CRM is all about having a model (methodology) for managing your company’s interactions with current and future customers. It involves using processes, policies, and technology to organize, automate, synchronize, and ensure the data quality of an organization’s sales, marketing, customer service, technical support, and the real customer relationships that drive all of these. In an interview with Kerri Groves from Lookout Software, she said that a well-run CRM program considers culture, processes, policies, and tools, and can benefit your organization in many ways.
Some of these ways include:
- Structure and Automation: The standardization of business processes and procedures facilitates consistency across the organization and gets all staff on the same page.
- Information Management: the centralization of data, structure, documents, and client communication simplifies reporting and decision making by ensuring that you have factual information at hand all the time.
- Centralized Communication and Knowledge: A single hub for all aspects of the business that relate to the entire team becomes the one place to go for customer and business relationship management knowledge.
Groves also stated that a CRM system must be “operational” (integrated into the business process with its use measured and enforced) in order to be effective. Even though the business type (financial, energy, manufacturing, health care, etc.) will influence how a system is adopted, CRM systems in every type of business must contain an operational element in order to achieve full adoption.
Note: This review is written for anyone in the process of assessing potential Customer Relationship Management (CRM) vendors for their organization who are considering their existing SharePoint investment as the platform for deploying their chosen CRM product. The intended audience for this review is technical and management readers that have CRM and SharePoint acumen. This review will provide the reader with an overview of CRM and its benefits; an in-depth review of the SharePoint CRM product; and evaluation, best practices, and recommended next steps.
About Lookout Software and SharePoint CRM
SharePoint CRM was designed and developed by Lookout Software. Since 1994, Lookout has specialized in all aspects of CRM software solution delivery. Throughout the past two decades, they have been at the vanguard of this exciting and challenging unification of people, processes, and technology. They have been working to deliver an array of services, including consulting, technical support, integration, customization, training, and now software development to support the various aspects of business relationship management needs. Before moving into software development, they operated as a system integrator/reseller for a variety of early CRM systems.
SharePoint CRM enables any size business to implement a full-featured, scalable CRM solution for SharePoint easily and affordably. The base SharePoint CRM application can be used out-of-the-box or can be narrowed down or extended even further with compatible SharePoint Web Parts. By using your current Microsoft SharePoint platform, you will maximize your existing investment by boosting its key CRM features and functions. The built-in configurator makes it easy to turn features on or off and even allows you to tailor features to fit your business perfectly and match corporate branding and procedures.
“Lookout is a client-focused company. Decades of experience in the industry have helped us understand that working closely with our customers to achieve success also makes us successful,” said Groves.
SharePoint CRM is deployed within many major companies in a broad array of market segments, including CBRE, Novartis, Royal British Legion, Panache Lingerie, Vermont Law School, Edwards School of Business, and the Idaho Department of Labor.
For more information about Lookout Software, please go to www.lookoutcrm.com or www.sharepointcrmtemplate.com. Learn more about CRM Licensing and Service options.
Summary of Basic Technical Requirements
- SharePoint CRM works as a sub-site within a SharePoint Site Collection which is itself a part of a SharePoint Farm Topology. The Farm Topology can be a single server or a SharePoint multi-server Farm.
- The version of SharePoint used would be either Foundation (2010, 2013) or SharePoint Server (all versions 2010 or 2013).
- Installation of the CRM Web Parts and CRM Template requires Administrative privileges on the SharePoint Farm.
- The use of the CRM Outlook Plug-in requires the presence of Office 32 bit (64 bit plugin in Beta).
The following is a summary of the installation steps for SharePoint CRM:
- Login to your SharePoint farm as Administrator (both Windows Server and SharePoint).
- Download the SharePoint CRM Install Package as provided by LookOut Software for your particular version of SharePoint (2010 or 2013).
- Extract the Install CRM Package to your WFE (Windows Front End SharePoint Server), (e.g. download folder).
