Office 365 Business Center Preview vs SharePoint

Microsoft included Business Center in Office 365 Business Premium. They added “Preview” after the word Center since it’s a new offering. This is the link for more information on Office 365 Business Center Preview. I’m not going to go through Business Center’s pluses and minuses since its new, but at this time it doesn’t even come close to the customer management that you can do through SharePoint.

Office 365 Business Center Preview does have a couple of advantages:

  1. Syncing of Business Center customer data with QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. I did not try QuickBooks Online but I was not able to properly sync with QuickBooks Desktop. Also, the Contact features in Business Center have some bug issues that need addressing.
  2. Ability to generate customer invoices in Business Center and sync those with QuickBooks Online and Desktop. The invoicing capabilities/features are very limited at this time and I could not find information on how to sync with the desktop version.

Business Center functions in a closed environment, unlike SharePoint, making it hard to share data. I think Microsoft would have been better off making Business Center a SharePoint application.

SharePoint Lead Tracking List Approaches

The posts “SharePoint for Customer Management“, “Lead Tracking – Direct Sales & Mailings” and “Lead Tracking – Sales Networking” talk about how SharePoint Lists can be used instead of a third party CRM package. The main advantages being saving on license fees and a solution geared specifically to your business needs. Those posts illustrate various SharePoint Lists for tracking sales and marketing activities. The “SharePoint for Customer Management” post talks about keeping one unified customer list for both existing customers and prospects and keeping that data on the main SharePoint site as opposed to keeping prospects separately on the Marketing & Sales subsite. The primary reason being the main site level allows the data to be accessed by all subsites. The post also discusses setting up separate views for Active Customers and Active Prospects so you can easily access that data. The post “Lead Tracking – Direct Sales & Mailings” discuss using a SharePoint Access data base application for tracking daily sales and marketing activities.

But suppose you would prefer not to use multiple lead lists and an Access application (while providing great functionality — they do add more complexity) and keep prospect/lead data on the Marketing & Sales subsite. In other words, a your looking for simpler approach. Below is a screen shot of such a Lead list:

Additional columns can be added as necessary, for instance since we are using QuickBooks’ Larry’s Landscape & Garden Supply example company, a column for Frequency (weekly, monthly, etc.) is probably appropriate following the $ Quote. Once a Lead becomes a customer you can then add them to a separate customer list. However, if the Customer List is on the main site and the Lead List is on the Marketing & Sales subsite, this would entail entering some data from scratch into the Customer list. The reason for this is that a subsite column cannot be looked up on the main site. Even if you had the Lead List on the main site, your Lookup column list would show all Leads and not just those that resulted in customers. This is because SharePoint does not provide filtering for Lookup columns. Therefore, you are probably better off keeping the separate Lead List on the main site.

Service Firms – Use SharePoint Online to Stop Losing Potential Customers & Making Costly Initial Estimate Visits

This post is a result of an experience I just had in getting an estimate to repair my pool. It got me wondering why service firms need to send someone to give you an estimate when, in some or many cases, they can ask you to take a picture(s) of what you need done and either provide an estimate from them or use them for follow up questions and then an estimate.

My pool is Pebble Tec and about 16 years old. As you will see in the picture below, it has a crown around it and that crown has eroded in two place. Trying to find someone in the Phoenix area during the summer to do this type of repair is hard for two reasons: 1. They are very busy because it is the peak time. 2. It is a small job. I needed to make a lot a calls to find two contractors that were willing to give me an estimate. The first one told me it would be two weeks before someone could come out and give me an estimate. The second came out the next day, because they already had someone scheduled in the neighborhood, and provided me with the estimate. The second company seemed reasonable so I told them to schedule the work. Consequently, I cancelled the first contractor. After speaking with the second contractor it was evident to me that neither had to come out to give me an estimate, they could have done it from cell phone pictures and saved travel time and transportation. Also they could have figured out if they wanted the job, how long it would take, which employee would do it and when they could schedule it in. I would have been fine with this since it meant I did not need to hang around for the person that would do the estimate. So taking pictures would have made it easier on me and them.

I set up the simple SharePoint custom list below to track the opportunity and respond back to the prospect. When the perspective customer’s call comes in, the information can be entered and they can be asked to email pictures of the needed repairs.

The paper clips are the emailed pictures that are attached to the opportunity. In my case they looked like this:


I decided to do picture attachments instead of setting up a Custom SharePoint Picture column because I think in most instances a potential customer would have multiple pictures…a SharePoint Picture column can only reference one picture (of course you can have multiple columns but that can unwieldy). One drawback to attachments is that PowerApps do not support displaying attachments so you could not view the lead fully on a cell phone or tablet.

Neat List – Phone Call Memo

A neat list that is called Phone Call Memo is added when you activate the Group Calendar in SharePoint Online. It is a great way to track incoming calls and route them to the appropriate employee for follow up. You can set the Workflow to ensure that other employees in the company are also alerted about the call. The Phone Call Memo list also comes with four standard views:

  • My Unresolved Memos
  • My Memos
  • Memos from Me
  • All Unresolved Memos

All items list view:

Sales Proposals in SharePoint Online

The post Task List Templates in Service Delivery discusses how to setup a standard task plan for hypothetical project.

So now let’s pretend that one of our prospects, a school with a ten-acre lot, requests us to submit an irrigation design proposal.  Here is how we can efficiently handle the proposal document in SharePoint:

  1. Setup a Proposal Document Library on the Marketing & Sales subsite to handle Larry’s proposals.

  2. Set up a Workflow that automatically sets the review and approval process once the proposal is completed.

  3. Add an irrigation planning project proposal template to the library. This ensures that all proposals are complete and uniform.
  4. Along with the proposal template, the Irrigation Design Tasks template is exported to Excel and added to the library to ensure that bids are uniformly prepared. Notice that I added hours and project rate columns to spreadsheet in order compute the bid.

