A new feature in CRM 2011 is the possibility of creating connections. Connections are a free form of relationships between records that can be used to connect any type of record to any other type of record. In this sense, connections are a bit like the customer relations in CRM 4.0, except that customer relations where limited to contacts, accounts and opportunities.
Connecting records ‘to me’
The ‘easiest’ connection to make is connecting a record to you (as a user). This can be done on any record, simply by selecting ‘Connect’, ‘To Me’. Here I connect a case To Me:
This opens a New Connection form where I can enter details about the connection. Maybe I was consulted on the case because I had previous experience with shipments to the customer’s city (Dallas).
Now, the next time this case is opened, maybe because of a related question about delivery times, it is documented that I helped on this case. This would point the customer service representative in my direction so this next case can be answered more quickly.
This might look like a small thing, but it can actually be a big improvement in documenting ‘contact’ with records. Previously, some kind of ‘logged’ activity would have to have taken place for me to appear in the file for this case, maybe an e-mail or a phone call. But be honest, suppose you’re preparing a bid for an opportunity, you won’t log every internal meeting or contact moment. But because these Connections are added so easily, connecting opportunities to pre-sales consultants is feasible. And that would probably be pretty useful next time a similar opportunity would occur.
Connection to ‘other’ records
A second way of using connections is to connect records together. Maybe we wish to connect a case to a related case used to help solve the problem. Or maybe a problem reoccurred and we connect the new case to the older one. Or we could connect an order for spare parts to the case logging the problem:
A connection like this is created on both records. So if I look at the Case I see the Order:
And if I look at the Order I see the Case:
Documenting connections using connection roles
If certain users connect frequently to certain records, or if certain records are frequently connected, we can use connection roles to formalize this. Connection Roles are defined under Business Management under Settings:
Here we find a number of predefined roles that we can use. We can also define our own roles. Suppose ordering spare parts for a Case is a frequent enough occurrence to warrant a role. Keep in mind here that a connection always has two ends. CRM is very flexible in this and this can be confusing:
- We can opt to create a role for either end or for both ends
- We can list the roles that are matching to this role (meaning: used on the other end of the connection)
- But matching roles do not need to exist
So let’s create new (matching) roles for the spare parts situation. First we create the role for the Case:
Note that roles can also be given a category and a description, allowing you to further detail the connection.
Now we create a matching role for the Order:
Now, if we return to our previously created connection, we can set this role on the Connection. Because there is (exactly one) matching role, the role on the other end of the Connection is set automatically as well:
Note that ‘Start Date’ and ‘End Date’ fields are also provided, allowing you to further specify the connection. These can be used to document the dates between which a contact was employed by a certain account, for instance, using the ‘Former Employee’ role (with matching ‘Former Employer’ role).
I think these connections are a great new feature in CRM 2011. It provides us with a very easy way to document relations between records.
Suppose ordering spare parts for a Case is something that occurs frequently, I would probably have created a relationship for this in CRM 4.0. If it occurs only now and then, I would probably have advised to just create a note documenting the occurrence. (My rule of thumb in this is that when a situation is part of the normal process I create a relationship.)
Comparing with normal relations between records, it has the following advantages:
We don’t need to customize the system for every type of relation that could occur
- This makes the system more flexible when processes change
- And we don’t bother the user with all the possible fields/lists for these relations
- We can add a lot of detail to these Connections. Description texts are already better than only providing a link. With Roles we can add even more depth.
- Adding these Connections is faster than adding a true relation with the special button on the ribbon.
Comparing with ‘notes’:
- We can actually search on this
- We have a much better overview
- We can add structure with roles