An Independent CRM Software Evaluation
Although a late entrant to the cloud CRM market, Microsoft has amassed more CRM software customers than any other competitor and is using its momentum to shift the market in terms of platform capabilities, delivery options and software pricing.
Microsoft is the number 4 CRM software market share leader (behind Salesforce, SAP and Oracle) with about 6.3 percent of the market and an estimated $1.1 billion in annual sales. Most analysts believe Microsoft Dynamics CRM is growing faster than SAP and Oracle, but not as fast as Salesforce CRM.
Competitive positioning in the CRM software market is highlighted with the following strengths and weaknesses.
Microsoft CRM Advantages
- Microsoft continues to improve the user interface and user experience. The CRM software optionally positions a dynamic process flow diagram at the top of forms which brings context to otherwise static records. Instead of viewing (account, contact, activity, opportunity, campaign, case, etc.) records in isolation, the process flow visualization illustrates each records position (how it got to its current state) and the records destination (what are the next steps to achieve the desired outcome). Users can also switch among multiple business process views.
- Microsoft CRM for the Outlook client is a frequently cited user benefit. The CRM system runs within Outlook thereby permitting users to perform their CRM activities without having to navigate to another screen or open a different application. CRM for Outlook leverages the Outlook user interface which increases ease of use, decreases training time and delivers a consistent user experience.
- The company is steadily improving its Business Intelligence. Wizard-driven visualizations, data export to PowerPivot and Excel cubes, integration with Power BI and easy to create dashboards empower users to analyze information without IT involvement.
- Microsoft offers choice in software delivery—including on premise, cloud or partner hosted. The Dynamics CRM online and on-premise versions share the same code base thereby also enabling customers to change delivery models. Additionally, Dynamics CRM is hosting agnostic, thereby permitting customers to choose among many hosting providers or bring the software in house.
- Dynamics CRM includes strong software customization and platform integration tools which increase product flexibility and extensibility. The business software leverages the SQL Server stack, such as Windows Workflow Foundation for business process automation, Reporting Services for reports, Analysis Services for data warehouses and the .NET framework for integration. SharePoint integration offers integrated content management.
- Microsoft is ahead of many competitors in business process automation capabilities. The CRM software offers multiple workflow types (i.e. background or real-time workflows, Dialogues, Actions and Business Process Flows) and the Windows Workflow Foundation platform can extend workflow creation and customization.
- Desktop integration with Office or O365 is strong. Office users can easily share CRM data in order to use document or email templates for distributions, create mail merge documents from Word or use Excel pivot tables for data modeling and analytics.
- CRM permits quotes and sales order processing for sales staff. Integration with any of the four Dynamics ERP software applications (Dynamics AX, Nav, GP or SL) for sales order fulfillment is performed using the Dynamics Connector, which somewhat limited and rigid but delivers out of the box CRM to ERP integration.
- This is a global CRM software solution that delivers localized functionality in about 40 regions with 41 languages. The application covers all the "multi's", such as multiple company, multiple currency, multiple languages and multiple time zones. To support this international software product, Microsoft has over 2200 CRM value added resellers (VARs), about 100 independent software vendor (ISV) partners and hundreds of hosting partners in about 85 countries. Microsoft has the most mature global business partner channel in the world.
- While corporate viability is never assured, Microsoft's size, growth, brand and profitability suggest a much greater likelihood of corporate longevity that many of the much smaller, emerging growth competitors.
- The CRM market share report shows Microsoft gunning for the number 2 market share leader position. Although Salesforce.com continues to grow their market share leadership, Microsoft has challenged Oracle and SAP CRM for the runner up spot.
- Dynamics CRM is often the lowest subscription pricing CRM software product among the big four CRM vendors.
Microsoft CRM Disadvantages
- The upgrade process can be difficult and lengthy. It is not as bad as the fork lift upgrades from the client/server era, but also not nearly as effortless as Salesforce.com.
- The company lags many competitors in key areas such as social CRM, mobile CRM, marketing automation, platform as a service (PaaS) and analytics.
- Microsoft lags in aiding social strategies or social CRM techniques to better engage prospects, customers and communities in social channels. Yammer integrates with CRM for an internal social network, but the company lacks both vision and tools to help customers engage external constituents.
- Yammer is not well integrated with CRM and other Microsoft platform products such as SharePoint, thereby perpetuating data siloes that sit apart from CRM. Security roles in CRM have no integration to Yammer or SharePoint which can pose risks to shared content and documents. The CRM mobile app doesn't work with Yammer. The lack of an import function in Yammer creates difficulties in working with other business systems. This appears to be another case where Microsoft tried to play catch up to Salesforce.com's lead with Chatter, and while Microsoft successfully acquired the technology, they missed the mark in aiding social business strategies, facilitating social use cases and integrating social content with CRM software.