- In SharePoint Central Administration create a Web Application (e.g. I used SharePoint – 81 which used port 81, database name CRM and accepted remaining defaults). Note: You could also use a currently available SharePoint Web Application and Web Site Collection.
- Select the newly created SharePoint Web Application (e.g. SharePoint – 81).
- Create a Website Collection (e.g. I created a site collection called CRM, chose a Blank template, and associated it with the application on “SharePoint – 81”).
- Open your new site in IE to make sure it is working properly.
- What follows is the SharePoint 2013 install; the 2010 version requires a couple more manual steps.
Note: Before proceeding to the next step, have the SharePoint URL and site name for your CRM site ready. I used http://sharepoint:81 and CRM.
- Browse to the directory where the unzipped files are located, find the INSTALLCRM.EXE file, and double click.
- When prompted, enter the path to the newly created site collection (e.g. http://sharepoint:81) and press “enter”.
- When prompted, enter the name for the CRM site (e.g. CRM) and press “enter”.
- When prompted, enter the path for the CRM site (e.g. http://sharepoint:81/CRM) and press “enter”.
Note: The installation program will now run a series of commands to add and register the SharePoint CRM site and Web Parts. This process takes a few minutes to complete. Depending on the size of your farm and current workload, the installation should finish within 15 minutes. Please follow your organization’s quality assurance and change control policy.
- When informed that the install has finished, open a browser and enter the URL to your new SharePoint CRM site (e.g. http://sharepoint:81/CRM).
In this section, I will walk you through some basic tasks, including the creation, viewing, and searching of the following:
- Accounts (company or organization)
- Contacts (person associated with an Account)
- Opportunities (potential sales opportunity associated with the Account)
- Leads (potential clients not qualified as Accounts)
- Tasks (reminders and to-do items for the above)
- Calendar Items
First, let’s familiarize you with the SharePoint CRM site layout (basic user interface concepts). SharePoint CRM builds on the Microsoft Site Layout framework, so it will look very familiar. Site navigation is to the left, primary Web Parts are the center of the page, and secondary Web Parts are to the right.
The following is a screenshot of the base SharePoint CRM site with no configuration, third-party Web Parts, or data added:
To help you visualize what’s possible, the following is a screenshot depicting a configured Dashboard:
SharePoint CRM is fully integrated with a built-in Quick Search, and you’ll soon notice that many tasks are easily performed with this feature. Specifically, to begin adding content, you click on the Search Box (look for the text “Start Here Quick Search” located in the upper right corner of every CRM page) and the following form will appear:
Each CRM item type has its own configurable menu options with features such as edit, upload a file, send via email, and many others that help users easily capture and share information. The following is a screenshot of a sample Action Bar (menu located at the top of a form) for an Opportunity’s display item:
Another important user interface concept you should be aware of is that each CRM list is represented by a specific icon. The following itemizes and describes the most common icons:
Adding Customer Information
Now that you have a basic understanding of the user interface, let’s get started. First, I will walk through how to add data like Account, Contact, and Opportunity information. After that, we will explore a few of the features of the product. The dataset I used for this evaluation of SharePoint CRM consists of SharePoint Reviews data and staff.
Add an Account (Company or Organization)
- To begin, I place the cursor over the Site Search text box and enter a company name (e.g. SharePoint Reviews).
- Any matching results will appear, but in this case, “SharePoint Reviews” hasn’t been added, so the results window will appear and display tabbed navigation options for New Account, Lead, Contact, Campaign, and Advanced Search with a message of “No Results Found”.
Note this is a fast and simple way to begin adding all types of CRM information like Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, Interactions, Projects, Tasks, Calendar Appointments, etc.
- I select “New Account” and the following new form appears:
- I enter the basic account information and click “save”. Notice that the form makes use of all standard SharePoint column fields. The form is intuitive, easy to use, and adaptable to individual requirements for data capture.
- Once I save the form, the “What would you like to do next?” window appears.
