite confident after just a few minutes of use.
The application will happily link to Word, Excel, Outlook, and even accounting packages such as FinancePlus, MYOB, QuickBooks, and Sybiz. Multiple users can synchronise with a master database if required, with each workstation configured as a slave. It's interesting to note that even mail merge templates and document attachments are synchronised in this configuration.
The display, in most cases, is split into five elements: the very small and succinct menu, button bar, item bar, list window, and finally the selected item window.
The vertical item bar contents are determined by which item from the button bar is selected. To make life easier, the item bar background colour is function specific: green for companies and blue for contacts, as an example.
Also, if any of the data field names do not quite convey the right information for your particular business, Legrand lets you change them. In addition, you can customise the stages in a sales pipeline to match your organisation's workflow.
It is a simple matter to drill down in most activities. Want more information on an appointment you had with a client while in the contact screen? Simply double click on the appointment in question, and a new window opens with all the relevant details and notes.
Searching the database is also very simple through the List Criteria function. Some of the other packages may be more advanced with Boolean logic functions, but Legrand is very flexible.
Another useful feature is the built-in phone dialler: simply click on the phone number of a client, and Legrand will dial the number for you with the status indicated by a simple status window.
The calendar interestingly does not have a year view, but includes week views of either five or seven days, and in a day view, a window to the right of the calendar displays a list of future appointments-darn handy.
Making an appointment is a matter of right-clicking and filling in the resultant window. You can update to or from Outlook in this window, add other participants or notes, and set it up as a recurring appointment on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. The other functions supported by the calendar include lists for tasks, appointments, and activities.
An interesting addition to this SFA package is an entire section devoted to marketing. This allows the user to plan the steps of a marketing campaign, keep an eye on the status of various tasks in the campaign, and track target clients and sales opportunities. It is even possible to compare the outcomes of all your campaigns and see which ones deliver the best results.
The sales tracking and reporting is quite robust but admittedly not as extensive as some of the other packages. To create a report, configure your list criteria using AND or OR to tie together up to six categories such as the account manager, company, category, opportunity stage, and so on.
These can be either active sales opportunities or closed opportunities. The results can be exported or represented graphically in either bar or pie graph format and 2D or 3D. The graph can be exported straight to Word to include in a report.
Std edition AU$199 per user, pro edition AU$499 per user
Works with MS Office and several accounting packages; no native PDA support.
Imports CSV only.
Very good feature set and extremely simple to use.
1 year free phone support and upgrades.
Goldmine can be installed in a server configuration or "undocked" (standalone). The server implementation requires Microsoft SQL Server 7.x or 2000 as its database back-end.
Depending on the number of users, the CPU required ranges from a single PIII 300MHz up to quad-PIII equipped systems. Standalone requirements are very modest.
The interface default setting includes a basic toolbar with 26 buttons. There is an advanced toolbar, which provides the user with in excess of 50 buttons. Of course the user can customise the tool bar to his or her own preference.
Each user on the system has their own preference settings, and can customise the calendar, record display, alarms, and many other details. The product integrates with SQL Server, Outlook 2000, and Exchange Server, and imports ASCII, DBF, SDF, and SQL files. Goldmine uses the Borland Database Engine to access its databases.
There is also an add-on called Goldmine Plus Accounting that links to Quickbooks Pro or Premier 2002 if you want to head further into CRM territory.
The default layout seems a little cluttered when compared with ACT, for example, but then more information is present on the display. Also, many more function shortcuts are provided by the toolbars, it's a trade-off that we are willing to take.
Members of the same organisation are represented in tree structure, but this is certainly not as intuitive to use as ACT, and we found at times it was a tad clumsy in execution.
Creating users is quite easy, but some of the functions do not quite work the way you might expect. Once you become used to the application, of course, it will become second nature. However, we found from a cold start, Goldmine was not as simple to come to grips with as some of the other applications.
