Send Faxes from Dynamics CRM 2011: A How To Guide

Having been recently faced with the following client request:

“We need to send faxes occasionally, can CRM do this automatically?”

Coupled with the constraint of “minimal budget” I got to thinking about a way to beat the bank and have CRM do more than just store a number for our lesser used, dust gathering facsimile machines.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just send an email and have somebody else worry about the complexities of dialing the phone and dealing with that shrill techno-squeal from the early 90’s? (Yes I know it’s all digital now, but you know the tune I mean – when a fax would mistakenly be sent to your landline and leave you a 6 minute voicemail to delete)

Services have long existed to fulfill just that need. Translating emailed data in to relayed fax transmissions has been going on for years now. Services like http://www.myfax.com and http://en.efax.com even let you try for 30 days before you buy.

Let’s get the steps to converting CRM to make use of this service though – as I’m sure it’s not my place to preach about Email Faxes like some new breakthrough in the IT world.

Step 1 : Take the Contact form’s ‘Fax’ field, and break it out a bit

CRM Contact Form

I’ve decided to design a new entity, to serve up as a Lookup field on the Contact form. Some may argue, based on the next set of steps, that this isn’t necessary – and I would agree. I think it keeps it just a bit tidier to be broken apart and gives us more options of things we could do with it as its own record type. I’ll talk to these extra’s later as funkier upgrades to the functionality – remembering first though “minimal budget” was the initial brief.

Step 2 : Create new ‘Fax Recipient’ Entity

I have kept this entity as simple as possible, by removing the need for Notes, Connections and Mail Merge but keeping the Activities relation – our email’s will be stored in there.

The absolute key field to have ticked here is the ‘Sending email’ option. We need to send our emails to this entity, which will hold the target address for the faxing service.

Step 3 : Add the email field to the Fax Recipient form

As the last screen told us, CRM will and has created an email field for us so that the entity is e-mail-able.

Step 4 : Add the Fax Recipient to the Contact form

I add the field as a new field to the Contact entity. Choose Lookup as the field type and select the ‘Fax Recipient’ from the entity list. This is the simplest way to get the relationship established without having to worry too much about 1:N, N:1 or N:N’s. (If that last part seems like NNNNonsense…opt for the “don’t worry” bit)

Drag and drop the new field on to the form then save and publish.

Step 5 : When a plan comes together

Our contact form should now resemble similar to the following

Now  you can still store the Fax number in its original field. You can also store a lookup value to a Fax Recipient entry.

Step 6 : Create a Fax Recipient and send it an email

After filling out the Contact and Fax Recipient fields we have the record structure ready for the send

In this scenario I have made use of the eFax.com method of sending faxes :  “How do I send Faxes?” http://en.efax.com/online_fax_basics

In this email I use the body of the message to be the fax cover sheet, and attach a PDF file to be the pages of the fax – a process supported by both of the mentioned Fax services.

Improvements and usage scenarios

As mentioned before – the design I had in mind for the layout in this walkthrough was subject to being open for improvement. I would ideally develop either a custom workflow or a JScript extension to auto create Fax Recipient records based upon user entry or update. This would save users from double entry.

Other scenarios for usage could include an approach similar to a “Welcome Email” becoming a “Welcome Fax” to your business processes. Consider creating an email template which serves as a Fax template, with merge fields in the body of the message and fixed attachments driven from your Sales Literature collection.

You could also create a workflow to send the mentioned “Welcome Fax” automatically. Consider also adjusting the ribbon to include a button to execute a “Send Welcome Fax” workflow process. Reaching this level you will have effectively reached a point where you can blanket select a collection of contacts, and click a button to send 10/50/100 faxes without dialing, standing by the machine and feeding sheets.

Dynamics CRM at this point, clearly displays a new strand of evolution for the office dinosaur.

BDO Solutions is a national firm with local practices throughout Canada, including Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and Reseller of the Year in Canada for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

By Benn Wood, CRM Consultant with BDO Solutions.

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