Best Practices for Using Microsoft Outlook from a Sales Perspective
I answer a lot of questions both on LinkedIn and among my clients regarding database clean up. How often should I purge my contact records? How do I prevent entering duplicate records? Should we allow our sales people to enter data themselves or filter all new entries through our Marketing Department? Should I include a salutation in my address field for mail-merges? Better than having to use bandaids to clean up a database mess after the fact, why not just cure the real problem – implement a consistent process for entering contact records into your database.
Below are some policies/processes to keep your contact data consistent. Keep in mind for some of these policies, there is no right or wrong answer – just the one that makes the most sense for your business.
- Nickname vs. Full Name formats – What is more appropriate for your business? Do you need to have your client’s full formal name recorded for business purposes, but still want to track their nickname in the nickname field? If so this is no problem as long as you are consistent with all of your contacts. If you are not consistent, then you are going to have a problem when you get ready to do any kind of mail merge. So make sure as a company you decide whether you want to have your contact’s informal name (e.g. Dan instead of Daniel) listed in the Full Name field in which case you won’t have much use for the nickname field or you need to have your contact’s formal name in the Full Name field and you use the nickname field for the informal name. Either way, make sure everyone who enters contacts is aware of the company standard.
- Spouse Name format – last names or not? What I usually recommend is that you list a spouse with first name only unless the spouse has a different last name (e.g. a woman who keeps her maiden name, etc.) and then you list both the first and last name. This method usually works best with most mail merges because you can then set up the salutation in the mail merge as <Spouse> and <First Name> <Last Name> for men (it is proper etiquette to keep the man’s name with his last name and list the lady first) or <First Name> and <Spouse> <Last Name> for women. You won’t get it perfect every time, but you should accommodate the majority of your clients this way. If you are using a lot of spouses in mail merge, you are also going to want to set the little known Gender field in your Outlook contact record. Here is the kicker – you can’t see this field in any of the standard tabs on the Outlook contact form so check out How to Sort on the Modified Field in the Contacts Folder and substitute the Gender field for the Modified field, then you can edit this field in an Outlook Contacts Folder view.
- No matter what you do, never enter more than one person’s name in the Full Name field! Each contact deserves its own contact record that can be categorized appropriately. For example, say you list “Misty & Mushahid Khan” in the Full Name field for my contact record. I’m a UT alumni, but my husband is an LSU alumni – if you want to send an email to all the Texas Exes in your database, but my husband’s email is listed in the email 1 field instead of mine, You will be wasting electrons. Also, each of us has at least 2 email addresses, our own business phone numbers, and our own business addresses so we each need our own contact form to store that information. I could go on, but I think enough said for now – no placing two names in one Full Name field EVER!
- Company name policy – Should each division or subsidiary of a major company be listed by its division name in the Company Name field or by the name of the parent company? There is a Department field that can be used to hold division or department information, but you need to decide what makes sense for your team to enter in the main Company field. Also, make sure you address whether or not to include Inc., LLC, LLP, etc. One way to address this issue is to mimic what the contact has listed in their business card, but believe it or not, business cards are not always consistent across a company so as a default you might want to list the formal extension of the contact’s company for all records. This is also a good practice if you need the full company name for legal purposes like contracts, etc.
- Turn the Outlook check for Duplicates feature on – if you are using standard Microsoft Outlook with no custom contact forms, then all you have to do is follow the instructions in the previous link. If you are a HuntressLite or Pro user, we will soon be releasing an upgrade to duplicate this functionality automatically. If you use some other custom contact form, you are out of luck for the automated check for duplicates feature.
- Quick ways to check for existing records manually – You can also try sorting on Full Name, looking in the By Company view, or using the Outlook Look For feature to search on a contact’s name before entering their record if you suspect you may already have entered it.
- Address field policy – I usually recommend that you do not include any information in the Address field other than Street Address, City, State, Zipcode and Country. However, if you do a lot of shipping or deliveries, you may need to include an Attention Line for the shipping or receiving department. Again, you are good as long as you have a consistent policy.
- Salutation and Suffix fields – How many times have you searched for a CPA or some other contact with credentials in the suffix of their formal name that you know you entered in your Contacts folder and not been able to find them? Likely the reason is because Outlook misunderstood your entry and placed the suffix in the Last Name field – if your File As field is set for Last Name, First Name then you won’t find this contact if you are searching on their Last Name if “CPA” has been listed in their Last Name field. I highly suggest when you enter a contact with credentials that you want to include in their Full Name field, use the Full Name button to make sure everything gets entered in the correct field.
- Mailing Address Designation – Make sure you have a policy for which addresses are entered in the Business Address and Other Address fields. I recommend that you list the contact’s physical address in the Business Address field and their PO Box or shipping address (if different from their physical address) in the Other Address field. If you are a Huntress user, you absolutely should follow this convention because Huntress will by default populate the Location field in an appointment item that is created using the New Appointment button on the Huntress contact form with the Business Street Address.
- Use your Categories! – There is no better time to make sure a contact is categorized properly than when you first enter them. In the example of using spouses, you may want to create a category called “Lead Spouse” so that you only include the Lead Spouse in a mail merge. There are all kinds of uses for the Categories field, but one thing is for sure, you can’t create a mail merge for a group of contacts in a non-existent category.
I hope implementing and following these processes will help keep your database in good shape – if you’ve got some additional ideas or questions, please post a comment.
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