CRM on the Mac

Particularly for CRM-type solutions, the Mac is not strong in database management. Despite the fact that social networking is absolutely essential to your success, managing contacts is an arduous task on the Mac.

A large part of the blame lies with Apple itself. This innovative company provides a lackluster, but free, contact management tool, Contacts (formerly called Address Book), as part of all MacOS X operating systems.

The good news is that we’ve been testing Base ($15/mo.) from Chicago-based FutureSimple Inc. It’s an SaaS (Software as a Service) application and not a Mac app, but its interface is very well thought out. Base also offers IMAP e-mail integration plus versatile import mechanisms and intuitive reporting.

But Base’s best feature may well be a Chrome Extension, called the CRM Contact Clipper that lets you add any Facebook or LinkedIn member to your Base CRM list right away. Very convenient.

You still need a “front-end” to manage all your contacts though. for that task we still rely mostly on Cobook (free) because it adds an icon to the top menu bar to instantly access all your contacts.

Apple’s contacts manager is capable enough to keep most users happy, so few developers have accepted the challenge of building a truly useful Mac database manager. Yet as most power users know, Contacts is one of the weakest elements of Apple’s ecosystem…one that leaves a lot to be desired.

Base CRMBase CRM is well-designed and offers a versatile import system, a fast way to clip contacts from Facebook and LinkedIn, plus highly graphic reporting.

Things have gotten better with Mac OS X Mavericks, which further simplified the interface of Contacts, completely doing away with the faux leather look.

One irritation with Mavericks is the poor way merging duplicates works. The user has no interaction with what happens to duplicate records. Apple simply combines them and puts conflicting data in the Notes field.

That may be fine for casual users but it’s a major headache for those who track their contacts closely. It’s virtually impossible to peruse 2,600 contacts to see which ones were de-duped and what their Notes field says was the duplicate information.

Apple, here’s a simple solution: After de-duping, please create a Smart Group that contains the merged records, so changes can be reviewed easily.

Business Card Scanning

Ever since the slow demise of the CardScan, thanks to its purchase by DYMO (part of Newell Rubbermaid), we have been lamenting not having a solid Mac solution for scanning business cards. Yes, there’s such a thing as the NeatReceipts desktop scanner, but for $370, we’ll pass. And reviews suggest its software is not great either.

Worse, after LinkedIn acquired CardMunch it essentially killed the product by not updating the app since December 2011. Luckily, we’ve had good results with ScanBizCards.

ScanBizCards will scan your cards and will get them mostly right, as our tests show. The app offers a host of features, including integration with Salesforce.com and Sugar CRM. The free, Lite version is limited to five scans weekly. The regular app costs $7 and has no limitations. A cloud backup service is also available for $10 per year.

In our ongoing quest to find a great Mac contact management and CRM solution, we have tried many tools, all listed below, to help you achieve the high quality contact management you deserve.

Cobook, created by Kaspars Dancis, is now available for free from the App Store and gets around a number of Contacts weaknesses. Cobook adds a “book” icon to the menu bar, which lets you instantly search, and add and modify entries without having to open Contacts.

Cobook also adds a number of desirable enhancements, like auto data recognition for placement in the correct field and social media integration, a major weakness of Apple’s Contacts.

Another promising solution is to use a new online tool by Streak that turns your Gmail account into a CRM solution. We tried using Google Apps and Gmail but gave up due to Google’s overly complex method of administering email. Still, tools like Streak could be of interest to you.

To best understand how you can build an effective Mac CRM system, you need to know the strengths of apps that can be used to manage each aspect of list creation and maintenance, so here goes…

Contacts (free)

Mac users need Contacts because Apple Mail and a large number of other programs seamlessly sync with it, allowing you to instantly call up names for easy emailing and also to store contact names on iCloud for syncing with an iPhone or iPad.

By right-clicking an email address in Apple Mail, you can quickly add a contact to Contacts. Apart from this nifty integration, Contacts is not suited for fast entry and keeping data clean. Unfortunately, whenever you use this handy feature, Contacts will label the newly added email address “Other,” which presents numerous challenges in sharing contacts with other applications.

Another irritation: While Contacts allows you to categorize contacts by group, and a single contact can belong to multiple groups, you have to hold down the Option key (in “groups view” in pre-Mountain Lion versions) to see what group(s) a contact belongs to. There is no view that displays all this data at once.

