Outlook integration is an important part of CRM functionality - and the key reason why many organizations choose Microsoft Dynamics CRM over competitive CRM products.  In the first two parts of this series, we walked through how to decide which version of Dynamics CRM to use (Outlook or Web).  In this part, we look at 5 pieces of Outlook integration that you should use regardless of which version of CRM you choose.

(1) Install CRM for Outlook

To use any of the functionality described in this article, you first need to install CRM 2011 for Outlook on your PC.  Some important items to note:

  • 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, in turn, will sync with your mobile device.  This alone can be a very important point of integration – many business people rely on Outlook and their mobile device to quickly find contacts, to keep up with scheduled appointments, and to manage their task list.
  • Installing CRM 2011 for Outlook installs the functionality described in the earlier article titled 6 Reasons to Use Dynamics CRM 2011 for Outlook (a link the article is below).  You do not, however, need to use this functionality.  Before installing CRM 2011 for Outlook, you should familiarize yourself with the two articles earlier in this series and determine which version of CRM you will use.

(2) Set Regarding and Track

CRM 2011 for OutlookUsing the “Track” and “Set Regarding” buttons is one of the simplest, but 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 a tremendous amount of our interactions with customers and other stakeholders in Outlook – in the form of email, appointments and, sometimes, tasks – using these buttons to push information into CRM means that these important interactions can be saved, tracked and shared across the organization while requiring very little additional effort on your part.

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 (for a visual example of this, see the CRM Pane in item #3, below).

As a best practice, we always recommend using the “Set Regarding” button rather than the “Track” button.  The Set Regarding button does everything that the Track button does, plus a little bit more.  By clicking Set Regarding, you can create an additional link to the record you are tracking.  Think of this in the same way as you think of the “Subject” or “Regarding” field in a business memo.  For example, you may 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.  As above, the best practice is generally to always use the “Set Parent” button and not the “Track” button, so that all of your contacts will be related to a parent company (one exception is for business-to-consumer organizations that do not necessarily track the company that a contact works for).

(3) The CRM Pane and the Outlook People Pane

CRM Pane in Outlook

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 in order to quickly follow-up on an email, or in order to find an address when preparing to drive to a meeting.  In the nearby image, 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 CRM.

Below the CRM Pane, you can see the Outlook People Pane.  This functionality is available in Outlook without CRM – but it significantly enhances CRM functionality.  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 all 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 KB Articles

imageWhen sending an email from Outlook, if you track it, you will be able to insert any of the email templates, sales literature or KB 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

These last two functions are not used as often but, depending upon your area of responsibility and some of your usage requirements, they can be quite handy.

The Convert To button is available on records in Outlook that have been tracked in 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.  The “Add Connection” button in CRM 2011 for Outlook can be used in a number of ways, here are two examples:

  1. In large businesses, multiple different 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 fund under the opportunity even if you’ve regarded hundreds of emails to the opportunity.

Wrap Up

Are you using CRM exclusively through the web – without any of the Outlook integration at all?  Then you’re missing out on the improved productivity, stronger collaboration (resulting in better customer experiences and improved sales win rates) and clearer management reporting (resulting in more proactive decision making and coaching) that can be achieved at no additional cost and with a nominal learning curve for end users.

In the previous articles in this series, we discussed which version of CRM makes the most sense for each organization, and we provided a recommended approach to training to ease users into the Outlook functionality.  For the previous two articles in this series see: