How does a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) package that’s already installed on every computer in your office and every member of staff uses dozens of times every day sound? Pretty great probably. Two of the big stumbling blocks to adopting CRM in small businesses – cost and complexity – are killed off just like that. But can Outlook do an effective job for you?

Of course, you need to do more than just send and receive messages to get the most from Outlook as a CRM tool, but Microsoft’s email programme has potential in this area. You’ll need to get on top of the calendar, journal and contact managers, notes and task management. Using Microsoft Exchange Server and SharePoint Server can make it a shared, multi-user experience (this is more integrated in the latest versions of Office 365). Outlook even keeps a record of every conversation you have with each contact.

So, Outlook certainly has CRM potential. In addition, there are a number of add on programmes that can add extra CRM functionality to Outlook for much less than a full CRM solution would cost. Microsoft also sell Business Contact Manager for Outlook which claims to turn it into a much more effective CRM tool.

However, a fully functioning CRM will do so much more. One of the first things it will do is manage your email messages – often through Outlook. It will also control your contacts and – as many experts are keen to point out – Outlook doesn’t yet allow you to link documents to a particular contact.

It’s this sort of functionality that a fully-fledged CRM system will have. It will almost certainly be more sophisticated than Outlook, more networked and more likely to link different parts of your organisation.

However, if you are a small business with a small IT system – Outlook needs extra software to work in this way on a network – then Outlook can certainly do a job for you (let’s not forget that Microsoft also have their own CRM package). As we’ve mentioned, two of the problems many businesses find with CRM systems are their complexity and the difficulty in getting staff to successfully engage with them.

As you consider CRM and think about trying out some trial versions, perhaps it would be worthwhile to do the small amount of research necessary to give Outlook the chance to perform to its fullest capabilities.

Managing the performance of your marketing is just as important as planning and executing it.

However, for many marketing managers, measuring ROI is still a big challenge, which sometimes results in having a hard time negotiating the marketing budget.

This is a shame because – as we marketers know – every extra pound is worth having!

Let’s start with ourselves then. What can we as marketers do to have more money? Well, we can either spend less or make more.

  1. How do I spend less?
  2. Spend less money: Use marketing analytics that measure how much money you spend on every campaign and on every channel. That means you’ll be able to extract what works best on which customers and where – so you won’t waste resources stabbing in dark.
    Spend less time: Also, for lead optimisation, use the lead scoring function that will tell you how ready your leads are and how much value for your company they have. The better you define your scoring criteria, the more you’ll know which leads are not worth the effort and which still need some nurturing.


  3. How do I make more?
  4. Spend your money here: You can spend the money you save in many ways – experimenting with new campaigns or reinvesting in the best performing ones. That means the more money you bring in, the more money you bring in.
    Spend your time here: Dedicate your time and effort to those leads that are sales-ready and carry high value. Your sales reps will close deals sooner because they will know who to target and how, while your customers will enjoy talking to your company because you’ll always be relevant and will take care of those who appreciate it the most.

5 “no-brainers” and 5 actual pieces of useful advice.

    Speed of implementing

  1. Implementing too quickly: This is a classic no-brainer. You really do need to do enough research so you can make the market fully meet your own requirements.
  2. Implementing too slowly: Actually, over-analysing can harm your business too. The time and energy you invest into researching and meeting different vendors should be limited, otherwise you can make your expectations too unrealistic. Don’t waste time when you could be dedicating it to working with your existing CRM! Make sure you schedule your process realistically before you start implementing.

    Importing data

  4. Importing too much data: Any data that won’t be used in the next half year is generally not worth importing as by the time you come to use it, it will be too obsolete to rely on.
  5. Not importing enough data: Do you think transferring data is too much hassle? Keep your existing valuable data alive. Choose a CRM vendor with easy data import technology and look into the future to determine which data might still make a difference.

    Initial functionality

  7. Implementing too many features: You will end up paying too much and your users might end up overwhelmed. You also need to consider the amount of time needed for customisation of the whole system, as implementation is only the start, adding on more time again before you reach the fully optimised state.
  8. Not implementing enough features: Start small but make sure it counts. Write up a list of what you need and don’t let yourself be sold a solution that doesn’t fit your current business processes.

    Reasons for implementing CRM

  10. Focusing on fixing a management problem: If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Make sure you’re implementing CRM for the right reasons: better customer relationships, not better company management, and adjust your objectives accordingly.
  11. Focusing on fixing a technology problem: To treat a CRM system as a unified database without pursuing the additional benefits it can bring to your marketing, sales and service would be to completely miss the CRM essence. Understand that implementing CRM calls for change and more clarity in your business processes, and make sure your company can handle the shift.

