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The Journey to Dynamics CRM: A Partner Perspective, Part 1

Changes in IT spending, cloud technology and the growing importance of digital customer engagement are all factors prompting system integrators (SIs) to add customer relationship management (CRM) to their service portfolios. For many partners, the obvious choice is Microsoft Dynamics CRM, with its easy availability through Office 365.

What does it take to build a CRM practice? One partner shares its journey, three years in, as Dynamics CRM takes its place in the company's next generation of services.

The tagline on RBA's Web site, "A digital and technology consultancy," reflects the journey that the Microsoft national solution provider started in 2011. "We were a classic SI partner doing migrations to Office 365 and capitalizing on the hockey-stick growth of SharePoint," explained Jay Lendl, RBA's director of CRM solutions. "As we were planning out our next steps to grow the business, Gartner released a report predicting that CMOs would be spending more on technology than CIOs over the next few years."

While RBA had noted a transition in IT purchase decisions, its observations were focused on discretionary spending. "It wasn't so much that IT wouldn't spend money, it was that most of their budget was fixed in things like hosting and online services," Lendl said. "We didn't envision that the CMO's spend on IT would increase every year, but they did have more discretion over their funds than the CIO. A large percent of the CMO's spend involves choices -- like deciding to focus on retaining customers with a loyalty program or acquiring new customers with a digital push."

Based on its own observations of changes in technology purchases and market predictions, RBA acquired a digital marketing agency. The agency's expertise was in helping companies engage with their constituents, whether they be patients, customers, vendors or dealers. The acquisition also built on RBA's experience in helping enterprise clients with loyalty programs.

The acquisition led to a year of learning about how the technology that RBA had focused on, like SharePoint and mobile solutions, would apply to customer-facing digital interactions. "Our perceptions changed. The agency became more like us and we became more like them," Lendl said. "It was an important first step in the journey. We really needed to adjust our lens. The process was as much about what we were selling as it was about how we were selling it and who we were selling to."

Customer Data as the Pivot Point
The common denominator was customer data. "Microsoft Dynamics CRM was the natural extension since it is built on the Microsoft technology, including SQL, .NET and Office 365," Lendl said. "The technical stuff was easy for us, but we realized that we needed more functional expertise. We acquired a small CRM practice which added the folks who understood the functional capabilities and business problems we needed to address."

With the addition of Dynamics CRM and customer-focused expertise to its solution set, RBA is now able to talk to the business decision-makers about customer engagement. "From a technology standpoint as well as strategic design, we can have much more meaningful business conversations," Lendl said. "While everyone these days seems to be saying they are doing that, we have put the pieces in place to support it. It has been a very interesting journey."

For partners who are considering adding a CRM practice to continue services for customers once they have switched to Office 365, Lendl offered some advice: "Unlike Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is not something that you just light up. Provisioning and migrating data is just a small part of a Microsoft Dynamics project. Clients are looking for guidance. They expect you to help them define their sales process, not just configure it."

As current Dynamics CRM partners have found, a significant part of a CRM practice is in providing that guidance to improve business processes, which should align with the strategic direction of most technology service providers today. As technology recedes into the background and buyers focus on business outcomes, partners need to be equipped to deliver process improvement.

"The great news about Microsoft Dynamics CRM is that you get to leverage all of your technical folks. It's phenomenal that way," Lendl said. "But you need to have a few experts that truly are focused on CRM and understand what it means to the customer and how to promote adoption. Start on smaller opportunities to build expertise."

Part 2: Staffing the CRM Practice
Through its journey, RBA found that it takes a different set of skills in both sales and delivery to support the Dynamics CRM practice. In Part 2, we'll look at some of the staffing lessons that RBA learned.

How are you transitioning your business to tap into changing markets? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.


Posted by Barb Levisay on April 16, 2015