In-Depth

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 Is Well Worth the Wait

Users say the long-awaited new version of Microsoft’s customer relationship management (CRM) software fixes a host of problems.

Microsoft CRM 3.0 finally hit the streets in December 2005, and users couldn't be happier. The new version fixes several problems that dogged the previous release (it jumped from 1.2 to 3.0) and makes Microsoft CRM a formidable competitor in the customer relationship management space.

Microsoft made its first foray into the marketplace in January 2003 with CRM 1.0. It followed that with a slightly updated version the following December. The release date for the next generation of the product slipped time and time again, so much that Microsoft eventually decided to skip the 2.0 release altogether. So after a full two years of waiting for the next significant upgrade, users finally have Microsoft Dynamics CRM version 3.0 -- its full, official name -- in their hands.

"There were real gaps in functionality in 1.2," says Trevor Mitchell, territory sales manager at Technical Glass Products in Kirkland, Wash. He's been using Microsoft CRM since March 2003. "Microsoft took far too long to issue a new version to plug those gaps."

Microsoft Dynamics

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Professional Edition: Pricing starts at $622 per user and $1,244 per server.

Small Business Edition: Pricing starts at $440 per user and $528 per server.

Others say the wait was worth it. "Of course it took too long, but I'm glad they didn't rush it to market," says Arne Huse, CRM team lead at Benjamin Moore and Co. Ltd. in Alder Grove, British Columbia. Huse has been using Microsoft CRM since early 2004. "I think it was a wise decision to hold off on the newer version and delay it until the product was ready, which I think it is."

What's New?
Even with the wait, users say CRM 3.0 hits the target squarely in the center. It provides several key new features, like support for entities and campaign management. It also offers improved Outlook integration for e-mail and scheduling, better reporting and tracking. It's also available in a Small Business Edition, designed to simplify implementing CRM for smaller companies.

"I deal pretty much exclusively with small businesses, so I knew the Small Business Edition was going to be key," says Jason Leib, owner of JML Consulting LLC in Lenexa, Kan. "And so far, it looks great."

Leib had never used any previous version of Microsoft CRM, but says the Small Business Edition in 3.0 will be an easy fit for his customers. "My customers are generally five to 25 seats, and they don't need a whole lot of customization," he says. "They just need something a little better than basic Outlook so they can track their customers better. This looks just like Outlook, only with some additional folders and functionality, so they will have an easy time getting it up and running and using it."

Arne Huse
"When we have a marketing campaign, Microsoft CRM will keep all the responses in one place. It helps you better measure the efficacy of your campaigns."
-Arne Huse, CRM team lead, Benjamin Moore and Company Ltd.

The new features that have users fired up the most are campaign management and entity support. "The marketing campaign manager is something we're very excited about," says Benjamin Moore's Huse. "We have a large database of consumers that want to receive information from us. The marketing campaign piece will help us monitor any responses from individuals that we send e-mails to. So when we have a marketing campaign, Microsoft CRM will keep all the responses and record them in one place. It helps you better measure the efficacy of your campaigns."

The campaign manager is flexible enough to use on a small scale as well, he says. "It lets you create an instant campaign at the field level, so if individual sales reps want to communicate with their customers to ask them a question or gain feedback, they can e-mail them through CRM and it will consolidate and monitor responses," says Huse.

Smaller shops say they're looking forward to using the campaign manager as a way to stretch the impact of their workforce. "The marketing will be the biggest thing for me," says JML Consulting's Leib. "The ability to do a marketing campaign and be able to track results will be great. My company is just me and one other person, so this is almost as good as having another person in the shop to handle this."

New entity support, another new feature in version 3.0, clears up some problems inherent in the previous version. For example, Huse says that if a customer called in to the Benjamin Moore call center with a complaint, it was sometimes difficult to tag it appropriately in version 1.2.

"If a consumer calls in and they have a complaint or comment, we record that. But in 1.2, we could only link that to one place -- to that contact or consumer," he says. "If they were calling to complain about one of our retail stores, we couldn't link that to both a store and a consumer. With the support for entities in the new version, you're able to actually link the case to more than one place or person, which is great."

It also helps Benjamin Moore keep better track of every type of customer. "We have our painting and decorating services program, wherein we have painters and color consultants who partner with Benjamin Moore. In the past, they would be considered an account, just like any one of our retailers is an account, and that could get confusing."

It was difficult to see the whole picture, says Huse, because CRM wouldn't link a painter with both a consumer and a retail store. "With the new version, it lets us create entities where we can link them all together," he says. "That's the No. 1 purpose we'll use it for."

Welcome Fixes
Besides the new features, version 3.0 also fixes some nagging problems. For example, users report that it was almost impossible to get Outlook synchronization to work properly in version 1.2. This is a real problem for salespeople constantly working from the road.

