Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Can’t I Just Use Outlook as my CRM?

Not to say that Outlook isn’t a great program, it has hands down become the industry standard for email and the measuring stick that we use when looking at other email software.  However, it’s just not a contact management system which is commonly misunderstood.

When I’m at client sites, I’m quite often asked “why do I need a CRM – we have Outlook which has a calendar and an address book?”  While the argument could be made that Outlook Business Contact Manager became a further attempt at making Outlook a CRM, it was close, but I think of that product as more of a tease to get folks interested in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

So, back to question at hand, what does a CRM give you that Outlook does not?  My take on it is two major items: 
  • The semblance of “who” and 
  • The idea of whether something was completed or not.

The idea of “who” your appointment, call, or activity was with is not always as hard to accomplish in Outlook, but we’re relying on the user to manually input that contact’s information.  What’s lost though is the stream of activities in a historical view where we can grab all that was done with a particular client.  This of course is the main idea behind any function of a CRM system.  Consider trying to find out all that has been accomplished with a prospect, lead, or customer within Outlook?  It just can’t be done without jumping through a number of hoops or giving a call to Jane down the hall as to what she’s done recently with ABC client.  Messages are stored in various email folders, and unless you were copied those emails, the private nature of any email client will keep that information a little too close to the vest.

That being said, we can share calendars in Outlook (if in an Exchange environment) which is one of its most endearing qualities.  This item alone is a driving force behind most companies making the giant leap from Outlook to Outlook Exchange.  However, the idea of whether you have completed all those items on your calendar is not available and thereby missing when it comes to management’s needs for productivity reporting, or more importantly seeing all the activities associated with the contact in question.  It’s real easy for me to see what I have to do next Tuesday on my Outlook calendar, and I can even share that out.  However, on Wednesday only I know which of those items were completed.  This leaves the rest of my team unable to know what I’ve been doing with Lead XYZ or ABC Company.  As I get older, I can tell you I’m not sure I’ll be able to remember which of those items on last month’s calendar were finished, leaving the whole company unaware of what’s been done.

It’s all about the information with any Contact Manager/CRM system.  The who, the what, and the when.  Outlook is great to help us communicate internally and externally in an email driven market, but to get the true picture of all client or prospect activities, a few quick entries in a true CRM is all that’s needed to provide that needed communication within the team. 

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