This section looks at some of the features and benefits of Microsoft CRM 4.0 software. You can skip straight to the chapter on Using CRM if you want to start with practical tips on using the software.
Microsoft has looked at the relatively mature CRM marketplace and focussed on core functionality:
· Contact Management for centralised storage of customer communication history.
· Marketing for lead generation and progress monitoring of leads until they enter the sales cycle. Marketing can also manage campaigns for lists of existing customers.
· Sales automation allowing quotations to be made on products with various different pricelists and the promotion of these through to the final order.
· Customer support for tracking cases involving customers who may be on support contracts.
· Service Scheduling for scheduling resources for customer related activities such as engineering visits.
Activities form the basic unit of workflow and are usually assigned an owner responsible for carrying them out.
The Activity Types are:
· Phone Calls.
· Service Activities.
· Campaign Responses.
Activities are created by a user and attached to a CRM record or created automatically as part of a workflow process. Incoming emails can be created automatically as email activity records within CRM and you can easily convert them to leads, sales opportunities, or customer support cases.
An elaborate workflow layer has been implemented to allow sophisticated business processes to be applied to each kind of entity (without programming). A sales enquiry task, for example, could automatically be referred to the appropriate manager if not responded to within 24 hours.
Activities are integrated with the Task List and the Calendar in Microsoft Exchange for enterprise wide resource scheduling. This is a major benefit of Microsoft CRM in comparison with other software.
CRM integration with Exchange (much improved in CRM 4.0) provides one level of integration with Microsoft Outlook. There is also a plug-in for Outlook which customises the Outlook interface to access the CRM application and control data synchronisation. This is particularly useful for organisations that are already heavy Outlook users, as individual emails, tasks, contacts and appointments can be quickly tracked in CRM. Training costs are also lower if the users are already familiar with Outlook.
The Laptop version of Outlook for CRM Client installs a series of components allowing the full CRM experience (on a subset of data) to take place away from the office. Full synchronisation of data occurs on rejoining the network and the synchronisation software is clever enough to include system customisations (including programmed plug-ins) which are made available on remote laptops together with the core CRM functionality.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Microsoft CRM is the robustness of the customisation framework which allows an experienced end user to perform additions and changes to the underlying database structure that powers CRM:
· Views of the data and search facilities can easily be customised by the end user and data exported into a spreadsheet for simple reporting.
· Workflow can be created against each kind of entity to match complex business processes without programming.
· The report wizard allows simple reports to be built without programming.
· Sophisticated security can be defined around users and business units.
· New attributes can be easily defined for entities.
· Forms can be modified but only one form is permitted for each entity (which can cause issues in larger organisations where different departments have different views of the data).
· New entities can be created and related to existing entities.
Microsoft excels in providing developers with access to the internal nuts and bolts of their software applications and CRM is no exception. Organisations with access to programmers can benefit from the following features:
· Full programmatic access to CRM with the web services software development kit for integrating existing applications (and building new ones).
· Access to external web pages within CRM using the iframe control on forms.
· Integration of complex SQL Server Reporting Services reports into the CRM user interface.
· Programming plug-ins to control many user interface and application events to alter the default behaviour of CRM. This behaviour can also be synchronised to the laptop client.
· Read-only access directly into the database for integration with a wide range of applications whilst respecting the security permissions of each user.
· Workflow can be supplemented with code driven functionality.
· Integration with Sharepoint.
CRM has advanced security features based on the ownership of each entity occurrence by a user. Security can be defined to allow users to keep data private or share information with their business unit or the organisation as a whole.
CRM 4.0 also introduces the idea of multi-tenancy, in which multiple companies (or departments) can have completely independent CRM installations running on the same hardware. This is the basis of the hosted implementation of CRM but can be useful in certain corporate situations.
Note: Each user is licensed to access multiple CRM installations.
There are some issues with Microsoft CRM that need to be resolved for a successful implementation. Most of these cause user adoption problems particularly if users have already had experience of other CRM or sales software.
Microsoft have put a great deal of effort into integrating Outlook with CRM, and Outlook users will require a relatively small amount of training to be able to track contacts, appointments, emails and tasks in CRM. However, many users of CRM will use the application to the full and need training to understand how the application works.
