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Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 System Will Lead to New CRM Applications


Microsoft Corp. is releasing its next generation CRM solution — Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 — and many believe the new version will prove popular among everyone from C-suite executives and IT professionals to end users. In this Q&A, Tammy Zeoli, a professional with deep experience with CRM technology, discusses the new technology and how organizations will expand its applications in a variety of new ways.

Tammy Zeoli is a business development manager in RSM’s technology consulting practice. Tammy, who has more than 14 years of experience in CRM systems, advises clients on how best to leverage CRM technology to improve organizational effectiveness and decision-making. She has served clients in a variety of industries, including financial services, manufacturing and health care, as well as the public sector.

Microsoft will soon release its next generation customer relationship management product — Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 — and its beta version is already being evaluated. What kind of response do you expect from the marketplace?
We think the new version is going to be very well received by all types of organizations — not-for-profit organizations and government agencies as well as businesses. It offers a lot of attractive features, it’s easy to get up and running quickly, and it’s very cost effective. Moreover, companies will be using it for a variety of new applications beyond the core sales and marketing functions that have been the typical focus of CRM programs.

So it’s not just a more powerful sales automation tool?
No, Microsoft Dynamics® CRM actually provides a powerful “end-to-end” solution. Microsoft refers to it as an “XRM” rather than a “CRM” solution, since its capabilities can extend far beyond the management of customer or client relationships. Dynamics CRM 2011 makes it easy to consolidate all sorts of information into a single location, and by using Outlook as its primary interface, enables people throughout the organization to access that information quickly and efficiently.
The new version still handles all the essential sales and marketing functions common to CRM systems — lead generation, contact management, deal tracking, customer acquisition, customer service and the like. But many companies will also be using it for applications they previously hadn’t considered: vendor relationship management, contract management, project management, application management, case management and financial management. Businesses that sell tangible goods can use it to track service history and service calls. Health care organizations will find it helpful for managing patient relationships. Universities will be better able to manage relationships with applicants and students. Government agencies and not-for-profit organizations will discover its effectiveness as an application management and case management tool. This software will significantly improve productivity and enhance collaboration throughout the organization, while providing managers a wealth of easily accessible, actionable intelligence.

It often can be challenging to convince people to adopt new technology. CRM is thoroughly accepted within most sales and marketing departments, but do you expect resistance from people who heretofore have not been big CRM users?
Not at all — and that’s one of the beauties of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. Since it’s built on the Microsoft Outlook platform, it’s very comfortable for users familiar with Outlook and other Microsoft Office programs — and that means people working in about 80 percent of U.S. enterprises. Not surprisingly, the learning curve is minimal.
The Dynamics CRM 2011 solution is also remarkably easy to adapt to each organization’s particular needs. It includes a standard package of configurations, based on best practices, and offers some built-in data structures, workflows and reports. Yet it's also simple to configure and extremely flexible, so it can be easily tailored to each organization’s specific business processes and workflow. There is no need to buy or develop industry-specific software. There also is no need to reconfigure business processes to adapt to the software, so companies can continue doing everything they’ve been doing on a day-to-day basis, with little or no disruption.

Does Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 require much in the way of hardware investment or IT support?
Companies have many options for procuring the solution — license and install the product on their own system, host with a partner or purchase by user from Microsoft as a software as a service (SaaS). However, we believe the vast majority will choose to have it hosted, whether with a third party like RSM or online from Microsoft. Going the third-party hosting route provides considerable benefits, including matchless security, strong technical support, timely, effortless installation of upgrades, and worry-free maintenance. The subscriber’s small monthly investment comes with unlimited support.

That seems reasonable, but purchasers always need to justify additional spending. How easy is it for them to measure their return on this investment?
We consider ROI one of the solution’s most compelling benefits, and it’s an issue we focus on intensely. At RSM, we pride ourselves on our thorough understanding of each client’s particular objectives. Therefore, whenever we begin a CRM engagement, we meet with the client to carefully identify and document the organization’s critical success factors — whether that be driving more leads, increasing sales opportunities, reducing the time it takes to close those opportunities, streamlining the processing of applications — whatever the client deems most essential. We also assess what we call “pain points.” We then establish clear benchmarks that can be unambiguously measured at appropriate milestones and at the conclusion of the project. Our ability to clearly define — and measure — success provides considerable comfort to the organization’s decision-makers, including its C-level executives.

Speaking of C-Level executives, does this version offer any new features you think senior-level executives will find particularly appealing?
Insightful, actionable business intelligence is a critical need for executives in every organization. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 delivers it through a powerful, user-friendly dashboard that consolidates strategic information and makes it easy to access and view. Executives can examine an array of analytics in a single consolidated view, or quickly drill down to examine specific, real-time data in precise detail. Much of that information can be viewed through a variety of intuitive, easy-to-read indicators such as charts or lists.
The ability to quickly and easily review such a wealth of timely information is invaluable. We think it will prove to be one of the product’s most powerful and popular benefits.

Are there new features or enhancements you consider particularly noteworthy?
The 2011 version offers considerable enhancements. It includes new role-based forms, new scripting tools and takes advantage of the Outlook 2010 Social Connector, which allows you to link contact records with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Users can access it remotely via the Web or their handheld devices. Many users will appreciate its tighter Sharepoint integration, its improved content management and its ability to track changes. Version control, automatic folder creation, secure file sharing — the list goes on.

I assume companies have a lot of options for purchasing, customizing and hosting Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. What should they look for in a provider?
You should make sure your provider is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network and enjoys intimate familiarity with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and customer relationship management. RSM has been deeply involved in the overall CRM field for more than 15 years — experience that has given us a thorough understanding of CRM technology and the field’s best practices.
You also will benefit from a firm that is able to grasp the “big picture” and can understand the overall business from the perspective of the CEO and CFO.

For example, RSM understands that most companies need to move quickly and avoid lengthy, disruptive implementation schedules. A client implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM systems with RSM’s Rapid Launch Program can fully automate its sales process…in less than 40 hours.

Our goal is not to sell a product; we are committed to helping our clients become more successful. That sometimes means helping them become independent of us. We understand that most companies do not want to be dependent on a consultant to help them manage, modify or operate their CRM systems. So we provide them with the tools and training to enable them to handle those functions internally. Our experience has shown that by putting our clients’ needs first, we gain their trust and confidence. And earning trust and confidence is what we consider a real best practice.