Note that this window appears when new items are saved. As each new item is created, the list changes to support the user’s logical next step. This is a nice, configurable usability feature that helps the user through the process of adding information with fewer clicks.
Add a Contact (person associated with an Account)
- From the “What would you like to do next?” window I select “Create a new Contact” as my next step. I could have selected “No thanks I am done,” but I want to create a dataset with the basics.
- I complete the form accordingly using my name and contact information. Notice that the form makes use of SharePoint’s multi-pick choice, single, and multi-row text box columns. You also have options to use the features “Set as Main Contact” and “Add to My Contacts,” which will make the items available to import into Outlook. The form is intuitive, easy to use, and configurable to specific requirements.
Add Opportunities (potential sales opportunities associated with the Account)
- From the “What would you like to do next?” window, which appeared as I saved the contact item, I select “Create an Opportunity”.
- As you look through the form, you see the use of the “Main Contact” checkbox from the “Add a Contact” (pre-populated to reduce data entry and clicks). In addition, there are sections of the form that can be minimized and maximized depending on how you wish to display the field value boxes in the new form. With any relationship or opportunity, you gradually obtain information, so it is important to enable users to gradually enter data in a logical order.
Add Tasks (reminders and to-do items for all of the above)
- From the “What would you like to do next?” window, I select “Create a Task”.
- For Tasks, I decide to create a few sample tasks to show how they are displayed within the “My Dashboard” page. The form makes use of all SharePoint column fields, including choice, date, and text boxes to help fast track data entry and improve usability.
- Additionally, the software has a configurable feature that enables copying selected data from a parent list to a child list, removing the duplicate entry problem inherent in many CRM systems.
- I add the relevant values so the tasks will be displayed in the Task list on “My Dashboard”.
Note: SharePoint CRM utilizes the “What would you like to do next?” feature as a launch pad for the sorts of things staff should do next. This helps the user be proactive and stay focused, and also helps management measure progress. For example, if you have just logged an interaction, you may want to perform a follow up Task.
- The following is a screenshot of the Task’s display form:
- I repeat the steps above a few times using random data and then click on “My Dashboard”, where the Tasks now appear.
- The key information is displayed, which can help the user plan their day’s activities.
An alternative method that can be used to display list data is using the CRM’s highly configurable Sub Grid. In the screen below, the Sub Grid is used in place of the above SharePoint list view.
- The SharePoint Discussion feature can easily be added to the CRM and helps the user reach out within their organization for help. This help could be for product or service offering information, a how-to, or a request for an introduction, for example. This is an important feature because it helps the user reach out when needed while keeping information within the CRM tool (which builds the depository of knowledge in a central, easily accessible place).
- To add a Discussion, I page down the CRM Site to where the SharePoint Discussions Web Part is available (lower right hand side of the page).
- Next, I select “New Discussion” and add a few discussions, each time entering a subject and descriptive text.
- Now that I have added some data, “My Dashboard” appears as follows:
Most Recently Used Feature
A helpful feature that is located on every CRM page within the left navigation area is “Recently Viewed”- this feature is self-explanatory.
Another useful feature within the CRM is the Audit Log, which captures previous values and new values of changed items, along with the date and creator/modifier.
Searching on Customer Information
For search, there are a few options, including the standard SharePoint “Search this Site” feature, which is generic to SharePoint. SharePoint CRM adds a “Quick Search” function that returns exactly what it finds and a “Full Search” function that returns configurable subject areas such as Opportunities, Contacts, Tasks etc. for the purpose of data management procedures. Additionally, SharePoint CRM has an internal relationship “Connect Search” that enables the connection of disparate items.
The following is a screenshot of the Quick Search results when searching for a specific Contact:
Notice that the CRM icons enable you to quickly add further Contacts, Interactions, Calendar events, etc. This is another way SharePoint CRM increases usability by reducing drill downs, clicks, and page loads.
