“What is wrong with using Outlook to keep my contacts?” It is one of the more common questions that I get. What people are asking is,

“I already bought Outlook,  do I really need to spend money and learn new software… is it worth it?”

Well, consider that your database of clients and prospects is the most valuable asset you own. Every tool has a purpose. Using Outlook (or a paper-based Rolodex) to manage your Address Book is like using Excel to write a letter (hey, I’ve seen it done). It may work, but it’s just not what Excel was designed to do and there are much better tools for writing letters.

Outlook was designed as an email program with an Address Book to make it easy for you to email. The Outlook types of calendars (called PIMs or Personal Information Managers) are fine for tracking your own time, but not that good at tracking your relationships. Notice that in Outlook, it is all about you.

Why is CRM Better?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was designed to keep track of your interactions with your contacts. For example, if you wanted to see when was the last time that you met with Lance Parks, in a calendar like Outlook, you would have to scroll back and search for the approximate time… because a PIM is focused on managing your time… not your contacts. 

But in a CRM, all you do is look up Lance and everything is there: the standard Rolodex® style information, as well as any custom fields for data that you want to keep. You can easily see a history of all activities in one view, schedule future activities, or link immediately to Outlook to email the contact (and automatically record the interaction back in the CRM). If you like you can also track any deals that you or your staff are working on.

CRMs also have shared calendars (especially handy if you don’t have Outlook Exchange). Once you mark an activity as completed in a CRM, it becomes a permanent part of your Contact’s history. Not only can you see it on the contact’s history, but you can also electronically search through all old items to instantly find who you spoke with last year about a specific project. (Try doing that from a paper calendar!) In addition, Outlook doesn’t have a concept of completing an activity. How do you know which things you have completed and which you are behind on… without annoying alarms popping up every time you try to do something (and then ignore because there are too many to deal with).

Which CRM?

So what CRM should you consider? Of course, I think you should look at Zoho. It is one of the easiest to use and one of the least expensive on the market. It has been around a long time (their CRM product has been active since 2003 and the company has been around since the late 90’s) and therefore has a ton of people who are already familiar with it. You can access it from anywhere or any device. You can view it in offline mode by downloading an app to your phone or tablet. The idea is Zoho gives you access to your contacts and calendar anywhere you need them, to help you build better relationships with your clients and prospects.

Regardless of which CRM software you select, it’s important that you treat your database like the asset that it is. Getting software like Zoho and learning to use it is definitely worth it. It’s how successful businesses everywhere are getting the most out of their contacts.