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Does your contact management system work for you? Do you rewrite your entire address book every year? Can you find someone's business card when you need it? Do you have difficulty remembering a business prospect’s first or last name?
Consider adding or updating your contact management software. The key to managing your contacts is to organize them into a system that will allow for easy search and retrieval.
Your old paper address book has outlived its usefulness because it allows only one way to organize and search for entries. For example, do you enter Emily Carpenter under E or C or maybe W for WhizBang! Web Solutions? Finding everyone you met at the last RPCN meeting is a daunting task, requiring you to look at every entry for your “met at RPCN” note.
Don’t rely on that contact list in your cell phone! Your search is limited to how you entered the name. If you can’t remember Mr. Taylor’s first name, you’ll find yourself scrolling down the entire list until you find Zack. And don’t even think about searching by that non-existent company name.
Here’s Your Solution
You need contact management software! The good news: you may already have it. Email programs that come with your computer, such as Outlook Express and Windows Live Mail, use address books to store contacts. You can do a search by any part of a name, email address, phone, company, organization, etc. Some even have a quick box to search through all fields at once. Microsoft Office Outlook, which comes with all versions of Microsoft Office (or you can also purchase stand alone), adds integrated scheduling, task, and notes functions.
If you are often on the go, you can synchronize contacts between your computer and a PDA (personal digital assistant) or smart phone. Smart phones run on various operating systems, so know what applications you need before you buy one. Those phones with a Windows Mobile OS have an interface familiar to PC users and synchronize easily with MS Outlook. You also have the capability to read and create Word and Excel documents. BlackBerry, well-known for its easy e-mail setup and account management, has its own operating system. You can also use its desktop manager software to synch to Outlook; some models can also edit MS Office documents. Look for third-party software that synchs the BlackBerry to other contact management software.
Another option is to store and retrieve your contacts from an address book located on the Internet. If your ISP host offers web based mail, it probably comes with an address book. Be aware that this solution may be limited by the number of fields (no phone number, company, etc.) as well as inadequate import and search capabilities. Online business services, such as HyperOffice, are also available with features that search and organize via categories or import/export/synch with other address books.
Easily Capture Information
If your pile of business cards seems to be growing faster than you can handle, buy a card scanner for easy transfer of all information from cards, including the card image. You can either use the contact management software that comes with the scanner as your primary address book or transfer all of the data to your preferred contact management software. Many models and options are available to choose from: business card size; postcard size; color, or black and white; and even sales receipts. I personally invested in the WorldCard Color Business Card Scanner by PenPower since it was more economical and offered more features than comparable scanners from the Neat Company. Although I export my contacts into Outlook, I am impressed with the WorldCard report feature that lets you view the business card image next to the name, address and other card information.
Do You Need More Functionality?
Outlook’s Business Contact Manager creates a relational system for managing business contacts inside of Outlook. The program allows you to track business information as well as the individual contacts associated with the business, to track leads and opportunities throughout the sales cycle, and comes with twenty built-in reports for limited basic reporting. Business Contact Manager comes bundled with MS Office Professional, Small Business, or Ultimate suites.
A wide range of other contact management software systems are available, from single-user desktop applications to multi-user online programs. However, if you need to integrate your contact management data with other critical business functions, then you may need a relational database program, such as Microsoft Access, in which you can create a custom designed application to provide for your unique business requirements. Microsoft offers templates for Contact Management functions that can get you started. With a little knowledge of MS Access, or with help from a professional, you can then build on that framework to add your own tables and functions.
You could spend days sifting through all of the many choices available. The key is to know what your own unique needs are, and then to select the solution that best meets those needs.
Sandy Zohari, database guru, is the owner of AzoTek Database Solutions (www.azotekdbs.com). She has been playing with databases and custom designing features for clients for over 25 years.