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More Than One New ACT! in the Works

Over the course of the last six months, Best Software has launched six new versions of ACT!, the small-business contact management application. Some of them, such as ACT! 6.0 and the ACT! link for Peachtree — while significant — are the typical product upgrades and releases expected of every vendor.

Others, such as ACT! for Web, ACT! for PocketPC (which will begin shipping next week) and ACT! for Palm, are designed to move the vendor into new markets. “Traditionally we have only offered ACT! for Windows,” Greg Head, general manager of ACT! told CRM Buyer Magazine, “but in the last six months, we have extended our platform.”

Future development efforts will focus on platforms that make sense for mobile users, according to Head, but that is just one of the go-to-market strategies Best Software is employing as it attempts to further penetrate the small and mid-size business market. The company also will explore other paths, with more ACT! releases slated to hit the market at a brisk pace in the coming year.

Changing Nature

In many ways, ACT! is a bellwether for the small and mid-size CRM market. For many years, it has been the staple of small businesses that wanted an easy-to-use contact management system. Traditionally, those users would either migrate — often to SalesLogix, a higher-end SMB product also offered by Best — or would remain content with ACT!.

However, the changing nature of the SMB space is driving Best Software — along with other vendors — to be more aggressive in its product development and marketing.

Consider, for example, ACT! for Web, an online version of the Windows application that the company rolled out last month.

“With the slow economy, everyone wants to target the small-business owners now,” Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer. “One trend among SMBs is to move towards a hosted model. Many companies like the idea of accessing an application via the Web and sharing the data among users.” By offering ACT! as a very low-cost hosted model, Best Software hopes to head off clients that might be considering Salesforce.com or UpShot as alternatives, she said.

Head characterizes Act! for Web as just one more alternative the vendor wants to make available to its mobile client base. Indeed, he is not sure the Web-based CRM model is truly the first choice for many SMB users. “Given a choice between a simple Web-interface to a product or a richer, more familiar Windows interface, people are more likely to use the Windows interface,” he remarked.

Growing Sophistication

The growing menu of ACT! platform choices is a reflection of the growing sophistication of the SMB space, according to Head. “There is a general awareness of CRM that wasn’t there five years ago, and all businesses — not just the SMBs — have become more aware of the pitfalls.” But SMB users also have become savvier about what they can derive from a CRM application, he noted.

“They want to be able to integrate with a Web site — to be able to work on all platforms. They are becoming more demanding,” he acknowledged, “but they still have very practical needs.”

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