Success Lesson from ACT!

In his article over at the Software Advice blog titled “The Birth of a Category Known as Contact Management“, Mike Muhney (co-founder of ACT! Software) brings out some history surrounding where ACT! came from.

What struck me was the fact that it was born of a need, a need both he and Pat Sullivan had. It was not born of a thought “what can we make that will make money”, but rather, “we need to do x, let’s make something that will do x. Hey, other’s need it too…”.

The first reason why ACT! was successful is because it did the core things that sales people needed.

Mike and Pat sold the sales people of host of laptop makers on the benefit of using ACT!. They then sold it to others. Remember, that once you sell a salesperson on an idea, it’s incredibly hard to un-sell them on it.

The second reason that ACT! was successful is because the targeted the right niche.

There’s a lesson in there for all of us, we need to deliver the core thing that our clients are paying for, and make sure that we are marketing to the right people.

Export ACT! reports to Excel

Had a client today need some information out of ACT!, and ideally it would be in an Microsoft Excel spread sheet.

Given that one of the default ACT! reports gave the bare minimum required (Group Membership) we spent some considerable time editing a copy of that report to display the actual fields we wanted, both contact fields and group fields. What we wanted was a spread sheet that showed each contact in a particular groups sub-groups, detailing which sub-group each contact was a member of, and also showing some groups specific information for each.

This was all fine except that it still wasn’t in a spread sheet once we produced the report, printing it, out to PDF, were no problem, but no .xls file.

This is where KB 14690 came in handy. It details how to modify the Windows Registry such that the output options for ACT! reports will then include such welcome and handy options like Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, TIFF file and Paged html.

Now when we produce the report, we get a beautiful Excel spread sheet with just the information the client requested.

Hope you find that useful, and if you do, let me know how you’ve applied it.

Who should pay for Microsoft SQL installations that go wrong?

ah, SQL humorThe day is almost over, so I’ll fill you in on some of what occurred today, as it relates directly to this post by Mike at GLComputing. This was originally written as a comment to his post and kinda grew, so I’m posting it here in full.

SQL 2008 Express R2 has finally let me install a default SQLEXPRESS instance but I still can’t get a custom instance of ACT7 working. Who should be paying for the time it’s taking me to work out this issue?

I don’t yet have a complete answer to that question.

Imagine for a moment that I buy a brand new car, from a dealership. The car has trouble starting. So I go back to the dealership and ask them to fix it. They do so. I as a client go home happy.

But what’s really occurred? Well, the dealership gets a mechanic to look at it; he determines that a component if faulty, he replaces it with one off the spare part shelf in the dealership.

The dealership doesn’t want to wear the cost of the mechanics time or the cost of the part, so they put in a warranty claim to the manufacturer for the time taken by the mechanic and the cost of the part.

The manufacturer pays up, occasionally they audit the dealership to make sure fraud isn’t occurring. The manufacturer actually obtained the faulty component from a supplier. They then make a claim to the supplier for the costs.

The supplier pays up.

I know this because many years ago (early ’90’s) I was a Warranty Manager for a car dealership.

Should the same process apply in the software industry?

Is it the fault of the reseller/dealership that software/component failed?

Is it the fault of the software house/manufacturer that the software/component failed?

Is it the fault of the supplier that the software/component failed?

Of course the initial supplier will argue that they make their product to stringent standards, and they can’t account for all the possible variables of other hardware and environmental conditions.

And of course the software house/manufacturer will say they took all appropriate steps.

And also, of course, the reseller/dealership will say they aren’t to blame either.

And the customer, well, the customer is never wrong, right?

Getting a little more specific, in my case today, the client has all good name brand equipment, setup by a reputable IT firm with a solid reputation. I couldn’t fault either their spec’s or configuration. I know the amount of effort I’ve put into this today. I know how much effort I’ve put into making SQL installs go smoothly, to the point where they mostly do go smooth for me, but sometimes, like today, they go very very wrong.

And so yes, I lay the fault with the remaining two players. Me, the guy on the pointy end of the issue, who gets to look like an idiot in front of a customer because he can’t make shrink wrapped software work on name brand computers. [Do you think I'm a little cranky? hint, I am.]

You see, the vendor here (Sage) have a product they sell (Sage ACT!) that uses a database in the back end (Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express R2). The vendor (Sage) has chosen to use that product, use that version of the product. That choice means an implicit responsibility to issues using their product with the 3rd party product. Let me say it clearly, “Sage, you chose to use Microsoft SQL 2008 Express R2, which makes you half responsible.”

The 3rd party, the supplier of that component, Microsoft, have chosen to update their product, and sometimes that transition hasn’t gone smoothly for them, but nonetheless they have updated on a semi-regular basis (although not yearly, and the topic of frequency will be the subject of another discussion). They provide help via their KB articles and revert to the line “too many other environmental factors, not our problem”.

Reminds me of a joke I heard years ago:

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to fly to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “WHERE AM I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign read: “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at her map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their technical support, online help and product documentation, the response they gave me was technically correct, but completely useless.” – Thanks to Alun for the source link.

In my view, if a car had, say a throttle problem, the manufacture would be sorting out the problem quick smart. Sage, you need to compensate the people in the front line, in the trenches. Go hit Microsoft up if you’re not happy about it. That’s what the car manufacturers do. It works for them so don’t tell me it can’t work.

But, Sage, I’m not hearing much from you. And that’s concerning to me because in today’s world, the world of 2011, the internet, social media and a with your own social media presence, to not hear much at all is to hear all the other dissenting voices, to hear the competition.

Now honestly, the competition to Sage ACT! is woeful. Seriously, it is. ACT! is a great product, it’s flexible, customisable, and at least 11 other herbs and spices, all of which are pure goodness (honestly, it’s a lot more than 11). So here’s a hint to the competition, if you want a good CRM product, imitate ACT!.

Want to know one of its weaknesses? It’s reliance on product that doesn’t install properly. Achilles only had one heel that gave him trouble. Most, but not all, of the competition have figured this out, and allow either multiple backend databases to be used (MSSQL/MySQL/Oracle/PostgreSQL and others).

Now if you agree with me, let me know, if you don’t let me know as well, because as those that know me can attest, if you can prove your point, I’ll change. Of course, if you don’t give two hoots, then I guess I won’t be hearing from you. Either way, I’m gonna go hold my teddy bear and sing myself to sleep, hoping that the SQL install nightmare doesn’t plague me tonight. I’m gonna need some sleep to go fight this dragon again.

How to: Clear Outlook Location list

Had an issue yesterday where we wanted to remove some entires from Outlooks location list.

Huh? When you book an appointment in Microsoft Outlooks calendar you can specify a location. If ACT! by Sage has a Resource that is designated as a location, when ACT! sync’s with Outlook that location list gets filled in.

So, we wanted to edit that list in Outlook. Well, you can’t.

But you can clear the list completely, which for our purpose suited us fine, it’ll get repopulated with the correct values.

Thus, without further ado, here is how you do this:

Open up Regedit and remove the value from this key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Outlook\Preferences\LocationMRU

Note that you will need to replace the version number for your version of Microsoft Office (14.0 = MSO2010, 12.0 = MSO2007).

Hat tip to superuser.com.

The Complete Guide to Google Wave: How to Use Google Wave

Google Wave is occuping a great deal of mind space at the moment, the best site I’ve found that explains what it is, and how to use it is this, which starts out with this:

The Complete Guide to Google Wave is a comprehensive user manual by Gina Trapani with Adam Pash.

Google Wave is a new web-based collaboration tool that’s notoriously difficult to understand. This guide will help.

read more here: The Complete Guide to Google Wave: How to Use Google Wave.

The jury is still out for me, but at this point Gina and Adams explanation has made more sense of it, how this helps CRM and how it can be integrated with ACT! is what I’m mostly interested in.

Why ACT! won’t print a report

Often I’ve been told “my ACT! won’t print reports, it doesn’t matter which report I select, it won’t print”.

In the majority of these cases, the fix is actually very quick and simple.

You simply require at least one printer installed and have it set to be the default printer.

See, that was simple. Unfortunately, people sometimes remove all their printers, or for some reason none of their printers are marked as being the default printer and the first sign of trouble is that when they go to print out a report in ACT! it doesn’t work.

Novice to Expert

After spotting a link to both the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition and Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, I’ve read the original 1980 paper by the Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus (A Five-Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition)which made for interesting reading.

It describes (suprise!) 5 stages one goes through when learning a skill:

  • Novice
  • Advanced beginner
  • Competent
  • Proficient
  • Expert

I’ve yet to read the book Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, but the two chapters that are online (“Introduction” and “Journey From Novice to Expert”) and the mind map shown all lead me to believe that the book uses the Dreyfus Model as a basis to then provide practical measures to implement in order to make your way from novice to expert.

This is of interest to me because since October 2008 I began working with a product called ACT! which is a Contact and Customer Relationship Management product. When I began I was a Novice at using and implementing ACT!. My employer provided great training which got me to the Advanced beginner stage. Constant use and troubleshooting got me to the Competent stage, which was validated by my passing the ACT! Certified Consultants Exam. Now I’m chipping away at the Proficient stage, made just a little more interesting by the fact the the software has just been updated to version 12 (ACT! by Sage 2010).

But enough about me, what have you been working on becoming an expert on?

Security on crackberries

Just reading this article at CSO on the dangers of using mobile devices and it specifically mentions the John McCain incident:

…officials with John McCain’s campaign mistakenly sold a Blackberry to a Fox television reporter for US$20 in a fire sale…

News like this makes me glad that the most of our clients that use either Blackberries or Windows Mobile devices are using Handheld Contact (aka HHC) to sync their data to their handheld.

I AM GLAD because Handheld Contact has an option on the server side to “Erase data from handheld” which will erase all data sent to the handheld by HHC which is all the contact info for all the contacts.

If a client loses their Blackberry, all it takes is a phone call to their system admin (or me), a couple of mouse clicks and a large chunk of sensitive information is removed from the Blackberry.

[cross-posted here]

Wildcard searching Lookups

I often find I want to find someone or a company in ACT!, however I can only remember part of their name – wildcard searching to the rescue.
If I do a company lookup for “outback“, I only get returned a list of companies that begin with “outback“.
However, if I do a company lookup for “%outback” – note the percent sign prefixing the search term, I get a list of all companies that contain the word “outback“.
This is quite useful and can be used on any of the fields, not just the company field.

Changing the world one ACT at a time!

Do you love your job? I do. Let me tell you why. I get to change ‘someones’ world on a daily basis. And I love it. 

I do technical support for a small marketing firm, all of our clients use ACT!, which is a contact management application. When you show someone how they can improve their productivity, improve their bottom line they get excited, and by extenstion, so do I. 

Just this week we demo’ed a customisation that will totally change the clients ability to track the jobs they do, the items associated with those jobs, the people and all the rest of it. The client was literally getting out of his chair, walking around “of course”, “WOW!”, “does that mean…” – “yes it does”. It was a the HIGHLIGHT of my week. To have spent the time delving into their business to work out what they do, how they do it so as to figure out what they needed was fun, it was truely enjoyable, but to see the reaction, the excitement, the realisations for what would now be possible – that was GOLD.

I love my job.

[note: the title "Changing the world one ACT at a time!" is a hat tip to an insightful guy with a Blue Monster]

[note: edited to fix a typo and add URL for www.evolutionmarketing.com.au]

SQL 2005 Versions

I have to thank Kevin Chieff (ACT! guru) for pointing me to this link on how to tell the difference between versions of Microsoft SQL 2005 – and the MS page it points to re the SERVERPROPERTY (Transact-SQL) command.

The number of times I’ve had to work out just which version of SQL is running is amazing. The difficulty in doing so is amazing. There ought to be a simple utility that does it all.