"We want to have offline users like salespeople in their vehicles [be able to] enter their CRM information offline and sync it up later. But we could never get that to work properly in 1.2," says Technical Glass Products' Mitchell. "It would just die on us and never sync up. I don't frankly know of any customers who've succeeded with Outlook Sync in the past." The new version fixes that, he says. "Now it just works."

Huse says he also ran into trouble synching up the Outlook client within Microsoft CRM. He decided to use a third-party tool that works better and is designed to sync up the Research In Motion Blackberry devices that his sales force uses. "We finally gave up on the Outlook client for Microsoft CRM," he says. "I tried using it with Windows Mobile and the new Audiovox 6600 PDA, but I could never get it to work. So we decided to use TenDigits with the Blackberry."

TenDigits, officially called TenDigits MobileAccess for Microsoft CRM, is software designed specifically for Microsoft CRM and the Blackberry. It includes the Flowfinity client for Microsoft, which is installed on each Blackberry, and a server component that resides on the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) and links directly with Microsoft Exchange.

"If any change is made in Microsoft CRM, it's immediately sent out through the BES server to the Blackberries," he says. "Right out of the box, all the customized fields we created in Microsoft CRM automatically came through on the Blackberry. It works great."

Microsoft CRM Wish List

While users are happy with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0, some say there are still several features missing. They include:

Integration with Small Business Accounting
"Integration with Small Business Accounting is not there at the moment in 3.0, but it should be," says Jason Leib, owner of JML Consulting LLC in Lenexa, Kan. "If you have the Small Business Edition of CRM that runs on Microsoft’s Small Business Server, you should make it work with Small Business Accounting. It just makes sense to tie the two of them together. If they don’t do it, I think somebody else will."

More Third-Party Tool Support
Leib also says that some of his third-party tools have yet to support the 3.0 version, although he hopes to see that change as time goes on. "I use Level Platforms for monitoring. Right now, they integrate with version 1.2," he says. "They said they’d develop integration for 3.0, but it’s not here yet."

Faster Upgrades
Others say that 3.0 meets their needs quite well, and that they don’t really need much more. "The only thing on my list is that I wish 3.0 would have happened 12 months ago," says Trevor Mitchell, territory sales manager at Technical Glass Products in Kirkland, Wash.— J.C.

Other fixes in version 3.0 are smaller in scale, but still important, users say. For example, version 1.2 couldn't automatically format phone numbers or postal codes. "Most software lets you set formatting so that it stays consistent, no matter how it's entered by the end user," Huse says. "The problem with Microsoft CRM was that there was no such formatting. If you made a mistake, if you put a dash in the wrong place or didn't put a bracket around the area code, you couldn't search for the phone number because it didn't recognize it. In version 3.0, they've fixed that so you can standardize formatting."

The new version has also made it easier for users to customize their views. "Before, when I opened Microsoft CRM, it always went to the homepage. Then I had to change it to the page I wanted," says Huse. "With the new version, you can customize your views and have it open to the right page automatically."

Better Outlook Integration
Another major area of improvement in version 3.0 is better integration with Outlook, users say. For example, the calendars within Outlook and Microsoft CRM and the e-mail functionality are now completely integrated.

"With 1.2, when you ran the Outlook client, you had two calendars -- one in Microsoft CRM and one in Outlook," Huse says. "They didn't talk to each other. With the new version, you have one calendar integrated between the two. When I schedule an appointment with one of my accounts, it will actually ask me if I want to record it in CRM. It's cleaner."

He says the new version has cleared up the same problem on the e-mail side. While the two programs didn't communicate properly before, the new version prompts users sending Outlook mail to add it to CRM as well.

Beefed Up Tracking & Reporting
One major downside to Microsoft CRM, users say, had always been the difficulty in generating a history or snapshot of customer-specific activities. An add-on from a vendor called c360 stepped in to fill the void, but now some of what that accomplished is present in Microsoft CRM 3.0.

While c360 is still a helpful add-on for tasks like multi-field searching, Microsoft CRM version 3.0 now includes the dashboard and relationship management features for monitoring sales leads.

Getting people to adopt CRM in the first place is often the biggest hurdle for most companies, says Mitchell. "If all your salespeople throw their hands up and say it's slowing them down and not helping them sell, it's rare that the company will force them to use it anyway," he says. "Microsoft CRM is easy to use and works just like other Microsoft programs. There's very little learning curve, so people tend to use it."

Overall, users agree the new version was well worth the wait. It will once again make Microsoft a force to be reckoned with in the CRM realm. "I think 3.0 will have a serious impact on the world of CRM," says Huse.

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