NEW ORLEANS — In his keynote speech at Microsoft Convergence here last week, Kirill Tatarinov consoled the company's enterprise resource planning and CRM customers with motivating words: Thanks to technology, he said -- and, specifically, thanks to the technology made available in Microsoft Dynamics -- "you're much better-positioned to endure and prevail during trying economic times." With that, he reiterated Microsoft's commitment to its customers and dedication to ensuring that they have an understanding of the tools available to them -- and unveiled two major product announcements: the March 2009 Service Update for CRM Online along with eight CRM Accelerators.
According to William Patterson, director of product management at Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the service update -- the company's second major CRM innovation in 11 months -- comprises four major components:
- 99.9 percent uptime: Most vendors' service-level agreements (SLAs), Patterson says, only guarantee uptime of 99.5 percent, and even those that do exceed that level charge additional fees for the added layer of operational security. According to Patterson, Microsoft monitors performance monthly and any failure to meet the SLA requirements results in a free month of service. (Scheduled maintenance is not included in the agreement, nor is consecutive downtime of less than 10 minutes.) Warren Wilson, research director at software and technology consultancy Ovum, acknowledges that it's rare for software vendors to even offer an SLA, but of those that are, "99.9 percent" seems to be the new refrain.
- Internet lead capture: A new "lead-staging functionality" aims to enhance the lead-capture process, directing those leads into the sales pipeline. Microsoft also provides a wizard-based approach for sales and marketing people to create landing pages, and to tag leads associated with a particular campaign. In turn, Patterson says, companies can achieve a better closed-loop marketing analysis regarding the source of any given lead. Microsoft can help users create custom landing pages -- to create invitations or registration forms -- but also gives those users the option of taking the HTML code and creating the page themselves.
- Cloud integration services: Customers can connect to other online services or on-premises software without the need for identity verification (e.g., a log-in name and password to sign into Google from Salesforce.com). Developers and software vendors are given HTML code to embed into any connecting software, which relieves the need for re-entering passwords between the two properties. For on-premises solutions, this provides a secure connection point that can unify information from the cloud and work in a continuous business process, Patterson says.
- Quick Start: An initiative to get new Microsoft users start immediately after migrating from other CRM solutions, Microsoft offers new, simpler-to-use tools as well as best-practice recommendations from the community and partners. "It's not just instant-on," Patterson says. "It's instantly useful."
Microsoft's second announcement comes in eight parts: turnkey solutions (which the company is calling "CRM Accelerators") targeting different business needs, all available for download at no additional cost to Dynamics users:
- Event Management
- Enterprise Search
- Sales Methodologies
- Extended Sales Forecasting
- CRM Notifications
- Newsfeed Business Productivity
Brad Wilson, for example -- the general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM -- took special pains during a subsequent conversation with CRM magazine to express the impact of providing these enhancements for free. "In this tough economy," he says, "it makes sense to add value in this free fashion." Perhaps most important, he says, the free oferings increase product stickiness. Patterson, for his part, highlighted some of the major products:
1. E-service: A more multichannel approach to cut service costs and enhanced customer self-service, the offering includes:
- profile management: customers can enter and maintain their personal information on a company's Web site;
- case management: customers can create personal cases and interact with the company support team over the Web;
- service scheduling: using Microsoft's scheduling engine, customers can go online to schedule appointments for field service; and
- knowledge base: customers have access to a library of information such as best practices and frequently asked questions.
2. Enterprise search with SharePoint: Employees can search for documents within the company database; in addition to all searches that include a particular term, the results also include customer records extracted from across the enterprise.
3. Forecasting: Companies can set goals and metrics to provide robust predictive capabilities.
4. Analytics: Ties into forecasting, but delves into historical intelligence to make future projections and predictive modeling. The function provides not only static reporting, but reporting over multiple dimensions of data, Patterson says. This also provides the intelligence to enhance other services, such as lead scoring.
5. Notifications: Companies can subscribe via RSS feeds to receive notifications or alerts, which can be read on multiple devices such as a mobile phones, RSS-feed aggregators, or desktop widgets. This service, Patterson says, "allows us to broadcast information from CRM a lot more prevalently."
Partners, too, benefit from the accelerators, Wilson notes. "Partners are all about serving verticals and microverticals," he says. "This is a set of different tools they can take that will enhance their value proposition and tailor their own solutions."
While the technology remains important, Wilson says that customers continue to struggle with business processes. Issues around integration and scalability, he says, have given way to concerns about operational processes, change management, or executive sponsorship.
"It's not that people need more bells and whistles," Wilson says. "They need better education of the basics."
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