We have good news to report. Our past two updates in 2013 and 2017 lamented the fact that the Mac was weak in database management, specifically CRM-type solutions. Since then, two recent arrivals, Airtable and Streak, have eased the situation, although both are technically web-based solutions.
Why is maintaining a customer database so challenging on the Mac? A large part of the blame lies with Apple. This otherwise innovative company provides a lackluster but free contact management tool, Contacts, as part of the macOS operating system.
Because Contacts is capable enough to satisfy most users, few developers have accepted the challenge of building a genuinely outstanding contacts manager for the Mac. Yet as most power users know, Contacts is one of the weakest elements of Apple’s ecosystem, one that leaves a lot to be desired.
For example, many are familiar with the concept of “tags,” yet Apple is sticking with its old-school “Groups” label. While a contact can belong to multiple groups, which is a core concept of tags, it’s not immediately apparent to the casual user.
Another weak point is that Apple has largely ignored the world of social media, making integrating Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter handles and links a thankless task. Yes, there are optional fields for this type of data, but it makes information sharing with other programs unnecessarily complicated.
Another annoying feature is the merging of duplicates. Apple’s approach is to do as it sees fit. The user has no interaction with what happens to duplicate records. Apple simply combines records and puts conflicting data in the Notes field.
That may be fine for some, but it’s a big headache for users who need to wade through many contacts to find the ones that were de-duped and look at the Notes field to see what Apple did to the records.
Since many people only have about 300 contacts, that’s not too much of a chore, but when you have 3,050, it’s a big mess. It would have been nice if Contacts automatically created a Smart Group containing merged records, so one could quickly review changes. However, this feature is still outstanding after publishing this guide for the past nine years.
People who run businesses must function in realtime and deal with a lot of mundane problems. We created this guide to help you understand how each component allows us to manage our CRM outreach on the Mac.
Mac Contacts (Free)
Most Mac users rely on Contacts because Apple Mail and a host of other programs seamlessly sync with it, allowing you to instantly call up names for easy emailing while also storing your contacts in iCloud to enable syncing with iPhone and iPad.
In 2017, Apple added the ability to paste an entire address into the address field and cleverly inserting it into the correct fields — street, city, state, and zip. Unfortunately, since then, little has changed save for minor Big Sur aesthetics. However, because Contacts seamlessly integrates with other Mac applications, consider it the Grand Central Station for contact management. It may look deceptively simple, but Contacts has some powerful features.
One can assign people to multiple groups, sometimes called categories or tags in other programs. Say, for example, that you have a contact who belongs in both “Friends” and “Suppliers.” Just drag the contact from the list in the middle panel to each group. BTW, selecting a contact from the list and holding down the Option key shows you what group(s) the contact belongs to.
By right-clicking an email address in Mac Mail, you can quickly add a new contact to Contacts or even to a VIP list. In the past, whenever you used this nifty feature, Contacts would by default label the newly added email address “Other,” which presented numerous challenges when sharing contacts with other applications. Thank goodness Apple has fixed this in Big Sur. Now, you get a popup window that lets you change the email, phone and address labels. March 26 Update: Apple still adds Siri-found emails as “Home” email address, slightly better, but still not useful. You could export your Contacts twice, once with work email addresses, and once with home email addresses, to work around this.
Exporter for Contacts
Because Mac Contacts offers no facility to export contact records selectively, we use Exporter for Contacts ($9) from Stefan Keller to accomplish this task. In Mac Contacts, create groups that differentiate your various spheres of influence, for example, “Sales Prospects,” “Attendees,” “Podcast Listeners,” or “Public Relations.” In Exporter for Contacts, you can specify which groups to export. You can also choose from pre-made export templates or create your own as we do. Typically, you might want to create a template with just First Name, Last Name, and Email. You can then export that list to your favorite email application, such as MailChimp or ActiveCampaign. More importantly, you should export your entire contact list to Airtable as described later on.
Contacts Sync For Google Gmail
Many of you prefer to work with Google Contacts and Gmail. That’s not an issue when you use Contacts Sync For Google Gmail (Free with in-app purchase). This utility from Playa Apps lives in your menu bar, ready to be summoned for a one-way and two-way sync. We recommend that the first time you sync Mac Contacts with Google Contacts, you choose one-way sync to preserve either your unique Apple or Google contacts, or do a two-way sync if both lists have contacts that belong in the other list. But before doing anything, make sure to back up both contact lists. If you sync Contacts with iCloud, you can return to a previous version of your Contacts by visiting iCloud and restoring a previous backup.
