You're not wrong to think of ACT! as a contact manager or electronic calendar, but with just a few tweaks, you can make it much more. ACT! can serve as "mission control" for all your projects, from the first lead through warranty service. Here are some tricks you might find useful.

Get with the program. Want to track your customers' kids' birthdays or take credit card orders but can't find a place in ACT! to store the information? No problem. You can add fields for any information you need to capture and custom design screen layouts with different fields for individuals in your company who perform different jobs.

Group mentality. Need to track down a roofer who botched a job five years ago, or prove to your customer that she really approved that purple sink? By creating "Groups" for each project, you can access that information easily. When you add an ACT! contact to a project Group, any interaction with that individual or company recorded by the software also becomes part of the Group record. Rather than digging through a file cabinet for that overstuffed job folder, you can reconstruct who did what and when with just a few keystrokes.

Merge right. For sales and marketing magic, master the merge fields. These simple codes, typed into a document or e-mail template, will allow you to generate personalized marketing materials, instant proposals, thank-you letters, warranty service documents, and more. While your competition is back at the office "figuring the job," you'll be closing the deal and handing your prospects a professionally produced welcome package. --Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. For private help contact him at