CRM or customer relationship management (a fancy way of saying contact management) has always been pretty sad on the Mac. The PC die-hard is of course ACT, a pretty good product that abandoned the Mac many years ago and unlike Intuit, never did return to the platform.

The ideal CRM would, at its most basic level, let you track your contacts and their information. As it gets more complicated, you would want to be able to also track data in some custom fields of your own design with your own pop-up data for easy and consistent data entry. Then hopefully you will also be able to have one to many relationships – one contact to many organizations and many groups. And of course, you want to be able to sync these contacts to your PDA/phone, as well as share them with your workgroup mates. Then if you really want to push it further, you would be able to connect those contacts to your tasks, notes, and calendar events, and share those as well with your team. Oh, and one final thing. It should do all this for less than about $500 please (therefore, no….Exchange with its less-than-great synchronization to Entourage is not a solution for most users.)

To be blunt, there is not a single program on the Mac that does this well, but there are a bunch that do it adequately enough that they can be used. And there are some new products that, while early releases, show some promise.

CRM4MAC is like a layer of application that sits on top of your iCal, Address Book, and Apple Mail. You can read your calendar and your contacts in one three-pane window with a handy organization view that shows only the contacts in an organization – Apple, are you watching? This makes a HUGE amount of sense.

Another application that is attempting a similar thing is OD4Contact, although it is primarily a contact and task manager. Unfortunately it does not do projects (groups of tasks) and sub tasks and is limited to only 7 categories which is way too few to be useful in my life.

Now Up to Date and Contact
has been around for ever and is not really a CRM, so much as it is a contact manager. Much of its extended functionality is buggy, and the codebase and window management are a mess from about yen years ago, but Power On is finally doing a ground up rewrite of the application so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Finally, Daylite from Marketcircle is an interesting piece of software. Of the group, it is the closest to being a “real” CRM. However, after having lived in it for a month and also having lurked on the Daylite mailing list for about eight months, I would have to summarize it by saying that has great potential but there are serious flaws in the workflow or use-case planning, in the application design (the manifestation of the use-cases), in the interface widgets (odd and non-intuitive uses of widgets to accomplish things), and in the actual code base itself.  For example, windowing is abominable  – open eight windows, and save the workspace, quit the application and relaunch and all of the windows are now named “filename” – not exactly easy to navigate them after that.

I REALLY wanted to like Daylite. It has many to many relationships, a really solid OpenBase foundation, an ability to work off-line and to re-sync later.

But it tried to do too much too fast. It needs a much more rigorous software development methodology. And it needs to start from the ground up and then add complexity in .0 version releases.

If they could go back to basics and make the core many-to-many functionality and the basic operations work well (like syncing which is still buggy and the calendar which is really unuseable), then they may have a really solid chance. I wish them all the success in the world.

The one thing that they have going for them for sure is a vocal and interested user community which has extremely vocal discussions on their board. Hopefully the programming team and those early adopters can step back, rethink, and rebuild for version 2.0. I will continue watching them with interest.

I’m encouraged by the direction that both of these applications are taking. Because here we are with this beautiful new OS and no real CRM tools to run on it. Now Up to Date and Contact is buggy and awful (having spent ten years installing it at various clients, believe me, I’ve seen all the bugs, and there are more with every .x release),