First Peek: Microsoft CRM

Microsoft Corp. yesterday offered the first public glimpse of its upcoming customer relationship management application, which is slated for release in the fourth quarter of 2002, and unveiled pricing for the product. Speaking at the July event of the Silicon Valley Speaker Series, David Thacher, general manager of CRM for Microsoft's Business Solutions unit, demonstrated the Beta 1 release of MS CRM, and explained Microsoft's overall CRM strategy. Thatcher also discussed the role of partners and resellers, and touched on MS CRM's role in the software giant's .NET plans. Thacher emphasized that the product is packed with features aimed at mid-market companies. Microsoft officials define mid-market business as companies with 50 to 500 workers and about 15 to 150 CRM seats. Prior to the company's official announcement of the product in February, many analysts and potential CRM competitors had expected Microsoft to move into the enterprise CRM space. Microsoft though, is firm on the message that MS CRM will be squarely focused on the mid-market and will not compete with its partners, which include CRM providers Onyx Software, Pivotal and Siebel Systems. Microsoft's Business Solutions group, formerly Great Plains Software, resells Siebel products. Thacher focused on features that improve productivity, lower the total cost of ownership of the product, and offer deep integration with back office applications and other software. He demonstrated how MS CRM handles tracking leads, orders, and accounts. The core CRM server requires NT server, SQL Server (2K or above) and Active Directory. The software sits atop SQL servers and hooks directly into back office financial applications including those from Microsoft Great Plains and recently acquired Navision Software. Yesterday, Microsoft completed its acquisition of the Danish software provider, which was first announced in early May. Sitting on top of the core CRM server are two modules - one with sales and marketing functionality, the other with customer service capabilities. All of the functionality is accessible through either a thin-client browser-based interface or via Microsoft Outlook. There are two editions - Standard and Professional. Within each of those editions are three configurations depending on whether the customer buys the sales or service modules individually or both in a suite configuration. The Professional version has the same features as MS CRM Standard edition but offers workflow and back office integration, according to Thacher. The product is being sold through partners and resellers. Pricing ranges from $395 per user plus $995 for the server for the Standard Sales level to $1,395 per user plus $1,190 for the server at the Professional Suite level, according to Microsoft. "We believe this is a tremendous opportunity for all resellers and partners," says Terry Petrzelka, president and chief executive of Tectura Corp., a premier Microsoft reseller and ISV partner, who was present for the product demonstration. Petrzelka says the product performs well out of the box. "We had it up and running in 150 minutes." Other resellers and partners are also expressing interest in MS CRM. Holly Holt, senior product manager of CRM at Microsoft Business Solutions unit says more than 200 partners and ISV have signed up already and that Microsoft expects that to double over the next few months. Thacher also provided a timeline for Microsoft's CRM plans. In August, the Beta 2 release of MS CRM will go out to customers. Partner training will begin in September. Thacher says the North American launch of MS CRM is on track for the fourth quarter of this year, while the international release is due out ion the first quarter of 2003. When MS CRM is released it will be Microsoft's first product based on its .NET platform. Thacher says that .NET offers Microsoft and partners the chance to offer additional services such as credit checking, mapping to client locations, and lead generation services. Lisa Picarille also writes for Line56.com
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