Boost Your Customers' Business

Get your existing Office customers using Microsoft CRM, and you can help them get a better handle on their customer data.

To some, CRM is an over-hyped acronym—another software package touted as a must-have for anybody hoping to survive the frenzied waters of electronic commerce. To others, it is indeed the Holy Grail of business software, the glue that holds their customer data together and provides a comprehensive, clear-eyed view of just who those customers are.

Both sides are talking about customer relationship management, the tracking and organizing of customer data, contacts and sales leads. And while there's a range of opinions about CRM's value, there's no arguing with one fact: Microsoft takes CRM very seriously.

Microsoft CRM version 1.2 has been out since December 2003. Sometime in early 2006, Microsoft plans to release a completely updated version of the tool—bypassing version 2.0 and going straight to 3.0.

By better organizing and prioritizing customer data, Microsoft CRM can help your customers get more bang for their sales and marketing bucks. Microsoft CRM presents all customer information and the details of any interactions with them in a single, unified view—sales history, sales meetings, service calls and all other contacts. So when representatives from your customer's company are on the phone with their own customers, they have all that information right in front of them, current and complete.

This integrated approach can help your customers shorten sales cycles, generate new leads and opportunities for additional sales to existing customers, share information between departments and provide better, more consistent service. Imagine the frustration of a customer who must provide the same account information to one service rep after another, or who talks to employees in several different departments—none of whom has any idea about what the others are doing. Microsoft CRM ties that data together and presents it in a single view to help your customers avoid being the root of those frustrations.

Automating and working with customer data through Microsoft CRM won't require that your customers negotiate a steep learning curve. After all, it's from Microsoft, so it uses a familiar interface, which can help reduce user resistance to change. In addition, it integrates with other Office applications. Your customer's employees can use Microsoft CRM from within Microsoft Outlook. That tight integration with Outlook and other Office apps minimizes the need for training and streamlines adoption.

Microsoft CRM comes in two editions, Standard and Professional. Three modules are available for each edition—Sales, Customer Service and the Suite. It also comes in a variety of international language versions. Besides U.S. and International English, it's available in Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Russian and Swedish editions. The international language support makes it suitable for your customers that do business globally.

Microsoft CRM 1.2
Release: December 2003

Base Price: Standard Edition—ranges from $199 to $499 per user; Professional Edition—ranges from $449 to $849 per user

A Common Framework
Microsoft CRM's tight integration with Outlook and the rest of the Office suite is no accident or mere by-product of genealogy. Microsoft designed its CRM software within a technology framework it calls the Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework. This development strategy is intended to simplify the integration of Microsoft CRM with Outlook and the rest of the Office suite, as well as with other applications such as Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, Microsoft MapPoint and the Microsoft Office Business Scorecards Accelerator.
The Information Bridge Framework is XML-based, so you or your tech-savvy customers can program it to integrate with their existing databases. That will save customers both money and the hassle of data migration, while easing the sales process on your end. Using a customizable XML-based infrastructure also gives your customers a considerable degree of flexibility to expand and modify their CRM systems as the needs and scale of their business changes. You can also customize Microsoft CRM for customers' specific business applications through easy-to-use wizards.

Besides helping your customers present a more consistent, better informed service, Microsoft CRM can also streamline their internal operations by easing technological and process integration. It provides a familiar environment in which employees can share critical data exactly when it's needed. Customer data is available directly from Office documents, so your customers can manage change and growth more easily and consistently than they would if they had to deal with several discrete applications.

This capability helps your customers maintain accurate and consistent internal and external communication. They can manage critical sales data from within Microsoft Outlook, use Excel to manipulate that data, collaborate on sales strategies over a Web-accessible SharePoint site and create business scorecards with the Office Business Scorecards Accelerator. That last feature is extremely helpful if your customer subscribes to a business measurement philosophy such as the Balanced Scorecard or Six Sigma.

Microsoft CRM supports a variety of deployment models. You can deploy a single module, combined modules, mixed-mode domains or Web services—whatever your customers require. They may want the CRM software installed only on corporate office desktops, or on all sales agents' laptops or maintained as a Web service, or some combination of those options. Microsoft CRM runs on the Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, Small Business Server 2000 and Small Business Server 2003 operating systems.

Microsoft plans to release the next version of its CRM product by the first quarter of 2006. Version 3.0 will offer redesigned Outlook and Web client interfaces, an improved client for Windows Mobile, a new service-scheduling module and extended language support for a total of 23 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, Greek, Japanese, Norwegian and Turkish.

With the release of the 3.0 version, Microsoft will add a Small Business Edition designed for companies using Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition. The Small Business version provides a simplified migration path from Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager.

Competitive Landscape
Microsoft CRM is up against some formidable competition—mostly in the form of Seibel Systems Inc.'s CRM and CRM OnDemand (which Microsoft itself actually uses for some of its CRM functions). Oracle Corp. recently purchased Seibel, which should strengthen that company's competitive posture against Microsoft, certainly when Oracle expands upon what is sure to be tight integration with its Oracle database system.

Siebel CRM also strives to provide customer-facing employees with a complete view of all customer data and any previous interaction history. The latest version of Seibel CRM, version 7.8, includes advanced order management capabilities, embedded analytical capabilities and expanded industry-specific functionality.

Like Microsoft CRM, Seibel has specific modules covering service, marketing and sales operations. The Sales portion helps increase collaborative selling with its comprehensive data views. The Service module helps customer service representatives improve service delivery by moving call center tasks to the Web channel, targeting contract renewals and helping them understand those contract commitments. The Marketing segment helps marketers develop loyalty programs, monitor product performance and track customer contract status. Sales Operations helps streamline the rollout of special promotions and aligns incentives with sales performance.

