Whatever type or size of business you run, a contacts management system is essential. Without a robust system your contacts can get lost or the data confused, you won't have the information you need to follow up leads and up-sell to your clients, and you'll waste a lot of time.

So what should an effective contact management system be able to do for you?

Taimur Khan, founder of Skylightit.com, has some advice:

1. Clear presentation of all relevant information

The name, phone numbers, and addresses etc. are essential, but you may also want detailed records of all products or services purchased, previous quotes, estimates and invoice activity, further products or services they may appreciate, notes and comments, information on projects and sales (current and previous), notes on any feedback provided or any special needs or preferences the client has expressed, etc.

Would you like to keep task management and contacts in sync? Do some contacts need the ability to login and collaborate? Do you want to assign tasks and keep all the discussions in one place?

2. Tagging, Grouping and Filtering Contacts

Business 4 (PD)Will it allow you to group information according to 'tags' (which you can create to suit you) and also to search that information using filters? E.g. people working for a particular company, or with a specific skill, or living in a defined geographical location.

Filtering can also be applied to your suppliers and subcontractors etc.

3. Installed Contact Managers vs. Software-as-a-Service

Should you purchase a product to be installed on your company's computer system or choose a hosted, software-as-a-service option (Saas)?

Let's look at both:

• The cost of entry is usually lower for SaaS compared to an installed application. With SaaS you get regular updates, backups, and instant availability. With an installed application you may require an IT person to fix bugs and install updates.

• The total cost of ownership (when you take into account lifetime costs) of the two solutions is generally comparable.

• With SaaS your contact management system can be up and running immediately. An installed system will often require set-up and integration time.

• By choosing SaaS all contact information, and the power to manipulate that information, is available from any computer or mobile device anywhere—all you need is an Internet connection. Depending on your IT set-up this is not always the case with an installed system.

• Using a SaaS system means you won't lose your data if you lose your computer or if your system crashes.  All of your information is securely stored and backed-up on the SaaS provider's network. With an installed option you will probably need to arrange cloud back-up as an extra service (and cost).

• Check what support you will receive if there is a problem, how quickly they will respond, and when is their Support Desk is open? This will vary between providers.

• With an installed system you control who has access to your data – rather than it being in the Cloud. The level of security will depend on your own set-up. Most SaaS providers also have very robust security – and this is a question you may want to ask them.

• With an installed system there's no need to be connected to the Internet in order to access the data – useful if you are travelling without Internet connection.

• Installed options are faster and are only limited by the speed of your computer, whereas SaaS is dependent on the speed of your Internet, and you may be subject to data limitations.

• With an installed option you generally only pay once until you need to do a major upgrade. SaaS is based on a monthly/annual subscription although many offer a 30 day free trial so you can 'test before you buy' and some are as low as $15/month once you sign up.

For example says Taimur Khan, we use Google Apps for emails, Google Drive for files, Mailchimp.com for newsletters and Skylightit.com for all business activities including collaborative projects with developers. For newsletter we sync our contacts in Skylight.com with Mailchimp – this keeps everything connected and saves time.

By choosing an effective contact management system that works for you and your business you will save time and money and most importantly you'll be able to find the contacts you need when you need them. This will help you to serve your customers better and even up-sell to them more effectively.

Upgrading to a robust system will involve some cost and some time investment – but you will soon recoup these and much more. Think about how streamlined and efficient your business will be when all the various elements are in sync. You'll have time to be able to move your business to the next level.

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