Note: FileMaker has discontinued our favorite light database tool, Bento, which can link directly to Mac Contacts and is able to display its contacts in a table view, allowing you to quickly edit multiple contacts and also search on multiple field parameters. Both features sadly lacking in Contacts.

Table views are much better for checking data integrity because you can quickly see where the missing gaps are, or which fields were entered incorrectly. You can still buy copies of Bento, although it obviously will no longer be updated.

Clean Text ($20)

Quite often when transferring files from databases to programs like Panorama Sheets or Direct Mail, you will discover that the file contains non-ASCII text characters, such as accents, em- or en-dashes, that some programs or services will choke on. I have discovered a new tool that allows one to quickly remove these: Clean Text. It works simply, although it has not yet been optimized for Retina displays, but perhaps it doesn’t need to.

Cobook (free)

As we mentioned before, Kaspars Dancis’ Cobook is a godsend for Mac users. Cobook simplifies rapid data entry and searches, rendering the use of Contacts almost unnecessary. Cobook simplifies address entry with smart fields that can detect what type of data you’re entering and automatically enter it into the right fields. This doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s a big plus. Another Cobook feature is the easy way it allows you to integrate social media contacts into Contacts.

CobookCobook shines in the contact editing department, offering users the ability to group edit contacts, like assigning or removing tags, indicated with a “#” (pound or hashtag).

However, you should be careful here. When starting to use Cobook and connecting to social media accounts, you may accidentally activate the program’s ability to import all your LinkedIn contacts. Result: Your Contacts file grows instantly.

The added contacts could be helpful for future business opportunities. That’s why tagging contacts is very important. Cobook simplifies that process. Unlike Contacts and Bento, Cobook actually displays group names, called “tags” by Cobook, in each record. You can easily add or remove tags to quickly organize contacts. And Cobook can do this for single or multiple contacts at once.

Direct Mail (free)

Once you have all your email addresses organized, you need some way to connect with them on a regular basis. You can download Direct Mail, a free app, to email your contact list. Direct Mail lets you import email templates created by other programs or designers and rapidly create ad-hoc lists or import existing lists for promotions.

Direct MailDirect Mail, an easy-to-use promotional tool that lets you send emails to small or large lists, features its own built-in address list manager.

When emailing, you have two options. If the number of emails you’re sending is less than 50 per month, Direct Mail is free.

To send more, you need to sign up for the company’s e3 Delivery Service built directly into Direct Mail, with monthly sliding scale charges, or you can buy 5,000 credits for $60. These pre-paid credits are a better deal for those who don’t email frequently.

eMail Extractor ($20)

eMail Extractor does something unique: It can extract emails from text files. In the “Doing CRM the Mac Way” process described later you will see how to use this utility to create highly targeted lists of prospects you have been too busy to add to your Contacts.

eMail Verifier ($30)

The problem with collecting contacts over a period of years is that people move and many email addresses become outdated, resulting in bounce rates as high as 20% on a typical promotion.

eMail VerifiereMail Verifier performs a very useful function of email address verification. This utility will ping addresses to verify their validity.

Email marketing services that charge by the number of emails you send love this of course. The more email addresses you have, the more they can charge you. eMail Verifier will test each email address in your list by pinging them without actually sending anything, and verify if they’re still valid or not.

Export Address Book ($3.99; App Store)

Export Address Book deals with a very annoying shortcoming of Contacts: it does not allow you to export email addresses by address group.

Export Address BookExport Address Book is literally a lifesaver if you use Contacts and want to export contacts by category, or only include certain fields in your export file.

What if you wanted to let your suppliers know that you have a new head of accounts payable who will see to it that they never get paid? ;) Export Address Book handles that task beautifully.

MailChimp (free for less than 2,000 email addresses)

MailChimp is one of the most popular emailing services in the business today and is headed up by the affable Ben Chestnut out of Atlanta. A former graphic designer for Cox Communications, Ben has turned MailChimp into one of the most full-featured email services in the business, as well as displaying a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that must be experienced.

Most importantly, MailChimp created one of the first APIs to allow third parties to connect directly to your email lists. This comes in handy when you use outside CRM services like Base to sync to it.

