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Act! Gets Even More Social in 2010
A new version of Sage's contact and customer management software sports a redesigned interface, social media capabilities, and e-marketing functionality.
Posted Sep 4, 2009
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Sage has always taken a shine to usability and user adoption and the latest version of Act! By Sage promises nothing different. In fact, Larry Ritter, Sage's senior vice president and general manager of CRM Solutions, reveals that in developing the new version of Act!, the team used Keystroke Level Modeling (KLM) to test user productivity and to reconfigure the next release's interface. Results from the KLM indicate that Act! has 17 percent higher productivity rate than competitive solutions.

Nucleus Research Vice President Rebecca Wettemann says that the productivity elements seem to be the hallmark of the new release. However, 2010's new social media integration might be what garners the most buzz. The software includes integration with third-party social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Hoovers. Using simple coding, users can also choose which sites they would like to view in reference to a customer contact. The integrated third-party data is viewable on the bottom-half of the screen for each customer contact.

"Making it more intuitive to use and better integrated with social networking tools like LinkedIn that actually have business value...jumped out at me," Wettemann says. The new edition's Web Info tab also allows users to feed into real-time news and streams about companies, contacts, or industries.

Ritter calls it a leap forward for small businesses, noting that he has yet to see a competitive solution geared toward small businesses with such social capabilities. 

Wettemann says that the release also shines with its emphasis on marketing services. The Act! e-marketing service is an add-on, priced at $14.95 per month. The service is fully integrated into the on-premise software, but is Web-based and provides 100s of templates to choose from for email marketing and drip marketing. "Normally it's large organizations that can do such timed marketing and lead-gen campaigns, but this puts that ability in hands of individual sales tams or sales people," Wettemann says. "It's a real opportunity to gain additional returns from their investments in Act!"

Chris Fletcher, an analyst with AMR research, points out that the new offering, in essence, pushes the Act! product from being a contact management solution to an opportunity management tool. He adds that the marketing services will be especially beneficial for the lower-end companies. However, he says that divisions within large organizations aren't as likely to show interest. 

Users will find a new look in the Act! 2010 version. Not only does the software have a sleeker interface, characterized by Sage's global colors and icons (a move Ritter says put into place to unite products under Sage's corporate brand), but it has more customization capabilities. The new version has 11 new "Big Easy Buttons" that replace the 19 title-bar buttons seen in previous releases. Additionally, the version offers new dashboards and reports and dedicates an entire tab to "Opportunities."

"People want something intuitive and easy to use," Wettemann says. "The more they can get it to look like Outlook, the easier to get sales people who aren't…apt to use it to use it effectively." The ease of use and ease of adoption themes are crucial for very small businesses, she says. 

"Part of the challenge [for Sage] is that [it] has a number of solutions," Wettemann says. "But focusing on how many people use Act! as a real productivity tool is a great way to cement that user base."

Fletcher expresses concern that Sage has been losing market share in recent months. Small businesses and divisions within large organizations, he says, are now seriously considering alternative options such as Salesforce.com's Salesforce CRM and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Though Fletcher claims to be wary about momentum in the contact management space in general, he says the Act! 2010 release is a good upgrade for current Act! users -- and, he adds, the integration with marketing and social networks should bode well for the company. 

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