Thursday, 17 April 2014

Add Local House Prices to Act!

If you're interested in property prices and you have an Act! database, here's a great way to combine the two.

Click the Web Info Tab

Click "Edit Links"

Click "Add"

In Site Name type: MousePrice.com

In URL type: http://www.mouseprice.com/property-for-sale/{Postcode}+0

Enjoy!


To find out how you can get more out of your Act! database why not book a day's on-site training? 

http://www.bigbluemarketing.co.uk/training/act-training/ 



Thursday, 28 March 2013

Google Maps from ACT!

A while back I published a YouTube video showing how to produce a Google Map showing the location of selected Contacts from your ACT! database. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OwPoPoSr3k

This prompted one ACT! user to send me this email.

I just watched your short tutorial on mapping with Google on You Tube.

It was excellent.

I own .. one of the nation’s largest commercial real estate companies specializing in commercial investment sales.

I have been using ACT long before it was even called ACT, and I have been a major fan ever since, and I require everyone in our office to use it.
 
I just found the “display map” button, and that would work excellent for our use, if it would map the location of the property of the owner, and not the address of the property owners personal office.
Is there a way to change the field which the “display map” pulls from, so I can change it to the “property address”, and not the “contact address”?

Great question!

There’s not a way to change the result of clicking the MAP icon.
  
In ACT! it’s hard coded to show the Contact’s main address.

However, I don’t know if you have ever delved into the Web Info Tab, but that also contains a “Google Maps” link which pops up the same map.
 
So as an example, I opened Chris Huffman’s contact record in the ACT Demo Database.

Her business address is 13 East 54th St. NY
 
 
If I click the Map Icon in the menu bar OR "Google Maps" in the Web Info Tab links, a map of that location is shown.

 
 
However, in the Personal Info Tab of ACT! you can see her Home Address is 1993 Broadhollow Road.



 
So in the Web Info Tab I decided to create a new link.
 
First I clicked Edit Links. I selected Google Maps, then clicked Advanced Edit.
  
I then copied the URL
 
I then created a new User Link, called "Home Property Address", clicked Advanced Edit, and pasted in the URL I'd just copied.
 

 Advanced Edit
 
 
I then edited the fields inside the red wavy brackets to read the "Home" address fields; so {Home Address 1} , etc.
 
This URL will now search Google Maps using the Home Address fields in ACT! rather than the Business Address fields.
 
When I click this Home Property Address link it now pops-up a map of her Home Address rather than her business address.
 
 
So, if you enter the property address in the Home Address fields of your client’s contact record you can produce a Google Map instantly.
 
If you need some expert training to customise your own ACT! database to work the way your business works, please get in touch!
 
 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Swiftpage to buy ACT! from Sage

