Microsoft Dynamics CRM - Using Activities vs. Notes - Best Practice

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In the last few months, I have conducted several Sales related training sessions where the number one topic is Activities vs. Notes in Dynamics CRM. Many of my recent implementation projects have been for clients who have no CRM system today and have been using tools like Excel to track their touch points with their prospects and customers.

To determine what data is most important to our customers, I review their existing Excel files and map that data to the proper fields I set up in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM environment.

Although these implementations are different for each type of business, I see a column for “Notes” in every Excel file. When I read through the content of those notes, the data pertains to touch point conversations and transactions happening with their prospects and customers. Some people even take the time to put their initials and date stamp on their note in the file to help denote when that touch point occurred.

So the discussions begin regarding when to use Activities in Dynamics CRM. The Notes functionality sounds applicable on the surface, but probably isn’t the best way to keep tracking the type of data they are used to putting in the never ending “Notes” column within their various spreadsheets.

The best way to explain the reason to use Activities instead of Notes, is that Notes don’t "go anywhere" with standard CRM functionality. They are stagnant and remain on the Lead record the Note was created within. Activities on the other hand, carry forward where applicable and also roll up to the Parent Account for any child record.

For example: If I create a Note on a Lead record and then qualify that Lead to an Opportunity, CRM auto-creates the related Account and Contact records. The Note I created in the Lead record is not visible on the related records. I’d have to navigate to the now qualified/closed Lead, open the record, click on the Notes tab in the Social Pane, in order to see that Note I created. See examples below:

Note on a Lead Record

Dynamics CRM Activities Not Notes xRM3 Picture1

After converting the Lead to an Opportunity, the note is not visible in the Opportunity Record

Dynamics CRM Activities Not Notes xRM3 Picture2

I can "click back" on the Qualify arrow to read the note, but it's not efficient.

Now, if I create an Activity (instead of a note), a Phone Call for example, I would see the Phone Call Activity on the Lead, in the Social Pane and Associated Activities view for the related Opportunity. I would see the Activity in the Social Pane and Associated Activities view within the parent Account for that Opportunity/Lead as well. Activities roll up and forward to the associated records created from that Lead when it’s qualified, giving you the visibility and transparency Dynamics CRM is so well known for.

Activity on the Lead record

Dynamics CRM Activities Not Notes xRM3 Picture3

Activity flows to the Opportunity record

Dynamics CRM Activities Not Notes xRM3 Picture4

If I create an Activity regarding a Contact or Case (or any other child record related to an Account that is activated for Activities), I will see that Activity within the record it’s regarding AND see that Activity in the Social Pane and Associated Activity view for the parent Account assigned to those records. Again, giving the visibility and transparency organizations are looking for.

Case Activities

Dynamics CRM Activities Not Notes xRM3 Picture5

Parent Account Activities

Dynamics CRM Activities Not Notes xRM3 Picture6a

Additionally, if I have my Outlook synching with Dynamics CRM via Server-Side Synch or the CRM for Outlook Plugin, those Activities I create in CRM will synch up with Outlook. I can also create Activities in Outlook and choose which Activities are synched to CRM. Notes do not roll up to Outlook.

  • CRM Task synchs up with Outlook Task
  • CRM Phone Call, Letter, Fax synch up with Outlook Task
  • CRM Appointment synchs up with Outlook Appointment
  • CRM Email synchs up with Outlook Email

Notes may seem like a great idea because we are so used to the term “notes” and because they have the very appealing User and Date/Time stamp functionality that automatically creates when you create a Note. But unless that Note contains general information about just that record OR you have built or purchased a solution that rolls Notes forward to other related entities, Notes are not a good place to keep information that is meant to be shared throughout your organization or tracked as follow up items. Keeping that level of information in Activities will make managing your interactions and to do reminders for your records much easier and more efficient.

By Jessica Carsten, Application Consultant at xRM³, Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner, San Diego, Southern California. Click here to contact xRM³.

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