The most recent Microsoft CRM releases have stepped up the application in the areas of User Experience (UX), increased mobility, workflow automation and cost effectiveness. In terms of the UX, the UI has been flattened, there are far fewer pop-up (modeless) Windows and the application advanced from a traditional left margin menu navigation to a dynamic hover-over menu which better maximizes screen space. Even more interestingly, the application now uses a new and more dynamic business process-centric visualization. This puts CRM records into better context and helps guide staff toward actions and outcomes.
This visualization is unique and particularly helpful as sales, marketing and service are not well performed as linear business functions, particularly in an increasingly multi-channel customer engagement world where customers talk more about and with their vendors on social channels than company-controlled channels. The new UI helps companies advance their CRM application from a system of record to a user-centric process oriented platform.
Sales Force Automation
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.
Dynamics CRM has upped the application for sales professionals with an embedded enterprise social network (Yammer), more mobile options (including iPad support), more types of workflow features to aid business process automation and a new Business Rules feature which better personalizes forms and field controls without custom programming.
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 is necessary. Initially, a few Microsoft partners such as Aprimo, Eloqua and Pardot offer integrated lead management and marketing automation solutions at reasonable costs. However, since Eloqua was purchased by Oracle and Pardot acquired by Salesforce.com, those options didn't last long. Fortunately, other ISV partners including ClickDimensions, CoreMotives, Marketo and SalesFUSION have stepped up to deliver strong marketing software solutions integrated with Dynamics CRM.
Gartner's forecast that CMO's will spend more on technology than CIOs by 2017 has resulted in pretty much every major CRM vendor bolstering its otherwise weak marketing software. Microsoft acquired MarketingPilot in October 2012. Interestingly, unlike competitors such as Oracle and Salesforce.com which acquired marketing automation software solutions, MarketingPilot is more of a Marketing Resource Management (MRM) system. Sometimes Microsoft calls Marketing Pilot an Integrated Marketing Management (IMM) solution. Where marketing automation is designed to facilitate lead acquisitions and lead management, and focuses mostly on revenue measures, MRM is designed to manage and measure campaign spend and performance, and focuses more on costs and ROI.
Marketing Pilot is particularly strong in digital asset management, including file management, version controls, approval processing, team/co-authoring and tracking comments during the collaterals and asset production processes. This is helpful for industries such as life sciences and other vertical markets with strong regulatory and compliance requirements.
MarketingPilot attempts to bridge the divide between B2B and B2C marketing as well as traditional (mostly offline) and digital marketing campaigns. The marketing software is available standalone or somewhat integrated with Dynamics CRM using a limited "Connector." When used as a standalone product, MarketingPilot typically targets B2C for media (the market the product was originally developed for). However, when integrated with Dynamics CRM, Microsoft says that the product is targeted to B2B marketers pursuing MRM and demand generation activities. The risk with this broad approach is that it will lag behind more focused B2B and B2C marketing applications.
Customer service is advancing with each new version release. In addition to the customer service applications maturity, service can also receive a boost from the 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, there is no support from Microsoft for Accelerator products. 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, case or ticket tracking, escalations and simple knowledge-bases. The upcoming "Leo" release scheduled for CYQ2, 2014 is expected to extend call center capabilities with advanced case hierarchies, entitlements, SLA by client and Lync/Skype integration. Dynamics should be considered for call centers, however, with only basic functionality in areas such as web self service and knowledge management, and no peer to peer or social support, sophisticated or high volume omni-channel contact centers will likely find the service solution limited.
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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.