March 23rd, 2011
I was recently asked to do a presentation on using Microsoft Outlook to manage your business. Normally I’d push back and say “but you can’t effectively manage your business just using Outlook”. In preparing, I really thought about how a start-up business can survive on Outlook, as long as they knew some of the different ways to use Outlook. I also thought about what some of the signs are that you’ve outgrown Outlook. I thought it would be beneficial to share these signs with you.
When I started my presentation, I asked the audience (of 12 business professionals/CEOs) how many of them were using a CRM (customer relationship management) system to manage their business. Of the 12, how many do you think said yes? The answer is 2! Personally I was shocked, but then again, I would not be in business helping small businesses implement CRM solutions if the majority of the room had answered yes.
Of the 10 people that were NOT using a CRM system, the majority of them were using Outlook to at least store contacts and calendar information (in addition to email). I shared with the audience these 5 signs that you’ve outgrown Outlook, and should be looking to move to a CRM system:
- Filtering on Categories just isn’t cutting it anymore. I use Categories in Outlook to manage my calendar and tasks more than anything. It helps me color-coordinate and filter the information to find it easily, prioritize my workload, and delegate where appropriate. If your contacts, calendar and/or tasks require multiple categories per item to manage properly, it’s probably time to move to a database system that can handle custom fields, which can store the information you need to categorize your records. For example, my contacts in CRM have a Contact Type (prospect, client, etc.), a How Met (conference, networking event, etc.), and various other fields that categorize the contacts and help me find what I am looking for at any given moment. It also helps me segment my data for mailings, marketing, follow-ups and more.
- You have 10 records for the same company with 10 different company names listed. Because Outlook is not a relational database, other than copying a contact and updating the new one, if you create a new contact and type in the company name from scratch without looking back at your existing contact records, you are bound to enter different information each time. This causes a mess over time to pile up and duplicates to abound. A CRM system uses one Account record that acts as the Company, and allows you to tie numerous Contacts to the Account. Any custom information you have in the Account record flows over to the Contact, and all you have to do is enter the specific information for this new person in your system. Not only does it keep your data consistent, but it saves you time entering the information as well!
- You’re losing productivity entering the same information over and over again. This covers the same principles applied in #2 above.
- You’re ready to track your pipeline (and not in Excel). Outlook certainly cannot handle tracking your pipeline of new and potential business. And while Excel can, it can be cumbersome unless you have an amazing template. But even with a template, you have to re-enter information that you have in your contact/CRM database into the Excel file, like Company name, contact name, and service/product information. If you use a CRM system to manage your pipeline, once again, data entry would be simplified and the information would be automatically calculated for you.
- You have a group of people trying to share information easily. There are ways to share contact and calendar information using Outlook, but they’re not ideal. It requires either a server environment in your office or an Exchange account for each employee (hosted or server-based). Then you have to copy information to a Public Folder that all can access. But you still haven’t eliminated the problems of #1, 2 and 3 above by going this route! Once again, CRM to the rescue. A multi-user CRM environment can eliminate this issue, allowing all employees to access all contacts (or subset of contacts you want them to access) at any given time. It will even time/date/user stamp the records so you know who created and/or edited the record last. No more emailing each other vital business information or dragging and dropping to the public folder, or other measures to keep everyone in the loop.
These are just some examples of how you can use Outlook to manage your business, but could also run into problems doing so. If you are using Outlook to manage your business and some of the 5 signs above sound familiar to you, consider using a CRM system to manage your business. If you don’t know where to start, contact DB Pros to help you. That’s what we’re here for!