For many people, Outlook is the one application that is almost always open. Because of this, Microsoft got the idea to integrate its Business Contact Manager into Outlook.
The basic idea behind the Business Contact Manager is that it allows you to organize information related to individual companies or clients within a Microsoft Outlook environment.
Prior to writing this article, I was running Microsoft Office 2003 Enterprise Edition. I assumed that you could either download the product as an add-on from the Microsoft Web site or that it was included as an option on the installation CD. That wasn't the case though, so I turned to the Microsoft Web site for help. According to the Microsoft Web site, Business Contact Manager is included with Office Small Business Edition 2003 and with Office Professional Edition 2003.
The Business Contact Manager has two main types of objects at its core: accounts and business contacts. If you select the Contacts folder in Outlook, these two objects are added to the My Contacts section. While in the Contacts folder, you can click the New button and you are given the option of creating a new account or a new business contact.
So what do these two new object types do for you? The Business Contacts object works similarly to the normal contacts object. However, using it gives you the chance to separate business contacts from contacts set up for friends or family. Setting up an account is similar to setting up a contact or a business contact except an account is related to a corporate customer. To make this a little easier to understand, think about it this way. I write articles and sell them to TechTarget. However, I deal with several different people at TechTarget because I write articles on a variety of different subjects. Therefore, I could create an account for TechTarget as a whole, but I would need to first create individual business contacts for each person that I deal with at TechTarget. In fact, when you create an account, you are expected to select a primary contact person for the account from your business contacts.
What's the point?
Business Contact Manager lets you set up business contacts and accounts, but you might wonder what the benefit is to doing all this work. The idea behind the Business Contact Manager isn't just to separate contact information into other types of objects, but to make the information more usable.
For example, suppose I wanted to set up a business contact for one of my clients. I would begin by entering the usual contact information, but the Business Contact Manager provides me with a few new fields. These fields allow me to rate the customer (good customer vs. a not-so-good customer). There is also a field that allows me to mark whether the customer's account is current or if it is overdue.
A feature that I particularly like is the Categories option. The Categories option contains a whole slew of categories that might possibly apply to the contact. Categories range from VIP to competitor to international. By selecting the check boxes next to the categories that should apply to the contact, you are building a relational database of your customers. Now, I could use a view within Outlook to see who my really good customers are, who is on my holiday card list, who are my international customers, etc. Having these reports at your disposal makes it really easy to tell where you need to focus your business.
Perhaps the best feature of the Business Contact Manager is the way that Outlook allows you to maintain histories of accounts and customers. For example, if I were to send a customer an e-mail, a copy of the e-mail is automatically associated with the contact person. If I use Outlook's calendar to book an appointment with a customer, a record of the appointment is kept in the contact's history (this is handy for hourly billing).
Outlook also allows you to associate other information with a contact or account. For example, if you have a spreadsheet related to this month's billing, you can easily link the spreadsheet to the appropriate customer's history.
The Business Contact Manager is more than just a glorified telephone organizer. It is a useful tool that allows you to gain a comprehensive overview of your business's relationship to its customers.
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.
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