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After-Action Report 2: CRM Evolution 2009 and Sage

Right after the opening keynote at CRM Evolution ’09, Sage North America (as represented by Larry Ritter and Ryan Zuk) gave me the lowdown on the next iteration of the venerable ACT! contact manager/CRM system. The official announcement dropped via Pitch Engine today, complete with social media integration, so I figured I’d provide my thoughts on what Sage has got going on.

I always refer to ACT! as “venerable”; it has a much nicer sound than “old,” and conveys a certain degree of respect. The product has had its ups and downs since its birth 23 years ago, but it’s hard to argue with success. A software product line that survives 20 years is rare enough, but ACT! has managed to thrive. According to Larry Ritter (senior VP and GM of Sage CRM Solutions, in case you didn’t follow the link), 2008 saw a 12 percent revenue increase year-over-year for ACT!, which is impressive given the economy and the competition. As much as we like to say that CRM needs to be in every part of a business, the fact is that many companies (especially small ones, where ACT! has most of its customers) do very well with contact management, sales force automation, and some marketing tools—which is pretty much what ACT! provides.

ACT! By Sage 2010, the new version, presents itself as a big change from previous installments. The interface is different, very clean. It reminded me of SAP’s new user interface for SME.

Functional--just enough, not too much.

Functional--just enough, not too much.

The redesign isn’t merely cosmetic; Sage employed keystroke-level modeling to discover how users perform tasks and made its changes based on ease and efficiency. The results give Sage something to sell against: based on seven standard activities (see below), ACT! 2010 allows 25 percent higher productivity Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and 37 percent more than Salesforce.com—figures I’m sure both companies will refute or minimize if asked. Those tasks are:

  • Find information about last meeting with a contact
  • Create a new contact
  • Search for all contacts in a specific area
  • Schedule a call
  • Record notes about a contact/customer meeting
  • View your work week calendar
  • Mark an activity complete and schedule follow-up

Still, if that’s all you really need from CRM or contact management, Sage makes a compelling argument for its product instead of Microsoft’s or Salesforce.com’s.

The other cool thing in ACT! 2010 is the social media integration—you knew I’d be getting to this sooner or later, right? ACT!’s Web Info tab will keep you posted on a contact’s social networking profiles and updates, links their Web site to the contact record, and lets you add data feeds to the record (Hoovers, Twitter, and ESPN are the examples given). Web searches from this tab pass information back and forth between ACT! and the activity, and it’s persistent, so you can do a Google search or get travel info without leaving the screen and update the record with what you find.

Marketing isn’t forgotten in this release. It ships with several email marketing campaign templates and a campaign designer. Drip marketing—a series of touches over time—and customer surveys are two of the functions Sage showed me. Everything is tracked and reported, of course, so hot leads with high open and forward rates can be piped directly to sales when appropriate so they can schedule a call or meeting.

In a nod to the changing face of the inbox, those meetings can be sent as iCal invitations—which work in Google Calendar as well as Microsoft Outlook. It’s a minor benefit (unless you don’t use Outlook) but it’s still very nice to have.

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So that’s the product. Let’s talk about the press release. If you follow the link provided above, you’ll see that the release has social connectivity built right in. There’s a short Twitter pitch in addition to the full-length announcement. Share buttons abound. There are links to fact sheets, images, videos, tags, related news … it almost makes me feel useless. When I discussed timing with the highly media-savvy Ryan Zuk, he indicated that there was little sense in setting an embargo date because all of the information was already in the hands of Sage partners and customers because of Sage’s blogs. Fluid, free exchange of information is a beautiful thing, huh?

I’m sure there will always be press blackouts, whether for legal reasons or just because a company wants to deliver a nice surprise. But information wants to be free, so I applaud Pitch Engine for a terrific delivery format—and Sage for making use of it.