If your job puts you in contact with a lot of people, keeping track of all of them can be a big task. How much information can you scribble on those Rolodex cards? Is there really another empty spot close at hand for one more yellow Post-it note?
A personal computer loaded with contact management software could make the job a lot easier. The best such programs go far beyond being mere electronic telephone books or schedulers to help you automate many of the tasks that result every time you dial or answer your phone.
I've taken a look at four contact management programs that run on IBM and compatible computers with 640 kilobytes of memory and, in most cases, a hard disk.
ACT version 2.0, $395 from Contact Software International Inc. in Carrollton, Tex., (214) 418-1866, comes with a 60-day satisfaction guarantee and claims title to best seller of the group.
BizBase, version 2.1, $395 for its "gold" hard-disk model and $99 for the less-powerful single floppy disk "silver" version, is offered by Creagh Computer Systems in Solana Beach, Calif., (619) 259-7174, with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
The Maximizer, version 2.1, $295, from Richmond Technologies & Software Inc. in Burnaby, British Columbia, (604) 299-2121, has undergone two significant upgrades this year. A network version sells for $695.
Performer, $295, from Performer Systems Inc. in Alhambra, Calif., (818) 300-8570, offers a series of optional add-on packages to bring even greater automation to your tasks. It will run on a single high-density floppy drive if need be.
The contact management software market is highly competitive, and all four of these programs have introduced upgraded versions within the past several months.
All four have basic features in common. They let you keep detailed lists of the people and companies whom you contact. They schedule calls, meetings and other activities. You can automatically prepare letters, memos, invoices and other forms, properly addressed and personalized with your contact data.
You can search through your lists of data in various ways, such as the person's name, company name, city, business category, last date of contact, next scheduled contact, etc.
Each has built-in word processing to write letters and other documents. ACT and Maximizer include spelling checkers. Once written, letters can be used over and over, with appropriate name and address supplied automatically each time.
They all will place telephone calls for you if your computer has a modem. But whether you dial or the computer dials, all will let you easily update contact information as you talk.
In addition to keeping a history of your dealings with each contact, all of these programs will also keep track of your expenses.
All except Maximizer can be suspended temporarily so that you can run other software and then return to the same point you were when you left. Each has many other features, some in common and others unique.
ACT, which is an acronym for automated contact tracking, is a program for people who can't or don't want to type. Nearly everything, including sending letters or virtually any other document or form, can be accomplished with just a few keystrokes.
Every part of the program is tied to the contact records, which provide basic identification data, including space for the secretary's name, plus 29 user-defined fields.
Entries for most data fields in a contact record can be selected with a single keystroke from a pop-up list of entries commonly used, such as state or city names or business titles.
Operations are selected from menus across the top of the screen, where they can be easily perused any time you can't remember what command you want. Setting or clearing dates to call or meet with someone, or storing a "to do" item related to a person, is very easy. Of course, the history of all past contacts with that person is kept and can be quickly reviewed.
ACT offers the ability to run other programs, even Microsoft Windows programs, and return exactly where you were when you exit them.
Performer is a solid, middle-of-the-road program and is the quickest of the four to begin using. A thorough but simple tutorial section in the reference manual gives you the essentials in about 10 minutes. After that, a well-designed set of menu choices and on-screen prompts will let you easily use what you have learned.
Two screens full of data can be stored for each contact, which is typical of all of these programs. Performer allows you to define 31 of the fields, all on the second screen, with your own category names.
As with ACT, most fields have associated look-up lists in which you can store common entries, such as job titles or task categories, and use them with a single keystroke.
If you spend an extra $50 for the optional PERZip database of Zip codes, cities and states, you'll never have to type in a city name. Just enter the Zip code and the other information is automatically entered.