A Look at the CRM Suite
Sales Force Automation (SFA) is Microsoft's core competency and the strongest module in the CRM suite. Dynamics balances strong ease of use with flexible account management and opportunity management. Unique ease of use facilitators include a familiar and contextual Windows ribbon bar for simplified and intuitive navigation, record pinning of key accounts for quick access, a bookmark of favorites, a listing of recent records accessed, simple user personalization, and an Outlook client that reduces the need for staff to switch back and forth from their CRM and their email or groupware programs.
Marketing is the weakest module in the Dynamics CRM suite. It provides basic campaign management, straight-forward integration with SFA and simple reporting. For more advanced lead management requirements—such as digital marketing, lead acquisitions, lead scoring, nurture campaigns and rich marketing analytics—a third party product will be necessary. Fortunately, several Microsoft partners such as Aprimo, Eloqua and Pardot offer integrated lead management and marketing automation solutions at reasonable costs.
A weak marketing module in a relatively mature CRM software industry would normally be a competitive setback. However, almost all CRM products were born from either SFA or customer support origins and placed less emphasis on marketing functionality and flexibility. Most Dynamics CRM competitors are similarly weak in marketing capabilities.
Customer service is advancing with each new version release. Service has also received boosts from MS Unified Communications Manager, which routes calls and displays inbound caller pop-up windows as well as accelerators—freely available add-on solutions—such as eService or the Customer Care Accelerator which aggregates data across disparate applications into a single desktop view for agents. Interesting from a Microsoft perspective, the Customer Care Accelerator and other add-ons are freely delivered as open source software solutions from the CodePlex Open Source Project Community. Unfortunately, support for Accelerator products is a question mark. Longer term, the integration of both business use cases and technology among products such as Azure, Skype and Lync could theoretically create a very powerful UC backbone—a disruptive technology in its own right and highly synergistic with CRM customer service—but at this point, that's only theory.
Dynamics service is best suited for help desk type environments looking for basic asset control and case or ticket tracking. Dynamics should be considered for simple call centers, however, with only basic functionality in areas such as web self service and knowledge management, sophisticated or high volume contact centers will likely find the service solution limited.
Dynamics most recent CRM 2011 release has brought comparable levels of functionality and feature sets with direct rivals such as Oracle CRM on Demand, Salesforce.com, SAP Sales On Demand and SugarCRM. Highlights of the current version which eliminate prior gaps include improved information visualization (extensive use of rich graphics and inline animation), stepped up business intelligence (including customizable dashboards built with SQL Reporting Services and delivering real-time display and drill-down viewing), competitive intelligence analysis (tracking of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), and code parity between the on premises and on demand versions.
Microsoft is key player in the mobile operating system market, and brings that experience as well the limitations to the Dynamics product. Dynamics Mobile CRM solution is optimized for, and somewhat limited to, the Windows Mobile platform. To support other mobile devices and platforms, such as the popular Android, BlackBerry or iPhone, Microsoft takes a lowest common denominator web browser approach. The user experience for these non-Windows mobile devices is functional but may not satisfy users seeking a more native Android or iPhone experience. Moving forward, Microsoft Dynamics mobile CRM strategy is twofold. First, Microsoft intends to deliver native mobile CRM clients for Windows Phone 7 as well as Android 2.2, Apple's iOS and Blackberry. Second and longer term, Microsoft is pursuing an HTML5 mobile strategy which is intended to ultimately deliver a single mobile product for all mobile devices.
As with other core product limitations, alternatives exist from Microsoft's deep partner channel. For example, partners such as CWR Mobility, Resco and TenDigits extend Dynamics to non-Windows based smartphones and tablets such as iPhones and iPads. If mobile is a part of your strategy and the Windows Mobile platform is not, evaluations of these third party products will be required to uncover any inherent weaknesses (such as functional limitations due to form factors or lack of support for persistent data storage on the devices).
To provide SaaS CRM users information when not connected to the Internet, Microsoft uses the Outlook client as an offline edition. The offline Outlook client functionality is made possible by utilizing Outlook, a SQL Express database to store the offline CRM data and IIS on the laptop to render the web pages. The sync process is flexible and permits users to setup local data groups, apply filters and choose which CRM records should be available offline. The synchronize process then updates contact CRM data, tasks and appointments. In prior Dynamics CRM versions the sync process was a bit cumbersome and slow, however, this has been remedied in the Dynamics 2011 release.
Like CRM SaaS competitors Salesforce.com and Sugarcrm—and unlike newer on demand competitors Oracle and SAP—Microsoft chooses not to develop industry specific CRM editions and instead empowers its ISV (Independent Software Vendor) and VAR (Value Added Reseller) channels to adapt the application for the particular needs of vertical markets. Also like competitors Salesforce.com and Sugarcrm, Microsoft has deployed an online application marketplace for its partners and the broader ecosystem. Microsoft's Dynamics Marketplace, aka Pinpoint, is a searchable online directory of software applications and professional services integrated with Dynamics CRM and Microsoft technologies. Pinpoint includes nearly 8000 third party applications with various levels of certification, user reviews and community scoring.
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A weak marketing module in a relatively mature CRM industry would normally be a competitive setback. Unfortunately, almost all CRM products were born from either SFA or customer service origins and placed little emphasis on marketing capabilities. Most Dynamics CRM competitors are similarly weak in marketing automation.