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Dynamics CRM software review

on demand crm Microsoft Dynamics CRM Software Review

Software Functionality

The Dynamics CRM suite is comprised of bundles of features focused around the traditional software modules of sales force automation (SFA), marketing, and customer support functions. There are also some ancillary and common components that traverse the core CRM software suite. We’ll focus our functional review on these primary and most utilized areas.

Sales Force Automation (SFA)

From its initial release Dynamics CRM has been, at its core, a focused contact management solution. As a natural extension of MS Outlook, the customer relationship management application allows users to convert their contacts into sales leads, then into sale opportunities and ultimately into sale orders.

Dynamics CRM empowers users to manage sales leads, accounts and contacts with a large number of fields and tabs in order to capture key attributes and, through a new Relationships Editor, link objects to other objects in a one to one, one to many or many to many configuration. As an example, a sales prospect can have many contacts and those contacts may be related to the primary selling prospect as employees while be related to other companies as former staff, business partners or other user defined relationship types. You can also use self referencing relationships by relating an company to itself. I’m not sure I can provide an example of that one, but I’m sure there are business models out there that have a business process for that type of relationship.

Sale opportunities, as with most CRM systems, manage information about a prospect opportunity. The data management generally supports the sale of a product or service at a budgeted price to a specific prospect within a forecasted timeframe and with a predicted variable probability of success. All of these variables contribute to the sales pipeline and forecast reports. Sale opportunities can be designated to an company or contact and you can convert an opportunity into a quote and then later into an order, which is a complimentary feature for users of the Dynamics accounting and ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions. There are several methods to collect and assemble opportunity information, including menu items for selecting among price lists and product lists. The Dynamics CRM software integration with MS Office is very tight and the ability to perform activities such as the setup and use e-mail templates and document merging to Outlook or Word is impressive. One click exports to Excel are available on several pages.

Prospect quotes and sale orders also work with the product catalog and supports advanced features such as kiting, substitute pricing and customer specific price lists that can be designated to a company or specific sale opportunity. The process of drafting and editing quotes and later converting them into orders and invoices is intuitive and separates this CRM system from most others. This is a particularly helpful feature for smaller companies who may want to do their ordering and invoicing directly in the CRM system - and then export them to a legacy ERP system. For companies using the Great Plains, Navision, Axapta or Solomon accounting software products, Microsoft has an integrated solution to push orders and invoices between CRM and ERP systems. For larger companies not using one of the Dynamics ERP or accounting software solutions, integration to an order management solution will be required as it is with most other CRM-only applications. At this time, there is no SaaS version of any of the Dynamics solutions available so a hosted option would not provide the back office integration that the on premise option offers.

There are an increased number of new SFA features in version 4.0. One big feature is the ability to record transactions in different currencies and have them translated into a base currency during roll-up. This coupled with the new multiple language packs and the ability to segment your company by line of business, business unit, geography and group allows you to define and report on results at multiple levels. Intra-company segmentation, along with role based security, grants you visibility to companies and related entities (contacts, activities, opportunities, etc.) by owner, business unit or other segmentation. Another helpful new feature with version 4.0 is the capability to convert an inbound email activity into an company, contact or sale opportunity. Also new with this version is the ability to have de-duplication rules defined at the company and contact levels independently. This is a great feature if you want to search for duplicate companies by account name or website address or search for contacts using email addresses. While a very flexible feature, it stops a bit short in that it permits users to bypass alert notifications, which then results in duplicate accounts and contacts nonetheless.

All in all, I found the SFA software module and the ability to collect and manage sales related information very simple. While the SFA system offered a great deal of breadth in collecting data, I did find myself almost overwhelmed with the sheer number of menu items, tabs, options, popup windows, pages and screens that are available and, in many cases, required in the setup and management of SFA information. The fact that Microsoft’s included a Forms Assistant to help you fill out forms is a good indication that the forms are often not intuitive and sometimes overwhelming. One of the biggest deterrents to adoption of any business software application, and especially a SFA system, is the challenge for sales users to understand how the information relates and how any why it needs to be entered. The high failure rate of SFA systems with traditional on premise CRM solutions such as Siebel, SAP and Oracle is often attributed to the setup and configuration complexity, extended learning curves and difficulty in using those systems. Because of the high number of screens and pages required to perform many recurring activities, I highly suspect many sales professionals will push back on the daily operation of Dynamics CRM. Efficient salesperson operation is why simple SaaS solutions like, at the lowest end of flexibility and complexity, are able to achieve such a high degree of success in terms of user adoption. It is this endless sea of go-to navigational pages that will require an investment to streamline or dumb down the system to be relevant and accepted by the sales staff. As a SaaS solution, Dynamics CRM does not match the simplicity of some of many other SaaS systems that have been able to add functionality and adaptability over the years without negatively impacting the user experience.

Even with a significant number of setup and configuration options, there are several features that are typically standard for a CRM solution that are just not here. Chief among them is the lack of any type of sales process management support built into the sale opportunity pages. Most sales organizations follow a 5-8 sales step process and often assign probabilities to those steps. While this can be customized with administrative effort through tools and workflow rules, it is a basic feature that should be inherit in the delivered product. Another void is the inclusion of a method to score or evaluate sale opportunities. While there are basic rating fields, there is not a method to score opportunities or create the questions and responses which help categorize leads and opportunities.

Another limitation in this version is the capability to do any level of meaningful loss analysis by sales staff or competitor. While Dynamics CRM 4.0 provides a basic method to define competitors and associate them to sale opportunities, it lacks the ability to perform any win/loss analysis and to collect the necessary information at the opportunity level. Collecting valuable sales result information and competitor data can be critical to understanding the differences between success and failure in the sales process and preventing the recurrence of lost business.

Surprisingly, there is a void of Partner Relationship Management (PRM) functionality, which is a key feature of many of the more mature CRM systems in the market, whether on premise or SaaS. This is surprising as Microsoft itself is a channel company, however, possibly less surprising when recognizing Microsoft's history of using Siebel for its SFA and channel partner needs. PRM is generally only relevant if you distribute products or services through third party channels and is a logical extension to the Sales Force Automation software function.

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