When rolling out CRM for the first time (or upgrading to CRM 2011 from an earlier version), it will be important for you to decide which version of CRM you will initially train your users on.  It is fine to give your users the option to use either the Web Client or CRM for Outlook – but because of the differences between the two, it will be impractical (and overwhelming) to try to train your users on both versions at once.  So understanding the pros and cons of each approach is important.  Because of the outstanding integration Microsoft has developed between CRM and Outlook, using CRM for Outlook seems to be the obvious choice.  There are, however, four compelling reasons to go with the Web Client.

The 4 Reasons to Use the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Web Client

1. A shorter learning curve.  Most business leaders assume that, because CRM can work with Outlook, it will be easier to learn.  While this may be true for “Outlook Power Users”, it is not necessarily the case with everyday users.  When you decide to train users on CRM for Outlook, it creates a need to explain how CRM integrates with Outlook in some detail.  Users will need to grasp how CRM integrates with existing Outlook items (i.e. email, contacts, appointments) and how CRM also has it’s own items (i.e. leads, accounts, opportunities) that are also available within the Outlook interface.  What seems to create more confusion is that users now have two places to go, inside of Outlook, for what should appear to be the same information (i.e. CRM has contacts and Outlook has contacts; CRM has appointments and Outlook has appointments).  Because CRM and Outlook have different sets of records to track the same information this can be confusing for new users.  By starting with the Web Client, users can be eased into basic CRM concepts without having to learn the details of how data is synchronized between the applications.

With that said, it can still be a psychological barrier for users to feel like they are having to learn a “new application.”  So, although the learning curve by going with CRM for Outlook may be somewhat steeper, it may still be worthwhile to consider because users may be more open to trying to learn something that feels familiar.

2. Two different applications.  Many users keep Outlook open to their inbox and want to actively monitor their email throughout the day – they think of Outlook as mostly an email tool (and to a lesser extent a calendar and contact management tool).  When users are forced to access CRM within Outlook, they must then constantly toggle between the various modules of CRM and their Outlook inbox.  This can be somewhat mitigated by just opening the CRM for Outlook area in a separate window – but few users seem to remember to take this action.  Many users like the idea of have two applications that they can “ALT+TAB” between rather than having to constantly use the mouse to navigate between different parts of Outlook to do their jobs.

3. CRM for Outlook and the Web Client work differently.  Depending on how you look at it, this may be a reason to use CRM for Outlook or it may be a reason to use the Web Client.  CRM for Outlook leverages some great Outlook functionality (like categorizing, flagging for follow-up or conditionally formatting your CRM lists).  On the other hand, individuals that use this functionality tend to be Outlook power users.    In addition, these settings do not update any CRM data (so, for example, if a user categorized a contact using Outlook categories, this information will not be stored in CRM, making it useful only to the single user who set the category).  Plus, if you’ll click the image, you’ll notice that CRM for Outlook tends to make a lot of text look blurry (only joking, that’s just text that we were hiding in the image).  The Web Client, on the other hand, has some excellent functionality that is not available in CRM for Outlook.

Microsoft CRM 2011 for Web - Grid View with Shortcut PulloutMicrosoft CRM 2011 for Outlook has Native Outlook Functionality

4. Outlook issues.  Unfortunately, CRM for Outlook can sometimes produce unexpected bugs.  Microsoft has put a lot of work into resolving these issues, but there are still occasional bugs.  My experience is that organizations that have more security software and, in particular, security software that integrates with Outlook, often run into some of these bugs.  These can cause slowdowns, Outlook crashes and other issues.  So if you’re rolling out CRM for the first time, you may run into some of these issues.  I wouldn’t let this issue be the decision-maker – but if you’re leaning towards starting with the Web Client already, then this issue may push you over the edge.

USING BOTH VERSIONS OF CRM

As part of your long-term strategy, I recommend you provide users with the ability to use either version of CRM.  You will find that different users have different preferences, and allowing them to choose their tool will serve to get them more productive.  But when rolling out CRM for the first time (or when upgrading to CRM 2011) it will be important to decide on one version to start with.  My personal recommendation (which has changed over time) is that you start with the Web Client, then you train users on the basic Outlook integration (part 3 in this series) and, lastly, you provide training on how to use CRM for Outlook for those who are so inclined (or who will need to use CRM for Outlook offline while traveling).

WHAT’S NEXT

  • Even if you plan to use the Web Client to access CRM, there are many Outlook integration features that you will still want to take advantage of.  In the third and last part of this series, we will take a close look at those important (and often overlooked) features.
  • At this time, you can only use the Web Client with Internet Explorer.  This means that Mac users cannot access CRM unless they install PC emulation on their machines.  In the spring of 2012, Microsoft will release a cross-browser version of CRM.  To pull this off, I expect that they may be making fairly significant changes to the user interface of the Web Client.  Stay tuned to learn more about this upcoming release and how it may further improve the CRM experience for your team.