Sneak Preview of Microsoft CRM

According to the CEO of a reseller of Microsoft’s yet-to-be-released CRM tool, the product has both strengths and weaknesses for the mid-market companies it is intended to serve. Ben Holtz of Green Beacon Solutions told CRM Buyer Magazine that his firm has had a beta version of the application in-house for some time now.

“Microsoft is going to make the mid-market aware of what CRM is and what its functionalities are,” he predicted. “So, for all CRM vendors, there will be more awareness and more sales. And, of course, Microsoft will get some share of that.”

Good and Bad News

Holtz said that what the Microsoft application does, it does well. In particular, the sales force automation and customer service functions are strong, he noted.

“I think what they chose to do is build a particular feature set and release it,” he said. “It will provide them with a lot of good customer feedback, so they can make improvements to version two.”

There are some things that remain undone in the first release, according to Holtz, but they relate more to user interface than specific capabilities. The screen handling could use improvement, he said. In addition, Green Beacon is hard at work now developing a group of custom fields for the database underlying the CRM tool.

For example, one change Holtz sees as necessary before he can roll out MS CRM to his customers is expansion of the information in the lead entry set of screens. “Instead of just name and address, we’re adding basic qualification information that will flow through to the database,” he explained.

“Some Microsoft CRM vendors will probably be calling these types of add-ons industry-specific versions,” Holtz predicted.

Sizing Up the Competition

Green Beacon started life as an Onyx implementation services group, and Holtz said the company still will serve Onyx customers. He views a fully developed enterprise CRM suite like Onyx as facing little competition from Microsoft’s offering.

“We do see a little overlap between what we think will be the higher end of the Microsoft market and the lower end of the Onyx space,” he said. “But we don’t see much functional overlap between the applications.”

One big gap is marketing automation, said Holtz, which the Microsoft tool does not address. He explained that Green Beacon will be targeting companies with 50 to 150 employees for Microsoft CRM, with a sales group of 30 to 40 people. That company size is considerably smaller than Microsoft’s own target market for its CRM offering, which stretches to include enterprises with up to 500 employees.

“Phase one of those projects will be sales force automation,” Holtz said. In the interim, he expects Microsoft to build more marketing functionality into a point upgrade or whole version release in the near future.

Assessing the Channel

Holtz said his company is among the first 100 Microsoft CRM resellers. “They think they’ll have between 500 and 1000 resellers by June of next year,” he added, explaining that Microsoft intends to have two certification programs for implementors set to go by the time the product is released.

That group can be divided into three categories, based on experience with CRM in general and the mid-market specifically. “The first group is like us,” Holtz said. “They come from a CRM background and have the capacity to implement CRM at an enterprise level.”

The second group, he added, is companies that Microsoft recruited from among the ranks of SalesLogix and Goldmine resellers. “A turning point for overall Microsoft product satisfaction will be how well these companies can go out and implement the application,” Holtz asserted.

The third group is those resellers that have been selling Great Plains software to the companies Microsoft has specifically targeted for its CRM offering. “They will have a difficult learning curve,” Holtz predicted.

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