Small Biz: How to Keep Contacts Current

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VICTORIA, British Columbia (TheStreet) -- If your business is like mine, you're terrible at following up on sales leads.

The Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) Outlook/Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) Entourage hammerlock we relied on to manage our business e-mail, calendars and contacts is now officially broken. The rise of free, Web-based tools and the need to cut costs has forced many of us to cobble together systems using Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) Apps, Yahoo! (Stock Quote: YHOO) e-mail and our BlackBerrys.

Unfortunately, none of these will get business through the door. Keeping basic contact data up to date is still a challenge, and communications from prospects is far too easy to not follow up on.

The good news is that droves of companies see gold in helping small businesses battle sales overload. So-called customer relationship management, or CRM, tools like SalesForce.com, Microsoft Dynamic, Sage and SugarCRM help organize contacts, tasks and leads.

I've found the services of Victoria, British Columbia-based Oprius particularly intriguing. Canadian entrepreneurs Alan Smith, Owen Mead-Robins and Jason Chu have developed a program for sole proprietors who are trying to manage complex relationships in the digital age. And it costs only $15 a month.

My assistant and I have been testing the system over the past few weeks.

What you get

It takes time to get the hang of it, but Oprius is a powerful small business tool at a great price.

Oprius is all about simplicity. Every page of this Web-based program, from contacts to calendars to phone management, was easy to read, use and modify. Information is organized well with descriptive tags and clear steps to help guide your work flow. You're not facing the avalanche of options other CRM tools force on you. Just log in, open a test account, grab yourself a Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX)and follow the instructions.

You can import customer information as you would with Outlook or Google Contacts. My 4,000-plus names didn't clog the system.

The phone calling features were particularly useful. You can track your customers' contact history and schedule calls, which helped me plan my selling day. I really liked the "end call" button, which prompted me to think about how the call went and schedule follow-ups.

What you don't get

The focus on simplicity comes at a cost: The company offers sales options that might not work for you.

Oprius, for example, doesn't support group sales. You have to go outside the system to split up contact follow-ups. There's also no reasonable way to sync your calendars and tasks on Outlook or Google with those on Oprius. BlackBerry and iPhone users would have limited access to their information.

And there's no way to completely turn over your company communication to this program without integrating it with your existing IT infrastructure, which takes time and money.

Oprius is planning to add many features down the road, but I suspect a sophisticated sales effort could overwhelm this tool quickly. So before you sign up, make sure it can handle what you need it to do.

Bottom line

Oprius is impressive and cheap. For sole proprietors trying to get on top of their sales game, you can't go wrong at $15 a month.

However, you can expect major tinkering to get this thing to run as it should. You'll be forced to take a long, hard look at how badly you track prospects, convert leads and focus your efforts on the bottom line.

At the end of the day, selling is work. Oprius can make the schlep easier.

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