Searching through the client list can be as simple as using the lookup function for the most common indexed fields, you can launch into SQL queries, or probably the easiest option for most is to build a custom filter.
In addition to the usual daily up to yearly layout, the calendar includes planner, outline (a tree structure), and pegboard layouts. Scheduling a meeting, for example, is very simple and can be linked to required resources, groups, and users.
There is a wealth of recurring appointment options, which includes yearly with the option to skip weekends, right down to specifying the number of days between the meetings.
We were very pleased to find that in addition to synchronising with Outlook and Palm PDAs, Goldmine will also support Pocket PC PDAs--a rarity in the current crop.
Items that can be scheduled include, calls, actions, appointments, literature requests, and forecasted sales.
Staff can be organised into sales groups and it is relatively easy to share information and schedules among the staff.
It is a simple matter to set up a process that sends an introductory letter to a new client a week after you input them into the system, or perhaps sends a promotional letter to your existing clients alerting them to special deals at regular intervals.
Goldmine is not lacking when it comes to reports either with sales, statistical, leads, quota, and forecast analysis presented in succinct tabular format.
An option supplied with the package that can be installed on each system is the Answer Wizard, which is a collection of predefined Crystal Reports to further drill into your data.
Graphical analysis is perhaps a little lean however, and for that matter not as snazzy looking as some of the other packages. We were disappointed that forecasts were not amongst the activities that could be graphed.
Works with MS Office and good range of
Works with a wide range of file formats.
Powerful and flexible package, reasonably expensive.
Maintenance contracts available at 20
percent of RRP.
Maximizer's platform requirements are very modest and the vendor claims the application will run on every flavour of Windows from 95 through to XP. It massages the data using the Pervasive SQL 2000i Workgroup engine.
Maximizer happily integrates with mail packages such as Outlook, Exchange, and Netscape Messenger 4.6 and 4.7, although in Netscape's case with basic functionality only.
The applications connectability is also excellent, with support for Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, and Winfax Pro to name but a few.
Importing abilities are similarly impressive and the list includes FoxPro, dBase, Clipper, and other SFA packages such as Goldmine and ACT, as well as delimited text files.
The user interface is pretty easy to come to terms with, although not as simple as Legrand, for example, but Maximizer supports a lot more detail.
The layout of the user interface is quite logical, and not surprisingly similar to the other packages tested. The left vertical strip of task icons each has its own associated toolbar along the top of the display.
In the default settings, the toolbar does not cover all the possible operations for the selected task, but the extensive menu bar certainly does, with many of the menus having two levels.
Each of the three display windows' contents can be configured by the user, either with tabs along the bottom or pull-down menus. As an example, the main address book window has 40 user selectable layouts which in effect are different column arrangements of name, company, address, phone number, and so on.
Where relevant, the window also includes various tool buttons in the case of the main address book window there are two, one for column setup and the other for searching.
Searching through the addresses is relatively simple: you select the field/s you wish to search on utilising simple Boolean operators, expressed in plain English, such as Equal To, Not Equal To, And, and Or.
Creating letters, document, faxes, and the like is very simple. There are quite a few standard templates available from the menu and the integrated word processor is quite good.
If that's not enough, the application links to Microsoft Word, and even includes some additional buttons in the Word toolbar for added flexibility.
The Calendar is surprisingly basic and does not have some of the bells and whistles of some of the other packages. It is easy to use and includes recurring appointments, from daily through to yearly, with the option to skip weekends. A neat feature is the ability to attach a simple icon to the appointment to provide a quick visual cue as to its purpose.
The e-mail client links to Outlook and includes simple filters for the subject and e-mail date, but this is not as sophisticated as the filter for the contact database.
Maximizer will synchronise with Palm OS based PDAs, but does not support Pocket PC-based units.
The standard edition of Maximizer will cope with around 10 to 12 concurrent users, however the Enterprise edition can have unlimited synchronised users if you use Microsoft SQL Server as the back-end database, rather than the standard Btrieve one.
