knifePart 1:  Zoho to Outlook

Before we start we need some basic definitions.

What is a Contact? In Outlook a contact is a single, stand-alone entity that typically contains some basic information about that person such as name, address, phone, email and so on.  There is no relational information relating that contact with any other entity in Outlook.  For example there is no easy way to have multiple contacts under a “parent” parent entity like a “company” or “account”.  This has always been one of the big problems with trying to use Outlook as a CRM system.

In ZOHO CRM a contact can be a stand-alone entity but it is usually part of a parent entity called “Account”.  An account in ZOHO CRM is typically the company name and each account can have an unlimited number of contacts.  In addition Contacts and Accounts can have Notes, Emails, Tasks, Cases, and attachments as part of their record.

However, it should be noted that each contact in ZOHO CRM should be related to that company.  You do not want to add contacts from different companies to the same account.  This is part of the problem when using a CRM system as a project management system is that you cannot or should not mix contacts from different companies under the guise of a “project”.

In D-Tools SI5 you can relate multiple contacts from different companies under a single “project”.  Since D-Tools SI5 is not a contact manager like Outlook or a CRM system like ZOHO it was not designed to do anything beyond display this contact information in reports, drawings and in the UI.  However it is very useful to have all of the multiple contacts in a project in one place.

What is an Account? Outlook does not have an account metaphor.  All of the contacts are at the same level as each other.  In ZOHO CRM contacts are grouped together under the account.  In D-Tools SI5 there is no hierarchy for accounts or contacts but you can add project related information like architect and subcontractors to the project.

If you are using Zoho CRM on a residential project use the Account Name field as the family name.  For example my project would be called the “Stone Residence” and all of the contacts would be all of my family members.  In addition Zoho has separate shipping and billing address.  The shipping address should be the location of the specific project.

What is a Project? For the purposes of this document a project is a collection of contacts from different companies and documents relating to the project.  For example a project would have a client that could be an individual or a company, a contact of the client, an architect, a general contractor, subcontractors and project managers and installers of the contracting company.  As well as people a project would contain all of the project notes, proposals, estimates, drawings and any other specific related documentation.

So how does this help a system integrator?  Well, as we probably all know Outlook is a good contact manager but falls way short as a CRM system.  On the other hand Zoho CRM is a good CRM system but has limited proposal, project management and design functionality.  D-Tools SI5 is a good design and proposal tool with limited project management functionality but no CRM functionality.

So how do we combine these best of breed products to get the most functionality out each system without entering the same information three times?  Since both D-Tools and Zoho CRM have Outlook interfaces we will start there.

Workflow

  1. Use the canned Zoho Lead to Account process to acquire the lead and manage the deal flow.
  2. Use the Zoho Outlook add in to sync the contact information between Zoho and Outlook.
  3. When it comes time for a formal proposal/estimate/design sync the contact, account and project information between Outlook and D-Tools.
  4. Use D-Tools SI5 for the design/estimate/installation process.
  5. Use Zoho CRM to manage tasks, activities, cases for that specific account.

The Process – Zoho CRM to Outlook

Start with the new Account in Zoho.  If the project is for the home owner direct then use an Account Name in Zoho like “Stone Family”.  If the account is a company then use the company name as the account like “D-Tools, Inc.” The shipping address should be where the work is being performed.

Add contacts to the account.

Use the Zoho CRM Outlook add in to sync your contacts in Zoho (My Contacts) from Zoho to Outlook.  This will add these new contacts created in Zoho to your personal Outlook file.

When doing this sync process you will get two dialog boxes.  One that explains what is NOT going over to ZOHO because the contact is not marked as a Zoho category.  Click OK.

The second tells you exactly what will be synced.  You can also click the view details to see what is what is being changed and modify as needed.

This will add the contacts from Zoho CRM to your personal Outlook contact folder.  These contacts are now synced so any changes to these contacts in either Outlook or Zoho will be updated when the user uses the Zoho Sync Contacts function in Outlook

I will be the first to admit this is not an ideal process but I have used the Outlook integration from other well known CRM vendors and they pretty much all suck.  The Zoho version is the best of the breed, but it still is a dog.  I think this really underscores the need to have a direct integration between D-Tools and Zoho CRM so we can eliminate this clunky process.  However in the meantime MS Outlook/Exchange is the gatekeeper to the world of contacts so we need to play as nicely together as possible until something better comes along.

More info on the Zoho Outlook plug in here.

Stay tuned for Part 2:  Outlook to D-Tools SI5