Resellers Flock to MS CRM

Microsoft is attempting to leverage its CRM momentum with resellers, VARs, and systems integrators to attract potential customers to its recently released customer relationship management offering. Following on the heels of its mid-January release of Microsoft CRM, the software giant is conducting a series of CRM seminars across the United States, whereby its army of local and regional reselling partners invite potential customers to come hear about Microsoft's CRM product. With more than 1,000 resellers already signed up and certified on MS CRM, Microsoft officials estimate that nearly 10,000 potential customers will attend these seminars -- called Microsoft Business Solutions Insight -- to get a glimpse of the company's first entry into the CRM space. One attendee, an IT manager for a 100-person financial services company, who asked not to be named, said he attended to get some specific technical information. "We have a lot of systems in place currently and I need to see how this would integrate with our back-end systems. I also want to make sure that it's more robust than just being an add-on to Outlook," he says. Wednesday's San Francisco Insight seminar, led by David Thacher, general manager of CRM at Microsoft Business Solutions, offered some basics about the value of CRM in general along with a MS CRM product demo focusing on the product's integration with Microsoft Outlook. The product has two interfaces -- a browser interface and an Outlook interface, because there are more than 92 million Outlook users, Microsoft claims. Also highlighted in the demonstration was how the product would function for a sales representative, a service agent, and a manager. In addition, the product demonstration showcased MS CRM's links to Microsoft's back-office products including Great Plains accounting. That integration was not available when the product began shipping in January, but is slated to be available by the end of March, according to Thacher. MS CRM, which is aimed squarely at the mid-market, was one of the most eagerly awaited CRM product debuts. Ever since it was announced nearly a year ago, partners, potential users, and especially established CRM vendors, were anxious to see how Microsoft, which is known for dominating nearly every market it enters, would change the CRM landscape. The product has already generated great enthusiasm in the reseller community. Microsoft originally said it expected about 500 partners to be onboard when the product shipped. Instead 850 reselling partners were certified when MS CRM shipped in January. That number has already climbed to more than 1,000. Independent software vendors are also jumping on the Microsoft CRM bandwagon. To date, more than 110 ISVs have reached agreements with Microsoft to develop products that work with MS CRM. "ISVs are going exactly where we had hoped," Thacher says. "They are extending the product, going deep with vertical add-ons, and embedding it in other applications." And Thacher says that is just the tip of the ISV iceberg. "Those 100 ISV are just the ones at the surface," he says. "There are hundreds more below that will surface to add value for customers." Although MS CRM has generated strong interest in the reseller and developer communities, Microsoft officials say it is way too early to give out hard number in terms of deals with customers. Thacher would say that the product is doing well, and that over the next three to five years Microsoft expects CRM to be a very large part of its business. He declined to provide specific figures. However, Thacher did offer some general information about patterns that have already emerged among its customers. In most cases to date, customers are running the solution on site, not as a hosted ASP solution, which is an option. He also says that many MS CRM customers are new to CRM. Thacher claims this is good for rivals who worried that the Microsoft juggernaut would threaten their established positions in the market. "Some mid-market vendors are going to end up having small market share, but I believe that will be a smaller share of a much larger pie, which is better for everyone," Thacher says. AMR Research says the SMB market, combined with divisions of enterprises, is a $44.1 billion CRM opportunity over the next 10 years.
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