Summary: Yes, you can use out-of-box SharePoint features and a little customization to create a light CRM solution. Combined with alerts, workflows and maybe an add-in, you don’t have to break your budget.
As a business consultant, I’m often asked if SharePoint is a viable alternative to spending big money on customer relationship management (CRM) software. I give it a qualified YES, you can do CRM SharePoint so long as you keep your expectations in check. I call this “CRM Lite” and you can get the primary functions of a CRM using out-of-box SharePoint features. For the purposes of CRM Lite these functions are: keeping track of the Companies and Contacts involved in business Opportunities, along with collaboration on documents supporting Proposals and Sales Orders. Exactly what you track and how your team uses the information is up to you – that’s the beauty of an endlessly customizable SharePoint solution.
In figure 1 you can see an example of a simple SharePoint-based CRM solution where clicking on companies and contacts filters a list of related opportunities. It’s easy to get started with the basics and make incremental improvements as your team comes up with ways to streamline the process. Proposals, sales orders, cost estimation spreadsheets and all the other types of documents involved in a sales process are easily accommodated in SharePoint libraries, which can in turn be linked back to companies and opportunities. Your team has access to all of this in a familiar, easy-to-use and easy-to-customize portal.
Figure 1: You can build a simple SharePoint-based CRM solution using out-of-the-box SharePoint functionality.
Taking SharePoint CRM to the next level
What about email?
Email remains a key mechanism for contact with customers. A CRM application needs to keep track of the email messages associated with customers, contacts and opportunities regardless of who (on either side) is the author or recipient. That’s a tall order for SharePoint, which has no such email integration feature. I recommend the Harmon.ie Email add-on product, which installs as an Outlook sidebar that supports simple drag-and-drop operations between your inbox and SharePoint. For example, if a contact at a prospective customer sends an email with important technical details that everyone on your team should be able to see, do not forward the email and set off a chain reaction of collaborative replies. Instead, drag and drop the email into SharePoint where your team is already busily collaborating on opportunities.
Attached files remain the most common way to send and receive documents with customers. While you should be taking advantage of SharePoint’s link sharing features to avoid sending attached files, realistically you’ll be dealing with attachments on a regular basis. SharePoint has no built-in, easy-to-use feature for integrating your inbox with a SharePoint document library. Once again, Harmon.ie to the rescue – that Outlook sidebar can also drag-and-drop files for two-way integration between SharePoint document libraries and email attachments (figure 2). For example, drag a specifications spreadsheet you received from a customer and drop it into your work-in-progress library, and later on, drag a proposal PDF from the proposals library and drop it on an email to attach it.
Best of all, for small offices with fewer than 15 users the product is free. https://harmon.ie/Products/Email
Figure 2: Dragging an attachment from email to SharePoint using the Harmon.ie add-in.
Can you do CRM in SharePoint? You sure can! CRM Lite, as I like to call it, fits well with SharePoint’s out of box features and with the addition of an email integration tool like Harmon.ie you can close the loop on email message tracking and file attachment management. Instead of spending big bucks on a thousand CRM features you don’t need, invest in customization of SharePoint’s built-in list and document management features. You’ll get exactly the subset of company, contact and opportunity management actions that create the CRM tool that fits your needs and most importantly, your budget.