ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells
Customer Inter@ction Solutions
May 2007 - Volume 25 / Number 12
› Back to the Table of Contents

Dynamic CRM From Microsoft

By Rich Tehrani
TMCnet Group Editor-in-Chief

Rich Tehrani
In my quest to keep abreast of the latest developments in the CRM marketplace, I like to take the time to touch base with the most prominent and innovative CRM solutions providers several times each year to find out where they’ve been, where they are now and where they are going. CRM is a rapidly changing technology (one might even say that at any given moment, the term “CRM” means something different to anyone who looks at it).

Because of the changeable nature of CRM, the Microsoft division that covers CRM is well named: Dynamics. I recently got a chance to catch up with Brad Wilson, General Manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

RT: What kinds of capabilities can Microsoft Dynamics CRM provide to small to medium-sized businesses that they cannot or are not getting from other providers in the space?

BW: Our approach is a bit different from that of other CRM companies. We’ve found that most small to medium-sized businesses can’t absorb a lot of technologies that require a steep learning curve or hours in training classes. One of the key ways we’re addressing this is to provide a CRM solution delivered within the familiar look and feel of Microsoft Outlook and other Microsoft Office applications, enabling employees to work more productively and keep customer information current.

Other big differentiators for us — the deep verticalization and deep customization available using standard technology. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform is very easy to customize. That’s been a big Achilles’ heel for the industry in general; customizing an enterprise application typically involved using a very complex, proprietary toolset that was hard to understand or maintain. We’ve simplified the process by building a metadata-driven application platform that’s both upgradeable and portable.

RT: To what do you attribute the frankly very negative perception and outright failure of many of the early CRM implementations in the dot-com era that led to a lot of expensive systems gathering dust? Whose fault do you think this was?

BW: The primary cause for most CRM failures has been poor user adoption, driven by a complex and unfamiliar application experience. While these systems may have worked in theory, they fail the test of supporting the way real people do their job everyday. Much of this was caused by vendors focusing on features and functions rather than on driving productivity for the people whose adoption of the system is essential to making CRM succeed within the organization. A secondary factor was the sheer complexity and cost involved in installing and maintaining a CRM system, making it difficult for businesses to ever achieve a decent return on investment.

RT: How has the industry moved to correct these problems?

BW: Microsoft entered the CRM market four years ago with a different perspective on delivering CRM to customers. Gartner (News - Alert) recently wrote that it expects Microsoft CRM to be the fastest-growing CRM product in 2006 and 2007. They attributed this growth largely to our ability to provide tight integration with Outlook and our delivery of what they call a “basic, pragmatic solution.” We’ve made user productivity a core value for our system because people are the linchpin to its success. We’re providing a platform that is highly configurable and easy for most companies’ IT organizations to adopt and embrace. These two factors are the ones we believe are contributing most to a change in the CRM landscape.

RT: Microsoft seems to believe that CRM should be a business-driven and not technology-driven concept. Can you elaborate on that a little?

BW: At Microsoft, we believe CRM is more than a product — it’s a strategy. Our role is to deliver highly productive, cost-effective technology that enables organizations to implement this strategy and impact its goals. Technology should be mapped to a company’s business requirements — an enabler, so to speak, rather than the driver.

That’s why our approach is to offer technology that works the way people and businesses do, using a familiar interface and tools like our powerful, SQL-based reporting services that offer multiple ways of viewing and understanding the power of their data. A customer example of this is Volt, a staffing solution company with more than 350 offices throughout the U.S. The company has experienced great success with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and credits a high rate of user adoption to things like native Outlook integration and the ability for employees to work within a system they’re already familiar with. An internal survey they conducted found that 83 percent of respondents saw Microsoft CRM as “a significant improvement and easier to manage” than the method they were using previously.

RT: Can you tell us a little bit about the Mobile version of Microsoft’s CRM product? What kinds of companies are using it and how?

BW: Microsoft supports two mobile solutions: CRM Mobile and CRM Mobile Express. CRM Mobile is a native Windows Mobile application that provides full access to SFA data in a mobile environment. This allows users who aren’t always at their desks — like sales reps — to easily update customer information or order quantities on the road and be notified of updates via alerts.

We also recently introduced CRM Mobile Express for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0, which gives users full access to all CRM information across a wide range of mobile devices.

RT: A lot of CRM implementations run into trouble because users find it too complicated, too different or are just unwilling to change. Do you think Microsoft has an edge on other solutions because of its familiar interfaces?

BW: Absolutely. For a person who relies on Microsoft Outlook to organize e-mail, calendar and tasks, he or she will often find that Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides the easiest and most natural way to add CRM capabilities to their existing work style. We have customers whose users don’t even know they’re using CRM, because the data are part of their everyday Outlook user experience. A great example of this is the case of Raymond James Financial, Inc., one of the largest U.S. financial services firms. The company, which has a nationwide network of more than 4,600 financial advisors, has plans to initially offer 3,000 Microsoft Dynamics CRM licenses to its network. But the company expects to increase the number to more than 5,000 over the next two or three years: they literally have advisors begging for it because they are seeing how widely and quickly it’s being adopted throughout the company.

RT: What steps do you recommend buyers of CRM take to determine whether a licensed solution or a hosted solution, or a combination of the two, will best suit their needs?

BW: We are committed to delivering both on-premise and SaaS (News - Alert) (software as a service) deployment options to companies looking to implement CRM. We call it the “Power of Choice” — giving customers a choice of how to deploy the system (software as a service or on-premise software), a choice of how to access the system (via Office/Outlook, Web browser or mobile device) and a choice of how to pay for the system (perpetual licenses or subscription).

Microsoft believes that the decision of how CRM will be deployed should be driven by each organization’s unique business and technology needs/capabilities. For some companies, short-term constraints on the IT side may make SaaS more attractive as a deployment model. Others may choose SaaS as part of a strategic decision for how business application functionality will be delivered to their company. And there will always be those who select a purely on-premise deployment. The deciding factors driving these decisions include IT capacity, capital budget cycles and preference for operating versus budget expense.

RT: Most companies seem to confine use of CRM solutions entirely to the sales departments and/or the call centers. What other functions within an enterprise or SMB can benefit from the use of CRM?

BW: Our goal is to enable transparent CRM — the ability for anybody within a company, whether sales, marketing or contact center — to access customer data whenever and however they need it. Companies can tailor Microsoft CRM to align with business processes, streamlining both the type and delivery of information. That’s the benefit of having a CRM solution that “works the way your business works.” Companies want just the right amount of CRM to do their job, and in a way that’s not obtrusive — what we refer to as “Alt-Tab CRM” — that’s the benefit of being accessible in Microsoft Outlook, an application most people use every day. This can include reporting in Microsoft Office Excel or providing predictive analytics via our recently released Analytics Foundation.

RT: Thank you for your time. CIS

[email protected]

› CIS Table of Contents
| More