Contact management is an essential part of any business and even personal relationships. You need to know who your clients, vendors, and other people are and keep track of your interactions with them in order to develop successful relationships. Software will help you keep your mind open for more creative things and share all that you learn easily with others in your organization. It can also automate many tasks that you may now do manually and so makes your processes more effective and efficient.

Some basic contact management functions include the following:

  • Track people and associated info like company, title, addresses, phone, website, email, etc.
  • Categorize people into groups for searching kinds of clients, mailing lists, etc.
  • Keep track of notes that describe your connections with the people
  • Do mail merges and send out letters or emails
  • Print reports like labels, letters, agreements, etc.
  • Track customized info about your people. For a speaker it may be what engagements you spoke at for them, for another business it may be the specific types of products they are interested in, etc.
  • Track roles assigned to the people. How and when did they work with you and on what projects?
  • Synchronize their info on mobile devices like your iPhone

The functions of “contact management” goes under many different names. You might hear some abbreviations like CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for what are somewhat similar or overlapping functions. They perform contact management activities. Some tools focus on different parts of the solution better than others…like sales or internal project management. There are several levels of tools that people can use to track and work with contacts. Here’s an overview of some of the options…

Off The Shelf” Software Application

Spreadsheets like Excel (Microsoft Office) or Numbers (Apple iWork/iCloud suite) – This is the lowest level of working with your contacts. It’s a list of contacts and information.
Advantages: Simple and low cost. Most people have a spreadsheet application on their computer already and have used it a few times so it is familiar.
Disadvantages: Cannot be shared easily. Searching, reporting in multiple formats, and using the information is multiple ways is difficult. Creating relationships between your lists is also difficult.

Apple Mac OS X Address Book
Advantages: Built into the Mac OS and free. Tracks contacts and notes with groups. Includes basic features such as printing labels. Can use iCloud to sync across computers. Integrates with Apple Mail and iCal. Syncs with iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.
Disadvantages: Limited reporting and viewing. Users must be on the same iCloud account to share. Mac OS Only.

Bento – Personal database tool. (Update 7/30/13 – Bento is being discontinued as a product…so FileMaker is your best choice for a replacement.)

Daylite from MarketCircle – Integrated contact management
Advantages: Off the shelf solution developed specifically for Mac OS.
Disadvantages: I’ve heard conflicting views on Daylite. Some people like it and other hate it. It has exhibited some issues with synchronization and being difficult to use. The synchronization that it does do is complex stuff integrated with your calendar and contacts…so you must be careful regarding system upgrades.

ACT! for Windows from Sage
If you’re a switcher from Windows, you may have been using ACT! to manage your contacts. It can be difficult to change. In the process you may lose information. They don’t make it easy to transfer information out of ACT! to another tool. You may get your basic contact information but all your related notes may be more difficult to export. So…some people have taken the opportunity to run ACT! on the Mac using Parallels or VMwareFusion. I would only recommend this if you have significant investment in training and information in this application…and even then as a temporary solution. It is a far from ideal solution because you need to maintain Windows at an extra expense (anti-virus utilities and all) and additional complexity. The product will also not integrate well with other Mac OS applications. Most people I work with are moving away from ACT! as a solution. There are utilities that can get all of your information out.

SAAS – Software As A Service

SAAS tools are generally deployed via the internet as web based software.

Advantages: Pay a low monthly fee. Software upgrades happen automatically. There is no software to install. Works across Mac and Windows platforms.
Disadvantages: Customization may be more difficult. Reports and integration with other products/tools may be limited.

Some options…
[email protected] – A CRM based on SugarCRM. (A free and open source CRM tool).
HighRiseHQ from 37signals – Powerful, simple, online, ALL platforms contact management
Salesforce – More expensive and comprehensive browser based CRM. (See here for comparison with FileMaker.)
Zimbra – Collaborative contact sharing, calendaring, e-mail, tasks sharing, etc

Customized Database Software

FileMaker – Award-winning database software that balances a powerful database engine with lots of features while being easy to use and administer.
FileMaker provides a lot of choices in that it is a tool that will allow you to build a system that exactly meets your business needs. Note: purchasing FileMaker gets you the database application or toolset. You also need to purchase or build the database the runs with FileMaker. Similar to when you purchase Excel, you need to build the spreadsheets yourself. There are some built-in starter solutions for contact management that are very basic as well as some 3rd party pre-built solutions.
Advantages: Totally customizable so it works exactly the way your business does. Can do invoicing, booking forms, be connected to your web site/accounting system, etc. Comes with some templates that could be used out of the box and customized.

fmIgnite CRM+ – A comprehensive pre-built FileMaker-based solution for business management that can be completely customized for your business. fmIgnite makes it possible for your contacts to be the center of all the work you do. All items in the database relate back to the contacts without the need for double-entry in multiple tools, etc. fmIgnite can also integrate with many other software systems including exchanging accounting information with QuickBooks or AccountEdge.

Summary

That should provide you with a quick overview of some of the choices available. Your particular business situation and budget will determine what solution route you take. It is in your best interest to get some trusted advice and investigate your options before making a final decision.

Tim Cimbura – CEO and Software Engineer

Tim is an expert in creating custom business solutions that make businesses more effective, productive, and profitable. He specializes in rapid application development with FileMaker (certified in all versions) for macOS, Windows, iPad/iPhone and web app integration with WordPress. He also knows Apple technology inside and out.