Here's another reason for Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff to be nervous about Microsoft.

This morning Microsoft introduced Outlook Customer Manager, a lightweight customer relationship management (CRM) solution to help companies administer their relationships directly from Outlook. 

Aimed at newer and smaller businesses, the idea is to bring together tasks, meeting invites, call logs, Excel sheets, handwritten notes and other items that already live in Office 365 right next to your Outlook Inbox.

Productivity Play

Pitched as a productivity play, cloud-based Outlook Customer Manager takes information gleaned from emails, meetings, calls, notes, files, tasks, deals and deadlines and presents it where and when it is easy to act. 

This not only frees sales reps and others from the drudgery of manually entering customer data but also from needing to wade through documents and prior communications to find it.

If all works as promised Outlook Customer Manager will also surface reminders at the right time and provide the right information around a contact, company or deal such as deals by stage, close dates, priority and amount.

The result? What Microsoft calls a "Focused" list which is a new feature much like the Focused Inbox.

Outlook customer manager

Team Effort

Microsoft has also made it easy for team members to access customer and customer interaction data so that they can pick up the ball from where their coworkers left it. This isn’t a read-only feature, mind you, making it ideal for sales representatives who work together to bring home deals.

Outlook Customer Manager is also available on iOS starting today.

While some small business owners might be too cost conscience to spend money on a CRM app, Outlook Customer Manager is free to Office 365 Business Premium subscription holders and has begun to roll out today. It will appear as an icon in the home tab in Outlook 2016 for Windows when you get it. 

“Microsoft Outlook Customer Manager brings interaction histories and relationships to life,” Constellation Research analyst R. “Ray” Wang told CMSWire.

It may also keep small business owners who aren’t yet ready for Microsoft Dynamics from moving onto competing solutions, like Salesforce and Pega Systems, in the interim.

A smart play by Microsoft.