My ten-person company is a Microsoft Partner and a fan of Microsoft. We specialize in Customer Relationship Management (CRM). We sell their recently re-branded Dynamics CRM product line. We sell and implement three other great customer relationship management applications, too -- Salesforce.com, ZohoCRM and GoldMine.
Earlier this month, Microsoft announced a new product called Outlook Customer Manager, which is a lighter CRM product that will be included at no extra charge in the Office 365 Business Edition. It looks like a great product, particularly for small businesses. Your team will be able to track -- on pretty much any device -- customer interactions, emails, activities, notes, deals and other information right from within Outlook.
Seems like a no-brainer for any Office user, right? Well, hold your horses.
We have been implementing CRM applications for more than 20 years. Our company serves more than 600 active CRM clients. We have had many awesome, celebratory, cork-popping successes. Unfortunately, we've also had our share of sad, tearful, profanity-filled failures. Why? Why do some companies succeed with these systems while others fail? We've learned that the product doesn't matter. The size of the company doesn't matter. It's something else. The Outlook Customer Manager can be a huge asset for your business. But, like some of my clients, you may fail with it. And for these three reasons:
Reason 1: You don't have an administrator in charge.
Microsoft is giving you a shared database as part of Office 365. That database will quickly turn into useless data unless someone is in charge of it. That person doesn't need to be a technical guru -- just a good power user. And you, the owner, need to make sure that this person has your authority to kick butt, wipe noses and change the diapers of the sales and service people who will be entering data into the system. Your administrator is responsible for the completeness and accuracy of the database -- anything incorrect, out of date or missing is not that person's fault, but it is his or her responsibility to fix it and implement controls so that it doesn't happen again. If you don't have this person in place (it's a cost, by the way), you will fail.
Reason 2: The boss (that's you) isn't committed.
For a CRM system to work, even a lighter version like the Outlook Customer Manager, the executive in charge must be fully committed to it. That's you. You're using the system. You are the leader. You're providing emotional, financial and educational support for your administrator. You tell your team that this is the company's system, and everyone's going to use it. You invest in outside help (that's me) to get it up and running and used the right way with the proper training and service. You don't cave in when people complain because they don't like the color of the screen or the font, or that things take extra clicks or that it's not "user friendly." For this system to work, your people will need to do more work. You provide resources to help them, but you stand firm because this is your database. You realize that using this product the right way will help you increase your sales, improve your customer service and make your company more profitable...and valuable. Stand firm. Commit. Or you will fail.
Reason 3: You're not using the data.
My best clients have 2-3 key reports coming out of their CRM systems every week or so -- open quotes, new leads, customer problems, salespeople activities, etc. Managers read these reports and rely on the data to help them run their companies. In the end, the Outlook Customer Manager is nothing more than a shared database that you can use to grow your business. If you're looking at data in the system -- through reports or even an output to Excel -- you can not only ensure that the data is accurate but that your team is also using the system the right way. Have a few key reports, or you will fail.
As a Microsoft partner with CRM competency, I plan to reach out to our smaller clients and discuss with them the advantages of getting Office 365 with the Outlook Customer Manager. I will offer our services to help them use it the right way. But I will respectfully advise not using this product if a client is not prepared to invest in an administrator or reports or shows little interest in adopting the system into their company culture.
Any of these three reasons are reasons enough not to use this great new service.
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.