Many of the more mundane tasks can be automated using the application's macro feature. Some other simple but useful tools are the phone call tracker, a simple popup linked to the contact database that records the conversation time and whether it was answered, engaged, or a voice mail was left, and if any follow up is needed.
There is a form designer so you can create custom input windows; it's quite a powerful utility and was surprisingly simple to use.
The links to accounting packages provide useful information for staff on the road--they can at a glance check the client's account status, for example.
There is a personal journal--the name is pretty self-explanatory--and conversely there is a company library that can make vital sales and marketing information accessible to all the staff.
There is an enormous swag of predefined reports covering pretty much every aspect of the application you could reasonably want to extract information from. You can also create custom reports. The reports can be output to printer, e-mail, RTF, or HTML formats.
The graphing capability is exceptional; the chart options look like a clone of Excel. However, while there are quite a lot of items that can be graphed, there is no way to natively graph the current month's sales forecast, for instance.
You can graph, as we did, the opportunity status, but this only displays the number of won, lost, and progressing opportunities, not their dollar value.
Compatible with MS Office, Corel Office, vast range of software; Palm OS support only.
Works with an excellent range of formats. Database back-end adds scalability.
Powerful, excellent feature set at a very attractive price.
30 days free support, maintenance contracts or per-incident support charges available.
Sales.Oracle.Com as the name suggests is a Web-based SFA tool. As a consequence, all of your client data is stored and maintained by Oracle at its remote site.
The benefit of this arrangement is that no technical staff is required to maintain a local database server, and of course you do not need the additional hardware.
What you will need is a reliable Internet connection, and if you have quite a few sales staff, it may need to be a healthy bandwidth as well.
The latter is quite important if you do not want your staff throwing wobblies over significant delays; we certainly found the response times of our local packages to be much faster than Oracle, but then again it was quite fast for a Web-based app.
Registering with Oracle and setting up your account is certainly not difficult; if you can drive a Web browser you should be able to cope.
It's a simple matter of setting up your preferences: over a series of screens the user is prompted to configure items such as language, date format, and currency, for example.
In addition there are prefence settings for each of the tabs--for example, the Opportunity tab can be configured to sort by customer name or any of six other fields.
The interface is relatively Spartan, but it is still clear and simple to navigate.
The tabs at the top of the display launch a collection of task specific menus in the blue menu bar, which are all quite logical. Of course, one advantage of the application is that the staff, while on the road, will be presented with exactly the same interface as they would be in the office.
Importing existing client information into Oracle is simplified by the import wizard, but the data must be in CSV format only.
Customising the fields and look of the interface is not really an option, so Oracle has in most cases gone overboard ensuring that it has provided enough flexibility to suit a wide range of customers.
Contact details for each client includes almost 60 fields, and includes options such as notes, salutation, alternative contact details, and no fewer than eight fields dedicated to phone, pager, home, and other contact phone numbers.
At first glance calendar functions are typical with daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly displays. The availability display can be read at a glance with free time indicated with green blocks and booked time in red.
The interesting option is the custom calendar display, which can generate the report in Excel or HTML format, and can include multiple users and groups.
Of course being a Web-based application appointment reminders and the like are e-mailed to you at the designated time. The application can synch with any Palm OS device as well as Outlook 97 and 2000 via free software that is available for download at the Web site.
Apparently, you can also access your customer and calendar details with any WAP device although we did not test this option.
E-mail functionality is not integrated as snugly as the other desktop-based applications we tested, and the same goes for creating mail merges, letters and faxes. The user must effectively create the latter manually.
At first glance reporting does not appear very extensive either. Certainly Oracle lacks the pretty graphing capabilities of some of the other packages, but you can download the reports in CSV format and then graph them with Excel--of course this adds an extra step.
