Microsoft Trolls Small Biz With Outlook CRM Tool

Microsoft this week introduced Outlook Customer Manager, a new cloud-based tool that aims to help its small businesses clients stay on top of their customer relationships.

The new service organizes everything from emails to meeting invitations, call logs, notes, tasks, files and other essential items.

It comes just four months after the launch the company’s Bookings tool, and it is free for customers already in the Office 365 Business Premium Plan.

Microsoft plans to bring the subscription to E3 and E5 subscribers as well.

“We launched Bookings earlier this year and are continuing to expand Office 365’s capabilities for our customers,” the company said in a statement provided to CRM Buyer by spokesperson Lenette Larson.

The tool automatically organizes important information from the Office 365 environment in a timeline next to the user’s in-box.

The tool helps keep track of the most important items of the day, so users get timely reminders. It lists deals by closing dates and deadlines, in order of priority, with listed amounts.

Small Biz and Startups

A feature designed especially for small businesses allows users to share information with other team members. If several members of a team are talking to the same customer, for example, a user can share that information across the system so that everyone is on the same page when making multiple contacts.

The tool is available for mobile use, but it’s being offered initially on the iOS platform only. It will roll out to other operating systems over next few months, the company said.

The Business Premium plan starts at US$12.50 per user, per month. Microsoft also is offering a mobile customer service app that is available initially for iOS, but it will become available for other mobile systems in the future.

Users can set up standard or first-release options for their organization or designate upgrade options for various individuals within an organization.

Light Touch

“The offering positions a light CRM tool for premium Outlook 365 customers,” noted R ‘Ray’ Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“This is a light interaction history and relationship contact manager that slots into a space just before the need to buy a full blown CRM or marketing automation solution,” he told CRM Buyer.

The tool is designed for businesses that lack the interest or the budget for a full-fledged CRM, said Sheryl Kingstone, research manager for business applications at 451 Research.

Seventy-seven percent of businesses with fewer than 10 employees have no interest in deploying a CRM, she pointed out.

“The Outlook Customer Manager can potentially fill the need for businesses that just want to get started with managing customer contact detail,” Kingstone told CRM Buyer. “Even small businesses need to manage their customer data, usually with no IT departments.”

There is a dramatic shift in the balance of power between businesses and their customers across virtually all industries, she said.

“Price and products are no longer enough,” Kingstone said. “Customers value experiences.”

Rival firms like Salesforce — or even morelikely, Zoho — might feel the most impact from a product like this from Microsoft, she added, as startup and small business users now have a featherweight CRM tool that can get them into the Microsoft ecosystem at a low cost and eventually graduate to a more robust solution.

Zoho this summer launched what it positioned as the industry’s first multichannel CRM, touting its ability to allow salespeople to engage customers via email, phone, social media or live chat. The company has a mobile app for iOS called “Zoho Motivator.” The tool is free for up to 10 users.

Microsoft is playing catch-up, said Raju Vegesna, a spokesperson for Zoho.

“We ourselves have been offering this exact functionality for Outlook for years. We have been doing the same for Gmail and Zoho Mail too,” he told CRM Buyer. “We actually go much further than Microsoft and offer a dedicated email client for salespeople with SalesInbox, on top of what they offer.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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