The following screenshot is a Full Search of Accounts (notice that all the subject areas (e.g. Accounts, Opportunities, Contacts, etc.) appear in the results):
The following screenshot depicts additional Add New options exposed within the Full Search results page in order to reduce clicks and page loads:
Form Configuration Basics
SharePoint CRM is highly configurable so that organizations can optimize it for their specific business management purposes. They can do so using administrative tasks rather than developer-related tasks such as using Visual Studio or complex XML procedures. To configure SharePoint CRM, you will need to access the Advanced CRM Settings list from “Site Actions”. The following is an example of the configuration options for the Quick Search:
Another example of the configuration capabilities of SharePoint CRM is within its own Web Part properties. The New/Edit form enables drag and drop from the Available fields list to the Selected fields list in order to swiftly modify the type of data being collected by users:
As mentioned earlier, SharePoint CRM by Lookout Software utilizes the SharePoint site framework, which means that the Web Parts are designed with plenty of configuration options. SharePoint CRM takes full advantage of SharePoint columns, views, lists, and permissions/groups and builds on these with added automation and functionality options.
Within SharePoint CRMs’ Advanced CRM Settings, system features and functions can be turned on or off, Action Bars can be modified in seconds, automation field names can be personalized, and much more. From the Display pages, Sub Grids can be removed and automated relationships between items can be quickly added. List, Item, and Field names can be changed or added and forms can be reconfigured using an array of design elements.
The configuration options available within SharePoint CRM are extensive so that software users and implementors are able to configure SharePoint CRM to meet their unique business needs.
Note that being able to configure the forms to match an organization’s business process and language is important for user adoption. Users must be able to quickly and intuitively complete forms or they will push back against adoption.
Office Outlook CRM Plugin
The CRM Plugin for Microsoft Office Outlook enables users to access key CRM functionality from within Outlook while quickly and easily processing email communication. This enables users to use SharePoint CRM in a way that is not intrusive to their work style, which is key to user adoption.
The following screenshot depicts the CRM Plugin’s Ribbon features:
The next screenshot depicts the CRM appointment management function from within Outlook. A user is able to create appointments in Outlook and send a copy to the relevant CRM item. This minimizes the number of clicks, enhances usability, and creates a historical “Customer Meeting Log”.
The next screenshot depicts the CRM Contact integration functionality with Outlook Contacts, where possible duplicate CRM Contacts are exposed. If no duplicate items are presented, users can swiftly copy from Outlook Contacts to the CRM– minimizing the number of clicks and enhancing usability.
Mobile CRM solutions allow users to view and update data contained within the SharePoint CRM system from tablets and smartphone devices. By collaborating with industry experts like Pansys Software and H3 Solutions, Lookout Software has added two additional options for delivering a mobile experience to customers using SharePoint CRM. For more information, visit the SharePoint CRM site at http://sharepointcrmtemplate.com/mobile.
Now that we have completed our product walk-through, the following table summarizes the key areas evaluated.
|Instal||The installation requires the creation of an application and site collection prior to clicking “setup”.
||5/5||Once you click “setup,” the install program does the rest for you.|
|Configuration||SharePoint CRM is designed to be self-configurable, which means an organization can tailor it and extend it to meet their specific business needs, even if their requirements are dynamically evolving.
||5/5||Generally, organizations will not require a developer and will save money on costs associated with development and ongoing cost of ownership.|
|Solution Depth/ Deployment Options||Solution Depth/ Deployment Options SharePoint CRM follows the SharePoint planning, design, and operational framework, taking advantage of base functionality, building upon it and plugging limitations with many optional features.
||3/5||Though SharePoint CRM follows Microsoft guidelines, no specific documentation is available for designing and operating.|
|User Interface||User interface follows the SharePoint design patterns. It is easy for SharePoint users to adapt to its familiar functionality with minimal training requirements.
||5/5||You can leverage existing investments in SharePoint and Office.|
|Ease of Use||Very intuitive for SharePoint users and in general. Once I watched the “How To” videos on the SharePoint CRM site, I was comfortable using much of the functionality in the product.
