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The Journey to Dynamics CRM: A Partner Perspective, Part 2

As Microsoft continues to encourage partners to widen the suite of applications that they support, Dynamics CRM, as part of Office 365, is an obvious choice.

Last week, we followed the journey of Microsoft national solution provider RBA as it added Dynamics CRM services to its portfolio in response to changing spending habits of customers. A critical adjustment that took RBA multiple years to complete was aligning the right roles and people, in both sales and delivery, to achieve the full potential of the practice.

Different Conversations Require a Different Sales Approach
When the sales conversation moves from the IT department to other business units, technology is no longer the focus of the conversation. "Prior to 2011, the majority of our sales were to IT," said Jay Lendl, director of CRM solutions at RBA. "With CRM, we are talking to the business manager and the technology is in the background. They are looking for ideas to help them achieve outcomes. It is a subtle but dramatic difference."

The transition to selling CRM-focused engagements has been one of the more challenging aspects for RBA. The expectation that the entire sales team would begin to seek out the CRM conversations didn't materialize. In addition to adding dedicated CRM sales specialists, the company has found their real success with "solution leads."

"We've added the role [of] solution lead that is similar to Microsoft SSP [solution sales professional]," Lendl said. "They come from functional and technical roles with experience in the business problems that our customers are dealing with. They are subject-matter experts providing sales support and facilitating conversations."

Apparently, the strategy is working. According to Lendl, "We have not lost to Salesforce in a compete situation. We create a complete vision for how the company can achieve the outcomes they are looking for. It's all of Microsoft, not just Microsoft Dynamics CRM. That's how we win."

Building the Functional Support Team
To build its CRM service support team, RBA started with the acquisition of a small firm with a core group of Dynamics CRM experts. "Then we added functional experts, plus business strategy people who understand the problems that we are trying to solve with this platform," Lendl said.

In addition to outside hires, three of RBA's SharePoint business analysts have chosen to cross-train on Dynamics CRM. As with SharePoint, the role of business analyst is the foundation for the success of Dynamics CRM projects. 

RBA looks for three characteristics in the business analyst. First is the ability to facilitate and document requirements. Second is a strong functional understanding of the platform to provide context. That context includes understanding what can be configured and what requires customization. The third quality is configuration skills.

"We believe that context matters. When people are buying Microsoft Dynamics CRM, they believe that there is value in the platform. You are not starting with an empty sheet of paper like custom development," Lendl said. "When we are going through discovery on a CRM project, we need to be able to explain what is out of the box, what takes simple configuration and what takes development work. A functional business analyst needs to lead the organization through requirements with that context."

For RBA, the addition of Dynamics CRM to its service line has been an excellent opportunity for employees to apply and expand their skills. "We've seen such a great carry-over of skills. One of our lead .NET technical architects moved into the CRM group last January to become the CRM technical lead," Lendl said. "Because Dynamics CRM leverages so much of the Microsoft technology, he was an expert from the technical standpoint within a quarter. It's a gap that these really smart people can cover quickly."

For partners considering a similar journey to RBA's, Lendl recommends first putting in place the functional experts, including business analysts, functional configurators and technical people who can handle data integration and migration. The good news is that there is plenty of overlap with the other technologies that a Microsoft partner supports.

As RBA has learned, the shift to supporting Dynamics CRM requires some fundamental business process changes. The essential change -- supporting conversations with business managers instead of only IT -- is one that all service providers are having to make regardless. As technology recedes into the background, partners have to be able to speak the language of business outcomes.

Is the role of business analyst becoming more important to your projects? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

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Posted by Barb Levisay on April 22, 2015 at 4:10 PM


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