Microsoft Outlook is widely used for managing email, contacts, and appointments, but it doesn't offer full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) capabilities that boost a business's sales. Microsoft's Business Contact Manager (BCM) add-on enhances Outlook's value for business users by contributing CRM and financial functions to Outlook's bag of tricks.

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 customising Outlook forms for CRM simpler, but using it is still more time-consuming and difficult than using Prophet's customisation features.

Business Contact Manager comes bundled with several editions of Office 2007, starting with the £379 inc VAT Office 2007 Small Business Edition. We looked at a new stand-alone package that features just Outlook 2007 and BCM for around £120 inc VAT. (BCM also works with Outlook 2003.)

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

Outlook forms aren't easy to customise, except for hard-core techies. The new version of BCM makes customisation much simpler than before. You may customise 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.

Business Contact Manager 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 emailing. BCM helps you track the results and costs for each campaign, so you can determine its effectiveness.

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Microsoft's Business Contact Manager (BCM) add-on enhances Outlook's value for business users by contributing CRM and financial functions to Outlook's bag of tricks.

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

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Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager: Specs

  • 1GHz processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • 2GB
  • CD-ROM or DVD drive
  • 1024x768 or higher resolution monitor
  • Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack (SP) 2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, or later operating system
  • Mail Merge with Microsoft Office Word or Microsoft Office Publisher requires Word 2007 or Word 2003 and Publisher 2007 or Publisher 2003, respectively. Report exports require Microsoft Office Excel 2007 or Microsoft Excel 2003. Direct document linking features are only supported in the 2007 Office system. Instant Search requires Microsoft Windows Desktop Search 3.0
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 or later, 32 bit browser only
  • 1GHz processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • 2GB
  • CD-ROM or DVD drive
  • 1024x768 or higher resolution monitor
  • Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack (SP) 2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, or later operating system
  • Mail Merge with Microsoft Office Word or Microsoft Office Publisher requires Word 2007 or Word 2003 and Publisher 2007 or Publisher 2003, respectively. Report exports require Microsoft Office Excel 2007 or Microsoft Excel 2003. Direct document linking features are only supported in the 2007 Office system. Instant Search requires Microsoft Windows Desktop Search 3.0
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 or later, 32 bit browser only

OUR VERDICT

The financial integration that Business Contact Manager offers is top-notch, which makes it the preferred CRM choice for business people who use Outlook and Office Accounting.

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