  5. Searched the library for other proposal to schools on ten acres to see how we bid and price those projects. I found that we had such a proposal. (I should note here that in a real business environment, I would have searched previously completed irrigation projects to understand how well we did compared to their bids in order to ensure a sound bid.)

  6. Opened both the irrigation proposal template and worksheet. Completed both of them and then saved them to document library.  Now I can wait for the message back telling me either the proposal and bid was approved or what changes need to be made.

Sales Pivot Chart

SharePoint allows you to add Excel spreadsheets to your web pages.  This includes Excel charts and pivots tables.  Below is an example of a pivot chart that queries the PRA’s Lead Tracking Access app and then displays leads by physician specialty.

Excel Lead Pie Chart

A knowledgeable Excel user can easily develop charts and Excel reports for viewing the overall operations of the business.

Lead Tracking – Direct Sales & Mailings

Direst sales and mail campaigns are heavily used by PRA in marketing and selling its products (software packages) and services (billing, cash collections, document management, etc.).

Sales staff visit targeted physician office on a schedule basis and provide collateral describing the company’s products and services, topics of interest (e.g. current trends, etc.), and Medicare statistics and analysis.  This material is provided to physicians in a set order and offices are visited on a set schedule.  Physician offices not directly visited by a salesperson are placed on a mailing list and receive the same materials.

All leads are tracked via a SharePoint Access app that resides on the Sales & Marketing sub site.  Here is a screen shot of the main lead tracking page (use the browser Zoom function to enlarge):Main Lead Page

The far left side contains the pages composing the lead tracking application.  The scrolling list is composed of all physician sales targets.  A sales person can search the list by name. The main page contains the contact and background data related to the physician practice.  The horizontal list under the contact and background data represents the following:

  • Contacts – people contacts at the physician’s office.
  • Drop Ins – marketing collateral provided to the lead.
  • Papers – background papers provided to the lead.
  • Medicare Programs – Medicare programs participated in by the practice.
  • Medicare Payments- received by the practice over the last 3 years (this data is retrieved from public data provide by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services know as CMS).
  • Service Offerings – the PRA products or services the physician may be interested in.
  • Secondary Specialties – of the physician’s practice.

Below are screen shots of each of these pages.  I will not go through the detail of each one.  The point I want to make is that PRA was able to develop a sophisticated lead tracking application customized to their needs using SharePoint in less than a week. The app was developed by a non IT staff member.  The app allows them to operate efficiently in carrying out and monitoring their sales efforts and at no additional costs for software and customization!

I do want to point out the last screen shot on this page.  It depicts one of 2 web pages that sales staff use to route themselves for their schedule visits.  The routing is based on the physician’s office address entered in the main page.  This routing capability saves PRA significant travel expenses and eliminates wasted time driving by the salesperson.


Contact Detail

Drop In


Service Offerings




Lead Tracking – Sales Networking

Many small businesses purchase a Customer Relation Management (CRM) application to manage their sales pipeline and customer information.  My experience is that in most cases SharePoint’s out of the box capabilities can be used for this purpose thus neither incurring separate fees for a third party CRM application nor needing to learn and enter data in a separate system(s).  There are third party CRM SharePoint applications that can be used if the out of the box capabilities are not sufficient and these can be found in the SharePoint Store. These SharePoint apps are generally less expensive than stand alone CRMs.

There are 5 primary tactics PRA uses to generates sales leads:

  1. Physician referrals – meaning an existing PRA physician customer refers another physician practice.
  2. Business Networking through BNI groups and professional associations.
  3. Direct Sales where a sales person visits a physician office.
  4. Direct Mail campaigns.
  5. Seminars and webinars.

In other blogs we discuss in detail how these tactics are supported in SharePoint.  Right now let’s take a look at how business networking activities are recorded. (The data is fictitious in the screen shots and use your browser’s Zoom function if necessary to better view the shots.)

A parent list web page (meaning there is a sub list related to it) is set up that is divided into two sections. The top section is for network group meeting summaries.  These are Word documents prepared by the staff person attending the meeting and summarizing what occurred.

The bottom section of the web page captures the networking group, the staff person(s) related to that group and the contacts associated with both the group and staff person(s).  The contacts email, title and phone # are also included.  These are all the fields that PRA finds important about the networking group.  SharePoint Lists allow you to include and name as many fields as you find necessary.

Network Page

There is Contact Activities list page (the sub list) that tracks the activities related to each individual network contact. The contact activity undertaken, next activity to be undertaken and the associated dates are included in this list.

Network Contact Details

PRA is able to conveniently keep track all of it sales networking activities in one place.  Staff and management can easily go to one locations to keep up to date on these activities.  Alerts can be sent to staff personnel if there is a particular action item for them to undertake.

Sales Materials & SharePoint

PRA established a  dedicated SharePoint subsite for all sales and marketing materials.  Sales and marketing team members are granted Read permissions, meaning they can view and copy documents, while sales and marketing managers are granted Edit permissions, meaning they can add, delete, and make changes to most site materials.  The documents that managers can not change are password protected.

File folders hold sales and marketing materials by physician type (e.g. dermatologist, ophthalmologists, etc.), Medicare, Medicaid, and third party  insurance providers.  General documents, such as PRA’s letter head, are listed separately on the sales and marketing page so that they can be downloaded for use.

PRA uses SharePoint’s Newsfeed capability to announce changes or additions to sales and marketing materials.  Therefore team members are always up to date on both the latest materials and the firm’s sales and marketing themes.


Sales Main Page