• June 9, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Partners and Customers and Relationships, Oh My!

Microsoft has entered into a strategic partnership with partner relationship management (PRM) vendor BlueRoads to deliver an as yet-unnamed integrated opportunity and marketing management product. The new offering—said to combine BlueRoads’ experience in multitiered sales channels with the marketing functionality of Microsoft Dynamics CRM—will enable crosschannel sales teams to improve collaboration on opportunities, and aid with driving and tracking new business throughout user organizations, yielding increased revenue, improved sales forecasting, and better measurement of marketing spend, according to the companies.

Microsoft is no stranger to the concept of partner-based selling; many customers are choosing the partner-hosted option within Dynamics CRM. (For more on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, check the upcoming July 2008 cover story in CRM magazine; the content will posted online on July 1st.) The company has also expressed a desire to reach deeper into vertical markets, as evidenced by announcements at last year’s Convergence. The BlueRoads partnership may speak to both aims.

While there is no firm delivery date for the joint Microsoft/BlueRoads offering, the following are some of the planned capabilities it is expected to provide:

  • align each lead or opportunity with the best-fit sales resource(s) across both direct and indirect channels, based on such criteria as historical success, account profile, pre-existing relationships, industry, expertise, and location;
  • effectively drive opportunities from first interaction to cash with contextual sales tips and sales-cycle guidance;
  • enhance opportunity-tracking and -measurement through a real-time, crosschannel view of total forecast down to the sales-rep level;
  • allow tracking of opportunity, pipeline, and marketing-campaign performance across both direct and indirect teams;
  • increase lead performance by ensuring that the right lead gets to the right sales rep in real time, and by alerting both vendor and partner for escalated action if a lead isn’t acted on in a predefined manner at any stage of the cycle;
  • improve marketing-campaign performance by ensuring that all leads are delivered into a closed-loop tracking and management solution;
  • reveal more opportunities by examining the partner and influencer base through a closed-loop lead-referral system that will enable the lead-referrer to be compensated—at any stage and in any format—for participation in the ultimate opportunity; and
  • effectively use and improve processes by employing consolidated workflow rules and data structures that allow for flexible and powerful sales processes to be built across both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and BlueRoads.

As with any smart partnership, both companies stand to gain more than just a new product they can sell. "This partnership helps Blueroads get noticed; it only has about 50 customers—they’re all very big, but there are still only 50," says China Martens, senior software analyst, The 451 Group. "It helps Microsoft because it gets them PRM for Dynamics, and it gets them in front of large enterprises because of Blueroads’ customer base."

Martens notes that Oracle is the chief potential competitor in combined CRM/PRM functionality, via its Siebel product line. But a bigger stumbling block for Microsoft and BlueRoads might be the innumerable homegrown efforts built by potential customers: The inertial mass of existing systems represents a virtual third competitor. "Increasingly, companies are mentioning Salesforce.com at the deal table as well," Martens says. "I thought BlueRoads’ first relationship would have been with Oracle, but now it seems there would be a conflict with Oracle’s own PRM products."

This partnership combines two very different entities, which creates potential friction along with opportunity. "BlueRoads has already defined where it is—serving large enterprise customers, chiefly in the high-tech vertical," Martens says. "Microsoft is everywhere," she adds. "There’s the risk that Microsoft could pull BlueRoads down a bit—the smaller customers Microsoft serves may not be so appropriate for BlueRoads."

There’s also the question of what the partnership portends for each company’s operations. "I have to wonder if this a stopgap measure," Martens says. "Will Microsoft become a BlueRoads customer? Or might Microsoft acquire BlueRoads?"

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