Developers Jump on Microsoft CRM Bandwagon

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Microsoft's entry into the CRM mid-market space has attracted a lot of attention from rivals and industry watchers. But the software giant has also managed to draw significant support from third party software developers and resellers.

As of the beginning of March 2003--just a month and a half after Microsoft CRM hit the market--more than 1,000 reseller partners have been trained and are selling the solution. In addition, more than 120 independent software developers (ISVs) have jumped on board to create packages that integrate or extend the capabilities of MS CRM.

"Microsoft put out a version 1 product, which means there are niches for outsiders to fill," says Denis Pombriant, vice president and managing director of CRM at Aberdeen Group. "The fact that there are a lot of partners and developers that want to carry and add on to the product bodes well for its longer-term success."

Although attracting such a large number of resellers and third-party software developers is unprecedented in the CRM space, Pombriant says it is not really a fair comparison. "This is really another business model that is being tried and uniquely suited to Microsoft's go-to-market strategy," he says. "It leverages Microsoft's existing channel for infrastructure products, and looks to extend its front-office applications. None of Microsoft's CRM rivals are in the same position, so a comparison would be a stretch."

Still, Microsoft officials are pleased with the initial enthusiasm of third-party developers. "ISVs are going exactly where we had hoped," says David Thacher, general manager of CRM at Microsoft Business Solutions. "They are extending the product, going deep with vertical add-ons, and embedding it in other applications."

Name an area where function can be extended and Microsoft partners have it covered: business intelligence, call center tools, CRM enhancements, customization tools, data mining applications, document management solutions, and Web-site management.

But it doesn't stop there. Other ISVs have extended the sales force and marketing automation functionality of MS CRM by creating applications that add functions like meeting management, expense reporting, field service, financial integration, financial services, front-office integration, human resources, manufacturing, membership/subscription, payment processing, portals, satisfaction/feedback tools, shipping, staffing, support/service, training/education, travel management, voice recognition, and workflow automation.

And Thacher says that is just the start. "Those ISV are just the ones at the surface. It's like an iceberg. There are hundreds more below that will surface to add value for customers." Some of those adding value include Epicor, Axonom, Adia Information Management, and MyMarketingMachine.

Epicor, a provider of e-business and e-commerce software, offers Microsoft CRM with its Clientele CRM suite, giving Epicor broader reach within the small to midsize--business market. Axonom is partnering with Financial Profiles to integrate wealth management CRM with financial planning for the Microsoft Business Solutions CRM platform. Adia Information Management recently released ManagePoint, software designed to help small and midsize companies provide their clients with around-the-clock account accessibility, self-service tools, and interactive support case tracking. The product was developed to integrate with Microsoft CRM.

MyMarketingMachine, a .NET-based, fully hosted marketing automation solution, works in conjunction with MS CRM to help companies market themselves more effectively. It enables marketing and sales groups to build and execute integrated, multichannel marketing campaigns that are fully trackable.

"Any time a developer can create a vibrant third party operation beyond the core technology, the two things tend to feed off each other and that is good for users," Pombriant says.

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