 
The fact that Sage was planning to sell ACT! (and SalesLogix) product lines was predictable, although the actual announcement last Friday still came as a surprise within the industry. Even more of a surprise was that the purchaser was Swiftpage in the USA.
Now the name of Swiftpage will already be familiar to users of ACT!
Swiftpage is a company that provides email marketing services, and at one time produced an ACT! "add-on" which could be downloaded and installed and which then linked Swiftpage with ACT! This enabled ACT! users who signed up to the Swiftpage subscription service to send bulk email to selected groups from their ACT! database through the Swiftpage servers, thus bypassing the problems encountered when trying to send a large number of emails locally.
The integration added an additional Tab to the ACT Contact records which displayed an eclectic variety of additional information in a rather weird way.
The one feature that was actually very useful was the ability to monitor the activities of the recipients of your emails and to score them depending on how interested they appeared to be in the contents of the email received. You could then create a "Call List" based on the top scoring Contacts and then plan a follow up activity to develop their interest.
Sage clearly liked the concept of this additional service that could be connected to ACT! and subsequently integrated the Swiftpage component into the standard ACT! installation, renaming it Sage ACT! Email Marketing along the way.
Seeing such "Connected Services" as a means to quickly provide added features to the core ACT! product for little investment or development work they also partnered with Swiftpage to add a second service, "Sage Business Information Services for ACT!"
Whilst the Email Marketing Service has certainly had some take up, the Business Information Service has been largely ignored. This is partly because whilst its ability to seek out new contacts in specific market sectors is OK, it only works for larger companies, and the killer is that the contact information it does supply doesn't include their email addresses. The other factor is that although this service accesses the Hoovers / D&B database it doesn't offer credit checking which would probably be the largest potential use for this facility.
So, why would a relatively small, email marketing company want to borrow a huge amount of money to purchase a 25 year old Contact Management software package.  The two don't seem to be a good fit. ACT! is primarily a piece of software that is sold as a one-off deal and installed locally at the customer's premises. Swiftpage on the other hand is Software as a Service "SaaS"; it is subscription based and it's all hosted by Swiftpage with nothing to install or manage at the point of delivery.
The answer has to be that Swiftpage probably wanted the brand name (and the market that goes with it) and the database of ACT users. Certainly the names of the one to three million current users of ACT! would be useful for Swiftpage to push their email marketing service together with any new services they might develop. But did someone at Swiftpage really wake up one morning and say, "You know what, we should add an installed software product to our product range"? I think not.
No, one way or another, ACT! is heading for the cloud. Of course it is currently quite possible to access your installed ACT! database over the internet or via your smartphone or ipad, but one of the unique selling points of ACT! is the flexibility to install and access your data in the way that works best for your business. Making ACT! purely a service hosted by Swiftpage and sold on a subscription basis would position it alongside the multitude of competitive SaaS CRM services which have been developed from the ground up as internet services with none of the historical baggage of legacy installed software that ACT! brings with it.
One of the ironies of SaaS is that at this point in time, in the UK at least, it that it is best suited to the office environment where a good, speedy, reliable internet service can be almost guaranteed. What looks like one of the strengths of SaaS; providing access to that service and the data it holds when you are out of the office is where it falls down. The fact is that currently, you can't guarantee to get a decent internet connection in the UK when you are on the road. I'm sure that applies to other parts of the world as well.
That's why I use an add-on product, HandHeld Contact to keep my ACT! data on my phone. It's guaranteed to be there instantly when I need it.
Don't get me wrong , the current Sage ACT Premium Mobile product that displays my ACT database on my iPhone is not a bad product, in fact it's rather good, but however good it is I can't guarantee I can access the service when I need it, and I can't work like that.
I know things will change. Internet access will become more ubiquitous and reliable. You can even get WiFi on the London Underground now, providing you're on the right line. So hosted software services are undoubtedly the way a large proportion of the business world is heading and I'm sure we will see a transition in emphasis in the development of ACT! to reflect this.
So what are the challenges for Swiftpage to achieve this? Well porting a piece of software designed for local installation to be a sleek state of the art hosted subscription service will be no mean feat. Perhaps they won't even try. Would developing a leaner, slicker, faster, hosted ACT! from the ground up be a better way to go? Even if a nice new HTML5 interface could be developed, there remains the issue of integrating it with other cloud services. Microsoft has clearly flagged this is where it sees businesses in the next few years, so assuming that we are still wedded to Microsoft Office for the foreseeable future, how do you link a hosted ACT! service to Office 365 in the cloud?
We could also ask what additional complementary services would fit Swiftpage's way of doing business? Well, anything is possible, but I would like to see and integrated VOIP service, and jumping on the Microsoft/Skype bandwagon would be a consistent way to go.
Integrating mapping could also be developed to go beyond Google Maps and Driving Directions to plotting all your ACT! clients in the vicinity and perhaps calculating the most efficient route between them. Producing a mileage report at the end of the day would save your average road warrior another tedious task.
I'm sure social media integration will be somewhere near the top of the list of things to develop, but to be honest, within my own client base I rarely meet anyone who sees any real value in social media integration. If we ever reach a point where we can do lookups and keyword searches within the social forums people may begin to see a value in such a facility.
Anyway, the deal has not yet gone through, but assuming it does ACT! is now ready for a whole new unconstrained chapter in its development and that has to be exciting.
Bring it on. I can't wait to get involved.
For more information about ACT! or for ACT! training visit our web site at www.bigbluemarketing.co.uk

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

E-mail Marketing - Make it Topical


ACT! comes with an optional professional E-mail Marketing system powered by Swiftpage.

One of the challenges for any E-mail marketeer is how to tempt the recipients to open the message.

One company has found a way to do this big-time.

Machine Mart sell a range of power-tools and devices for the workshop and handyman.

The trick they use to great effect is to keep their offerings topical.

So when the summer temperature reaches record highs they will be offering air conditioners and fans.  When it's freezing cold they offer space heaters and radiators.

