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Mark Evans

CRM made easy, friendly...and free Add to ...

In running my own business, I'm constantly looking for new products and services that will make things more productive, efficient and less time-consuming.

My current arsenal of online services includes Skype, Dropbox, Freshbooks, WordPress, Google Docs and Gmail.

A recent addition is Connected, a user-friendly customer relationship management (CRM) service that was acquired by LinkedIn earlier this month.

For anyone who has used a CRM tool such as Salesforce.com, it can be time-consuming and cumbersome.

Many of them require the manual input of information on a regular basis.

As well, the return on investment can be uncertain, particularly for small businesses running lean and mean that may not have enough hours in the day to maintain a CRM, even though it would help track existing and potential customers.

Connected's value and user friendliness has much to do with how easily it integrates different data options.

Connected can automatically pull information, for example, from your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and lets you import data from e-mail services such as Google Contacts, Yahoo, Mac and Outlook, as well as newsletter services such as MailChimp, AWeber and Constant Contact.

It means that an extensive CRM database can be created in minutes featuring in-depth information about each of your contacts.

Someone's profile, for example, would include basic information such as name, title, corporate name and e-mail address.

But it would also include professional updates and changes, such as new connections within their LinkedIn account, as well as news about the company that someone works for.

As compelling is the easy-to-use interface, which makes it a snap to search for contacts and update their information.

The other thing that makes Connected difficult to resist is the price.

In the wake of being acquired by LinkedIn, Connected lowered its price to free from $9.95 a month. It's a great deal, although I would have happily paid the monthly price if I had discovered Connected before it was purchased.

If there are any negatives about Connected, it is the fact it's an online service, which means you need to be connected to the Web to access it, and the data lives in the cloud, as opposed to your computer's hard drive.

Connected may lack some of the bells and whistles of better-known CRM systems but for anyone who has been interested in using a CRM tool, Connected is an attractive option. It is accessible and has enough features to meet the needs of most people.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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