ACT! is the most popular sales contact manager ever with over 6m users. Salesforce.com is the most popular online CRM or web based contact management system for sales people with 1.5m users. Both were the first of their kind.
As the Internet revolutionizes the way we do business, more and more new businesses and current users of ACT! are considering Salesforce.com for contact management, sharing customer information among a far flung team, automating sales and marketing processes and management analytics.
In Fall of 2009, ACT! 2010 has been released and Salesforce.com has introduced a new low priced contact management option for small businesses.
The trade off may appear to be simple – online, web based contact management and CRM or locally installed “client-server” contact management, sales automation software. Either you want to be on the web or you want to run things yourself. Many of the benefits of each approach are obvious and important. Here are a few:
ACT! Software – software and data on your own hardware
•Cost – One time software expense
•Security – Its your data and you have control over it
•Available to you when not connected to Internet
Salesforce.com on the Internet
•No software to install and maintain
•Easy sharing of information with remote team
•Service – its called Software as a Service right?
Buyer Beware! – assumptions above about the benefits of each option are often dead wrong.
For instance, business owners and sales executives typically look only at the price of the software or service and not the cost of initial setup, training, hardware and software maintenance, upgrades, support, data maintenance, etc. So, when using ACT!, you should include the cost of required hardware (such as a server for your master ACT! database, a backup system for this valuable data, etc) and software upgrades. In the case of both ACT! and Salesforce.com you should include the cost of customizing the system for your business and training your team to use it.
After the comparison chart below follows a complete description of the “hidden costs” commonly associated with ACT! and Salesforce.com
ACT! – Hidden Costs
- Database Server – $2,000 to $10,000
- Backup System – $500 to $2,000
- Support after the 1st 30 days – $299 per person
- Time required for training – $125 per person
- Time required to install on database server – (3 hrs) $375
- Time required to install on user computers – $125 per person
- Time required to configure fields, reports, etc. – $500 to $5,000
- Time required to configure synchronization – $125 per person
- Time required for database maintenance – $250 per month
- Time required for software updates – $250 per month
Salesforce.com – Hidden Costs
- Importing existing ACT! or Goldmine database – $500 to $3,000
- Customization and Configuration of fields, reports, user permissions, etc. – $1,000 to $10,000
- Email Blasts over 250 at a time – $350 per person per year (3rd party service required)
- Getting your data back in a useful format – $500 to $2,000
What about service? You can bet its important. If you’re going to use ACT! or Salesforce.com to run your sales team, that makes it mission critical. When you can’t figure out the solution to your needs on your own, you need to have someone available to give it to you quickly.
Here’s a summary of support plans offered:
•Getting Started Support – for the first 30 days, you get phone, email and chat support. When you call, you can expect to wait on hold for a while. Chat’s nice for simple issues. Emails they say will “receive a 4 business hour turnaround”.
•Beyond 30 days – you’re limited to their “Self Service Resources” – knowledge base and user forums, etc. ACT! Advantage – essentially the same level of service as “Getting Started” but, at a cost of $299 per person per year.
•Basic Support – included in all their editions except Contact Manager, unlimited phone support but, you essentially leave a message and they promise to respond to you in 2 business days.
•Premier Support – 2 hour response time for $120 per user per year.
So whether you decide to pay for the additional support offerings or not, its going to cost you. If you don’t have fast access to help when you need it, its going to disrupt your sales and marketing efforts and make getting your sales team used to using the system consistently more difficult.
This is why both companies talk so much about their networks of consultants or VARs. These are independent businesses that have been “certified” in either ACT! or Salesforce.com and are located in your area. They come to your location and help you with setup, training and support. Of course, they charge for every minute of their time. These are generally a great bunch of people who provide a very valuable service. However, you should factor the cost of working with a VAR or consultant into your plans from the outset.
Like any technology product or service, both Salesforce.com and ACT! have their limitations. Some are technical (things it just won’t do) and some are contractual. In both cases, you need to know what they are, up front, and plan to work within those limits or find additional services where needed.
Limitations of ACT!
Sharing information – if you’re all in one office and you’ve purchased the necessary hardware and networking technology, you’ll be in good shape. If some of you travel or are in remote locations, then you’ll need to “synchronize” databases or setup VPNs (virtual private networks). This is not for the faint of heart and gets more complex as you add more people to the mix. In addition, in the easiest and most common configurations, its not real time.
Security – you’d think that since the data is on your systems, its more secure but, the reality is that your data is far more likely to be damaged or stolen by an employee than some Internet hacker. Its not difficult for a sales rep to find your master ACT! database on your network and copy it right before he leaves for the competition.
Emailing – ACT! does enable email blasts using mail merge templates but, it relies on your email infrastructure to do it. That means that you’ll need to manage your email server, email clients and your Internet Service Provider to be sure you can do what you need and that your emails won’t end up in your customers’ junk folder. These emails will not be CAN-SPAM compliant. Another option is to “bolt on” a 3rd party Email Service Provider (ESP) which involves additional costs and moving data back and forth between two systems.
Limitations of Salesforce.com
•Importing your existing data – importing an existing database like ACT! or Goldmine, etc. can’t be done (if you want to keep all your notes, etc.) without the purchase of additional software and/or paying a 3rd party.
•Contractual – its an annual subscription and you can’t get your money back if you want out before the end of the year. In fact, even if you just want to reduce the number of users because you lost an employee, you can’t get that money back. In addition, if you’re looking at their less expensive “editions”, its likely that you’re going to find you don’t have the capabilities you really need to run a sales and marketing organization and will need to upgrade.
•Access to your data – if you ever wanted to move your data somewhere else, its not easy. You can download each table in the database separately. That means your contacts are in one excel file and the follow up calls for those contacts are in another file. Plan to pay somebody with some database skills to stitch it all back together for you.
•Emailing – Salesforce.com offers similar email blasts using mail merge templates to ACT! but, they limit the number you can send. With their Professional edition you can send 1,000 per day but, only in batches of 250. That won’t cut it for serious email marketers but, even for those new to email marketing, getting your newsletter out to your list of 3,000 people will require 12 “blasts” and that’s time consuming. Again, they won’t be CAN-SPAM compliant. And again, you can subscribe to add-on ESP services for additional costs, etc.
ACT!’s latest version (ACT! 2010) compares pretty well from a feature point of view with Salesforce.com’s Professional Edition. The chart above compares the most popular features of each.
In return for putting this detailed analysis of both products together, we hope you don’t mind that we’ve taken the liberty of adding a 3rd option into the mix. SalesNexus.com is an online contact management or CRM that offers similar benefits to Salesforce.com in the sense that its hosted on the Internet. However, SalesNexus.com offers top notch support at no additional cost, far friendlier contractual terms and unlimited email marketing that Salesforce.com can’t touch. In addition, SalesNexus.com will import your ACT! database for you and give your data back to you in ACT! format if you move on.
Disclaimer – the costs quoted herein are estimates based on over 7 years of working with small businesses transitioning from ACT! and Salesforce.com and what those customers have told us about the costs and time required. e