Microsoft Outlook is widely used for managing email, contacts, and appointments, but it doesn't offer full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) capabilities that boost a business's sales. Microsoft's Business Contact Manager (BCM) add-on enhances Outlook's value for business users by contributing CRM and financial functions to Outlook's bag of tricks.

Business Contact Manager brings CRM features and a bit more to Outlook, including financial capabilities such as timekeeping and invoicing; both functions show off to best advantage when you're also using Microsoft Office Accounting. The new version of BCM makes customising Outlook forms for CRM simpler, but using it is still more time-consuming and difficult than using Prophet's customisation features.

Business Contact Manager comes bundled with several editions of Office 2007, starting with the £379 inc VAT Office 2007 Small Business Edition. We looked at a new stand-alone package that features just Outlook 2007 and BCM for around £120 inc VAT. (BCM also works with Outlook 2003.)

The toughest part of installing Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager is extracting the CD from its hard plastic case, which must have been designed by a sadist. We nearly resorted to attacking it with a hammer before finally flipping it open.

Outlook forms aren't easy to customise, except for hard-core techies. The new version of BCM makes customisation much simpler than before. You may customise the forms for Account, Business Contact, Opportunity, and Business Project. Once you create a new field in a form, you can use it in all other forms.

Business Contact Manager offers handy marketing campaign capabilities. For example, you can create a mail-merge document to send to certain types of contacts, such as leads. You can then decide how to deliver the documents, either via Word or Publisher for print, or through Outlook or a currently-in-beta service for mass emailing. BCM helps you track the results and costs for each campaign, so you can determine its effectiveness.

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