James Wong of Avidian CRM: Turning Outlook Into a Full Featured CRM System

James Wong, Founder of Avidian Technologies had a simple goal: how to help sales people who depend on Outlook by adding features to make it a full featured CRM system. That led to his company developing Avidian CRM, which works inside Microsoft Outlook to add robust CRM functionality to an already valuable software program.

In this week’s interview, he points out that 600 million people use Outlook each day. Avidian’s Prophet CRM service helps them build upon a platform they are already using in their daily work, and squeeze more productivity out of Outlook.

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CRM in OutlookSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

James Wong: I tell people that I am educated as an accountant, trained as an engineer and entrepreneur by fire.

Small Business Trends: How did you get involved with the CRM space?

James Wong: I had another business we ran for about five years and then we were acquired by a national company. With that company, we were doing a lot of Outlook and Exchange implementations. Because we wanted to get companies to be collaborative and Exchange was the way.

When we rolled out Outlook and Exchange to an organization, things that struck us most was that people embraced it — from the administrative assistant up to the CEO. People automatically made Outlook part of their day.  With software, the hardest thing about implementing new software is getting people to use it.

People just made Outlook part of their day. Then a few months later, after the company got more integrated with Outlook and it became part of their day, they came to me and said ‘Hey James, can you help us customize this?’

We were an e-business consulting company. So when we got acquired, I said to myself, ‘Okay, what am I going to do next?’

And the next thing I wanted to do was to build software inside of Outlook and Exchange.  My belief is that Outlook is the largest untapped platform in the world. There are six hundred plus million Outlook users and they are in it all day long, using it. They are emailing their customers, creating contacts, making appointments with their clients or prospects.  They are doing a lot of CRM activities already.

Put two and two together and it’s like ‘Whoa, Outlook! People are in it all day long, they are doing sales stuff, CRM stuff.  Why not just turn Outlook into a full CRM system?’

That is why we created Prophet CRM.

Small Business Trends: In 2013, with all of this social media, are sales people still living in Outlook?

James Wong: I would ask you the question, how many people are in email all day?

Small Business Trends: Hundreds of millions.  I am on Facebook, I am on Twitter, I use Linkedin. But I do live in email.

James Wong: As fast as Gmail and Apple mail is growing, Outlook is still the largest.

Small Business Trends: So you went from doing services around Microsoft Outlook and Exchange to baking CRM functionality into Outlook. How did you get started with bringing these two worlds together?

James Wong: It just made natural sense. People are already doing 50% to 60% of their customer activities inside of Outlook. They are emailing their clients or prospects, they are creating calendar appointments, contacts, and now with the proliferation of mobile with their phones, with their iPads. Even Apple has to sync with Outlook.

Every mobile device out there, what they have in common is that they have to sync with Outlook. Because 90% of your office workers are in Outlook.

As a sales person, I know I need CRM.  And for my CRM to be successful, I have to create my contacts in that system. I have to email from there. I have to do my appointments from there. It’s like ‘Wait a second, you are asking me to change my habits?  You are asking me to do something different that I am already doing every single day in email. That does not make sense. Why don’t I just do it inside of Outlook?’

And that is the impetus for us for creating Profit.

Small Business Trends: What are some of the things that were missing in Outlook? Things necessary to get sales people to adopt CRM within Outlook?

James Wong: Outlook was designed as a personal information manager (PIM) of Microsoft. It was never designed as a contact management or CRM application. What we have done in Profit CRM is turn Outlook into a full feature contact management system for your team.

Then we added opportunity management. Now that I have contacts and companies, I need to go and manage my sales opportunities, or projects, or customer delivery. I can do those things right inside of Outlook. Then we added reporting. There is really no reporting in Outlook. We provide insights into your business:

  • Who do you talk to?
  • How many opportunities do you have in your pipeline?
  • When are you going to close It?

Then we link all of that with mobile access. You can take your contacts, your calendar and all of that stuff with you on your phone. So that you don’t have to actually go and log into a website to go and grab your information.

Small Business Trends: User adoption is one of the biggest challenges to implementing CRM. Particularly getting sales people to use it.

James Wong: With CRM inside of Outlook, we completely overcame that obstacle and that objection.

People are already doing it inside of Outlook. The problem for a lot of sales people and the users of CRM is that I am already doing my natural stuff one way in Outlook. If you want me to do CRM, I have to create the contact in a whole separate system. Should I update my contacts? Do I put it in Outlook first? I know I need it in Outlook. Or do I put it in a website? Or some other application I have installed on my computer?

This has created redundant work and it is troublesome. They have some sort of Outlook integration. They all talk about it because they know it is necessary. The problem is that people don’t use it. If they tried, it is very clunky.

Small Business Trends: How do you compare and contrast what you do with Outlook to what Microsoft Dynamics CRM does with Outlook?

James Wong: Dynamics is an enterprise level application.  But we seek to be similar to a QuickBooks of CRM. Most companies don’t want the complexity of this massive ERP or CRM system. What they want is something simple and easy, like QuickBooks and like Outlook. So we are all about simplicity.



This interview about CRM in Outlook is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.