Peter Hoey

It can take a lot of time to handle every lead and input it into a tracking and contact system. To help with that, Loren Schirber, owner of Castle Building & Remodeling, in Minneapolis, started using SharePoint, a Microsoft Office product.

“I use it as a CRM [customer relationship management] system,” Schirber says. “We put in leads and then it sends our salespeople an e-mail with clients’ information.” Because SharePoint can be cloud-based, as well as server-based, Schirber also uses it as an “intranet” so staff can organize and share documents, photos, and PDFs.

SharePoint has a number of customizable building blocks readily available, such as a discussion forum, picture gallery, document library, and task list.

Cloud or no Cloud

Schirber works with PowerObjects, a local consulting firm, to help him, but you can purchase the software for your own server. There is a free version that comes with Windows, but a full-featured version can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the number of users. When using the cloud-based version, you’re basically renting the software, and you pay about $50 per month (not per user).

All Together Now

Schirber used to do all his lead tracking in one Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but that didn’t work so well once his sales staff grew in number — there are now 10 — and because many of them work remotely. Now everyone can update any document at any time and they don’t need access to a virtual private network (VPN) that connects them to the office. Every document change is recorded in real time, and users can go back and look at previous versions. Schirber can set the parameters and give permission to users such as clients and trade partners.

Though similar systems — such as Dropbox — exist SharePoint interfaces well with Microsoft Office and, because of that, is able to offer more bells and whistles. And for those with a Windows Phone 7, there’s a SharePoint app.

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.