Contact Management CRM Buyer's Guide: Top 10 Solutions of 2017

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What is Contact Management Software?

Contact management software is designed to organize contact details and provide tools to assign attributes, draft notes, consolidate correspondence, display relationships and otherwise manage related data. Contact management is a key feature of customer relationship management (CRM), but businesses or individuals who aren’t looking for functions related to the ‘three pillars’ of CRM – sales, marketing and customer service – might opt for a simpler contact management solution for their organizational needs.

Although stripped down compared to CRM platforms, modern contact management software provides valuable organizational tools, search functions, data import and export and integrations with other business applications. Contact management solutions are often lower priced than CRMs (or software specialized for any of the three pillars); depending on the vendor, the software may be available on monthly SaaS subscription or a one-time purchase for a bundle of modules with regular upgrades.

Key Benefits & Features of Contact Management Software:

Contact management software for businesses digitizes – and in some ways, automates – the storage and organization of contact details. This includes a contact’s professional information, communication channels, correspondence history and internal notes. When combined with the tools for filtering, searching and exporting this information, contact management software offers considerable benefits for companies, particularly those using analog methods for contact management.

  1. Centralized Contact Information. As mentioned, contact management software puts your contacts’ details in a central location. Their communication channels, professional information, internal notes, custom fields and tags and related details are compiled into a simple profile page. Rather than relying on memory or scattered notes, your database of contacts contains all the details you need to foster real, personal connections – birthdays, job titles, and your correspondence history.
  2. Filter Contacts. Contact management software allows a range of fields for which contact details can be filled; custom fields and tags allows attribution of details you feel particularly relevant. Your database of contacts can be searched according to these properties with contacts filterable into subsets.
  3. Import and Export Data. Contacts, notes, tasks and related data can be imported to the contact management software, and exported in a variety of formats, such as CSV or XLS. Filtered subsets of contacts can also be exported and sent to colleagues based on criteria – job title or role, organization, business relationship value, and so forth.
  4. File Management. Files shared between you and contacts can be archived within the contact management platform. Rather than searching emails for a particular document, users can retrieve it by searching through all documents linked to that contact or organizations.
  5. Activity Tracking. Contact management solutions are able to track individual activities within the platforms. That means the software can provide activity feeds and filtered searches by activity as well as reports charting activities by user or type over a time period.
  6. Integration with Existing Systems. Your contact management system isn’t the only business application you’ll use; many solutions offer integration with productivity suites (Google Apps or Office 365), webmail clients, calendar apps, VoIP solutions, and so on. Contact management software that keeps records of meetings, emails and call logs can automatically draw from these apps to complete contact details.

What to Look for in a Contact Management Solution:

  • Contact Management Tools – A contact management solution is more than just a repository of details. It must also have tools to organize data, track activities and updates, link details to relevant contacts, create reports for contact properties or activities over time, and so forth.
  • Custom Fields and Tags – Custom fields and tags allow you to assign properties to contacts based on criteria relevant to your specific businesses. These custom properties are searchable and filterable for list exports or reports.
  • Search – The more powerful the search function, the more useful your contacts list becomes. Being able to search by contact property – such as role, title, organization, custom field, record creation date, most recent email, and so forth – derives more value from your contacts than merely keeping a list.
  • Notes – Internal notes allows users to jot down thoughts after a meeting or leave notes for colleagues. The next time you or another user accesses the contact’s profile page, the note will be visible and can be updated, removed or left intact.
  • File Archive – Modern contact management solutions will provide storage for users to create an archive of exchanged documents or files with contacts. Instead of creating a note, or using separate storage, the document itself will be accessible (along with previously exchanged files) from within the software.
  • Task Management – Certain contact management solutions allow tasks to be created, assigned to users and linked to specific contacts and organizations. An activity feed would inform users of upcoming tasks, and reminders can be set to notify users of tasks whose deadlines are approaching.
  • Customizable Dashboard – Contact management software that allows its users to customize dashboards grant them more autonomy over which of their data they’d like to see first. This might refer to an activity feed, upcoming tasks or scheduled events, relationship management reminders or visualized reports of recent software activity.
  • Calendar Management – Many contact management solutions integrate with popular calendar apps, like Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar. This allows users to import schedules and upcoming events and link contacts or organizations to them, which would also update their individual profile page.
  • Email Integration – Certain contact management solutions integrate email, which allow emails to be sent from within the platform. Others sync with popular webmail clients (notably, Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail) with automatic logging of emails under the appropriate contact.
  • Data Import – Most contact management apps allow users to import contacts, and sometimes notes, in a variety of file formats, such as CSV or XLS. This feature is necessary for companies with long lists of existing contacts.
  • Reports – Filterable reports based on contact properties, activities or integrated third-party apps can inform users as to completed tasks, productivity, growth in professional network or any subset of fields. Such reports can be saved, shared or exported into different formats.
  • Custom Reminders – Certain contact management software allows users to set custom notifications for upcoming tasks, events or types of app activity.
  • Integrations – Contact management software should integrate with your most common business apps, whether for telecommunication, invoicing, marketing and so forth.
  • Mobile App – Modern contact management solutions include a mobile app that syncs with contact lists stored in the cloud – Google, iCloud, Office 365 and Exchange – so changes to one list are reflected elsewhere.

What to Look for when Comparing Contact Management Solution Providers:

  • Feature Limits – Contact management solutions – particularly those offered through monthly subscription – often put caps on features, such as the number of contacts you can store, custom fields and tags, file storage, etc. These solutions are scalable, with upgrades available on demand, but make careful note of your contact management needs before choosing a solution.
  • Integrations – If your business has a dedicated email marketing app, active social media accounts, sales force and marketing automation tools or third-party communication apps, you’ll want this new software to integrate into your existing systems. While custom integrations can be built using the developer API, or third-party workflows configured using Zapier, it’s always easier if the contact management app has an integration available out of the box.
  • Price – Contact management software is available in various pricing models. While plenty of solutions are available through monthly subscription, others can be purchased outright – a single payment for a bundle of features that receive free upgrades. This can be cost effective if you’re committed to a solution, but external features are sold separately.
  • Support – Contact management vendors provide technical support through various channels, such as online ticketing, email support, phone support (usually for higher-tier subscriptions) in addition to a free knowledge base of articles, online tutorials and community forums. Determine what kind of support you may require before committing to a solution – time spent struggling to get started is time wasted.
  • Mobile App – Business is increasingly mobile and your contact management tools should be, too. Like any mobile app, the interface should be intuitive and visually-friendly and your data should be accessible no more than a few presses away.

Some Final Thoughts to Contact Management Software Shoppers:

A search for contact management software will usually turn up CRM results. This is because most businesses that require extensive contact management also have related business needs that CRMs attempt to resolve. However, solutions exist that minimize the sales, marketing and customer support aspects of CRMs, or simply do away with them altogether and provide features built for managing contacts.

Even these simpler contact management solutions are extendable through purchasable modules or higher-tier subscriptions with CRM-like feature. When comparing solutions, if you are considering upgrades that turn your contact management app into a quasi-CRM, you may be better off considering a CRM outright – for a slightly higher price per user/month, you’ll likely receive a more robust array of business functions, a larger marketplace for extensions and potentially more avenues for technical support.