MailSteward ($50)

We have about 160,000 emails stored on our Mac. More than 90,000 are in Mac Mail and an additional 70,000 are stored in a separate MailSteward database. MailSteward allows you to archive your old Mac email inbox folders to a standalone database that can be searched quickly using multiple parameters.

In “Doing CRM the Mac Way” below, we’ll describe how to use MailSteward to resurrect old business development contacts for promotional mailings.

Numbers ($20; App Store; Free with new Mac)

You often need a spreadsheet to look at files that have been exported by other programs. Apple’s popular spreadsheet Numbers can handle this task. Numbers lets you look at exported data in a table to help you clean up your contact list.

One popular use of Numbers is to join two fields, when using with an event invitation site like Pingg, which lets you paste two fields (a combined first/last name field plus email address) together to add to your invite list. In Numbers you can combine First Name and Last Name fields using this simple trick:

  • Start with a sheet that has first names in column A and last names in column B
  • Create a new column C and paste in the formula C=A&” “&B.
  • Replicate the formula down for as many contacts as you have.
  • Copy joined column C to Column D, and select “Paste Values” from the Edit menu.
  • Now you have a list of joined first and last names, and you can delete columns A, B and C.

Panorama Sheets ($50)

I’m glad to see that James Rea still runs one of the oldest Mac development companies, ProVUE, and continues to publish Panorama Sheets, an offshoot of the original Panorama.

What I like about Panorama is that you can handle big list manipulations very quickly, because Panorama does what few other programs do. For example, it can split database record fields or join them in the blink of an eye.

This is a boon for those of us who need to deal with bonehead disorganized co-workers who store names in a spreadsheet using one field for both First and Last. Panorama lets you split those fields and do a lot more, with ease.

WhiteList (App Store; $6)

It may seem obvious but nothing else does what WhiteList does: Search though email inboxes and find people you emailed most to rank them by number of emails sent.

In the following section, “Doing CRM, the Mac Way,” we show how to use WhiteList to create a list of your most important business development contacts so you can personally reach out to them.

Doing CRM the Mac Way

We’re going to describe a process that every business executive faces. You have emailed hundreds of business prospects over the past few years, but you were too busy to add most of them to your Contacts each time you engaged.

Now your business development email folder is full of hundreds of emails of people you want to reach out to with an update about your firm or to send them “We just moved” emails. How do you do this?

The good news is that it can be done. The bad news, it takes many steps to get it right. Here’s the process flow, using tools mentioned above:


Store all your contacts in Mac Contacts, since everything, including your iPhone and iPad, depends on this contact list. You will want to add new contacts directly using that handy right click (or with Control key if you don’t have a trackpad or two-button mouse). Make sure you categorize your contact’s email correctly because most CRM programs will want to import your contact’s “work” email. Also make sure you add each contact to the right group so you can select custom lists.

Don’t know how to organize your Contacts by category? Here are a few basic categories or “groups,” as Apple calls them, to help you get organized:

  • Promo – This is your core business promotion group. All people who are to receive your promotional emails should be on this list, save perhaps for your personal contacts and suppliers. You should definitely create this group and use whatever name you prefer.
  • Personal – Put your family members, doctors, and other personal contacts here, so you can avoid sending them unwanted business promotions. Some may be interested (like that dentist who wants to invest in your business) so you can always add them to the Promo group too. Contacts lets you assign contacts to multiple groups, a powerful feature.
  • Restaurants/Bars – You know visitors are going to ask you for personal restaurant recommendations, so keep this group separate from your personal contacts. This list also makes it easier to suggest a place for a business lunch.
  • Suppliers – Keep your suppliers or vendors separate so you are able to send them emails no one else wants to read, like “No more 2% cash discount!”

The sky is the limit when it comes to organizing contacts. Some will prefer to split family from the personal group, so they can keep their GFs or BFs separate from their better halves. :D You get the picture. But don’t overdo it. Part of being well-organized is keeping things simple.

Edit and Update with Cobook

We encourage you to use Cobook to maintain your contact list and avoid having to use Contacts as much as possible, which saves you time.

Parse Mail Inboxes with White List

Use White List to ply through your “Business Development” or other relevant folders in Mac Mail and filter a list of people you emailed most. Set a cut off of two emails and consider everyone above that as a candidate for your promotional, or promo, list.

You do have a business development folder, right? If not, make one pronto and use it to store emails of people you want to do business with in the future.