Creating a report from the forecast summary template, for example, is surprisingly flexible there are numerous user configurations for the filters, sort options, and display options that indicates this is a powerful reporting tool.
Currently free but pay-as-you-go charge model in the near future
The Enterprise edition offers remote synchronisation between the main office and regional offices for example.
The opportunity manager sports additional features such as automatic scheduling of follow up activities and portal capabilities for the company´s business partners, customers, and employees, and is available in the SQL version.
The SQL version of enterprise also has a Web-based report feature, which is an online version of Crystal reports.
Enterprises Campaign Manager module enable the user to track and compare the success of marketing campaigns and has features such as HTML emailers.
Price: from AU$660, upgrade from previous version AU$396.
This cosmetics manufacturer needs to provide software to help its sales force of 10 keep track of prospects, maintain relationships with retailers, and track the progress of special promotions. Approximate budget: Open Requires: One sales force automation package, available either as packaged software or by subscription. Concerns: Sales staff are highly mobile, so software that can either be easily synchronised or accessed via a Web browser is ideal. The company is also considering supplying staff with GPRS-connected handhelds, so the ability to view data on a handheld is a consideration. Best Solution: Since providing native graphing of sales and forecasts is not a major requirement, Maximizer or Maximizer Enterprise with its extended feature set would be the packages of choice.
If you want a package that is dead easy to navigate and learn, and don´t need native PDA synchronisation, then Legrand is definitely worth a look.
Editors' Choice:Maximizer V7
Compared with the other packages, we were amazed by the scale of Maximizer´s ability to connect with other software, its exceptional graphing capabilities, its abiity to scale to multiple users, the automation capabilities, and its far-from-outrageous pricing.
Legrand CRM Standard Version
$995 per concurrent user
Std edition $199
per user, pro edition
$499 per user
1800 176 193
02 8080 3300
02 8920 2990
Phone support 9-5 Mon-Fri; 30-day free installation support;
free e-mail support and Web FAQs; yearly support plans available.
Annual maintenance contracts 20 percent of RRP.
1 year free phone
support 9-5 Mon-Fri;
free e-mail support;
free upgrades for 12
Operating systems supported
Windows 98, Me, NT 4.0, Windows 98, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, XP
Windows 98, ME, NT 4.0, Windows 95C, 98SE, ME, 2000, XP
Windows 98, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, XP
E-mail clients supported
MS Outlook 2000+
MS Outlook 2000
MS Outlook 97+
Word processors supported
MS Word 2000+
MS Word 97+
MS Word 97+
MS Excel 2000+
MS Excel 97+
Accounting software supported
MYOB (via third party software)
Arrow, MYOB, JIWA, Accpac, Attache
MYOB (needs ODBC link),Sybiz, FinancePlus
Database back-ends supported
Fax applications supported
Palm OS (free download), Pocket PC (third party software)
Palm OS 3.0+, Windows CE 2.0 (contact vendor for later
No native support, third party software required
Imports file formats
dBase III-V, Q&A 4-5, TXT
DBF, SDF, SQL, ASCII
Currently free but pay-as-you-go charge model in the near
1800 800 610
1300 366 386
30-day free phone
Mon-Fri; free e-mail
and Web site
or $45 per incident fee.
Free Web support
Operating systems supported
Windows 95C, 98SE, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, XP; Enterprise version
supports Novell Netware 3.2+
Any; Netscape 4+ or Internet Explorer 4+ recommended
E-mail clients supported
MS Outlook 97+; MS Outlook Express 5.0+; MS Exchange 4.0+;
MS Windows Messaging 4.0; Netscape Messenger 4.6+
MS Outlook 97+
Word processors supported
MS Word 97+; Corel WordPerfect 8.0+
Accounting software supported
Database back-ends supported
MS SQL Server 7, 2000; Pervasive SQL 2000 SP 4
Fax applications supported
WinFax Pro 9.0+; MS Fax; (Windows 95, 98); FacSys 3.4+