Microsoft Rolls Out New Office 365 CRM App for Small Businesses

Microsoft is giving small to midsize businesses (SMBs) a new sales and marketing tool with the release of Outlook Customer Manager, a customer relationship management (CRM) application within the Microsoft Outlook email client. Available through the "Customer Manager" tab in the toolbar, Outlook Customer Manager is an automated organizational tool designed to surface emails, events, documents, tasks, and other interactions to help business users more effectively manage customer relationships.

Outlook Customer Manager essentially turns Outlook into a smart sales inbox. When you click on the tab in the Outlook 2016 toolbar, it brings up a timeline view of automatically organized sales information including calls, deadlines, deals, emails, files, meetings, notes, and tasks related to specific customers. The app exists entirely within Microsoft Office 365. According to Microsoft, the information in the timeline is gathered from email, calendar, and call log data pulled from various Office 365 apps.

Using Outlook Customer Manager, users can also set up reminders to respond to a customer interaction, and associate tasks with a contact, company, or deal. Plus, you can also organize deals in a few different ways. A Microsoft spokesperson provided PCMag with some additional insight, pointing out that you can share specific customer information with a team and use a feature called Focused list, which details particularly important customers and deals.

"The information in the timeline is automatically gathered from the email, calendar, and call log data from the Office 365 environment," said the Microsoft spokesperson. "Outlook Customer Manager helps you stay on top of opportunities and commitments by surfacing timely reminders, letting you associate tasks with a contact, company or deal, and listing deals by stage, close dates, priority, and amount. To help you prioritize your time, the system automatically presents a Focused list of your most important customers and deals."

The app is currently rolling out to Business Premium subscribers at no extra cost and will be generally available in early 2017. Microsoft is also working to enable full mobile access to Outlook Customer Manager, and has already released a dedicated iOS app that includes meeting information, notetaking, and mobile scanning for business cards.

What about Dynamics?Outlook Customer Manager gives SMBs a light CRM app within Microsoft's email client, but Microsoft also has a standalone CRM app in Microsoft Dynamics 365. The company has a full-blown enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution as well with Microsoft Dynamics GP, which incorporates CRM along with general ledger, sales, human resources (HR), and accounting and finance features.

Microsoft describes Outlook Customer Manager as a lighter CRM app within Office 365 for SMBs that aren't necessarily large enough to employ an entire sales team. The app is geared toward helping entrepreneurs and small business users who are conducting lead acquisition and customer outreach themselves; it gives them an easy, built-in way to manage information and stay on top of interactions. Dynamics 365, on the other hand, is a more heavy-duty CRM platform that provides deeper customer information and financial data as businesses scale up and expand their sales and marketing operations.

"Outlook Customer Manager is designed for small businesses that want to stay on top their customer and deal information," said the Microsoft spokesperson. "Natively built into Outlook, it is simple to get started with and easy to use as a first customer management tool for small businesses. As their needs grow, business can move to Dynamics 365 for sales to take advantage of enhanced customer information, sales process consistency and efficiency, and deeper financial and customer insights."

How CRM is Getting Smarter Outlook Customer Manager is indicative of a larger trend around using machine learning and automated workflows to better organize and surface customer data. The new Salesforce Einstein artificial intelligence (AI) platform bakes in deep learning and predictive analytics throughout the Salesforce CRM cloud, and we've already seen other CRM players begin to implement these kinds of smart email and predictive sales analytics features as well.

The major redesign to Zoho CRM came with a new product called SalesInbox, which offers a dedicated mail client for salespeople that uses contextual CRM data to surface relevant emails. Other CRM players have also implemented similar features in the past year, with Pipedrive CRM adding smart email and Base CRM integrating intelligent sales forecasting and email sentiment analysis using predictive analytics data.

We're seeing advances in machine learning and business intelligence (BI) across a host of business use cases. Through Outlook Customer Manager, Microsoft is using this kind of data automation to make it easier for small businesses without a dedicated sales team to efficiently manage customer relationships. As we head into 2017, the role AI and data automation in CRM will only grow as businesses look for smarter, more efficient ways to manage interactions, engage leads, and convert them into loyal customers.

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