Microsoft is adding its Connections application, an email marketing tool, to its Office 365 Business Premium suite of productivity applications for small businesses.
Email marketing has become an integral part of running a consumer-facing business nowadays, but small business owners may not know where to start. Soon, customers who already use Office 365 Business Premium on the job will be able to kick off email promotional campaigns and other forms of customer engagement with the Microsoft Connections service.
"With Microsoft Connections, you can easily create professional-looking email marketing campaigns with pre-designed templates for newsletters, announcements or customer referrals," wrote company representatives in a July 10 announcement. "As your mailing list grows, you can manage your subscribers by creating segments to efficiently target specific groups of customers."
Adhering to Microsoft's goal of democratizing business analytics, the Connections interface generates charts and other data visualizations that enable users to track clicks, sign-ups, first-time customers, offer redemptions and other statistics; information that can then be used to improve the effectiveness of future campaigns. The application also makes it easy to gather email sign-ups for a mailing list, or conversely, unsubscribe recipients when they no longer wish to receive emails, claims Microsoft.
To help users get paid faster, Microsoft is adding an Invoicing application to Office 365 Business Premium. Companies can link the application to QuickBooks, allowing them to synchronize their existing customer and financial information. The service also supports PayPal for credit and debit card payments.
Finally, Microsoft Listings provides users with a way to keep their company's information up-to-date online. When an update is made on Listings, it automatically sends the new information to Facebook, Google, Bing and Yelp. Small business owners can also use the service to track Facebook likes and Yelp ratings, among other metrics.
Tying those services together, at least from a reporting and management perspective, is the new Office 365 Business Center.
This unified dashboard displays key metrics pertaining to Connections, Invoicing and Listings, plus the Bookings appointment scheduling tool (new subscribers, outstanding invoices, pending appointments and more). An activity feed delivers updates as they happen along with recommended actions, like resending invoices to customers that are dragging their feet on overdue payments.
For customers who use their personal vehicles for business purposes, Microsoft has added its MileIQ app as an included Office 365 Business Premium benefit.
The MileIQ mileage tracking app, available for both iOS and Android, automatically detects car travel and generates a mileage log. Users can then quickly classify trips with a swipe of the smartphone screen, labeling each trip as a business or personal outing. A built-in mapping function displays each twist and turn of a drive to a sales meeting or on-site customer visit.
Preview versions of Microsoft Connections, Listings, Invoicing and the new Business Center dashboard are being rolled out to Office 365 Business Premium customers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. over the next few weeks. General availability is planned sometime before year's end, Microsoft said. The MileIQ benefit is available now to customers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.