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Microsoft Expands CRM Program

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by: Will Schnabel (@wschnabel)
05 February 2008

Taking a big step closer toward becoming a major player in the on-demand application space, Microsoft has begun testing its hosted CRM product, Dynamics CRM Live, through its second early-access release. (You can read more about it in this posting from the Microsoft CRM Dynamics team.)

As the adoption of on-demand CRM offerings continues to accelerate, Microsoft’s entry into this marketplace with its “Live” product will, I believe, quickly change the playing field--and not just with on-demand leaders such as and NetSuite, but also with the major enterprise CRM vendors such as Oracle and SAP. Here’s why:

  1. Microsoft CRM has an Outlook look and feel, which for most business users, is a user paradigm that they are very familiar with. And the name of the game in salesforce automation, or CRM for that matter, is user acceptance. That’s why ACT! is still the leading tool in terms of the number of end users. Sales people want easy-to-use features that help them perform their day-to-day duties. In the past, CRM has burdened users with cumbersome features that may have proved valuable to sales management, but not always to the actual users themselves. This was one of the main reasons many CRM initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s stalled, and why CRM is now making a resurgence.  With a very simple interface, in a structure that most people--especially in the BtoB world--are familiar with, Microsoft can overcome the user adoption challenge.
  2. With Dynamics CRM Live, Microsoft will offer companies the ability to use various models of CRM solutions, both on-demand and on-premise, that best suit their needs. Many organizations will utilize the on-demand version as they pilot and learn the value of CRM. It is possible that this will then act as a “bridge” to a more robust implementation of a full enterprise application, Dynamics CRM.  No other vendor fully supports this model, or provides customers the flexibility in approaches for CRM.

    In addition, Microsoft will provide a hybrid model in which Microsoft partners can host the product for their clients. In this way, an end-user reaps all the benefits of an installed application, such as the ability to fully customize the application and scale it to meet specific needs, without having to manage the system in-house. Again, this can work as a bridge for a company that wants to begin simply, but grow into a full-scale CRM deployment.
  3. Microsoft has a mature channel of capable partners, which allows it to deploy and support the necessary technology, to the benefit of its clients. One of the ongoing concerns in the industry has been around the idea that SaaS minimizes the need for VARs and system integrators. However, the growth of companies like BlueWolf, and the acceptance of on-demand by the likes of major SIs such Accenture and Avenade have proven that there is still much, if not more, value to provide in the way of strategy, process design, solution configuration, training, and user enablement.

    The basics of successful technology deployment are still the same: the right strategy, the right process, and equipped and trained users. Technology is just the enabler. Leading Microsoft partners—such as Olsen Thielen Technologies and Tribridge—are realizing this, and are beginning to see great success in providing much more than system deployment.

Time will tell if Microsoft can deliver on the full promise of ‘Live”,” but from my vantage point, it is poised to deliver an extremely valuable technology to the CRM industry; one that can greatly improve a company’s ability to align sales and marketing to drive increased revenue for an organization.




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