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on demand crm Microsoft Dynamics CRM Software Review

Marketing Management Review

Industry veterans recognize that marketing management software can be one of the clear areas where a CRM system can deliver material payback. By analyzing the marketing spend and campaign effectiveness, marketing professionals are able to refine product promotions, tune campaigns for increased impact and promote higher payback marketing programs across a wide variety of media and channels. Marketing management provides the data capture, integration to SFA and analysis in order to better position the right products for the right customers at the right time - and achieve greater sales success.

As with many CRM systems, Microsoft CRM 4.0 lacks the sophistication of best of breed marketing solutions, but offers the advantages of an integrated solution with limited marketing functionality. The CRM application allows you to create and manage marketing campaigns, define one or more targeted distribution lists that can be used to apply Activities or Distributions via e-mail, phone, fax or hard copy. Marketing automation also allows you to setup third party suppliers and assign activities directly to them. This is a nice supply chain feature as many companies now routinely use third party print and bulk mail or email providers as participants in the campaign. Marketing management also allows you to designate a cost per contact for each activity that is later summarized as an overall cost in the campaign analysis. This is a particularly nice feature when comparing effectiveness across multiple different types of campaigns. Each company or contact targeted for the distribution will have an activity automatically created for them in the CRM or SFA application and may require follow-up by a sales or telemarketing person (setting appointments or completing follow-up phone calls are two that are likely). Campaign responses can be captured automatically through e-mail links or can be generated manually. Those responses are collected and available as part of the campaign view.

A few new features that stand out are the Quick Campaigns and the Marketing Lists capabilities. Quick Campaigns are something between a mail merge and a full blown campaign distribution. These campaign types allow a user to leverage one or more marketing lists and generate a specific type of marketing activity or distribution. This is a convenient aid that also includes the ability to limit and manage who can configure or execute the distributions in order to guard against the accidental mail merge to all of the company's prospects. Another helpful feature is the capability to save and manage multiple Marketing Lists. This capability allows you to put companies and contacts into segmented groups that dynamically grow as additional accounts and contacts meet the list qualification criteria. These lists can be shared and used by other users in the company for mail merges and combined for new campaigns or Quick Campaigns. You can also insert or remove individual contacts from these lists on demand. Duplicate prospects are eliminated when combining multiple lists to avoid sending the same prospect multiple distributions. This is a relatively unique feature and one that all CRM applications should offer as a core feature.

Despite several useful features, the marketing module is by far Dynamics CRM’s lightest module. While you can track Campaign Responses and link Campaigns as lead sources on Accounts or Opportunities, there is very limited analytical reporting or campaign effectiveness reporting. There is also no comparative reporting of budgets to actual for anything other than a few basic costs, revenues and company or contact reach percentages. Finally, campaigns are built on the underlying premise that the target population is known within the system (often a failed assumption). There is a lack of support for Pay Per Click (PPC), Google Adwords and web landing page campaigns that incrementally add companies and contacts into the CRM application while simultaneously tracking the effectiveness of the organic search or ad-word based PPC campaigns. There are a number of on premise CRM systems that offer this and in the SaaS space, and Aplicor are two that are offering it as of the writing of this paper.

Customer Support Review

Customer support is typically an area of CRM applications whereby companies manage their relationships with existing customers as they support and service products and services that those customers have procured. Done well, it can provide a great link back to the Sales and Product Management teams to help grow customer relationships and enhance products. Some companies also need the capability to designate and schedule resources in the field in order to diagnose and service products which is a natural extension of the Customer Support function.

While Sales Force Automation may be considered the strongest and most mature Dynamics CRM function and Marketing the weakest, Service, Microsoft’s Customer Support offering, is somewhere in the middle with some of impressive capabilities and some significant weaknesses. A core strength of Dynamics CRM Service is the capability to create and manage service contracts for customers whereby the agreements are linked to sale orders and the contracts linked to service levels. Another strength is the capability to create a working calendar for the entity as a whole and also create individual calendars of available time by resource. This is very helpful when setting up standard support working hours (9:00 AM – 6:00 PM) and identifying available days and hours for each member of your support and field service teams. Combine flexible scheduling with the ability to manage a central Service Calendar and assign resource to pre-defined, effort based Service Activities based on their availability and you get the supporting architecture for a solid field service and support information system.

To put this into perspective, you can define specific Service Activities, such as HVAC service checkup that allows you to link estimated hours and materials needed to perform that specific Service Activity at the time of resource assignment. You can then create a Case and select that Service Activity and others as necessary to fulfill the Case. The case management application will then assign that Service Activity based on resource availability and schedule the resources on a central Service Calendar.

There’s also a nice set of features around the creation and management of a knowledgebase (KB) repository. Designated users can create a FAQ (frequently asked questions) documents, a Procedure, a Solution to a Problem or a general KB article that can be searched and retrieved by other Customer Service operators. This is a feature of most CRM systems and Dynamics does a nice job of providing flexibility in how these are created, managed and retrieved. Version 4.0 also adds the capability to create articles in multiple languages so that they can be aligned with different user groups. KB article are themselves reported in order to determine the frequency and pervasiveness of reused knowledge or simply determine where an article was used to solve an issue.

For all of its capabilities, the Service module still lacks several key features. For example, a customer self service portal is a given for most of its CRM competitors, but is not available. While the KB is available, the ability to search existing cases as a way to apply lessons and resolutions is not. While there is a way to define a standard resolution type, there is no support for root cause types and root cause analysis. There is also no method to define who a Case is assigned to and escalated to. While the CRM system takes inbound emails from Exchange and creates a queue to manage them, the users need to manually convert them into cases - a laborious exercise. Many CRM software competitors offer the capability to generate cases directly from inbound e-mails and track subsequent activities against the cases. Lastly, there are very limited analysis capabilities built in and a small number of basic packaged reports. While this can be overcome with a Report Wizard, Custom Reports or custom dashboards, the latter two require programmer involvement.

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