Airtable (Free or $15/mo./5,000 records)
Airtable is what FileMaker could have been if there was one grain of innovation at Claris Corp. So leave it to the $2.6 billion startup to fill the void. As we noted in 2017, we were excited by the prospect of real innovation in cloud applications. Airtable is a relational database disguised as a spreadsheet, a Google Sheets on steroids. Like Google Sheets, Airtable displays records in a table format, which makes bulk editing far easier.
Airtable addresses the predicament of repetitively creating records for multiple contacts who work at the same company. With Airtable, you create a separate table, called “base” in Airtable talk, for companies and people. When entering a new person, you can look up the company if it exists or add it on the spot. That may sound like a trivial detail, but the magic happens when you connect your prospects to deal flow.
Take a look at the interactive demo on this Airtable Sales CRM Template page. As you can see, companies were entered once under the “Accounts” tab. The “Contacts” tab shows how each contact links to the master “Accounts” record (click on “Bear Paw Solutions” to see relational linking in action). In the “Interactions” tab, you see all sales interactions grouped by account. You can even hide individual interactions by clicking the collapse view handle.
Once you have imported your Contacts flat-file (non-linked, non-relational), it might benefit you to create a separate base for companies, depending on the work involved. You can then use Zapier (described later) to add new Google Contact records directly to Airtable. The ability to link one field in one table to another table sets Airtable apart from spreadsheets. Linking lets you perform lookups of company names, products, you name it. That helps with data consistency. You can, for example, create a lookup table for tags, which avoids duplication or using the wrong ones.
Airtable also lets you collaborate on records, so you can have your virtual assistant add comments to a contact. There is also a revision audit trail, so you can fire that VA when something goes wrong! 😂 The best news is that Airtable is available as a Mac app, which puts its functionally right at your fingertips. Show this company some love, people, sign up today! 😊
Airtable can be connected to other applications using another remarkable cloud-based app, Zapier, to exchange data. For example, we use the “Import new contacts from Google Contacts into Airtable” zap to keep our Airtable CRM data up-to-date. Sadly, there is no way to synchronize an Airtable database back to Google Contacts; you can only add records.
You can, however, export new Airtable records in a view to Google Sheets. Still, that functionality dictates that Airtable is used in flat file mode because once you sync records back to Google Contacts from Google Sheets, they would have to include organization names and addresses. You could, of course, create another view in Airtable that combines contacts with companies and their addresses, but we’re trying to keep things simple here.
While many people use Google Chrome extensively for day-to-day browsing and Gmail checking, we can now report that one Gmail-centric company has come to the rescue of Mac Gmail users. Streak offers a Safari extension, in addition to Chrome, of course, adding colorful graphic pipelines directly to your Gmail inbox. The best part is that you can trial Streak for free, limited to 50 mail-merged emails per day and a limit of 500 “boxes” or rows of pipeline data.
Many of you will agree that email has lost some of its effectiveness. Sending personalized emails directly from Gmail stands a much better chance of being opened than bulk email delivered by the likes of MailChimp and Constant Contact. Besides, can you really send out more than 50 personalized emails each day? You could if you had the time. Of course, Streak offers all the niceties expected of a CRM program, like email tracking and mobile apps, plus the ability to seamlessly parse your inbox to “autobox” incoming emails — automatically categorizing emails and adding them to your pipeline. By regularly syncing your Mac Contacts with Google Contacts, you can readily update your list of business contacts.
When you attended trade shows regularly, you collected business cards that needed to be scanned once back in the office. Due to the pandemic, this is less of an issue, but if you want to prepare for the return of live events, one choice is the Contacts+ business card scanner, which costs $10/month for 50 monthly scans. When you scan a business card, Contacts+ uploads the image to its servers, where your card is entered by hand by a human in a transcription process that takes 10-20 minutes. Contacts+ was formerly called FullContact. It purchased the assets of Cobook, a handy Mac utility that’s no more. Luckily, Cobook has a replacement, Cardhop (see below).
A great alternative to Contacts+ is Adobe Scan (Free). This iOS app scans up to 25 pages or business cards for free per month; stores them in the Adobe Document Cloud; uses OCR to read card data, and adds them to your Contacts list. If you need to scan more than 25 cards, a $10/month subscription handles up to 100 business cards per month.
