Customer relationship management systems typically handle relationships between records in a linear format. For example, in the image to the left, an account (aka a company) may have a relationship with one or more contacts (aka the employees of that company).  Similarly, the account may also have one more more opportunities associated with it.

In the strictest sense, this is how the business views the relationships.  Everything is nice and tidy and linear.






The Reality of Social Connections


But the reality of social connections is quite a bit different from the way that traditional CRM systems have organized them.  Social connections are complex – even messy (ask either of my teenage daughters).  Legal relationships are formed between businesses.  Referrals are made by an individual in one business to an individual in another.  Partner firms are used as part of the sales process to generate leads, provide service, write contracts and close the deal.  A contact for one organization is on the board of directors for another.  Your own employees bring friendships and other connections with them when they join (and when they leave) your organization.

The reality of social connections is closer to the image you see to the right.

In fact, social networking sites have already laid the groundwork for modeling and navigating these complex social connections.  Dynamics CRM 2011 adds the ability to track complex connections and calls it(conveniently enough), Connections.

Connections in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011

Use the embedded video to learn how to work with connections in Dynamics CRM.  Or, if you prefer, follow the step-by-step instructions below the video as a guideline to creating connections.


Creating Connections to You

It is very simple to connect other records to you within Dynamics CRM – but why would you want to do such a thing?  There are actually some very good reasons.  Many organizations use a selling team model and adding yourself as a “connection” to a record (such as an account or opportunity) is one method for identifying yourself as a part of the team that focuses on that record.  You may also want to associate yourself to a record to let other users know that you have a relationship that can be tapped into as a part of the business (for example, if you were a past co-worker of a hot prospect, it may be helpful for others in your organization to know about that so that they can collaborate with you).  CRM 2011 includes a “My Connections” view for records that can use connections – so once you are connected to a record you can easily find it to aid you in prioritizing your work each day.  Here’s the skinny on connecting a record to yourself:

  1. Navigate to the record that you want to connect to yourself.  You can either select it in the grid view, or you can open the form.
  2. In the ribbon menu, click the Connect button.
  3. From the drop-down menu, select the “To Me” option.
  4. You will be presented with a form that allows you to choose your role in relation to this record.  You can choose any role on the list, or create a new role.  You can also enter a description with more details about the relationship (for example, “Wyle E Coyote was my immediate manager in dealing with the supply chain relationship with ACME Corp.”)
  5. Save and Close the form.

The connection has now been created.  Anyone who views the record that you are connected to will be able to see the link and reach out to you for more information if needed.

Creating Connections to Other Records

Perhaps more importantly, you can create relationships to other records.  We’ve run into a diverse range of needs for this type of connection.  For example, businesses that sell through distribution channels may want to track their distributors, and also the customers of their distributors.  When they create a new opportunity, the “customer” may be the end-buyer of the product, but they may also want to create a connection to the distributor who is working on the opportunity.  Business brokers are another example – these organizations aid in the buying and selling of businesses, so they must track complex business relationships among holding companies, companies up for sale, and all the potential buyers of those companies. 

Creating these connections is pretty much the same as creating connections to you – but we’ll add a few other items in our instructions to take you one step deeper with connections:

  1. Follow steps #1 and #2 above.
  2. From the drop-down menu, select the “To Another” option.
  3. Again you will be brought to the connections form – but this time you will need to choose the record to connect to.  Click the lookup button and select a record (this assumes that CRM has been configured to allow you to make connections to the types of records that you’re interested in – see your administrator or partner if this is not the case).
  4. As before, choose the role and, if desired, enter a description.
  5. Now click the Details header at the bottom of the form.  You’ll notice that the “Connected From” field has already been filled in with the name of the record you were on.  You can also define a role for this record – this field is provided so you can enter different roles depending on your perspective.  For example, when looking at a connection between two contacts you may want one contact to have the role “Referred By” and the other to have the role “Referred To.” 
  6. You can also set a start and end date for connections.  So, if you have “time based” connections (for example, perhaps a CPA firm that is only connected to an opportunity until the opportunity closes), you can set a time for those connections to expire.  The records will still be there, but the dates will show that they are no longer active.
  7. As always, click Save and Close when you’re done creating your connection.

Hover over the image below for more information on how to complete the connection form.

Finding Connections

Once connections are set, finding and understanding them is very easy.  Just navigate to the record, open the form, and click the Connections related list in the side navigation panel.  The image below illustrates the connections you will see on the Litware record based on the settings made in the image above.


NOTE: Connections do not “roll up” to the account level like activities do.  For example, if you connect an opportunity to a contact and then navigate to the parent account of either the opportunity or contact record, you will not see the connection you just made.  If it is important that connections be visible at both levels, then you should provide training to your users to manually set multiple connections when needed or work with your administrator or CRM partner to provide customization to handle this task. 


What Else Can I do With Connections?

Connections can be used for a virtually unlimited number of applications.  They can track sales teams, links on social networks or any other number of relationships. Although connections will mostly be used to track some kind of business relationship, they can also be used to connect other records – such as connecting cases to opportunity line items to track projects related to configuring a piece of equipment.  With some advanced customization, you can further streamline how your organization creates, views and navigates connections.