There have always been two versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM available to users: CRM for Outlook (also referred to as the "Outlook Client") and CRM for the Web (also called the "Web Client").  As you may expect, Microsoft CRM has always had better Outlook integration than any other CRM system on the market, but there were always those users that preferre to use the web version.  With all of the new features and Outlook integration that Microsoft has introduced in CRM 2011 for Outlook, the reasons for using CRM for Outlook are stronger than ever.  Let’s take a look at the top 6 reasons for using CRM for Outlook:

(1) More Approachable

One of the biggest barriers to success for any CRM project is getting end-users to adopt it – to embrace it enthusiastically and to begin to use it in their every day business practices.  Training users on a new system is one of the chief obstacles to adoption.  So, naturally , the most compelling reason to use CRM for Outlook is that it promises to reduce the learning curve for end-users. The thinking is that users are already comfortable using Outlook, so using something “inside” of Outlook that looks and feels like Outlook will be easier than using a new application.  Interestingly enough, however, my experience is that CRM for Outlook is not necessarily easier to learn (some say it’s actually a bit more difficult to learn, but let’s at least call it a “break even” from a speed to learn standpoint).  What is true, however, is that users are less intimidated by having to learn an Outlook add-on than they are about using an entirely new application.  So it is valid to say that using CRM for Outlook may improve adoption.

To be accurate, and as the heading for this item suggests, I would categorize this benefit as “more approachable” rather than a “shorter learning curve.”

(2) Better Outlook Record CreationCRM for Outlook - click to enlarge

CRM for Outlook can be set to automatically use default Outlook forms when creating certain kinds of records.  For example, when a user creates an appointment, the default Outlook appointment form can be used and it can automatically be set to regard the CRM record that the user was on when the appointment was created.  This can save time and reduce the learning curve.  This is particularly helpful with emails (creating emails in the Web version of CRM is clunky, to say the least) and appointments; but it is also available for tasks and contacts.  What’s more, when creating appointments from CRM (using the normal appointment form) you cannot sent out a meeting invitation (CRM relies on Outlook to do this).  But by using the standard appointment form in Outlook, you can send the reminder and, using CRM for Outlook, you can ensure that this is automatically synced with CRM too.

(3) Full Outlook Capabilities

Are some individuals on your team Outlook power users?  Are they using follow-up flags, categories, custom views and filters?  If so, the Outlook version of CRM will be a boon to them.  CRM for Outlook taps into all of these features, so if your users know how to use this functionality they will immediately know how to make use of these parts of CRM for Outlook.  Using these features, users can better prioritize their work, highlight records that are experiencing issues (i.e. past due payments) and schedule follow-ups. If your users, on the other hand, have not already developed excellent Outlook skills, then these features will likely be lost on them.

Click to open an interactive overview of CRM for Outlook

Click the image to the left for an interactive overview of the CRM for Outlook features outlined in #3, #4 and #5. Hover over the various portions of the form for pop-up information.





(4) Views, Filters and the Preview Pane

Views in CRM for Outlook work a bit differently than they do in the web version.  When you pin a view in CRM for Outlook, it will refresh in nearly “real time” as changes are made to the underlying data by other users.  Pinned views will also display a much larger number of records per page (up to 5,000) – so you can scroll through records a bit more quickly than you can on the web version. On the other hand, very large lists can slow down performance (so be careful how you configure views to work with Outlook if you have very large lists).

CRM 2011 provides powerful filtering capabilities and they are available in both Outlook and the Web versions.  However, the Outlook version can be a bit more intuitive to users (most notably to those users who are already familiar with filtering other Outlook lists, such as tasks or contacts).

The Preview Pane is another feature of CRM for Outlook that is not available in the web version.  When the preview pane is active, you can see a read-only preview of whatever record you are on in a list without having to open the form.  Each user can configure the preview pane for their unique needs including moving sections or removing them from the pane completely.

(5) Social Integration

Social collaboration is an increasingly important part of managing relationships with individuals inside and outside of your organization. Microsoft promises to continue to add social capabilities to Dynamics CRM and part of their plan is to leverage the social capabilities already built into tools like Microsoft Outlook. What’s already available in Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 (through a free download from Microsoft) is the People Pane and, within that, the Social Connector. The People Pane shows the Outlook activities associated with your contacts, and the Social Connector shows social interactions (such as status updates) made by your contacts on social platforms such as LinkedIN. You can learn more about the the Social Connector here. When using CRM for Outlook, you can view the People Pane and Social Connector while viewing your contacts or leads in CRM – this is a convenient and powerful way to see the latest interactions with an individual before you contact them.

(6) Using CRM Offline

This last benefit may be the most important of them all.  Microsoft has included the ability to take CRM for Outlook “offline” so that you can access and update your data even when you are not connected to the Internet - much as you can view and respond to emails in Outlook while offline.  To use CRM offline, users will need to use it through CRM for Outlook.  So, if your users are going to need to use CRM offline, they’re going to need to learn to use CRM for Outlook one way or another.  If you train them on CRM for Outlook, they will automatically know how to use CRM offline as well.


So with all of those great reasons to use CRM for Outlook, why should anyone choose to use CRM for the Web?  Well there are actually some very compelling reasons to use CRM on the Web.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post outlining some of those reasons.