The E-mail that landed in my inbox today made me smile.

As the UK is lashed by fierce storms, and with record rainfall causing flooding, in popped the following:

Need a water pump? We've got all types and sizes, in-stock right now!



Inspired!

For more information about Swiftpage E-mail Marketing and ACT Training visit my website



Thursday, 13 September 2012

Why the iPhone 5 is Important for Sage ACT! Software Users in the UK



So it's finally here.

Yesterday Apple launched the new iPhone 5. It's their largest, lightest, cleverest iPhone ever.

And it's not the new screen or the new mapping system that grabbed my attention, it was the mention, almost in passing, that it has LTE-band support.

And that means 4G data capability.

Now 4G data is something of a novelty here in the UK since it only officially began to roll out last week with a plan to have 16 UK cities connected by Christmas.

There is only one network operator at the moment, "EE" (= Orange and T-Mobile); Vodafone, O2 and the like won't be allowed to join the party until the middle of 2013 so it's likely to be twelve to eighteen months until being able to get a 4G connection is the norm rather than the exception.

The point about 4G is that it's fast. Very fast. I just watched a demonstration done in London where a 4G enabled phone downloaded a file at 33 Mbps. That's twice as fast as I can obtain on the copper ADSL connection in this office.

Now all of this matters to Sage ACT! Sage have decreed that the future is mobile. And to prove the point they now give you a free ACT Mobile interface when you install Sage ACT! Premium for Web.

The problem has been getting an internet connection when you are out and about. In reality, mobile WiFi in the UK just doesn't do it. It's patchy, often expensive, and usually requires a log in to get it at all. So your mobile connection to your ACT! database is unreliable. There's no guarantee you can get at your data when you need to.

4G will change all that. A phone connection is designed to work seamlessly as you move between cells. Unless you're in a cellar or on the top of a mountain you can usually get a phone signal.

With a market leading device like the iPhone ready to go, that change is only limited by the rate at which the 4G networks can make the service available across the country. When that's done mobile sales and marketing people will at last have the direct access to their central sales database when they are out of the office.

If you would like more information about ACT Mobile solutions please visit our web site www.bigbluemarketing.co.uk

Thursday, 23 August 2012

ACT! 2013 (Version 15) New Features

As Sage ACT! 2013 hits the streets I thought I'd take a look at what's new, and whether it's worth upgrading.

 
The headline new developments in ACT 2013 are:

 
1. Sage ACT! Premium Mobile.

This existed in later upgrades  to ACT! 2012 but has now been developed futher for this release. Sage ACT! Premium Mobile or "SAPM" (not SPAM) to its friends is a free service that allows you to interact with your ACT! database from your mobile phone or tablet via an internet connection.

The two key words here are "Free" and "Internet". Sage ACT! Premium Mobile is only "free" once you have purchased ACT! Premium for Web. To use this feature you have to have first installed and configured your own IIS web server to use ACT! Premium for Web. (SAPM is not available with ACT! Pro). Whilst Sage would like you to believe that setting up your own IIS web server is a doddle, I've seen grown men cry trying to do this and I suspect it's a bridge too far unless you are a bit of a techie or have competent IT support.

One work around if you don't feel up to configuring a computer as an IIS  web server is to sign up for a hosted service, such as our own, (details here) where all this is done for you.

Once ACT! Premium for Web is set up it works rather well and the system will either display the full blown ACT! for Web user interface in a suitable browser if you connect  from a computer or it will display the specially designed SAPM Mobile interface if you connect from your iPhone, iPad or Android smart-phone via its inbuilt HTML5 browser. 

The Mobile inteface doesn't give you all the functionality of the full system but for looking up a phone number or an address, or adding a few notes, it's fine. The ACT! 2013 version of Mobile also allows you to access and create Sales Opportinities as well whilst on the move.

The only fly in the ointment, in the UK at least, is that you do need an internet connection to access your database, which in my experience is far from guaranteed. I guess when the UK 4G phone networks eventually get rolled out this won't be so much of a problem, but for me at least it's a serious consideration at this point in time.

Having said that, if you were installing ACT! Premium for Web anyway then Mobile is a free bonus.

If you have ACT! Premium but without the Web functionality installed or if you are running ACT! Pro you could sign up for Sage's own subscription alternative "Sage ACT Connect" which is like a cut down version of SAPM which is hosted by Sage. Alternatively I can recommend signing up for the independent Handheld Contact service which again has most of the functionality of SAPM (except Opportunities) but has the big added bonus of storing your data in a separate database on your phone, so if you need to lookup that customer's address whilst travelling accross London on the Northern Line line you can.

