Choosing the Best Contact Management System

Learn about available software offerings, including a new industry-specific version of ACT!

June 1, 2006

A contact management system can help you make more productive use of your time, keeping you focused on the day-to-day activities and responsibilities that build your client base and move each transaction along.

Once you’ve decided that you want to use a system, the question becomes whether you’ll be better served with a generic contact manager or one developed specifically for the real estate industry; one installed on your PC or one offered as a Web-based application.

Here, I’ll explain your options and introduce you to a brand new software product that’s made just for real estate practitioners.

Generic vs. Industry Specific

Generic contact management systems tend to be updated more frequently and boast a broader mix of features that you can customize. Typically, they're also the most affordable options. The downside? Adapting these programs for real estate takes time and requires a thorough understanding of how contact management can be used best specifically for your career.

Then there are real estate-specific solutions, such as Powermate’s Agent Business Builder and Top Producer, which already have been developed for your career needs. That removes the burden of customization, although you must pay more for that convenience.

However, there are other options — products that fall somewhere in between generic and real estate specific. Some examples include template sets such as ActiveAgent from Sonoma Enterprises or add-ons to the generic software such as Goldmine.

A New Product Hits the Market

Sage Software, publisher of the generic ACT! contact management/customer relationship system, has created a new program geared to real estate professionals: ACT! Premium for Real Estate.

The product aims to appeal to those who are already familiar with the generic version. Sage estimates that 6 percent, or 150,000, of the generic software’s 2.5 million registered users are real estate professionals.

Users of the generic version of ACT! can upgrade to the real estate-specific version, while new users can buy it off the shelf.

Brandon Balsley, senior product manager of ACT! Premium for Real Estate, says company surveys show that real estate practitioners “had to spend a lot of time customizing the program to their real estate business and how they operate.” With the new version, “we set out to make it as easy as possible for anyone in real estate to get up and running,” he says.

The software combines the regular features of ACT! with contact record, planning, marketing, and lead-management features customized for residential real estate salespeople and brokers. Included are six real estate reports, 30 letter templates for marketing and correspondence, and automated scheduling for 20 real estate activities. The package also includes software to sync contact and calendar information between a computer and Palm or Pocket PC handhelds.

Balsley also notes that features such as the database and activity planner can be shared or accessed using other ACT! Products — which must be purchased separately — including ACT! Premium for the Web and ACT! for Palm OS,a full-powered version of ACT! for Palm devices.

As you may expect, ACT! Premium for Real Estate carries the higher pricing one would expect of an industry-specific solution: $469.99. However, users of the generic version can upgrade to the real estate version for $199.95 from ACT! 2006, or $299.95 from ACT! 2005 and earlier versions.

Review Your Options

If you’re new to contact management, or looking to replace an older solution, the new real estate version of ACT! may provide the ease of use and specialized features that merit the investment. But before you commit to this or any other system, look at all of your options and balance you real estate needs with what you’re willing to pay.

Visit Web sites of vendors, compare features, and take advantage of trial versions to find the best match for your needs. Key considerations include flexibility for creating customized records and report functions, data import/export compatibility with other applications, and integrated activity planning and alerts.

Contact management should be approached as a cornerstone of a tech-driven real estate strategy. It allows you to operate more efficiently as it boosts productivity and improves services to consumers. With so much to gain, take the time to make sure whatever solution you choose is one you can confidently entrust with your career.