Many Web entrepreneurs forget that e-commerce isn't merely a case of setting up an online store and then waiting for sales to roll in. Instead, there's a good deal of old-fashioned contact-making, customer support, and partnerships that enter into the mix -- efforts that require powerful software.
Some of the more popular tools for managing information like this — tools like ACT! and Goldmine — do a good job on the sales side, but have only very weak integration with Microsoft Outlook. That's unfortunate, since Outlook happens to be one of the most-used applications by small business people.
Wouldn't it be something if Outlook managed contacts, handled e-mail, tracked appointments and sales efforts, kept detailed records of sales information, and generated status reports on demand? Instead, small business salespeople are often frustrated about having to constantly switch out of Outlook in order to access the kind of sales-related information they need to do their jobs.
Now Avidian Technologies has stepped into the fray with Prophet 2004, a product it says will allow salespeople to access that crucial sales data without ever leaving the Outlook application space. Avidian built its application within Outlook, using the .NET development tools released by Microsoft with Outlook 2000 and XP. Through this deep integration with the Outlook application, Avidian leverages the ease of use and functionality built into Outlook, while layering on tracking and reporting features. The user interface remains the same.
This means you can continue to access the best of Outlook: features such as e-mail, calendar, appointments and tasks. At the same time, you can manage sales and support opportunities in association with Outlook contacts, without having to move between two applications or to synch databases. Prophet 2004 gets itself up and running relatively easily. By the time installation is complete, the contacts list already contains your contacts from Outlook. To make the most of the program, though, it is necessary to create what Avidian calls a "sales opportunity." This is the functionality that organizes e-mails, contacts and tasks in a manner relevant to the sales process.
You do this through Prophet's "sales opportunity" window. Enter the stage of a sales effort, the probability of its conclusion and the type of sale. You can customize all the fields according to your particular business needs. Input your notes, search e-mails and associates task, and they'll update directly to the Outlook calendar and task list.
Those few steps vastly expand Outlook's power as a sales management tool. Suddenly all the information you need is in one place, and not just for one salesperson but for the entire sales force. You can forge a peer-to-peer network where co-workers can share their sales information using a local area network, VPN or dial-up connection. Each team member can receive a consolidated view of all sales information residing on other team members' computers. Alternately, you can share data by sending reports from within Prophet. The application comes with more than 30 predefined reports, which can be saved in six different formats: Word, Excel, PDF, Tiff, HTML and Text. This ability to generate reports is another of Prophet's distinguishing characteristics.
|Prophet 2004 lets you generate various charts to track and forecast sales.|
Pre-defined reports allow managers to quickly and easily see the status of sales efforts in various levels of detail. Generating such reports quickly and easily, instead of compiling information from multiple sources, gives salespeople a distinct competitive advantage. Prophet also includes a report designer wizard that makes is easy to customize reports by adding, removing or re-ordering report fields. This lets you alter a template by adding or editing such fields as Actions, Titles and Pictures.
While its ease of use and deep integration with Outlook make Prophet a standout in the field, all is not roses for Avidian. The company likely will face a strong challenge from Business Contact Manager, Microsoft's Outlook add-on. As that offering builds steam, Avidian executives say they hope to stay one step ahead by building a 300,000-strong user base by 2006.
Further, Prophet's own functionality could prove a stumbling block for some people. In order to make the most of this application, after all, you have to populate the individual sales opportunity fields for each potential contact.
That means a little bit of work up-front, but for most busy salespeople that effort should pay off very quickly in terms of increased efficiency and simplicity in the management of day-to-day sales efforts.
The desktop version of Prophet 2004 (for one individual) costs $149.95. Prophet 2004 Professional (for the server) with five client licenses costs $1,995. You'll find a more extensive price list on the software's pricing page.
Adam Stone is a contributor to SmallBusinessComputing.com, where this story originally appeared.