Choosing Contact Management Software
By Devin Moberg and Michael Kraft
IN THE increasingly competitive legal environment, effectively managing client relationships and maintaining accurate information on potential clients are essential to the success of a firm. More than a simple address book, contact management software can also be the foundation for marketing efforts, mailing lists, and conflict checking.
MOST OF THE available products include the same basic features storage of contact information in a central location, security, customizable fields and PDA synchronization so the real challenge lies in determining the level of additional functionality you need. In order of increasing sophistication, here are three products you should consider:
* Ease of use Familiar Microsoft interface and tight integration with Microsoft Office mean little training is required for firms already using Microsoft products on the desktop.
* Third-party support Outlook's high market share means software developers consider integrating with it a high priority.
* Limited number of contacts per folder Although there is no specific limit on the number, firms with the need to store tens of thousands of records in a single folder should look elsewhere.
* Limited search and reporting capabilities Searching is restricted to a single folder at a time, and reporting capabilities must be custom-developed.
Cole Valley ContactEase
* Duplicate detection One of the most frustrating problems in a contact management system is duplicate information. By checking for similar existing records during new contact creation, the software reduces the incidence of duplicates.
* Available relationship tracking The optional Contact and Relationship Management (CRM) module tracks information such as other contacts who work for the same company and who works for whom.
* Short on marketing features While advanced searching and categorization features for locating contacts, those looking for integrated marketing features should look at Cole Valley's MarketEase.
* Relationship discovery Rather than requiring someone to manually categorize contacts, the discovery feature pulls information from multiple sources to build relationships automatically.
* Marketing automation Included reports and marketing tracking features enable elaborate marketing campaigns to be undertaken without additional software.
* High learning curve In order to use the advanced features, users have to be trained, increasing the cost and complexity of implementation.
Even when the need for contact management software is clear, the process of selecting that software can be a challenge.
Here are some guidelines to use during the selection process, with a particular focus on three of the most popular systems Microsoft's Outlook, Cole Valley Software's ContactEase and Interface Software's InterAction.
The most important step in selecting contact management software is the identification of requirements. Although there are many excellent products available, they vary greatly in their functionality and price.
By developing a well-defined set of requirements before the evaluation process begins, the list of products can be shortened by eliminating those that do not meet the criteria.
This list of requirements should answer the following four key questions:
* How many contacts does the firm currently manage? (Electronically and on paper.)
* Will the maintenance of contact information be centralized, distributed, or a mix?
* What business functions will the system support? (Marketing, document production, etc.)
* What other systems either contain or need access to contact information?
Armed with a specific list of requirements, you are ready to start looking at products.
The key to any successful implementation is planning. Issues such as deciding on configuration options and coordinating integration with other systems should be resolved well in advance of installation. Leverage all of the resources available internal IT and marketing staff, the software vendor, and outside consultants to proactively deal with problems before your users have to.
Implementation isn't the end of the process, it's the beginning. Maintaining and enhancing the system is a continuous process, but the value returned to the firm by a fully utilized contact management system is unquestionably worth the investment.
Michael Kraft, a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board, is president of Kraft, Kennedy & Lesser, a legal technology consulting and systems integration firm. Devin Moberg is KK&L's managing consultant.