    Relationship with your vendor

  13. Over-relying on your vendor: Make sure you are clear on the responsibility division before you sign the contract. Also, never assume that they are perfect – the outcome will also depend on your share and initiative.
  14. Over-relying on yourself: Don’t be afraid to take a step back. You may well profit from hiring a consultant who specialises in companies like your own. Outsourcing some business expertise is likely to bring you more objectivity, skills and confidence in the system.

Harnessing and understanding customer data can offer businesses the chance to find new leads and increase their revenue in an increasingly competitive marketplace, an expert has claimed.

Dave Peters, chief executive officer and founder of Emagine International, recently laid out some of the potential benefits that can come from working out how to deal with information gleaned from the behaviour of consumers.

He suggested that such data, if used effectively, can have a revolutionary and galvanising impact on the world of marketing and advertising.

Writing in Digital Marketing Magazine, he explained that customer information is not a novel thing but in “recent years the amount of data available (from the internet, social media, mobile, credit cards, transport and building infrastructure and so on) has become so vast that we can really only make sense of it with the help of automation and machines”.

Indeed, businesses have carried out a rudimentary type of this analysis for many years – think of the owner of a small shop noting that a particular brand of biscuits sells more than the others and purchasing extra of them, for instance.

So what’s changed? As well as the remarkable expansion of information pinpointed by Mr Peters, the sophistication and power of automated CRM and big data analysis systems has improved over the last decade.

The Emagine International founder expressed his hope that the emergence of this kind of automation would make it easier for marketers to engage in creative processes and produce innovative work.

He added that siloing relevant information can be a real value-adder for B2B and B2C firms.

“Customer interactions are relevant and valuable, and customer experience can be easily tracked and improved, providing marketers with the opportunity to create rich records of what a consumer wants while creating greater “stickiness” with the brand,” declared Mr Peters.

Extracting more valuable insights from consumer behaviour is likely to be the biggest trend over the coming 12 months, he concluded.

There is a lot of data ready to be collected from consumers at the moment, with firms investing in analytics technology, skilled workers and CRM systems to ensure they can take advantage of it.

While all of this is important in taking as much information as possible on board and attempting to learn from it, an industry expert has warned that failing to place it into a proper context could leave businesses spending too much on an ultimately pointless function.

Emma Haslam, insights consultant with 4PS Marketing, argued that firms need to consider how data fits within the big picture of their business activities if they are to glean as much from it as possible.

After all, it isn’t only the digital world that has an impact on how consumers behave online, meaning organisations should not simply concentrate their data collection on web-based platforms.

She said: “Of course marketing certainly plays its part in affecting customer behaviour, so do you refer to all your offline activities when looking at your web analytics? Do you have a calendar of your TV adverts, when they were shown, and what they were promoting?”

Keeping track of all these functions either via a standardised database or a CRM system is crucial if companies want to ensure their analytics team has access to as much information as possible.

By examining online and offline data, firms can develop a 3D picture of their market, consumers and competitors, rather than relying on the one-dimensional images created by simply focusing on one source.

“Without a calendar or record of the above scenarios that anyone can easily refer to, you’re leaving your analysts pretty impotent in their ability to give you a complete picture of what impact everything your business is doing is having on your online performance,” added Ms Haslam.

Although she suggested that companies do not need to invest in a whole new infrastructure to reach this level, there is no doubt that CRM software can play a role in improving data analysis.

It can be difficult to convince executives of the importance of brand experience, given that it is a relatively hard thing to quantify or calculate a clear return on investment for, which places marketers in a difficult position.

However, consumers are increasingly influenced by this type of marketing, which can shape how they look at a particular company or service.

This, in turn, can mean they recommend it to their friends – which can be crucial in an age when advertising is increasingly treated with caution by well-informed shoppers.

Brand experience doesn’t necessarily need to involve dramatic PR stunts or friendly shop assistants. It also incorporates contact points such as calls and emails, which is where CRM comes in.

Personalising your approach towards customers can have a big impact on how they view your service or product, helping develop your reputation within a particular sector or consumer segment.

John Viccars, senior strategist with RPM, recently argued that the scepticism toward the benefits of brand experience needs to be addressed.

“I think brand experience is still daunting because many marketers think in terms of immediate reach. Based on my X budget, I can ‘push’ a message to Y amount of people,” he explained, writing in the Guardian.

He urged industry experts to consider the potential benefits of ‘consumer influence’, which can allow a message or positive experience to spread exponentially without any further investment from the marketer.

“According to studies by McKinsey, experiential brand experience is the most powerful form of word of mouth, driving activity accounting for 50 to 80 percent in any given product category.

“Brand experience is inherently social, it’s built on ideas that people want to spend time with and that people want to share,” he added.