Distill Email Addresses with MailSteward

In our system, we export Mail’s Bizdev folder and import that inbox database into MailSteward. MailSteward will then create a list of all email addresses found in your business development folder.

Use Bioinformatics to Compare Lists

You can compare the list of email addresses generated by MailSteward with the one you created with White List to find the people you corresponded with most. A great list comparison tool is Bioinformatics’ Compare Two Lists. This nifty tool will show you the difference between two lists, their intersection (what they have in common), etc.

Isn’t it amazing that all this functionality is not offered by a regular application? I would love to see a utility developed that would be able to do this based not only on a single field, but to compare complete Contacts databases, so you can find out what people are missing from a list.

Test Email Addresses with eMail Verifier

Once you’ve extracted email addresses from a MailSteward database or exported them from Contacts, you can test the validity of email addresses using eMail Verifier, and save only the ones found to be still correct.

Send Targeted Promotions with MailChimp

Export your final list to MailChimp, where you will add them to your “Promo” list. MailChimp also synchronizes with Nimble, the app described below, so use the “Promo” tag to identify the correct list to sync with.

Using a (SaaS) CRM Service: Base

One way to deal with promotion lists is to use online services that fundamentally mimic Salesforce.com. Why not Salesforce.com itself? Because, as most salespersons will tell you, Salesforce.com is difficult to use.

If you like what CRM services can do for you, we recommend you look into Base. Base debuted in 2011 and shines in one regard: It integrates your e-mail and lets you communicate directly with your prospects. Nimble currently supports direct messaging with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The Starter version of Base costs $15. If you opt to pay $125/month you can get a few more features, notably an integrated telephone number.

Turning Your Gmail into a CRM System: Contactually

As we mentioned earlier, we tried using Streak with Google Gmail to create a CRM system, but we found the way Gmail works to be mystifying. Streak only made things worse.

A much better solution that works with both Gmail and IMAP email accounts is Contactually, which will help you follow up on mission-critical customers by letting you organize your contacts by “buckets.” Each morning — or at another interval setting specified by you — you will be reminded to follow up by contact.

You can also specify “Actions” by contact, which can provide greater granularity for tasks required for each business account.

Google Apps Contacts

Google offers Google Apps accounts for $50 per user per year. A Google Apps account lets you receive email at your own company email address (i.e. john.smith@yourcompany.com) while also receiving the benefits of Google Calendar and Contacts.

But syncing Google Contacts also presents challenges. Didn’t we warn you that managing contacts on the Mac is unnecessarily complicated? We know that many readers use Gmail, so there is only one solution available now that Spanning Sync 3 sales have been discontinued:

  • SyncMate – Another option is SyncMate, which is free. SyncMate can synchronize Google Accounts, and we’re currently testing this option versus Spanning Sync.

iPhone-only Contact Managers

There are three iOS apps that have recently surfaced:

  • Brewster (free) – Brewster was created by Brewster Inc., and is a next-generation contact manager that integrates your social media contacts, including Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Twitter. The app displays the profile pictures of your contacts and allows you to “favorite” them, so they’re shown at the top. While we like Brewster for what it does, it remains of limited use because it lacks a desktop application.
  • Smartr Contacts (free) – Smartr Contacts is made by Xobni Corp., bestknown for its Gmail application Smartr Inbox. Smartr also integrates social media profiles with your contact list. Like Brewster, Smartr lacks a desktop application, although Xobni clearly expects you to use Gmail as your main CRM interface.
  • VIPorbit – From the co-inventor of Act!, Mike Muhney, comes VIPorbit Lite (free; $10 for the non-nag version), which lets you organize contacts by “Orbits.” The program, available for iPhone, iPad and Mac, also syncs with your Calendar so that you don’t have to leave the app to view your schedule.

As you can see there are numerous challenges in maintaining contacts and doing email promotion, i.e. CRM on the Mac. It is our sincere hope that a few smart Mac developers will read this story and be inspired to create a truly awesome solution. Meanwhile, please share this article on Facebook or retweet it if you found it helpful.

Comments 1

  1. Neville Dorrington

    Hi there
    I run contacts in mac and I use an accounting system – Moneyworks.
    I have read all above re contacts cdm – mac do make it complicated.
    I make and sell wine all over the world.
    We have prospect customers in different countries.
    I send emails to them and send newsletters to them.
    Please let me know the simple way to manage this
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *