CRM and Sales Management Through Microsoft Outlook

CRM, sales and marketing are all part of what small businesses have to do to keep getting new customers and keeping the customers they already have. Many of these services include ACT!, Outlook Business Contact Manager, Goldmine and Maximizer. NetBooks is offering an integrated blend of CRM, marketing, accounting and more.
Another service, offered as an add-on software to Microsoft Outlook is Prophet, made by Avidian,
James Wong, Avidian’s CEO answers some questions to help you decide if Prophet is for you.
What are the benefits to using a tool connected to Outlook (like Avidian’s Prophet) when hosted CRM solutions are available?
Salesforce.com has accomplished a marketing feat, crafting the argument that CRM is about a hosted versus an on-premise solution. However, the real discussion should be about whether or not CRM is implemented successfully. True CRM success starts with adoption. Will your people use the desired CRM application or will they abandon it shortly after implementation? If they discard the application, it really doesn’t matter where the software is located. As a result, the real key to a CRM victory is providing the application in an easily digestible format without a significant learning curve. This is what Avidian provides to the market.


When developing Prophet, our flagship CRM product, we asked ourselves, “What is the first application people open in the morning, and what is the last application they close at night?” For most people, the answer is Outlook. Currently, sales people use Outlook for 50 to 60 percent of their sales activities, such as creating contacts, appointments, tasks and e-mailing their customers and prospects. Adding more functionality, including contact management, opportunity management, information sharing and status reporting, into the existing Outlook framework not only makes it easier to manage sales but also increases the likelihood of full adoption.
As a result, all major CRM vendors highlight their ability to sync with Outlook. They can’t ignore the application because it is so integral to an individual’s daily work schedule. However, because their solution involves a separate application with its own database, they require users to toggle back and forth to manage multiple contact databases, calendars and to-do lists. With Prophet, an individual can do everything inside of Outlook, meaning they only need to deal with one contact database, one calendar and one application.
I was at an Infusion CRM conference in Phoenix recently and their focus is on marketing/sales automation as well. When does a small business know when to use a tool like Prophet or a much more robust and more expensive full scale CRM tool?
In order to find the right CRM tool for a business, it is important to think about what you are trying to accomplish. When most people think of CRM, they think about contact management, opportunity management, sharing sales information and running reports. Opportunity management includes monitoring what stage each of your deals are in, recording comprehensive notes with date/time stamps and tracking the expected revenue and close date of each deal.
Full-featured CRM can include anything that relates to a customer. The benefits should begin the moment their name is entered into the system and assist your personnel as they move these contacts through the sales process. It should also provide comprehensive customer service, drive toward fulfillment and maintain the same quality through invoicing and support.
Truly successful CRM starts with bite-sized chunks. Trying to do too much at once can make the whole effort crumble to pieces and waste company resources. As a result, it is important to be completely clear about what aspects of CRM are essential to implement. Once that is decided, it is important to ensure those aspects are executed flawlessly before adding onto them. A good rule of thumb when wondering whether or not it is the right time to add onto current CRM efforts is if the question arises, “What else can we do with our CRM system?”
Regarding the initial phases of CRM implementation, small businesses stand to benefit the most from the essential CRM functions: a centralized contact management system, a consistent sales process to move a prospect to a paid customer, the ability to share that information with each other and the opportunity to run useful sales reports. Prophet provides these benefits in an effective system directly inside Outlook. With the Prophet Enterprise version, we add sales automation, workflow and more advanced permissions. Again, these can be added later should a client decide they need this functionality.
What are the benefits of using Prophet over a dedicated CRM software tool (ACT!, GoldMine, Maximizer, etc)?
Truthfully, most CRM products have very similar features. It is difficult to distinguish between CRM tools simply by comparing their lists of features. To be a serious player in the CRM space, vendors must master the basics of managing contacts and opportunities, sharing capabilities and running reports. Prophet and other CRM vendors offer these features and provide the capabilities businesses need.
The real differentiator is how well these solutions fit into the normal work routine or how easily individuals can adopt them. The benefit of using Prophet is that it works the way people work, right inside Outlook. If you maintain your list of contacts in Outlook, do you want to create another contact database in a separate application? If you use the Outlook calendar, do you want to maintain another calendar elsewhere? Employees are already using Outlook to manage more than half their CRM activities, so why not leverage a user interface they are already familiar with. When implementing a new system, employee adoption rates suffer the more they deviate from current practices. With CRM, employees will have a more difficult time learning how to create new contacts, appointments or tasks in a new application. Wouldn’t it be easier to be able to use an existing application such as Outlook?
When looking for an Outlook Add-On tool for e-mail marketing, sales, etc what are some things to look for? I know of one other tool Swiftpages and then there’s Outlook Business Contact Manager. How should a small business owner know which tool is best for them?
To know which Outlook Add-On tools are best, you need to know what you want to accomplish with them. Managers should ask the following questions:
• How many items do I want to send out each time?
• How often?
• How sophisticated do I want the campaign management to be?
• What kind of tracking information do I need to have available?
• How much am I willing to spend?
Once a company has answered these questions, the best way to research which tool fits their needs best is to utilize the Internet. Sites such as www.slipstick.com will show a list of products that fit into these categories.
Effective e-mail marketing and sales requires robust features that automate these processes as much as possible. For example, the Advanced and Server versions of Prophet come with e-mail marketing capabilities which allow the user to create simple e-mail templates or more sophisticated drip e-mail campaigns. The benefit of running Prophet’s e-mail marketing feature is that all e-mails will be automatically associated with the Outlook contact so employees have a tracked history of what they sent and when they contacted an individual.
I would guess that sales is one part the technology and product but even more the process and system one has in place. For small businesses that buy a sales tool, like Prophet but have no sales or marketing system in place, how can they ensure they’ll best maximize their investment?
There are three components to successful CRM implementation: people, processes and technology. First, you must have the support of individuals from all levels of the company, from owners and executives down to the individuals using the product on a regular basis. Everyone needs to commit to participate in the project. Second, you need to establish processes for how CRM will be used in the company and procedures for how situations will be handled. The third component, technology, can aid process implementation, allowing you to build many of the processes directly into the CRM software.
At Avidian, we want to ensure success during Prophet implementation. To ensure adoption, we’ve created a process in which we guide our customers from installing the software to getting their people trained. Through this system, we remotely configure and install the server and client computers for them and train their users and managers through webinars or onsite training sessions.
Constant Contact is the leading e-mail marketing tool for small businesses, how should small businesses think about marketing in light of simple e-mail marketing vs. a tool like Prophet?
As a small business, the marketing department often has limited resources and the sales team is continually looking for ways to touch their customers in a more efficient way. In response, Avidian added an easy and powerful Sales Automation and Workflow feature within Prophet. This allows a sales person to send a personalized e-mail to a group or set of contacts.
Have you ever had a potential customer say to you, “I’m not ready to do anything yet but why don’t you follow up with me in a couple months?” Avidian has also developed the functionality to follow up with key contacts automatically within a given timeframe. The real payoff is when they reply to the e-mail Prophet sent automatically and as a result, provide you with a successful sale. This success allows you to see the tangible benefits to employing CRM technology.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

One thought on “CRM and Sales Management Through Microsoft Outlook

  1. Richard

    I was a Prophet user and was very impressed by the product initially. It has a very slick demo and when I went to actually use it, I could never get past how complicated it was, so it sat unopened. About a year later, I again attempted to try and use the system and was again daunted by it’s complexity. I tried Microsoft BCM and was also unimpressed because the of the very things the Prophet folks point out. Finally, I have stumbled across ZOHO CRM (www.zoho.com). While not a perfect product, I was amazed at both the funtionality and the price (free for up to the first three users). Just thought you might want to know.

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