If your work involves using Microsoft Outlook, you probably know that the savvier it becomes, the more productive you can be. Avidian Technologies LLC’s US$150 Prophet 2004 can help you get there, by bringing customer relationship management (CRM) techniques to Microsoft Corp.’s ubiquitous e-mail, scheduling, and contact-management app.

Unlike Best Software Inc.’s US$230 Act 6, FrontRange Solutions Inc.’s US$180 GoldMine 6.5, and even Microsoft’s own Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2003, this plug-in works directly inside Outlook. Not only does this keep all contact info in one place, it helps your system’s performance by reducing the number of apps you have to open to do your work.

I tested a shipping version with Outlook 2003 (Prophet 2004 also supports Outlook 2000 and 2002, the latter being the version that comes with Office XP). Installation places a Prophet folder within Outlook’s Personal Folders. Inside that Prophet folder, a Contact Manager subfolder lists existing Outlook contacts but lets you manage them in many more ways. For example, in just a few clicks, you can send personalized e-mail to a group (with each recipient seeing only his or her own address), without opening Word to use the mail-merge function. You can also view in a single window all the e-mail and attachments sent by several different contacts. And Prophet 2004’s built-in Report Wizard makes creating many types of custom reports based on your contact information a breeze.

Opportunity Manager, a second subfolder, tracks potential sales leads, whether they are associated with your existing Outlook contacts or with new ones. All tasks and appointments linked to one of these leads are updated automatically in your Outlook calendar and task list.

Finally, the Prophet Administrator, accessed via a menu option in Contact Manager, lets you determine who has access to your opportunity data. This is also where you customize Opportunity Manager’s fields and values.

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