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Microsoft Dynamics CRM System Review

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Software Functionality

Microsoft Dynamics CRM, like most other CRM systems is comprised of three core modules or bundles of features around the sales force automation (SFA), marketing, and customer support (CS) functions. In addition, there are some common components that span the modules. We’ll focus our functional review on these four areas.

Sales Force Automation

From its earliest release Microsoft Dynamics CRM has been, at its core, a strong account and contact management solution. As a natural extension of Outlook, CRM allows the user to turn those contacts into Leads, Accounts and Contacts in CRM and to also convert them into Opportunities and ultimately into Orders and Invoices.

With respect to Leads, Accounts and Contacts, there are a large number of fields and tabs available to capture key attributes about each and, through a new Relationships Editor, you can link each to the others in a 1:1, 1:N and N:N configuration. For example, an Account can have many Contacts and can be related to those Contacts as employees of or owners of the Account. A Contact can also, if you configure the relationship be related to many Accounts, one as a former employee and to another Account as a current employee as an example. You can also use self referencing relationships by relating an Account to itself. I’m not sure I can provide an example of that one, but I’m sure there are business models out there that have a need for that type of connection.

Opportunities, as in other CRM systems, are containers that hold information about an opportunity to sell a product or service at a specific price to a specific prospect or customer within a given timeframe and have a variable probability of success or failure. All of these elements come together into a sales pipeline. Opportunities can be generated from an Account or Contact and you can also convert an Opportunity into a Quote and then an Order automatically, which is a handy feature especially for users of the Dynamics accounting products. There are also many ways to collect information on an Opportunity, including a whole menu item on selecting a price list and set of products for the Opportunity. As you would expect, integration with the Microsoft Office suite is very tight and the ability to do things like setup and use multiple email templates and merge to Outlook or Word is impressive. Also exports to Excel are available on almost every page.

Quotes and Orders also work hand in hand with a product catalog that supports kiting, substitute pricing and multiple price lists that can be applied at the Account or Opportunity level. There is a straightforward flow of drafting and finalizing Quotes and turning them into Orders and Invoices. This is a nice feature for smaller companies who may want to do their ordering and invoicing directly in the CRM product. For companies using Great Plains or one of the other Dynamics small business accounting solutions such as Solomon, Microsoft has an integrated solution to push orders and invoices between systems. For larger companies that may not be on one of the Dynamics ERP or Accounting solutions, integration to an order management solution will be required as it is with most other CRM-only solutions. At this time, there is no SaaS version of any of the Dynamics solutions available so a hosted option would not provide the back office integration that the on premise option does.

There are a number of new features in version 4.0 that are used front and center with Sales. One of them is the ability to record transactions in different currencies and have them translated into a base currency by organization. This coupled with the new language packs and the ability to segment your organization by Business Unit, Site and Team allows you to define and report on results at each level. This segmentation, coupled with role based security, allows you to segment visibility to Accounts and related entities (Contacts, Opportunities, etc.) by owner, business unit or other attributes. Another new feature with version 4.0 is the ability to turn an inbound email activity into an Account, a Contact or an Opportunity. Also new with this version is the ability to have duplication rules defined at the Account and Contact level independently. This is a great feature for example if you want to search for duplicate Accounts by account name or website address and Contacts using email address. While a very flexible feature, it stops a bit short in that it allows the user to bypass the warning, which results in duplicate Accounts and Contacts nonetheless.

All in all, I found the Sales module and the ability to collect and manage sales related information very strong. While I found the system to have a great deal of depth and breadth in collecting this information, I found myself almost overwhelmed with the sheer number of menu items, tabs, options, popup windows, etc. that are available and, in some cases, required to go through the setup of an given entity within the system. The fact that Microsoft’s included a Forms Assistant to help you fill out forms is a good indication that the forms are not intuitive and sometimes overwhelming. One of the biggest deterrents to adoption of any system, especially a SFA solution, is the challenge for sales users to understand how the information relates and how any why it needs to be entered. The high failure rate of CRM implementations with traditional on premise CRM solutions such as Siebel, SAP and Oracle can be attributed to the complexity to setup and use those systems. This is why simple SaaS solutions like, at the lowest end of flexibility and complexity, were able to achieve such a high degree of success in terms of adoption. It is this endless sea of options and flexibility in Microsoft CRM, even in a nicely presented package, that will require a similar amount of “dumbing down” to be relevant and accepted by the average sales user. As a SaaS solution, it can’t match the simplicity of some of the SaaS solutions that have been able to add functionality and adaptability over the years without harming the end user experience.

Even with the significant setup and use options, there are a few features that are typically standard fare for a CRM suite that are just not here. Chief among them is the lack of any type of sales process management built into the Opportunity forms. Most sales organizations follow a 5-7 step process and often have probabilities linked to those steps. While this can be customized with limited effort through tools and workflow rules, it’s a basic feature that should be here. Another one that’s not here is any method to score or evaluate Opportunities within the CRM. While there are some rating fields, there’s no method to generate a scorecard or set of questions to setup and manage a consistent way to qualify Leads or Opportunities. While not as common, especially among the newer SaaS platforms, this is something that, given the depth of other aspects of this product, should be included as a standard feature.

Another limitation in this version is the ability to do any level of detailed loss analysis by competitor. While Dynamics CRM 4.0 provides a basic method to define Competitors (strengths, weaknesses, etc.) and link them to Opportunities, it lacks the ability to perform any win/loss analysis and to collect that information at the opportunity level. While it’s often difficult for sales users to collect, let alone enter competitor information, having this feature can be critical to understanding the difference between success and failure in the sales process.

There’s also no Partner Relationship Management (PRM) functionality, which is a key feature of many of the more mature CRM solutions in the market, both on premise and SaaS. While only relevant if you distribute products and/or services through third party channels, this is a logical extension that is yet to be included in the product as a core module.

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