So the two links above will get used a lot in conjuction with my previous post re determining SQL versions.

Why HandHeldContact

Talking with Mike Lazarus, self described and evident ACT! Evangelist, about HHC (aka HandHeldContact) and he passed on a list he has of some of the HHC advantages (in no particular order):

  • No need to set up on each user’s PC – faster installation and implementation
  • Central administration – including profiles for multiple users and the ability to delete the database from a device remotely
  • Supports – Terminal services, Citrix, Web
  • Syncs wirelessly up to every 15 minutes
  • Uses its own database, so no sudden duplication of the database as happens in most of the link products.
  • Automatically send important contacts based on activities scheduled or dynamic groups
  • Records Calls, Emails and SMS made from HHC on the device
  • Up to 76 ACT! fields (26 standard and 50 user-definable)
  • Pop-ups (pull-downs) optionally sent to better support data entry
    i.e. if you have an ID STATUS field, HHC will sync the possible values for this field so that when you add a contact via the PDA you have those fields available
  • Adding activities on the device sync correctly to the right contact
  • Ability to create activities WITH multiple contacts
  • View and Schedule activities for other ACT! users
  • New build to support ACT!’s Custom Activity Types due very soon

At Evolution Marketing, I’ve been playing with HHC for a few clients. Setting up and deploying the HHC is easy. I’ve simply had people visit a URL, follow the prompts and with little work on the server end, which I’ve been doing remotely to the server, and within 30 min they have their Contacts, task and Calender on the Blackberry. Not only that but I’ve been setting it up so they can see selected calenders of other users. For me this is a major difference between using MS Exchange and ActiveSync.

So far, I haven’t setup HHC on a Windows Mobile device, but the documentation says it can be done. I hope it is as easy as the BB version.

[update: Mike has just said it is the same on WM6, also said setup time for 1 or two users is almost same as setting up 30 users, it only adds 2 min per user, which I can readily believe given the experience I've had so far. And if someone schedules an appointment or activity for you with a contact that you are not currently sync'ing to your PDA, then HHC will automagically include that contact on the next sync, how cool is that?]

Evolving the ACT

It is now two weeks in to my new digs at Evolution Marketing – and it sure is fun.

Primarily I’ve been learning how to drive ACT!, software to take care of your contact management. Yesterday and today I’ve been playing with custom tables in the ACT! MS-SQL database. While ACT! looks after contacts and tasks, meetings & calls to do with your contacts really well, some clients would like to be able to do even more, like handle job sheets etc. Which is the reason for the custom tables. These allow us to track all sorts of other information and connect them to contacts & companies.

I’ve also setup a Blackberry Bold simulator and a Windows Mobile 6 Emulator, this allows me to experience the same things as our clients, notably HandHeldContact, which allows you to sync multiple calenders, notes, histories etc to your phone – loads more than MS Exchange alone allows.

To paraphrase the paragraphs above, I’m having fun learning new stuff!

The other staff at Evolution are great to work with, the coffee is good and all the tech toys I’ve asked for have been delivered, with the exception of the telephone headset, but it is on the way so they’re forgiven ;-). Woot!

Update 20th Oct: Got the telephone headset on Friday afternoon. Cool.

All aboard!

All passengers aboard now! This train is leaving the station.

Yup, some who read this will immediately have a chuckle (there is an ‘in’ joke above).

The news is this, I’ve left my good friends at Dolphin Technology Group and moved to a smaller firm on the south-side of Brisbane.

Why the move? Well after spending nearly two and a half years supporting MYOB AE, HandiSoft and a bunch of other Accounting Industry products up and down the eastern coast, I got tired of the traveling and being away from home. The new job has no travel. So I guess the ‘train’ I’ve just caught isn’t leaving the station after all. Perhaps I’m really standing on the platform, waving goodbye to those still on the train?

Who is the new firm? Evolution Marketing – who specialise in ACT! and Sage CRM.

Yesterday was my first day – after the induction it was straight into ‘sponge’ mode. Training began. More today. And tomorrow. Yippie. This is fun ;-).