By Adrian Booth

A successful customer relationship management(CRM) strategy depends on putting customers at the centre of everything we do.

Well that’s the theory anyway, but have you ever kicked yourself for forgetting to follow-up on a promise to a client or prospective customer, and ended-up seeing an opportunity slip away? Or not looked after an existing customer well enough only to see them stop using you?

Well it happens to the best of us, most of us are only human. The business world presents so many competing pressures there’s always going to be something we wished we’d given better attention to.

For some time now, Microsoft has been offering a software solution designed to minimise the risk of things slipping under the radar screen as part of the suite of business programs in Office, now upgraded in Office 2010.

Business Contact Manager (BCM) is an add-on to Outlook 2010, which offers CRM tools with the same familiar interface as Outlook.

BCM tracks prospects, customers and sales opportunities for you. It keeps a history of your email communications and if you post a letter or make a phone call to a customer, you log it in the database for future reference and build a clear picture of customer contact.

This helps focus on your main customers and identify the most promising prospects. It also acts as a failsafe to stop you missing important opportunities.

You can share information with colleagues too, and that’s important. Everyone in the team works from the information on the same database, which can certainly make things a lot easier when people are on holiday or suddenly leave the business.

Customer information can also be synchronised on the move with a pocket pc or laptop which is invaluable when you’re out but need to get your hands on important customer information.

Identifying hot prospects, regular clients or slow payers are all key aspects. BCM generates reports, which help keep track of the sales pipeline, and allow you to see all the detail of account histories. It also highlights any neglected contacts or opportunities, and directs your efforts towards the best prospects.

A system like this obviously depends on a shared commitment from everyone in the team to ensure data is kept accurate and comprehensive. It is a discipline you need to rigorously observe to reap the benefits.

As CRM becomes the heart of your business you can upgrade, or alternatively start at, CRM Online. This offers a comprehensive CRM suite designed as a cloud offering, at a monthly subscription.

A word of caution though, if you’re storing information about your clients, make yourself aware of the Data Protection Act so that you can understand any legal implications and responsibilities.

BCM is available with Microsoft Office Standard 2010 and Professional Plus 2010, and can be downloaded for Outlook 2010 at no additional cost if you have purchased Office Home & Business 2010 or Office Professional 2010, and own a qualifying previous version. Download Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2010 now.

Watch the video below featuring Tanya Shirlow, SMB Marketing Lead at Microsoft UK, as she discusses the advantages of cloud services.

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