Microsoft Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager 2 review

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Business Contact Manager (BCM) is an Office 2003 component that comes bundled with Outlook in its Small Business and Professional versions. Its purpose is to provide a basic customer relationship management (CRM) system within Outlook itself, and will cater for small companies with no more than 25 sales employees.

Microsoft Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager 2 review

When BCM was first launched in 2003, it was heavily criticised. It refused to work at all if you used Exchange Server for your email, and none of the data could actually be shared with anyone. Version 1.1 allowed BCM to work with Exchange from Small Business Server, and with this new version you can use any version of Exchange and, at last, share data across your sales team. Installation of BCM installs Microsoft’s SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE), and this is actually where BCM stores its data. Using MSDE means BCM data can be shared between multiple users without needing Exchange Server.

The software revolves around three major concepts – Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities – and Business Contact Manager adds custom folders and forms to deal with each, along with associated history items of Business Notes, Phone Logs, Appointments, Tasks and Documents. Contacts are the people you do business with (past, present and future) and accounts are the companies they work for. A number of contacts can be associated with one account, and you can follow the links from Account to Contact or vice versa by double-clicking on the name of the account on the contact record, or the name of the contact on the account record. An Opportunity is a chance to make a sale. This can be tied either to an account or to a contact, although, annoyingly, you can’t double-click to follow the link up to the parent item. An Opportunity has a sales stage (Prospecting, Qualification, Closed Won or Closed Lost), a probability of making the sale, and a list of the products or services you’re likely to sell.

You can import a list of Products and Services into BCM from a CSV file, with fields of Product Name, Description and Unit Price. BCM multiplies the price by the quantity and adds up all the products for this opportunity to give a total. Quantities can only be integer values, though – you can’t use BCM to sell 1.5 litres of oil unless you sell one 1.5-litre bottle or three 0.5-litre bottles of oil. Either way, you can’t price the oil by the litre. In the list of Opportunities in Outlook, there’s a column for Expected Revenue showing the total price for the products and services for each opportunity, multiplied by the probability of making the sale. Sadly, there’s no way to total the values by date range or include them in a report.

History items can be attached to an Account, Contact or Opportunity. BCM will monitor your incoming and outgoing email for the addresses and automatically link the messages to those contacts or accounts. It’s also capable of producing a range of reports, which can be printed, or saved in RTF, DOC or XLS format. You can customise them in a limited fashion using Outlook’s Field Chooser, Group By Box or filtering views, but you can’t create your own.

And that’s where BCM really falls down – you can’t really customise anything. To use it successfully, you’ll need to have a well-defined product list and be willing to adapt both the way you work and how you analyse your business. Not only that, but the BCM database is stuck on one client PC and, while you can take away a little of it on a Pocket PC device (Palm OS isn’t supported), you can’t even take it offline on a laptop.

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