Seibel also has a hosted CRM service called Siebel CRM OnDemand Release 9, which integrates with IBM Lotus Notes and Siebel Contact OnDemand (Siebel's hosted contact center) as well as with Seibel CRM. Professional Edition is another formidable competitor. Besides a host of customer lifecycle data management features, boasts unlimited scalability, enhanced security features and information sharing controls. There is also a Team Edition, which is suitable for five or fewer users, and an Enterprise Edition designed for complex organizational structures.

The Team Edition is designed to be easier to use than the full-featured versions, and has import filters for Outlook and Sage Software's ACT! contact software to help customers get their data loaded quickly. The Enterprise Edition comes with advanced CRM features such as customization and extension, extensive integration capabilities, a development platform to create custom applications, support for multiple divisions and processes, workflow automation and enhanced security.

Another competitor is e-Synergy, from Exact Software. This is a Web-based solution that includes CRM as part of a complete business management system. Clients, business partners, employees and vendors are all associated with one another and to relevant business transactions within the system. Financial, sales and product support information is linked to any project, initiative or event that affects customers.

The CRM toolset within e-Synergy provides specific details about product updates, sales progress, customer support issues and any related documents. It also includes a secure portal for customer participation; separate customer and partner portals; sales quotes; contract and workflow storage; account transaction tracking; account, asset, document and project association; marketing campaign management; and integration with Microsoft Exchange and Outlook.

Spotlight Highlights
Key Features
  • Presents all customer data and contact history in a single unified view
  • Integrates with Outlook and other Office applications
  • Built around flexible and extensible XML framework
  • Seibel Systems' CRM and CRM OnDemand
  • Exact Software's e-Synergy
  • Customizing Microsoft CRM for a specific customer or vertical industry
  • Opening new doors to new prospects, thanks to Microsoft CRM's tight integration with Office, which offers a familiar look and feel

Marketing and Sales
There is a lively and multi-layered online community devoted to using Microsoft CRM. Both you and your customers can watch webcasts, scroll through newsgroup threads and blog posts, participate in live chats and subscribe to RSS feeds. Perhaps the most useful resources are the Microsoft CRM Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), members of technical communities recognized for their deep expertise and willingness to share that knowledge.

The MVPs can be a huge help with your Microsoft CRM sales and configuration efforts. They publish articles, tips and advice on the Microsoft Business Solutions Web site in the sections titled Deploying Microsoft CRM, Using Microsoft CRM and Microsoft CRM support.

Whether you're approaching a specific expert or logging onto a chat-room discussion, it helps to know exactly what you're looking for. The more precise you are with your questions, the better and more specific help you're likely to receive.

There are also on-demand webcasts on a variety of related topics, including "Selling in the Financial Marketplace," "The Microsoft Solutions Sales Process," "Improving Your Success with Microsoft CRM" and "Microsoft CRM: An Advanced Look."

If you expect to do a lot of Microsoft CRM configuration and customization, you might want to consider a Microsoft eCourse. These are set up to train you on specific concepts. The list of installation and configuration courses (and the related cost) includes:

  • Microsoft CRM Installation and Configuration: $400 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Customization: $400 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Customer Service Professional: $299 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Sales Professional: $299 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Applications Standard Edition: $400 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Mobile Technical Training: $199 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Mobile User Training: $199 per person
  • Microsoft CRM Integration for Great Plains: $400 per person

Microsoft also offers an extensive series of online learning courses geared specifically toward your customers. These make a valuable cross-sell. The courses' flexibility and modest cost ($25 per person per week), make using them an easy decision and an easy sell. (The Productivity Package, which includes all the overview tutorials, costs $150 per person for 30 days.) Your customers can learn at their own pace, skipping over or reviewing whatever they need. They can also go back as often as they like within the subscription period.

The list of currently available Microsoft CRM eLearning courses includes:

  • A Day in the Life of Customer Service
  • A Day in the Life of Sales
  • Administering Microsoft CRM Basics
  • Customer Service Overview
  • Microsoft CRM Integration Overview
  • Microsoft CRM Overview
  • Microsoft CRM Sales for Microsoft Outlook Client Overview
  • Sales Automation Overview
  • Technologies and Pre-Installation Overview
  • What's New in Microsoft CRM 1.2
  • Why CRM?
  • Microsoft CRM–Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework for Microsoft CRM
  • Microsoft CRM–Redeploying Microsoft Business Solutions CRM

Finally, you'll find some helpful general resources for yourself to help you prepare your sales presentations for Microsoft CRM—as well as other business applications—in Microsoft Business Solutions PartnerSource. If you're not already familiar with it, PartnerSource is a private portal for partners that focus on Microsoft Business Solutions. It offers tools designed to help you increase revenues, improve sales and technical skills and provide customers with better service. Available resources include training materials, online courses, product updates, downloads, access to special events and opportunities to share strategies with other partners.

The Final Word
CRM systems aren't the lumbering dinosaurs they were once perceived to be. An agile system like Microsoft CRM can take the layers of data that your small to midsize business customers already have and turn it into a competitive advantage. Their sales contacts, new leads, account information, order tracking and service histories will all be front and center, where their staff can make the most of them.

Once it's up and running, Microsoft CRM can help your customers increase revenues and decrease costs. Their sales representatives will be armed with better information for selling to existing customers, their marketing efforts will be more targeted, and their service organizations will be more efficient.

You might even consider using Microsoft CRM yourself to manage your customers, if you're not already doing so. Then, in addition to streamlining sales and service cycles, you'd also be able to provide your customers with anecdotes about your own experiences during your sales presentation. That would be a sales pitch that's hard to resist.