||5/5||I watched the videos located on the SharePoint CRM site before getting started.|
|Activity Management||My Dashboard provides a consolidated view of activities for each user. Organization-wide Activity Management is accessible from an Activity Reporting page and includes Tasks, Interactions, and Calendar items.
||5/5||SharePoint lists can be configured and the SharePoint CRM forms can be easily customized as well.|
|Customer and Contact Management||The Account (customer) and Contact lists can be integrated or managed by external control points, such as accounting data systems. Forms and lists are highly configurable, enabling a simple to use, yet powerful, centralized location for client relations and improved marketing opportunities. All aspects of information management procedures are very easy to use.
||5/5||SharePoint lists can be configured and the SharePoint CRM forms can be customized as well.|
|Opportunity/Lead Management||Lead and Opportunity management is available via configurable forms, lists, and automation features that enable users to capture minimal information that is both useful and analyzable.
||5/5||SharePoint lists can be configured and the SharePoint CRM forms can be customized as well.|
|Sales Process and Opportunity Management||Unique and individualized sales processes can be applied to the Opportunity forms and related items, which can enhance and enable improved sales and opportunity management.
||5/5||A sales course is recommended for those new to sales or if you want a consistent methodology across your organization.|
|Tracking revenue and Forecasting / Reporting||Because SharePoint CRM is built on SharePoint, customers utilize an array of options for integration and report management, including lists, charts, tables, and calculated fields. Extended reporting tools like SQL Reporting can be used within SharePoint’s infrastructure.
||5/5||The Pivot Point Web Part is used to provide enhanced graphical reporting via tables and a variety of charts.|
|Mobility Capability||SharePoint CRM utilizes the SharePoint site framework, so device rendering depends on which version of SharePoint you have.
||4/5||Lookout Software partners with third parties for iOS and Android-specific clients. Mobile device support is best provided with SharePoint 2013.|
|Business Intelligence and Reporting||The nature of the product is that it is amenable to a variety of reporting options that can be layered on top of the CRM / BRM to provide BI.
||5/5||SharePoint lists can be utilized, along with a myriad of reporting options inherent in SharePoint, as well as external applications and third party web parts.|
|Document Management and Collaboration||SharePoint CRM utilizes SharePoint’s Document Library functionality and builds on it with automated folder creation and naming capabilities that have configuration options.
||5/5||SharePoint libraries and lists can be configured and the document content types can be leveraged within the CRM infrastructure.|
|Office Integration||A full-featured Outlook plugin fast tracks data capture and efficiently processes email communication with CRM Leads, Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, Interactions, Tasks, and Appointments. Custom Word merge templates can be used throughout the CRM as required by each specific list. Documents are automatically logged into the folder system for each item.
||4/5||A 5/5 would have been given, but the 64-bit Outlook plugin wasn’t available at the time this review was written.|
|SharePoint Integration||The product is completely SharePoint-based and makes excellent use of sites, lists, libraries, and data connectivity.
||5/5||SharePoint CRM is fully integrated within SharePoint.|
|Support and Help||All support calls and requests for information were answered promptly and fully.
||5/5||Their staff is located on the major continents.|
Overall, I found SharePoint CRM very easy to install and use. Installation took about 15 minutes. I watched the educational videos on the SharePoint CRM site and within an hour I was navigating the site and entering information with ease. Because the product is based on the SharePoint site framework and integrated with Office, it is very intuitive. Usability like this should be a key consideration in your analysis of CRM tools, because ease of use and the ability to configure the CRM to meet your specific business processes will facilitate greater (and faster) levels of user adoption.
For more information about SharePoint CRM, educational videos can be found at http://sharepointcrmtemplate.com/video-library.To arrange an on-premise evaluation or personal, web-based demonstration, please contact Lookout Software using this link: http://sharepointcrmtemplate.com/contact-us.