Lead Center is a new feature in Quickbooks 2012 that allows users to manage their prospects/leads in QuickBooks before they become customers. This is another feature that Intuit is adding to add CRM-like capabilities. Is it useful? Let’s take a look.
A “Lead” is a person or business that you are in the process of selling products or services to, but who hasn’t yet become a full fledged customer. You want to be able to keep track of contact information and a list of activities that should be completed as a part of your sales process. You can do this in Outlook, you can use a CRM product (integrated with QuickBooks, or not), or you can manage this with the Lead Center in QuickBooks.
It is clear that Intuit is interested in CRM (Customer Relationship Management). They are approaching this from two directions. On the high end, they have just released a service that integrates SalesForce (a major CRM product) with QuickBooks. On the low end, we have a number of CRM-like features introduced in QuickBooks 2012, such as the Lead Center, Calendar and Global To Do List.
Note that the Lead Center does not make this a CRM product. There is so much more that goes into managing leads that a good CRM product can do for you. However, the Lead Center feature has a few advantages:
- It is a part of QuickBooks, so you don’t have to worry about complicated integration issues.
- It is free, as a part of your QuickBooks installation (all US versions of Pro, Premier and Enterprise)
- It is extremely easy to convert a Lead record into a Customer record, retaining all of your associated information.
Let’s take a look at how this works.
The Lead Center can be found in your Customers menu. This is presented with the familiar “Center” organization. There is a list on the left (with filters), a bottom pane with information about associated records, and the top right pane with details of the currently selected lead.
When you add a lead you can enter some basic contact information. You can assign the lead a status of hot, warm or cold.
You can create multiple contacts within the lead.
In the bottom pane of the Lead Center you have multiple tabs.
To Do List is a listing of to do items associated with this lead.
Contacts lets you quickly see the contacts you have entered for this lead.
Locations shows the various locations or branch offices for this lead (created in the main lead edit screen).
Notes shows the notes that you have entered for this lead. I haven’t been using the Notes feature in QuickBooks that much, but when I saw this I thought that it would make it more likely that I would be using Notes. However, the Notes window that opens here is much simpler than the one you find associated with other “Centers” such as the Customer Center, and as I’ll show you later there is a drawback to this.
If you have been managing your leads in an Excel spreadsheet before now, there is a simple grid import tool available.
Converting Leads to Customers
The Lead records are in a separate table from the Customer records, which is a very important point. If you were adding your leads to your customer list before they purchased something, you were cluttering up your customer list. And, in Pro/Premier, there is a limit to the number of customers you can have. Separating the leads from the customers prevents that clutter and impact on your customer list.
If the happy day comes when a lead becomes a customer, simply click on the Convert to a Customer button. Your lead is now a customer. All of the contact information carries over. All of the To Do’s carry over. All of the Contacts carry over. Unfortunately, though, the Notes do not carry over. I think that is a big mistake, as it really makes the Notes feature in the Lead Center much less interesting to me.
Wait, did you notice that I said all of the Contacts carry over? That is something new that I just came across – the More Contacts button in the Customer Center. You can add contacts to a customer, which are different than a job. I have no idea what the impact of this is, if this is information that we can find in any place other than when in the Customer Center. I’ve not seen any mention of this in any of the literature or announcements from Intuit.
It is interesting to note that the Lead record still exists in the Lead Center. You have to change the view to “All Leads” instead of “Active Leads”. You can’t change the record, it is read-only. My concern here is if there is a limit to the size of the lead table – I have no way to get rid of leads that are cluttering up this list.
Another point to make – you can create a lead that has the same name as a customer, without any warning or problem. If you try to convert that lead to a customer you get an error message, and you aren’t allowed to proceed. I would rather have a warning when I create the lead? What if we think that this is a new lead when in fact we have already been doing business with them as a customer in the past? I can’t merge all my to do’s and contacts from the new lead into an existing customer record easily. Sure, I can change the name and save it, then do a “merge” of the two customers, but that won’t merge the contacts and to do’s.
Is This Worth It?
Well, maybe, depending on your situation.
- Simple CRM-like features for smaller businesses that are currently using Excel (or pen and paper).
- Included in QuickBooks at no additional charge.
- The Lead records are in a separate table, they are NOT included in the customer or names list.
- You can convert a lead to a customer very easily.
- Contact and address info, and to do’s, carry over.
- This is an extremely light feature, it isn’t really a CRM product.
- You can’t delete converted or expired leads.
- Notes don’t convert over to a customer.
- Doesn’t prevent you from creating a new lead that is a duplicate of a customer.
- No interaction with any outside product such as Microsoft Outlook.
- The DOWNSIDE of not adding leads to your customer list is that you cannot create an Estimate for a lead. So you can’t do a lot of things for a lead until they become a customer.
This is a very light solution. If you are keeping track of leads in Excel, or on paper, this might be useful to you. However, there are many good CRM products that integrate with QuickBooks that will provide you with excellent tools and integration.
Intuit’s intent for the multiple CRM-like features are to provide the smaller company with features that can help them without having to go to a more sophisticated CRM product at an additional expense. These are all built-in, no additional cost features. If they aren’t adequate for your company, move up to (from their standpoint) Salesforce for QuickBooks (just introduced this month), or another CRM product that integrates with QuickBooks (Results CRM, Legrand CRM, or something like ACT! with a product like QBSalesData.