Outlook as CRM: why or why not
Have you been using Outlook as a means of keeping in touch with your contacts? Good for you. Outlook is a very powerful and easy to use contact management cum email management tool with very useful added functionality of task management and calendaring. So, you would want to think of Outlook as CRM? We are not so sure.
What more, you ask, does Outlook need to do to be considered a CRM software? It does manage customer relationships, does it not?
Here are a few things to consider before using your Outlook as CRM
Well, not quite. And, that is because Contact does not equal Customer.
Outlook is good for tracking emails, tasks and other events on a calendar at an individual contact level. It will not do anything to group activities by account or show how behaviour of one contact impacts a purchase decision taken by his organization.
Outllook does not track business, either at a contact or at an account level. Try answering simple questions like “how much business can I expect out of you next month?” far less answering “how much business did ABC Ltd give me last quarter?”
I do not look at these as limitations of Outlook. These are simply not what Outlook was made for. There are obvious temptations- the familiar user interface is one, of using Outllook as a client front-end CRM tool; but, know well, it is not a CRM.
Does Outlook and CRM ever get to shake hands? Yes, they do.
Firstly, using the front end is tempting; hundreds of millions of PCs in the world run Outlook and even with the severe inroads made by Google, there are still loyal devotees of Outlook for emailing, calendaring and so on.
So, one needs way to group contacts into accounts. Basically the “Account Management” feature that CRM systems take for granted.
Secondly, there has to be a way to delineate ownership of accounts: in enterprise sales, the sales executive has sole responsibility for accounts and in a pyramidal structure, going all the way to the head of sales, the ownership of accounts and territories is assigned. Any CRM system must have a way of creating this structure, in a way that sales teams have clear lines of command, data is shared on a need to know basis and rewards and recognition can be aligned with responsibilities, targets and achievements.
No simple Contact Manager, howsoever pretty, will do this. So, this whole structure needs to be built.
Thirdly, Outlook does not have a way of tracking sales opportunities, far less tracking the sales cycle associated with the deal. So, that’s another thing that needs to be built in Outllook at a minimum; and a way to show the “value” for all the opportunities at a glance.
Fourth and this is critical, we need collaboration yet, not risk being overwhelmed. The boss needs to know the forecast, the tasks being performed, the deals being worked upon etc. At the same time, he would rather not risk having the entire contact and account and opportunity history loaded into his CRM or his Outlook.
Finally, if we are thinking of using Outlook as an adjunct tool to a CRM software, then we are talking about synchronizing the two systems.; leveraging the familiar user interface of Outlook and the functionality of a CRM. We must not forget that your Outlook has all sorts of contacts: personal as well as professional; appointments made with your dentist or time set aside for your son’s basketball coaching. There must be a way to ensure synchronizing the two does not pull in useless data into your CRM.
Update dated 13th July 2013
CRM based on Outlook is now released in version 2.0 and still free. Download here: no registration required.