Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 and Outlook: 5 Functions Everybody Should Use

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My experience in the world of CRM has taught me that many companies using a CRM system do not necessarily use it to its fullest potential.  Here’s the essence of an article that was recently posted on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM site highlighting suggestions for making the best use of functionality that is available right out-of-the-box.  If you’re already using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, you might want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of these features. And if you’re exploring CRM solutions for your company, here’s some food for thought on how the CRM client for Outlook can enhance your business productivity.

1-Install CRM for Outlook

Of course, the first step is installing the Outlook client for CRM.  When you install CRM 2011 for Outlook, items that users create in CRM will automatically sync with Outlook. This includes contacts, appointments, and tasks. If you are using a mobile device that syncs with Outlook then these items will sync with your mobile device. This alone can be a very important point of integration since many business people rely on Outlook and their mobile device to quickly find contacts, keep up with scheduled appointments, and manage their task list.

2-Set Regarding and Track

Using the “Track” and “Set Regarding” buttons is one of the simplest, most powerful, points of integration between CRM and Outlook. These buttons enable you to “push” an email, task, appointment or contact from Outlook into CRM. Once a record has been pushed from Outlook into CRM, it will automatically be kept in sync. Most of us track our interactions with customers and others in Outlook.  Using these buttons to push information into CRM means that these important interactions can be saved, tracked and shared across the organization.

When you click the “Track” button, CRM automatically looks at all of the email addresses in the Outlook record you are tracking (in the from/to/cc/bcc fields for emails, and in the required/optional attendee fields on appointments) and links the Outlook record to all of those related records in CRM. So, for example, if you have an appointment with 3 required attendees, you will be able to find the appointment under all of those contacts, leads or users inside of CRM.

As a best practice, we recommend using the “Set Regarding” button rather than the “Track” button. The Set Regarding button does everything that the Track button does and more. By clicking Set Regarding, you can create an additional link to the record you are tracking. For example, if you send an email to 3 people with an update on an Opportunity; you can click the “Set Regarding” button and link the record to the Opportunity. Now, when you look at the Opportunity or any of the Contacts, Leads or Users who were included in the email, you will see the email in the list of activities.

Note that when viewing Contacts in Outlook, you have a “Set Parent” button rather than a “Set Regarding” button. This is because a contact can’t be “regarding” anything other than an account. The best practice is generally to use the “Set Parent” button - not the “Track” button - so that all of your contacts will be related to a parent company.

3-The CRM Pane and the Outlook People Pane

CRM 2011 for Outlook adds a “CRM Pane” to each Outlook record that is tracked in CRM. This pane includes links to every record in CRM that is associated with the Outlook record. This can be a big time saver when, for example, you need to quickly find a contact’s phone number in CRM, follow-up on an email, or find an address. In the screenshot above you see the CRM Pane that appears below a tracked email. In this pane, you can click on the “Regarding” item (in this case a campaign record), or on the contacts and users that the record is linked to in order to be taken directly to those records in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Below the CRM Pane is the Outlook People Pane. This also is available in Outlook without CRM. Using the People Pane, you can see all the recent social interactions with the individuals that an email or appointment is regarding (assuming that you are friends with them on LinkedIn, Facebook or other popular social networking sites). You can also see the recent activities associated with this person in Outlook (such as appointments and emails). It’s a great way to quickly catch up on the latest information about a person while you are on a call.

4-Email Templates, Sales Literature and Knowledge Base Articles

When sending an email from Outlook, if you track it, you will be able to insert any of the email templates, sales literature or Knowledge Base articles that are in CRM. If you frequently have to send the same information to customers, this can be a tremendous time saver.

In most other CRM systems (including earlier versions of Microsoft CRM) you had to open a CRM record and send the information using a web form to send the email. This was time consuming and required users to understand another interface for sending email. By having access to these buttons directly within an Outlook email form, you can have access to powerful CRM functionality without ever leaving Outlook.

5-Convert To and Add Connection

The Convert To button is available on records in Outlook that have been tracked in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It allows you to convert a record into a Lead, Opportunity or a Case. Many of the activities that a business tracks about their customers and prospects are designed to engage the prospect in a new opportunity, or to provide service to an existing customer. The Convert To button saves a lot of time when an activity results in a new record of this type – just click “Convert To,” pick the record type, and the new record is created for you.

Connections are new in CRM 2011; they allow you to connect almost any two records in CRM to one another. For example, one account can be connected to another with the role of “distributor” so that you can see which customers are buying from which distributors. Here are two examples of how the “Add Connection” button in CRM 2011 for Outlook can be used:

  1. Multiple users may want to “own” the same contact so that it will sync with their Outlook. Using the Add Connection button in combination with Outlook filters, you can connect yourself to a CRM contact that is owned by someone else, and have it automatically sync with your list of contacts in Outlook.
  2. Some businesses need to track emails with specific content into CRM, and be able to quickly find them. This, for example, may include the final version of a proposal. In this case you could: (1) add a connection to an email, (2) connect it to an opportunity, and (3) set the connection role to be “Proposal”. Now the proposal is easy to find under the opportunity even if you’ve regarded hundreds of emails to the opportunity.

In Summary

If you’re using CRM exclusively through the Web, then you’re missing out on the improved productivity, stronger collaboration, and management reporting capabilities that are available through the CRM client for Outlook.

  Bob Hatcher, CRM Specialist at Altico Advisors, Microsoft CRM partner serving Massachusetts (MA)

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