Microsoft Dynamics CRM is an incredibly flexible solution. But you may have already discovered this truth: with flexibility comes complexity. In this blog we will discuss how to navigate the complexity of tracking activities and notes in CRM and how to ensure nothing is “lost” because it was tracked in the wrong place.

Working with Activities

When tracking activities (Email, phone calls, tasks, appointments, etc.), best practices is always to track against the most specific record. If you have an opportunity or case (or any other record below the contact), that is going to be the most specific record. If there is nothing below the contact record, track against the contact. The only reason to track against the account is if there were no people involved in the activity.

Tracking Activities and Notes in CRM

The reason you want to track against the most specific record is because the visibility of activities rolls up. Visibility does not roll down. For example, if you track an activity against the account, you will not see that when looking at the opportunity. If the activity is on the opportunity, it rolls up to the account and is visible in the activities or closed activities on the left navigation. When looking at activities on an account, the “Regarding” field shows which child record is related to the activity.

Working with Notes

It is often recommended to NOT use notes in Microsoft Dynamics CRM because they do not roll up. Notes on a case, for example, are not visible on the account and vice versa. This might work well because notes on a case may be temporary and not critical information that needs to be shared with others. However, when using notes for everything, it’s possible for critical information to get “lost” because they are kept where others may not see them.

Another reason to not use notes is the user may have more than one place to go in order to see notes. For organizations that standardize on keeping all notes on the account, for example, the users still have to look at both the activities and the notes. Heaven forbid users are keeping notes on multiple different records, multiplying the number of places to go to see what is going on!

Lastly notes do not have any additional attributes for reporting. Many organizations like to track how many phone calls and appointments are had with contacts, but tracking these types of activities as notes means they are not reportable.

But Users Love Notes

It’s really difficult to train users NOT to use notes. They are so easy to enter and they provide date/time stamp along with a scrollable history. One idea is to allow users to use notes, but they also use workflow to copy the note and put it into the activities so that they roll up and are visible on parent records.

Another idea is to create a quick note feature on your records, which allows users to enter a note on any record and a workflow saves the *note* as an activity so that it is visible on parent records.

This is a great solution because it simplifies the notes and activity tracking for the user while maintaining consistency in where data is stored and visible. It also gives you more flexibility for tracking the activity type and other attributes.

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

So, train users on the best practices—use activities, don’t use notes, and always record activities on the most specific record. But what if users make a mistake and track something in the wrong place; can it still get lost?

Well, there’s one last thing you can’t live without! PowerObjects has developed a solution called PowerOneView, which rolls up all notes and activities (as well as all related records you configure it to show) into a single chronological view. Not only will all users appreciate ALWAYS having only ONE place to go to see what’s going on, but this tool ensures that even if someone puts a one-off note in an odd place, it still rolls up into the chronological view.

With this solution, you can’t go wrong! It’s also important to track the last activity date on all your contacts to determine who needs follow-up. For more best practices from PowerObjects, see the pre-recorded webinar on Best Practices for Using Leads.

Happy CRM’ing!

  • Rick

    Joe,

    Would love to watch the referenced webinar on Leads however there is no link to the recording on your website as with the other webinars in your excellent Education area.

  • Jeff

    Sorry about that. We have updated the link so you can check out the recorded webinar.

  • Bob

    The PowerOneView is a great idea, but…
    1. It does not allow you to configure the order that you display columns.
    2. It does not allow you to memorize your preferred settings as a user.
    3. It does not have or allow you to add a column for “date completed” for the activity.
    These severely limit usability of an otherwise excellent tool.

  • PowerPack Pro

    Those would be great enhancements Bob. When we re-design this to work with CRM2011 and
    in pure HTML, we will include these features into the product. Currently, users can change what’s displayed in the “name” and “detail” columns for each entity, and include any other fields in the entity’s reading pane.

  • http://niiranen.eu/jukka Jukka

    Nice post on a very common question that needs to be covered in pretty much any CRM user training session. As for the recommendation of using the most specific record as the regarding field value, I agree with the case/opportunity/etc. level of course, but in I tend to advise against setting the regarding field to a contact record and instead recommend to always use the account if no process specific record exists in CRM. There are two reasons: 1) with most activity types (except for tasks) there will be other fields available where the contact records should logically be linked into (to, from, required/optional attendee), and 2) if the contact later moves to a different company and the record’s parent account field is updated as a result of this (whether this is the best practice is a whole different discussion) the activity can still be seen in the history of the original account thanks to the regarding field value.

    • Joe CRM

      Hi Jukka,

      These are great thoughts to consider for an organization.
      Especially in a B2B scenario, it may or may not be recommended to change the
      parent account on contact. Another consideration is how the activities
      are viewed from the account and whether it is important to have the contact
      name in the regarding field. In addition, reporting may be impacted by
      the regarding. These are not easy decisions, but it is always best to
      pick one way and go with it!

    • Todd

      We operate in B2B scenario. We do not recommend associating the Regarding to a Contact, for the very reason Jukka pointed out in reason 2. The only exception is if the content is exclusively associated with the contact (such as a change in personal status or info).
      When someone ends relationship with org, we break the link to Parent Account and relate them back (for reference) through Relationships as former staff.
      The key for us is the topic. If there isn’t a relevant topic (Opportunity or Quote, Case, Prof. Service (custom entity), or similar), then it is advised to set to the Account.

  • Alicia

    I like this “Quick Note” idea. (Why didn’t I think of that?!) This may have a really simple answer that I’m also not thinking of, but once your workflow creates the activity, how is the “old” data removed from the form so that the next person can add a “note”? I wasn’t aware workflow could handle that.

    • alexfagundes

      Hi Alicia – Yep – a workflow can ‘clear out’ a field. And in the in your workflow to create a note only write it if it is not blank (contains data). This works very well.

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