For firms that want to embrace this element of marketing, investing in a CRM programme could be wise – but they need to do it the right way.

The marketing industry has faced a digital revolution over the last decade, as online becomes an essential component of their business as clients demand an increased focus on new channels such as social and mobile.

While this has opened up many new opportunities for the sector, it has also put pressure on workers to develop their skillsets and keep track with the pace of change within the industry.

According to a new report from training firm The Knowledge Engineers, businesses need to do more to ensure their staff are ready to cope with the challenges involved in digital marketing and communications.

For instance, only 29 per cent of respondents described themselves as happy with their data and CRM skills, suggesting firms may not be getting everything they can out of investment in this kind of software.

On the bright side, this figure was considerably higher than the global average of 20 per cent, an indication of how important CRM is becoming to British companies.

Nevertheless, as digital becomes an entrenched part of the landscape, it is crucial that workers are given the experience and training they need to take advantage of this shift.

Niall McKinney, founder and chief executive officer of The Knowledge Engineers, pointed out that digital is beginning to overtake print as the biggest advertising medium, meaning companies will be left behind if they do not upskill.

“It is essential for organisations to understand whether they have the right skills to maximise their digital opportunity. The UK leads the world in some areas of digital marketing like search, but needs to catch up quickly in others like mobile,” he added.

Only 35 per cent of UK respondents felt completely confident delivering digital marketing activity, with content strategy deemed to be the most important area in which to develop their skills over the coming years.

New research from Gartner has delineated the impressive growth levels seen by the global CRM market over the course of 2013 as firms attempt to improve their relationships with buyers and utilise the analytics possibilities offered by the software.

“High levels of end-user investment in digital marketing and customer experience initiatives were the primary growth drivers of the market in 2013,” said Joanne Correia, research vice president at the firm.

“CRM will be at the heart of digital initiatives in coming years. This is one technology area that will get funding because digital business is critical for companies to remain competitive.”

One of the major factors in this development is increased demand for software as a service (SaaS), which is developing across a host of sectors as firms attempt to move on from outdated legacy services or provide complementary additions to their workers.

Another possible reason for the increased popularity of CRM is that major vendors such as Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics have upped their efforts to compete for market penetration.

As these software providers vie to offer the best service and develop the subtlety and techniques of their CRM offering, firms will have more choices when it comes to bringing in new technology.

Microsoft enjoyed the second-biggest growth levels over the course of 2013, expanding by 22.8 per cent. Salesforce was the best performer, with a 30.8 per cent increase.

On a regional basis, Western European firms appeared to be the keenest to develop their CRM processes, perhaps suggesting that the American market (an early adopter) is beginning to show signs of maturity.

The former enjoyed growth of 15.2 per cent over the course of the year, while the bulk of revenue share (52.9 per cent) was recorded in the latter.

On a sector-by-sector basis communications, media and IT services vertical industries are the largest spenders on CRM because they tend to link up with large numbers of customers via call centres and other direct marketing techniques.

The oil and gas sector is a potentially very profitable one – in the UK, despite the fact that supplies have fallen in some places, it is still worth a great deal to the economy and could be extremely lucrative for the companies involved in extraction, sales and so on.

Retired businessman Sir Ian Wood recently completed his government-commissioned report on the industry, with the coalition now keen to fast-track many of his proposals as it attempts to effectively support the economy.

42 billion barrels of oil and gas have already been produced from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) – however, some 12 to 24 billion more could still be generated, meaning it is vital that the sector is given the chance to perform well in the near future.

The near-term prospects for the UKCS are strong, but it is facing an extremely different environment than it did ten or 15 years ago when production was at its peak, Sir Ian explained.

But what has all this got to do with CRM? Well, many upstream oil and gas firms rely heavily on this kind of technology in order to manage their relationships with customers and keep track of their information effectively, a process that could become even more important as the market in the UK becomes squeezed.

For firms in the oil and gas service industry keen to upscale their forecasting models or develop their customer management abilities, investing in software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM could be a good idea, particularly in the build-up to the various changes put forward by Sir Ian.

Here are some of the ways that investing in CRM can help upstream oil and gas businesses fulfill their roles.

Providing a strong customer view

This isn’t necessarily an industry specific benefit, as it is generally considered the core benefit of installing a CRM system whatever sector you are working in. However, the complexities of the deals involved in utilities sales and other common occurrences in the energy world mean it can be especially helpful here.

A well-integrated piece of CRM software can make detailed notes, document attachments, communications, open quotes, pending orders, well status, production volume, service contracts, services issues and more available to workers across an organisation.

Keeping all this data in one place can have major benefits – it makes the sales and marketing process more efficient, but it also means it is less likely that a piece of vital knowledge will get lost in a (figurative) pipeline, saving the time that can often be spent attempting to gather all the information about a specific transaction.

