Software for a Budding Sales Effort

We kick off a new series with a look at everything from sales-tracking software to social entrepreneurs to alternatives to eBay. Check back each week for surveys, statistics, product comparisons, book reviews, and more

ACT vs. Which is Best for the Budding Sales Effort?

One of the big decisions facing many early-stage companies is which sales-tracking software to adopt, and more often than not, the decision comes down to ACT vs. A key difference between the two programs is that ACT is traditional software residing on a company network, while is Internet-based software.

Katie Roper, a Los Altos (Calif.) sales consultant who advises many early-stage companies and works with both programs, says she has come to prefer, to such an extent that "I actually charge more for clients who use anything other than Salesforce, because it is such a great tool and I can be so much more efficient with it in place. I figure it saves me at least 10% of my time." Still, she alerts business owners that "no way around it, it is expensive."

In certain situations, like a three-person company not planning to grow much, where everyone works in the same office, "You might want to go with ACT," she says. And she notes that "any contact management product works best for a salesperson who spends at least 50% of their time on the phone." For those out in the field 75% of the time, the best approach may be to call in their notes immediately after any sales call to a person in the office who then enters them into the sales management program.

Whatever the sales software, she advises, "get completely [obsessive] about entering everything. Everything. No exceptions. If it ain't there, you can't manage it."

Where in the World Do Women Start Businesses?

A recent worldwide survey of women in entrepreneurship (issued on Mar. 7, 2006) shows that activity among women is higher in middle-income countries like Thailand and Venezuela than in high-income ones like Japan and the Netherlands. However, survival rates for women's businesses are lower in middle-income countries. Worldwide, men are still much more likely to start businesses than women. (For more info, see ).

How Old Are Social Entrepreneurs?

A British survey (issued on June 12, 2006) shows that younger educated individuals are likeliest to be "social entrepreneurs." The survey of more than 27,000 individuals, carried out by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) headquartered at Babson College, says that 55,000, or 5%, of all British businesses have primarily a social cause. Moreover, black Africans and black Caribbeans are two to three times more likely than whites to be social entrepreneurs.

What's On Your Bookshelf?

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham (Penguin Group). This veteran small-business journalist has selected 14 companies—among them Anchor Brewing, Righteous Babe Records, and Cliff Bar—that don't necessarily want to be the biggest but do want to be the best at what they do. He explores what makes each company tick, based on extensive examination of organizational dynamics and leadership. Burlingham's enthusiasm and insightfulness make each company come alive and seem as human as the people behind it. A great read.

Bigger Isn't Always Better by Robert M. Tomasko (Amacom). This book helps readers make the distinction between growth that is based on progress, and expansion that is based on increasing the size of the business. Tomasko does a nice job of encouraging owners to avoid relying on the conventional wisdom, and instead stresses creativity and awareness of emerging trends. The book's main weakness: too much reliance on big-company examples.

Selling Beyond eBay by Greg Holden (Amacom). EBay (EBAY) gets much of the attention when it comes to advising business owners on selling stuff online, but as this book ably points out, there are a fair number of alternatives to the auction giant. The book provides guidance for approaching and working with places like Amazon (AMZN),, and Yahoo! (YHOO) It also provides useful information for building up your own Web site's commerce quotient and selling locally. It does a good job of distinguishing among types of goods—high-value and items for liquidation, for example—and selling overseas. A useful primer.