Outlook Is Powerful. It’s Also Limited. Is It Limiting Your Growth?

OutlookThere are many companies, such as Avidian, makers of CRM tool Prophet, who sell software that add-on to Microsoft Outlook, making it more powerful than it already is.

Many businesses use Excel, due to its simplicity, to manage contacts and other information.

Most professionals, including myself, rely on Microsoft Outlook, and it works quite fine for them.

I wondered, however, why professionals should consider add-on programs which can provide Outlook with more features and capabilities. Can a business get along fine with just using Outlook?

Hundreds of thousands of businesses use tools such as ACT!, Batch Book, Maximizer, Prophet, Gold Mine Software and other software to manage their contacts, sales and customers. All of these tools offer some level of integration into Outlook while extending its functionality.

In my interview below, James Wong, President of Avidian, helps shed some light on the “Outlook – Outlook + add-on – Standalone” dilemma.

So many businesses use Microsoft Outlook, as opposed to other email clients. Why is this?
For many years, Microsoft has been the de facto standard for business computing. They have dominated with their operating system and all of the other integrated applications that are often automatically installed on new computers. Microsoft Outlook is just one of those components. With this kind of reach, it is no surprise to see the resulting ?standardization.? Recently, I?ve seen articles highlighting Apple?s push into the business sector, but Microsoft still maintains its heavy leadership status.

Outlook is quite powerful and does have a number of useful features out of the box. What are some of its most useful features?
Microsoft has taken great strides to make Outlook more intuitive, particularly with the latest version, Outlook 2007. The menus have been reorganized to follow a more logical thought process and they have tried to make contact management as easy as possible.

On the other hand, there are many solutions, such as Avidian?s Prophet that make Microsoft Outlook a more powerful tool. What are some of these features, in brief?
As much as Microsoft tries to upgrade and update Outlook, it still remains a Personal Information Manager (PIM). As a result, there are several aspects that are missing from its features that just can?t exist without a more fully functioning CRM application. The problem for most businesses arises when they try to use their email in conjunction with a separate CRM offering. Suddenly, they are split between two applications and have to continually jump back and forth. Because they do not completely function together, there is always a risk that some information will be lost when transferring to the other database. Avidian?s Prophet is built within Outlook and is so seamlessly integrated that it often simply looks like an Outlook plug in. However, Prophet?s features expand Outlook from a PIM to a true CRM offering, providing comprehensive customer tracking capabilities and sales pipeline documentation. Through Prophet, managers can instantaneously generate reports on current sales leads and can gain a much greater insight into the health of the business. Avidian?s technology also allows sales representatives to generate formalized quote documents to email customers based on the tracking information they entered. Through its advanced email features, employees can generate mass emails to maintain contact with potential customers, a process that?with Microsoft products alone?requires a more complicated process involving Outlook, Word and Excel.

Can you discuss the aspect of using Outlook with an add-on, as opposed to using a standalone product?
Those companies simply using Outlook will discover the following problems:

1. Can’t track by companies: Outlook essentially treats each contact as separate entities. There is virtually no relationship between each contact even if they are from the same company. Viewing by company in Outlook is very limited.

2. Keeping notes is very limited and cumbersome: No date or time stamped notes. Can?t search the notes. Very little relationship between the notes and the company or opportunity it belongs to. Notes can only be written for an individual contact.

3. Can?t track opportunities: Can?t track deals, opportunities or prospects. If you want to know how many deals you think you are going to close in the next 60 days, it?s virtually impossible to do.

4. Can?t share sales info: Because Outlook was not designed as a sales tool, sales team can?t use it to share sales information.

5. Can?t forecast sales: Outlook doesn?t include the ability to forecast sales.

6. No reporting mechanism: Running reports and analyzing activities within Outlook is virtually impossible.

7. Can?t attach emails, meetings and tasks with opportunities: If you want to look at Outlook activities relating to a deal, you can?t. Outlook was not designed with the concept of tracking opportunities.

8. Can?t send personalized emails: You can cc or bcc a group but you can?t send personalized emails to a group of people very easily.

9. View reminders relating to an Opportunity: Outlook has a good auto reminders popup, but you can?t relate those reminders to an opportunity.

10. Can?t have centralized contacts without Exchange Server: If you want to have one centralized contact database, you need an Exchange Server to do it.

11. Current category views are not very helpful: Even if you categorize your contacts, there is not much you can do with it inside of Outlook.

12. Outlook is not very relational: You have to run many queries and open multiple windows to get emails, appointments or tasks relating to more than one person.

How do Outlook add-ons compare to hosted applications that might not integrate with Outlook?
At the beginning of each business day, millions of employees arrive at work and boot up their computers. Typically, the first application they open in the morning and the last application they close at night is Outlook. It is the application they work with continually throughout the day. Any tool involving communication and documentation with customer interaction should naturally mesh with a program that is used with such frequency.

What about mobility? Can these applications integrate with mobile tools?
Mobile integration is just as important as Outlook integration, particularly as workers become more mobile and conduct business outside the four walls of their own company. For CRM products, this kind of integration is critical, particularly when out on sales calls. Having mobile integration, and in particular Outlook mobile integration, puts all their customer data at their finger tips. When considering any CRM or other customer oriented tools, it is important to ensure that it has the right kind of mobile integration.