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(Microsoft) Outlook is bright for SFA

Sales force automation software can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but integration with a widely used e-mail client may ultimately determine whether your users embrace CRM.

If user adoption is key to a CRM project's success -- and learning new technology is one of the biggest stumbling blocks -- then relying on a popular, easy-to-use application seems like a no-brainer.

That's why CRM vendors really want to convince potential customers that their software works with one of the most widely used applications: the Microsoft Outlook e-mail client.

"The reality is that more customer contacts are probably stored in Outlook than anywhere else," said Erin Kinikin, vice president and research director for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "The No. 1 reason for CRM failure in sales force automation is adoption. Peel back the onion, and you see the reason is Outlook integration."

Salespeople are inherently pretty stupid. Their capacity to use CRM systems is so low anyway that the ability to integrate CRM functionality into Outlook, which they do know how to use, is crucial.
Ben Holtz, president, Green Beacon Solutions,

In fact, recent CRM announcements have focused on Outlook integration. When San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc. purchased hosted provider UpShot Corp., it gained more than just customers and workers skilled with a hosted platform; many analysts pointed to UpShot's Outlook integration as an impetus for the deal. Similarly, last month, announced the release of its Office Edition, which uses Web services to integrate with Microsoft's Word, Excel and Outlook.

"The real state-of-the-art [concept] now is how can you make [Outlook integration] absolutely transparent to the sales rep," Kinikin said. "Whether they enter data in Outlook or an SFA tool -- or send an e-mail through Outlook or the SFA tool -- it all has to end up in one place."

SalesLogix, the midmarket offering from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Best Software Inc., has a feature that, with the push of a button, stores customer information from an e-mail in the CRM database, Kinikin said. She added that another company with an innovative approach to Outlook is Interface Software Inc., Oak Brook, Ill. It lets the Outlook client subscribe to changes in the CRM database, but it also gives salespeople the ability to override any updates that they may not deem accurate. Hosted provider NetSuite Inc., San Mateo, Calif., has rolled out no-click e-mail support for a variety of messaging clients, including Outlook and Lotus Notes. It is seeking a patent on the technology.

Of course, when it comes to integrating with Outlook, one software company has a CRM application that should stand head and shoulders above the competition. Simply put, at this stage, Microsoft CRM's biggest advantage over the competition is its Outlook integration, said Ben Holtz, president of Watertown, Mass.-based reseller Green Beacon Solutions.

"The way they use Outlook is just as a facilitator," Holtz said. "They've completely replaced the UI; it looks like standard Microsoft UI, presented in a window. I think more [vendors] will go in that direction."

The addition of the Business Contact Manager into Outlook 2003 has helped make it a direct competitor with applications like Goldmine, Holtz said. Essentially, Microsoft is now using the Business Contact Manager as a lead-in to get companies to upgrade to its full CRM system. Yet, while Outlook is Microsoft's application, that doesn't necessarily mean Microsoft offers the best tools.

The problem with Outlook's contact manager is that it only stores simple information, like names, phone numbers and e-mail. CRM's value, however, is letting companies track data differently, especially by industry, Kinikin said.

The key benefit from integrating Outlook into the CRM system is getting the sales force, people who generally balk at entering information, on board.

"Salespeople are inherently pretty stupid," Holtz said. "Their capacity to use CRM systems is so low, anyway, that the ability to integrate CRM functionality into Outlook, which they do know how to use, is crucial."

Mike Bradley, president of Wonderware-Archestra, a Lake Forest, Ill.-based industrial software company, said that working in Outlook was vital when he was establishing a sales team and didn't have CRM software. Wonderware-Archestra now runs's Enterprise Edition and tracks leads not only through Wonderware-Archestra's internal sales team but also through the distributor channel. The integration with Microsoft Office has made the application easier to use.

"Salesmen are not hired as documenters," Bradley said. "It's a cultural thing. You can yell and scream and jump up and down and, if it's not easy, they still won't do it. They'll just say, 'Do you want me to sell or enter information?'"


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