It also makes it easier for business intelligence experts and other analysts to gain a picture of how customers are behaving, which can be extremely helpful in the relatively volatile and fluctuating world of oil and gas.

Real-time integration of industry data

As CRM software gets more sophisticated and powerful, it can provide firms with real-time integration of data – again, given the fast-moving nature of the energy market and the fact that the UK’s natural resources are no longer at their peak production level, this could prove extremely useful.

Many firms offer an oil and gas sector-specific form of CRM that can access all leading industry databases in order to provide decision-makers with the information they need. This can also be a good way to generate leads.

Track competitors

Oil and gas, as mentioned above, is a competitive sector. By using CRM to keep track of how rival firms are doing, a company would be able to plan its next move with the necessary context.

Dynamic, high-tech mapping

Again, by using industry databases, firms can create a representative model showing well permits and well production status, among other important pieces of information.

Customer service improvements

Firms will be able to assign, manage, and resolve support incidents by using a CRM database. By providing historic information about customer interaction, it will make it easier to form strong relationships and engage with buyers.

Basically, it will streamline the process of linking up with customers, as it can do for any B2B or B2C industry.

Sir Ian “estimates that full and rapid implementation [of his plans] will deliver at least 3 to 4 billion more barrels of oil than would otherwise be recovered over the next 20 years, bringing over £200 billion additional value to the UK economy”.

If this is the case, there are still plenty of profits to be made by firms that are canny enough to deal with the ways in which the market is going to change.

One of the difficulties in explaining the potential benefits of CRM to neophytes or sceptics is that it can become a fundamentally different thing depending on the industry you work in or the scale of your business.

What is important is not to think of it as a one-size-fits-all panacea that will deal with all of your marketing problems – CRM can be extremely useful, but it needs to be integrated and planned correctly if it is to be an effective part of your advertising technology.

Before purchasing the software, you should think about exactly what areas you need to target for improvement, and tailor the type of CRM you purchase so that it can fit into these gaps.

For instance, a large company with well-established procedures and an international, wide-ranging customer base will use CRM very differently from a start-up with its own aims and demands than its more mature competitors.

Ultimately, you need to make sure you have the right plans in place to make CRM work for you, otherwise conversion rates and return on investment will end up being disappointing, no matter how powerful the software package you have purchased is.

Here are some of the ways you can ensure your CRM is performing at an optimal level.

Keep it simple

As I explained above, it can be tempting to see CRM as a cure to all that ails your marketing function – to use it as a way of improving mobile content, engaging more effectively with customers, producing insightable data and sharing information across the company, all at the same time.

Naturally, this is an attractive proposition, but like most things that sound too good to be true, it is a pipe dream.

If you want your CRM software to be taken up across the company and used regularly, it makes sense to produce a simple, effective workflow initially, before adding all the bells and whistles that come with modern technology.

Of course, CRM can help you with improving your mobile service provision, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be used for such a complex task straight away. At first, use the fewest functions you can get away with – this will make the benefits clear and ensure that the people holding the purse strings will be happy to invest further in the technology later down the line.

Target it effectively

The failure of many CRM integrations comes about at least in part because firms do not have a strategic plan in place for utilising the software. You wouldn’t hire a new member of staff if you were unsure exactly what they were going to do – the same approach should be taken when adopting new technology.

Andrew Brittain, managing director of digital agency Advantec, recently told My Customer that companies need to change the way they look at CRM if they are to use it successfully.

“A CRM system is an important tool for building customer loyalty and encouraging retention. It will also keep your business competitive, but one common trap that can be fallen into by organisations is to see it as a standalone tactic, rather than developing it as a strategic function,” he explained.

“If you have a CRM system and it is not currently achieving what you hoped then it may down to the absence of a strategic plan, or because the system is not fully integrated and in line with business goals.”

Train workers to use CRM properly

Effective, comprehensive training on how to make use of CRM software will ensure that workers are comfortable with it and do not consider it either an imposition on their time or an overly complex, confusing system that they do not understand.

This should start with a short introduction to why the system has been brought in, explaining the benefits it can offer on an organisational level – workers will be more likely to express resentment or uncertainty if they are unclear about what CRM is for.

However, a short afternoon session is unlikely to sort out all the issues staff have with utilising new technology. Businesses that provide ongoing support and development opportunities to their workers around CRM will find their investment proves far more worthwhile.

Potentially, Microsoft Dynamics CRM can be adapted to more quickly, because its basic interface is more easily understood by people who have spent a lot of time with the tech giant’s other products.

Ultimately, bad training will mean no workers utilise the CRM package, which is one of the biggest reasons that many implementations fall by the wayside and will make the investment a waste of money.