CRM and Contact Management for Micro and Small Businesses

herd of catsHave you ever tried to express the difficulty and frustration of getting a tough job done by saying that it was “like herding cats”?

The reason cats are difficult to herd – should you ever be in that situation – is because they go all over the place; they won’t organize themselves into one “herdable” entity. This also gives us a good picture of a common problem that thwarts small business growth.

When starting out, small businesses often find themselves exploring a variety of channels to drum up business and even tweaking their products and services in different ways to find the “winning” formula. A result of this can be a disjointed collection of customer information.

Data spread too far

Small businesses end up with customer information in spread sheets, Microsoft Outlook, social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Google Contacts and other places around the office and at home. It doesn’t take long for that widely spread tapestry of contact information to become a hindrance to serious growth.

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the folks at Swiftpage this year.  They are the folks behind the perennial best-selling contact and customer relationship management (CRM) software Act! and they’ve just introduced Act! Cloud. Small businesses have always been the focus with Act! and with Act! Cloud they are extending their target audience to “micro businesses.” With the rise of solopreneurs, this seems like a really smart idea.

I asked Bob Ogdon, chairman and founder of Swiftpage, to give me his “elevator” description of what his company’s new cloud-based service would do.

“Act! Cloud is a simple application to organize and keep track of your contacts and the history you have with them and the activities you plan to do with them. In addition, it makes it simple to create email marketing campaigns, track the results and receive a ranked list of the most engaged contacts based on their interaction with your email messages,” Ogdon told me.

Built-in intelligence

The company launched a beta last summer and it’s now up and running for the the public. A free trial is available and at just $10 a month, its price shouldn’t be a barrier for any business – micro or otherwise. With that 10 bucks you can import as many as 10,000 contacts and use its “lead scoring” system, as well as send unlimited emails to 500 contacts.

They’ve designed it to import from a wide variety of sources, so getting set up initially shouldn’t be too difficult. “There is a simple set up or onboarding wizard that helps first time users get their contacts into the application and connect their social accounts.  Following this simple set up, users will arrive in the product with a full contact list with pictures to match the contacts pulled from their social networks  – LinkedIn and Facebook,” Ogdon explained.

Once that’s done you can capture virtually any kind of customer interaction. Its analytics engine is constantly looking at your interactions and scoring them so it can help guide your followup.

Segment your list

Segmentation is critical today and Act! Cloud allows you to segment your contacts using any of the criteria you have set up. At that point, you have a variety of professional templates you can use for your email blasts.

Another feature that should appeal to small business owners and solopreneurs who find themselves going everywhere and doing everything is the fact that they have build great mobile interfaces for the service. You can efficiently engage Act! Cloud from wherever you are.

A good CRM system is one of the tools that allows startups and small businesses to compete with much bigger organizations. It looks like Act! Cloud may be a solution that’s sized and priced right to meet the needs of most small businesses. Further, Swiftpage plans more features and adding a premium tier soon, so when you need additional power, it should be there for you.

Sponsored by AT&T

Image: “Herd of Cats” by Boksi – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.