Our Rating: 3/5 in the UK but only because of internet connectivity issues.

2 Social Updates

The official message is "Capitalise on added customer insight by viewing a collection of your contact’s last 25 posts made on LinkedIn and Facebook".

It seems the research shows that all the 16 to 25 year olds going into business said they would buy ACT! if it got more socially integrated. It needs to be cool.

To which I reply, "please shoot me now".
 
In the years I've been doing this I have never, ever, met anyone in the business world who has any interest in seeing this guff. I'm sure there will be someone out there in business world who thinks this is great; if so this is going to make you really happy. At least it might, providing your clients have provided you with their social network names, and have set permissions so that everything they do is public.

And you don't care about Twitter because that's not included in the stream.

Our Rating: 1/5 unless you are 16 years old when you will love it.

3. Social Sharing

It's that "Social" word again. If you sign up to the Sage ACT! Email Marketing service (aka Swiftpage) you can now include social media links in the footer of your mail-shot and can also publish your email-shot to your own social media accounts.

Our Rating: 2/5. Fine if you want to alert your granny via Facebook that you business has a special offer this month.

4. Smart-Task Enhancements

You do use Smart-Tasks don't you?

Thought not. Hardly any one does. This is broadly because traditionally, all they have done is generate more work for you to do. With the exception of sending out an e-mail, they don't actually do anything other than schedule more things to be done; they don't actually do any work for you.

The new version now adds field triggers and field updates, so that you can get the system to notice when someone enters "West Midlands" in the County field of a new contact and then automatically update another field, e.g. Record Manager to the name of the sales person responsible for the West Midlands.

Oh, Smart-tasks also now run on the server, so you don't have to be logged in to get them to work, which is how it should have been all along.

Our Rating: 3/5 Getting almost useful.

5. Usability Improvements

Each revision invariably includes usability improvements, some published, some lurking in the background for us to stumble upon by accident.

Some of the improvements in ACT! 2013 include:
  • New, "intuitive" wizards for remote database creation, moving and sharing databases, and a "streamlined download experience".
  • New Internet Sync User Interface (there wasn't one before).
  • Network and Internet Sync can check for updates.
  • User Interface for Google and Outlook sync logging. Shows number of records sent, at what time, in what direction, and any errors.
  • Improved error messages when facing networking problems.
  • Sync execution tables to allow for SQL commands to be sent during sync. Will allow for simpler sync fixes in the future.
Our Rating: 5/5 All usability improvements are welcomed.

But perhaps the most significant reason to upgrade to Sage ACT! 2013 is for one feature that hasn't yet been officially sanctioned or published. It appears unofficially that it is compatible with Windows 8.(I've not heard anyone say that ACT! 2012 is NOT compatible, just that 2013 IS. Probably). It is likely that an official Windows 8 compatible version will be released as a service pack later in the year, but people who have tested ACT! 2013 Beta with pre-release version of the new Windows operating system have not yet reported any problems that I'm aware of.

So, should I buy it?

If you don't have an entry level CRM software package should you buy ACT! 2013?

Absolutely, it's still the most configurable and intuitive system on the market. The wide range of out-of-the-office mobility options make it even better.

If you currently have ACT! 2012 there's probably no one killer feature here to make you want to rush out and upgrade, but if you have an older version, then ACT 2013 is as good as it gets. If your current version is less than two years old you can probably qualify for special upgrade pricing as well.

Sage ACT! 2013 goes on sale in the UK from 5th September 2012. You can order here.

You can now book your Sage ACT! 2013 on-site training course here. ACT Training.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

My Top Ten Favourite Sage ACT! Features in 2011

As 2011 draws to a close I have been reflecting on the features in ACT! that I use the most, the ones that work best for me. These are not exclusive to the latest version (Sage ACT! 2012), but are just the ones that I've used most this year.