There are issues with any software package especially one that is designed to assist communication with customers. This section details some of the problems that the author has come across in implementations over the last year or so. Your organisation may encounter a completely different set of problems.
Many issues can be resolved quickly by customisation to remove unwanted fields from the existing forms and by defining new attributes for existing forms. For example, the company name field must be entered against a lead even for B2C marketing where the organisation is dealing directly with retail customers and this property may need to be changed before users start using the system.
CRM handles B2B and B2C customer relationships with a virtual customer entity which can be either an account (company) or contact. There are some problems with the lead entity which displays the full name of the contact on the hyperlink from related records where most B2B organisations might want the company name to be displayed. Another issue occurs here if you change the format of the full name after implementation, resulting in inconsistent records (as the field is only set when updating a record). These issues can be fixed programmatically.
The promotion of leads to opportunities during the sales cycle is one area of confusion which may require thought and training to overcome. Converting a lead to an opportunity creates a new account and contact occurrence as well as the opportunity record. Many users are confused by having data for a customer potentially stored in many places. Relevant historical information might be stored in any of the lead, opportunity, contact, or company entities and related activities. Other software packages offer a single view of data for a prospect or customer and this complexity can cause user adoption issues in the early stages of a CRM implementation.
There can be issues where users need to use multiple email addresses to send emails. Outlook is more flexible here than the web client and allows several email accounts to be set up so the sender can have different email identities. Another usability issue is that email templates do not have attachments and this type of email needs to be configured with workflow.
Letters can be generated easily from within CRM or the Outlook Client with the mail merge facility and the Outlook Client can generate the corresponding letter activity to record that the letter was sent. However the actual document is not automatically tracked in CRM and needs to be attached by clicking on the paperclip button and selecting the document from your local drive.
Workflow also needs careful planning and can cause user adoption issues (although this is not the fault of the software). On the one hand, workflow needs to be prototyped and tested, particularly for business critical tasks, before rolling out the implementation. On the other hand, complex workflow can bog down user acceptance and can require considerable training effort.
Contracts can sometimes be difficult to manage because they are made read-only once they have been invoiced. This makes it difficult to modify contract details or add new equipment as line items once the contract is live.
There are also some usability issues with Microsoft CRM, some of which stem from its implementation as a web client with limited access to the desktop. For example, the creation of mail merge letters and integration with Word is tighter from the Outlook client than from the web client.
Another example that can slow down an implementation is the impracticality of entering large product pricelists via the user interface. At some stage in a complex implementation involving large pricelists you will need to hire programming talent (although clever use of importing might overcome some problems here).
Leaving aside cost implications, any organisation wishing to implement CRM which is already a heavy user of Microsoft Exchange and other Microsoft technologies and has access to business analysts to help configure the installation would be well advised to implement Microsoft CRM.
There are several well established competitors providing similar functionality and most are fully featured out-of-the-box and require less customisation effort than Microsoft CRM. A small selection is listed below together with a subjective opinion as to their place in the CRM marketplace:
· ACT! is a respectable sales and marketing product for small groups of sales people. It is relatively cheap and requires few resources, and many sales people are already familiar with it. It allows several databases to be defined easily and is good for running individual campaigns. The software cannot cope with large numbers of users, and ACT! is best applied in a sales scenario, perhaps with a team of fewer than 10 persons, or where salespeople work independently on separate databases.
· Goldmine’s history is similar to that of ACT!, although they implemented a robust database infrastructure some time ago and is better for larger, sales-oriented, businesses (perhaps up to 40 people).
· Salesforce.com is moving into the CRM marketplace from sales automation and is very popular in the US as a hosted system with a pay-monthly subscription. Microsoft has specifically designed many of the technical features of CRM 4.0 to compete directly against Salesforce.com.
· Accounting vendors often offer a CRM solution to complement their accounting packages. Sage is one such vendor that is strong in the CRM marketplace with Act! and Saleslogix and other packages. However, the fact that both software packages come from the same vendor does not always mean that there is good integration between them.
· Siebel (Oracle) and other vendors offer high end CRM implementations. Again Microsoft is specifically addressing high end enterprises with 6,000+ users already possible with Microsoft CRM 3.0.