- In part because of the prior mentioned lack of social business prowess, Microsoft lags direct competitor Salesforce in terms of growth and innovation. Dynamics CRM is the fastest growing Dynamics product line and is growing significantly faster than the Dynamics ERP applications (AX, Nav, GP or SL). However, Dynamics CRM low double digit growth is about half of Salesforce's growth, thereby suggesting the gap between the two is increasing.
- Microsoft CRM is missing key business process management capabilities such as business process routing and approvals. Workflow notifications can distribute email notifications but multiple person routing with approval processing remains a big gap for many customers.
- Microsoft struggles with large clients. The company's direct and channel sales model grew up in the SMB market and has been slow to recognize the objectives, issues and risks that are most important to larger enterprise customers. Microsoft also has very few global system integrator alliances of any significance.
- CRM buyers looking for a balanced CRM suite may require third party solutions, system integration or software customization to accommodate missing functionality in the marketing module or the limitations of only straight-forward business processes in the customer service module.
- Microsoft's marketing software strategy is uncertain. The company's CRM competitors have stepped up their marketing capabilities with acquisitions that bring sophisticated marketing automation capabilities. Microsoft acquired MarketingPilot (now named Microsoft Dynamics Marketing) but this solution is weak in lead management and somewhat stronger in Marketing Resource Management (MRM). MRM is generally only used by very large companies.
- Some high volume sales processes such as lead management are weak. For example, there is no round robin lead distribution function and a rigid Lead to Account conversion routine does not permit standard features such as optionally determining whether to also create an opportunity.
- Despite Microsoft's company strategy of aligning along industry markets, Dynamics CRM does not offer vertical market versions. The company instead relies on its ISV and business partner channels to create industry solutions. The strategy is not unreasonable, however, complicates multi-vendor software management and creates a layer of abstraction between the publisher and its customers.
- Microsoft supports a third party partner eco-system called Pinpoint. This portal is a decent online marketplace, however, lacks the breadth, social rating features and usefulness of other eco-system destinations such as AppExchange.
- Microsoft has integrated CRM with the Outlook client providing a familiar and user friendly presentation layer. However, the server side sync solution is only available for customers using Exchange online. Companies wanting to use Exchange to better scale the management of syncing contacts, tasks and calendar appointments may require third party ISV or partner products.
- Microsoft offers four market leading accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems (Dynamics AX, Nav, GP and SL). Front to back office integration is powerful in delivering company-wide visibility of the customer relationship, however, none of the ERP applications are native cloud applications and integration among Microsoft's CRM and ERP software systems has always been clunky, a bit unstable and unnecessarily complex. Customers also find the positioning and differences among Dynamics CRM, AX CRM and Nav CRM products unnecessarily confusing.
- Microsoft does not provide Dynamics Online coverage for several countries.
Dynamics CRM Best Fit and Alternatives
Microsoft Dynamics CRM customers frequently choose this product for its native Outlook user experience, choice in software delivery and affordability.
Consider short listing Microsoft CRM when:
- You want a flexible but easy to use Sales Force Automation (SFA) application.
- You want low total cost of ownership (TCO) for an unmodified CRM system.
- Your staff use Outlook and Office 365.
- You may change software delivery models from cloud to on-premise or vice versa.
- Your IT department is a Microsoft shop and makes use of the MS stack and platform products such as Visual Studio, Windows Workflow Foundation, SharePoint and SQL Server.
- You want a tier 2 CRM system.
CRM software buyers may be best advised to consider alternative solutions when:
- Seeking industry-specific CRM applications.
- Seeking social CRM, or social selling, social marketing or social service applications.
- Seeking lead management or marketing automation technology, or marketing software designed to acquire more leads for the sales force.
- Seeking an enterprise-level contact center solution. While Dynamics CRM is steadily advancing the Customer Service module, the application is currently more practical as a help desk solution than a contact center solution.
- Internal IT departments standardize on non-Microsoft technologies such as Linux, Oracle or Java.
Microsoft's most strategic shift over the last five years has been toward the cloud. The company found cloud religion a bit late, but is now devoting about 90 percent of its R&D budget, or about $8.6 billion, to cloud solutions.
The company's strategy is to deliver a competitive CRM suite with multiple delivery models (cloud, partner hosted or on-premise) at an aggressive price point. In an increasingly competitive cloud CRM market, Microsoft has raised the bar by lowering pricing and backing online software delivery with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) complete with financial guarantees.
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Dynamics CRM customers frequently choose this product for its native Outlook user experience, choice in software delivery and affordability.