How to Manage Contacts in Dynamics CRM and Outlook

Editor's Note: As of November 1st, 2016, Dynamics CRM is now Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement, part of the Dynamics 365 for Enterprise solution. Learn more about Dynamics 365.

When utilizing Dynamics CRM, we have two systems for managing contacts: Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Outlook. These two systems are independent but connected to one another. 

Outlook data comes from your Exchange server, while CRM data comes from your CRM server. There is a connector that synchronizes back and forth between the CRM server and Outlook, which is installed on your computer. In order to get the most from CRM, you should understand how the CRM contact data synchronizes between CRM and your computer.

What's the difference between an Outlook contact and a CRM contact?

The core difference between Outlook contacts and CRM contacts is that contacts in Outlook are designed for personal productivity, while the Contacts in CRM are designed for business productivity.

By default, Outlook contacts and CRM contacts are not related – Outlook contacts are completely separate from CRM contacts. The relationship between the two must be set up in order to utilize the integration. This is done in one of two ways:

  1. Set up automatic synchronization to copy CRM contacts to Outlook, or
  2. Manually promote each Outlook contact to CRM using the "Set Parent" or "Track" buttons

We recommend Option 1 rather than Option 2 because it is easier to remember and more likely to collect all relevant CRM information.

CRM to Outlook via Synchronization (Preferred Method)

Contacts can be automatically copied from CRM to Outlook through a synchronization process. Synchronization is set up when the CRM Outlook client is installed on a PC. The synchronization process makes a new contact in Outlook for each CRM contact and then maintains a link between the CRM contact stored in Outlook and the CRM contact stored on the CRM server. Changes made in Outlook to the CRM contact will be synchronized back to the CRM server and then synchronized out to all other CRM users.

Here are some important considerations regarding the CRM synchronization process:

  • CRM contacts will appear in the Outlook contact list along with the original Outlook contacts.
  • Synchronization happens every 15 minutes between the CRM Outlook Client on your PC and the CRM server.
  • Your PC must be online with Outlook open and connected to CRM in order to synchronize contacts.
  • Once CRM contacts are synchronized to Outlook, the CRM contacts automatically appear on a mobile phone.
  • Changes made to CRM contacts in Outlook or on a mobile device will be synchronized back to the CRM server during the next synchronization.

Promoting Outlook Contacts to CRM (Optional Method)

Outlook Contact Promotion is a manual process that must be done for each Outlook contact. Promoting a contact requires an additional step in order to get the contact properly created in CRM.

Things to remember regarding promoting Outlook contacts to CRM:

  • Outlook contacts can’t automatically be copied or "tracked" to CRM because the Outlook contact does not contain the relationship information required by CRM
  • CRM contacts can be automatically copied to Outlook because the CRM contact contains the information required to create an Outlook contact.
  • Business related contacts should be CRM contacts and not personal Outlook contacts. If the contact should be available for business related reasons then the contact should be in CRM.