Two great Outlook add ons for business users

Microsoft Outlook is widely used for managing e-mail, contacts, and appointments, but it doesn’t offer full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) capabilities that boost a business’s sales.

Two Outlook add-ons, Avidian’s Prophet and Microsoft’s Business Contact Manager (BCM), each enhance Outlook’s value for business users by contributing CRM and financial functions to Outlook’s bag of tricks.

Prophet concentrates on CRM capabilities, and makes customizing the data you track, such as products and services, easy. The latest version adds sales-quotation reports, sales-quota-management reports, and other functions to its Advanced and Premium editions.

Business Contact Manager brings CRM features and a bit more to Outlook, including financial capabilities such as timekeeping and invoicing; both functions show off to best advantage when you’re also using Microsoft Office Accounting.

The new version of BCM makes customizing Outlook forms for CRM simpler, but using it is still more time-consuming and difficult than using Prophet’s customization features.

Avidian Prophet 5

Prophet works with Outlook 2000 or more recent versions, and is available in three editions: Personal (US$200), Advanced ($300), and Premium ($400). The Personal edition, aimed at individual users, lets you manage sales opportunities in Outlook, track incoming and outgoing e-mail, send personalized group e-mail messages, and share sales data by e-mail or peer-to-peer.

The Advanced edition allows you to customize reports, adds a Sales Assistant that automates follow-up e-mail and appointments, and permits remote access.

I looked at the Premium package, which offers sales quotes and workflow capabilities to help larger teams with long, complex selling cycles. Professional and Server Editions allow the sharing of data and reports within an organization. The program also includes Prophet extensions for mobile devices.

Installation takes a bit longer than you’d expect; the software isn’t that large, but it also downloads and installs several components from the Internet. You must temporarily disable antivirus and firewall software to install it.

After you’re done, you’ll notice new Prophet folders in Outlook that store business contacts, sales opportunities, and reports. You’ll also notice a new Outlook toolbar that offers shortcuts to commonly used CRM functions in Prophet, such as creating and managing sales opportunities.

Version 5 contains several enhancements that make Prophet a higher-end CRM app than previous versions. For example, from within Prophet you can now save sales quotations in Excel format.

Among several new reports are ones that provide details on sales quotas, information on sales calls, and progress on sales opportunities. Such enhanced capabilities should help reps become more productive and prepare more quotes, and they should also allow sales managers to keep close tabs on a team’s performance.

I like how Prophet allows you to customize tracking to make it relevant to your business. If you sell widgets, for instance, you can track the various types of widgets that you offer.

The customization makes assessing sales opportunities in the pipeline easy; if you sell, say, a left-handed widget for $50, Prophet shows you that a sales opportunity for 100 units is potentially worth $5000.

Microsoft Business Contact Manager

Business Contact Manager comes bundled with several editions of Office 2007, ranging in price from $200 to $680. I looked at a new stand-alone package that features just Outlook 2007 and BCM for $150. (BCM also works with Outlook 2003.)

The toughest part of installing Outlook 2007 with BCM is extracting the CD from its hard plastic case, which must have been designed by a sadist. I nearly resorted to attacking it with a hammer before finally flipping it open.

Outlook forms aren’t easy to customize, except for hard-core techies. The new version of BCM makes customization much simpler than before, but it has some way to go to match the straightforward approach of Prophet.

You may customize the forms for Account, Business Contact, Opportunity, and Business Project. Once you create a new field in a form, you can use it in all other forms.

BCM offers handy marketing campaign capabilities. For example, you can create a mail-merge document to send to certain types of contacts, such as leads.

You can then decide how to deliver the documents, either via Word or Publisher for print, or through Outlook or a currently-in-beta service for mass e-mailing. BCM helps you track the results and costs for each campaign, so you can determine its effectiveness.

Mobile users will find BCM useful as well. You can edit data on a laptop and then synchronize it after returning to the office. Business Contacts for Smartphone lets you access data using a compatible cell phone.

BCM delivers its greatest value when used with Microsoft Office Accounting, in addition to Outlook. The Office Accounting tie-in lets you use all the financial-tracking power built into BCM. You can, for instance, use it to track time spent handling customer concerns, and then create invoices to bill for that time. You can also prepare a sales quote and then convert it to a sales invoice.
Which Outlook CRM Add-On?

Prophet’s flexibility in working with many versions of Outlook, along with its ease of CRM customization, is a definite advantage. However, the financial integration that BCM offers is top-notch, which makes it the preferred choice if you use Office Accounting.

Avidian Technologies Prophet 5 Premium Edition

Easily customizable CRM add-on adds new sales-quote and management capabilities.
List price when reviewed: $400
Microsoft Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager

CRM app has financial capabilities, but it requires Office Accounting for complete financial integration.
List price when reviewed: $150

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