From the same folks who bring you the fantastic Fantastical menubar calendar comes a menubar contact manager, Cardhop ($20). Like Fantastical, Cardhop lets you enter a new contact’s info in plain English, so after first and last name, enter “title” and “CEO,” and Cardhop places entry details in the correct fields. You can search, print contact records, mailing labels, and envelopes either singly or from a selection of records. The ability to quickly find a contact without having to open Contacts is a significant timesaver. You can also call, email, or message a connection directly from Cardhop. You can timestamp a note field while recording the details of a call. However, the one thing that bugs us is that you can’t categorize a contact directly in Cardhop. While you can see the group(s) your contact belongs to in Cardhop, you can’t edit them directly.
Quite often, when transferring files from databases to other programs, a PC (heaven forbid!) or MailChimp, you might discover that the file contains non-ASCII text characters, such as accents, em- or en-dashes, that some programs or services will choke on. Clean Text ($20) quickly removes these annoyances. It works simply, and since we last reviewed it, Apimac updated Clean Text to be compatible with Retina displays.
MailChimp (Free for less than 2,000 email addresses)
MailChimp is the most popular email service business today. Founded in Atlanta by Ben Chestnut, a former graphic designer for Cox Communications, Ben has turned MailChimp into a full-featured email service with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that must be experienced.
MailChimp created one of the first APIs to allow third parties to connect directly to your email lists, which comes in handy when you use a CRM program to maintain your database, letting you update your Airtable base via a Zapier zap.
It’s helpful to use a spreadsheet to review files that have been exported from other programs. Apple’s popular spreadsheet Numbers (Free) can handle this task. Numbers lets you look at exported data in a table to help clean up your contact list.
Numbers can also join two fields, for example, to use in applications that require a combined first and last name. To combine First and Last, use this simple trick:
- Start with first names in column A and last names in column B.
- Create a new column C and paste in the formula C=A&” “&B.
- Replicate the formula down for as many contacts as needed.
- Copy the entire joined column C. Paste the results into Column D by selecting “Paste Values” from the Edit menu.
- Now you have a list of joined first and last names, so delete columns A, B and C.
Bioinformatics List Compare
To compare a list of email addresses with another list, use Bioinformatics’ Compare Two Lists. This nifty tool will show you the difference between two lists, their intersection (what they have in common), and the unique entries in each list.
Isn’t it amazing that a regular application doesn’t offer this functionality? Wouldn’t you like to compare not just a single field but two complete Contact lists, so you can find out what people are missing from each list?
Doing CRM the Mac Way
In our never-ending quest to find a workable Mac contact management and CRM solution, we have tried many tools to help achieve the quality contact management you deserve. To best understand how one can build an effective Mac CRM system, you need to familiarize yourself with the relative strengths of each app we use to manage list creation and maintenance. This review assumes you’re running a business with your Mac and addresses an important goal, keeping personal contacts separate from business contacts.
You might, for example, want to keep certain business contacts in Mac Contacts because it syncs with your iPhone. But if you have thousands of business contacts, you don’t really want them all in your iPhone contacts list because that makes calling someone with your iPhone a PITA. Many people don’t mind separating church and state and prefer carrying all contacts with them, just in case.
We recommend storing all your contacts in Mac Contacts, or at least syncing Google Contacts to Mac Contacts, since everything, including your iPhone and iPad, lives of this contact list. You will want to add new contacts directly using that handy right-click in Mac Mail or using the Control key if you don’t have a trackpad or two-button mouse. Make sure you label each contact’s email address correctly. When you export with Exporter for Contacts, you will have to choose one email address, preferably “Work” email, not “Other,” or you will discover that your export file lacks many email addresses. Make sure you add each contact to the right group, so custom list selections are possible.
Don’t know how to organize your Contacts by category? Here are a few basic tags, or “groups” as Apple calls them, we use that help us stay organized:
- Promo – This is your core email promotion group. All people who will receive your promotional emails should be on this list, save perhaps for your personal contacts and suppliers. Promo is a group you should definitely create using whatever name you prefer.
- Personal – Add your family members, doctors, and other personal contacts to this group, so you can avoid sending them unwanted business promotions. Some may be interested, like that dentist who wants to invest in your business, so you can always add those people to the Promo group too. Contacts lets you assign contacts to multiple groups, a powerful feature.
- Restaurants – People frequently ask you for restaurant recommendations, so keep this group separate from personal contacts. This list also makes it easier to suggest a place for a business lunch if you still do those things.
- Suppliers – Keep your suppliers or vendors separate so you can send them emails no one else wants to read, like “We have changed our payment terms to 60 days!”
The sky is the limit when it comes to organizing contacts. But don’t overdo it. Part of being well-organized is keeping things simple.
While numerous challenges remain in the Mac CRM realm, we’re happy to see that new solutions are emerging to help Mac users keep track of their burgeoning contact list.