When Microsoft announced its entrance into the CRM industry in 2002, many pundits boasted that it validated the market. At that time the industry -- along with most in the information technology space -- was struggling to grow, so the news certainly piqued a lot of interest.
While Microsoft has the capacity to drastically influence any market it enters, the next question remained: How long would it take Microsoft to deliver a CRM solution that could rival those produced by industry leaders? After more than five years in the market, many were expecting Microsoft Dynamics (MD) CRM 4.0 to be that version.
So when a Microsoft spokesperson contacted me a few months ago to offer us a one-on-one interview with Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer -- a first for CRM magazine -- of course I jumped at the opportunity. Something had to be big to warrant such an offer -- perhaps it would be regarding Microsoft's latest CRM product announcements, or the company's heightened commitment to the CRM market, or both. Either way, we had to find out.
The results are revealed in our 10-page cover story, "Is Microsoft Winning the CRM Race?", by Senior Editor Marshall Lager and associated sidebars by the editorial staff.
Whether or not MD CRM 4.0 signifies the company's coming of age is debatable. Microsoft, according to some in the feature package, has finally proven itself worthy of being considered a serious CRM vendor. One industry pundit even stated that MD CRM 4.0 is the company's "first truly good CRM product." But this doesn't mean the House That Gates Built can rest on its laurels. In spite of Microsoft, the industry has drastically changed over the last few years -- thanks largely to the low-cost software-as-a-service model from such vendors as NetSuite, RightNow Technologies -- and, of course, Salesforce.com.
What's more, the industry will likely undergo another considerable change. After nearly a decade of trumpeting its software-as-a-service model, Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's founder, chairman, and chief executive officer, has lately begun singing a different tune -- platform-as-a-service. This is made possible by the large and growing network of developers utilizing Salesforce.com's Apex programming language, developers who can create customized business solutions beyond the scope of traditional CRM on the company's Force.com platform. It's a bold move -- but Benioff recognizes that whoever owns the platform owns the customer.
In this Web 2.0 age of customer empowerment, however, I'm not entirely comfortable saying every company could, or should, own a customer. Many companies are already seeing the ownership, or control, of their customer relationships shift toward the customer. We recognized this with our Web site (www.destinationCRM.com), which is one reason why we've recently redesigned it. (We'll likely make more adjustments to the site to make it more Web 2.0-friendly. In the meantime, feel free to let me know your thoughts.) However, the idea of customer ownership works for Salesforce.com and providers of CRM built around open-source code because they are creating a world of customer empowerment, enabling customers to choose what's best for them, instead of force-feeding them a cookie-cutter solution.