Microsoft Outlook for Dynamics CRM 2015 Client – An Overview

Among the benefits of using the Outlook client are the ability to work directly with Microsoft Dynamics CRM forms and data from within Outlook, track email messages and synchronize Tasks, Appointments and Contacts between CRM and Outlook.

For those who aren’t yet too familiar with the Outlook client, this is a “30,000 foot” look at some of the changes to ‘standard’ Outlook and at some of the options you have in using CRM from within Outlook. It is by no means meant to cover everything but my goal is to get you to at least investigate the Outlook client on your own!!

Once you have the Outlook client installed and configured, there are at least 3 ways you can choose to use it based on your work habits and personal preferences:

  • Have your Outlook window open to your email folders, switch to your CRM organization as needed and then focus back on your email folders as needed (this works for some people, but isn’t the preferred method)
  • Have two Outlook windows open at a time – one that is open to your email folders and one that is open to your CRM organization (very flexible way to have both applications open and at the ready for maximum efficiency)
  • Have your Outlook window open to your email folders and the Outlook web client open as well (works great for folks who like the consistency of being in the web client interface / who prefer the web client interface but still need to track e-mails and perform other functions from within the Outlook client)

I’d suggest trying all 3 out in order to see what works best for you.

By the way, you’ll know that your Outlook client is ‘focused’ on email (an email folder is open/active) if you see emails displayed . . . pretty obvious I guess. If instead, you’ve clicked on the name of your / a CRM organization in the left navigation pane under your email folders, you’ll see the top level CRM navigation areas instead of email. As you expand the folders or click on a selection in the display pane, you’ll see more navigation choices or lists of CRM records displayed where you would otherwise see email info. As soon as you click on an email folder, you once again see email and not CRM content.

Outlook displays the top level navigation options when a CRM organization is selected:

outlook client

Nice to be able to get access to CRM without leaving Outlook, isn’t it? Note that the ribbon contains buttons to let you create new records, import data and a few other things. As you navigate further into more specific areas, the ribbon will also become more focused on the area you are in. I’m sure you’ve figured it out but Outlook for CRM is context sensitive so the options will change based on where you are and what you are doing.

In this next illustration, ‘Accounts’ is selected so you get a list of Account records from within Outlook. The Outlook client displays all sorts of CRM options in the ribbon to enable you to add / edit Account records, perform Advanced Finds, send Direct Mail, Import, all focusing on ‘Accounts’ . . . it’s as if you’re in CRM (and you are)!!

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The Outlook for CRM client looks different

When you have an Outlook folder open and your reading pane displays email messages, parts of your standard Outlook ribbon will appear differently when the Outlook for CRM client is installed:

There is a new ‘CRM’ section on the Home tab

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  1. ‘Track / Untrack’ and ‘Set Regarding’ for an email message
  2. In order to have access to the 3 disabled functions you have to ‘Track’ the message (or use ‘Set Regarding’ – topics for another blog)
  3. Convert To – create a very basic Opportunity, Lead or Case record from the email
    • Email will automatically be tracked to the Opportunity, Lead or Case record
  4. Add Connection – allows creation of a special record to relate the email to another CRM record without creating an activity
  5. View in CRM – clicking on this will open up the email in a CRM form

Changes to the ‘New’ Section on the Home tab

Under the ‘New Items’ button at the far left of the ribbon:

  1. CRM Activity – click on it to expose a list of activities; click on an activity to display the CRM form
  2. CRM Record – click on it to expose a list of CRM record types; click on one to display the CRM form

outlook client 4

Just because you can create a new CRM record from here doesn’t necessarily mean you should create them here. For example, you would generally not want to create a new Contact record from here if it is associated with an existing Account. You would want to open up the Account form first and then add the Contact from within the form in order to get some of the Account info (address, phone) copied into the Contact as well as the link from the Contact to the Parent Account.

There is a new ‘CRM’ tab on the ribbon

  1. In general, more of the same functionality found above just in a different place
  2. Synchronize with CRM – to move CRM activities down into Outlook before the next scheduled auto-sync
  3. Advanced Find – access to a more sophisticated tool to search for records

outlook client 5

My head hurts

There’s no question that Outlook for CRM packs a lot of functionality into a small space (so to speak). It also lets you do the same thing from several different places many times, so it can be confusing. The trick is to explore and try it enough so you become comfortable and use it in a manner that suits you best. Whether that is by having one or two windows open, whether you choose to use or not use the Outlook client exclusively or you always create a new CRM activity from ‘this’ button . . . the Outlook for CRM client gives you lots of choices and flexibility.

By John Clifton, Dynamics CRM Consultant, with XRM3, a Microsoft partner specializing in Dynamics CRM consulting, implementation, integration and administrative services.  Based in San Diego County Southern California.