  1. Mailmerge to Letters and E-mail
    The ability to merge information into Word documents and Outlook E-mails has been around for a while. This is probably the function I use most. I have stack of around twenty different templates set up which allow me to generate printed documents and e-mails with a couple of clicks. I also frequently use two templates in parallel. For example, I will generate a quotation in Word, then save it as a PDF. I then generate a covering e-mail and attach the PDF. I'm still looking forward to the day I can do this as one process!
  2. Quick Lookups
    Like most ACT! users if I'm trying to find stuff in my database I will most likely turn first to the Quick Lookup window at the top-left of the screen. I also run the Default Lookup Field add-on from Exponenciel ( http://www.exponenciel.com/actaddons/actaddon.aspx?ID=142 ) so that the default lookup is Company rather than Contact, which saves a couple of mouse-clicks each time I need to find a company in my database.
  3. Outlook Calendar Sync
    This is running constantly in the background, syncing my ACT! and Outlook calendars in both directions. So it doesn't matter whether I'm working in ACT! or Outlook, the calendars are the same. The additional benefit is that my Android phone syncs to Outlook (one way, Outlook to phone), so all my ACT! scheduled appointments turn up on my phone. Once again, I use an add-on, the Advanced Acivity Window from Exponenciel ( http://www.exponenciel.com/actaddons/actaddon.aspx?ID=140 ) so that I can select what contact information is synchronised to Outlook and then to my phone.
  4. Import from Excel
    I do a lot of importing data from Excel, and it's great that at long last you can import directly from an Excel spreadsheet without having to save as a csv file first. I can't get myself to trust the automatic field matching, I'm sure it works fine but I prefer to map the fields manually to get that warm cozy feeling that the import will go as expected. The report produced after an import should flag any errors, but to my mind, by then it's too late.
  5. Dynamic Groups
    Where would I be without dynamic groups? All my regular queries are saved as dynamic groups so I can select and use the latest information instantaneously. Want to find all the accountants in Birmingham with a shoe-size of 9? Providing you have fields in ACT! to capture the raw information you can set up a dynamic group to select just the contacts you want. I always start a mailmerge by first setting up a dynamic group of the contacts who will receive my words of wisdom.
  6. Edit | Replace
    This lesser known function is one that I use all the time, often when out at a customer's site. Want to change the ID/Status of 300 records from Prospect to Customer? Use Edit | Replace to do it in one go.
  7. Create New Fields
    Creating new fields to capture relevant bits of information that might be useful to your business is one of the greatfeatures of ACT! Sometimes it takes a little thought where those new fields should appear. Just keep in mind that the ACT! database is made up of different tables, which in turn make up the list views (Contact List, Group List, Company List and Opportunity List). It's really easy to extract and print data from each list and it can also be exported to Excel with one click. Just make sure that any new fields are set up in the right list. For example, I've added a field called Invoice Number. I've put this in the Opportunities area so it appears in the Opportunity list.
  8. Open in Contact Detail View
    By default, an ACT! database greets you with the Welcome Screen. This is interesting for about 30 seconds, but then you need to change the view to do something useful. The good news is that you can change the default opening screen to Contacts, Contact List, or Dashboards. (Tools | Preferences | Startup tab | Startup view).
  9. ACT! Analytics
    "Never heard of it", I hear you say, and I'm not surprised. For a while it has been possible to generate reports in Excel by using Excel's import wizardry to access your ACT! data via the back door. (You have to have the correct permissions to do this by the way). The latest versions of ACT! come with a utility that allows simple extraction of some basic Tasks and Opportunity information and for that to be  displayed in a pivot table. No. Really. This is potentially quite exciting stuff. If you would like more information check out this Knowledgebase article. http://tinyurl.com/cog3rvn
  10. ACT! Scheduler
    There's no excuse for not having a backup of your database when you need it, and for not keeping your database in tip-top condition. ACT! has its own scheduler to do these things for you in the background. (Tools | ACT! Scheduler). If your main database resides on a server then set this up there. You can schedule daily backups at some convenient hour in the middle of the night. I suggest you set it up to at least retain the last five backups then delete older ones. You can also schedule database maintenence to run an hor or so later. This checks for any minor glitches and also reindexes you data so it all runs as quickly as possible.

So, there we have it. That's what I use. Surprised there's no mention of Smart Tasks, Universal Search or Google integration? It's just that I dont use them. Others may well do. ACT! is a sales and marketing toolbox. You may not need to use every tool in the box; just pick the ones that work for you!

If you would like some on-site ACT! training or support anywhere in the UK we can help. Just click the link for more information. ACT Training.

May I wish you a happy Christmas holiday and good health for tthe new year.

Jeff