Dynamics CRM 4.0 Launch Event Highlights 'Ease-of-Use'

Microsoft presented its latest customer relationship management (CRM) product, Dynamics CRM 4.0, this week.

At a well-attended event this morning in Huntington Beach, Calif., Microsoft focused not on the new features or technical details of the release, but instead characterized the problems of sales teams and the use of CRM systems, which generally have been too complex for the end user.

Ironically, the event consisted mostly of technology partners and potential CRM solution customers. A show of hands indicated that few attendees were actually in sales or marketing.

The talk was led by Michael Clark, Microsoft's area general manager for the Southwest. He was joined onstage by Greg Lush, CIO of The Linc Group, who testified to use of Dynamics CRM since version 1.2, and Mark Veronda, vice president of Hitachi Consulting, which did the system integration work for The Linc Group.

There was little technical discussion about Dynamics CRM 4.0, which is designed to be easy to use by sales personnel. One feature of Dynamics CRM is that it integrates into the Microsoft Outlook e-mail environment that many salespeople already use.

CRM's Past Failures
Ideally, a customer relationship management (CRM) system is "customer focused, process driven and team oriented," Clark said. However, he noted that although CRM systems have been around for about 20 years, those systems mostly have been designed by technical people who were disconnected from business management.

He cited a 2004 report from AMR research that found that 28 percent of CRM projects failed to go live. Moreover, 33 percent of those projects had serious user adoption problems.

Clark also cited a 2005 Forrester Research report, complementing those findings. The report found that two thirds of its survey respondents were unhappy with their CRM system's ease-of-use capabilities.

Past CRM systems haven't done well in addressing the needs of the end user, Clark said. He cited a figure from Gartner -- that salespeople only spend 45 percent of their time selling -- as a reason for making a CRM easy to use. This "ease-of-use" theme might have been the principal message at the Dynamics CRM 4.0 launch event.

"Can you train your salesperson to use one button?" Clark asked the audience. The button he was referring to was labeled, "Track in CRM," in the presentation he showed.

Later, in the question-and-answer part of the event, an audience member obliquely challenged Clark's simplicity-of-use question, saying, "There really are five or six clicks….How do people learn where to go?"

The Linc Group's Lush responded: "We say go to the contact window. Look in the upper left corner of the window -- that tells them where they are."

Veronda said that Hitachi had designed the Dynamics CRM solution for The Linc Group with the idea of keeping the system "very clean" by consolidating screens and simplifying it for users.

Managing Turnover
Lush earlier had explained another benefit of using Dynamics CRM -- managing sales personnel turnover. The Linc Group has a difficult sales task of trying to sell maintenance policies on lighting for buildings. There is a lot of turnover, he said. And Dynamics CRM makes it easy to plug the next salesperson into the system to use the leads in the database.

Another audience participant complained that her sales people are "technically challenged" and that "they believe their contacts are their intellectual property." Lush replied that "you have challenges with any salespeople," and that The Linc Group's salespeople "have very little computing background" but "the product is not hard to use." He added that the company also uses Windows Workflow technology to automate things like customer follow-up to make things easier for the sales team.

The Linc Group uses Dynamics CRM as part of a hosted solution, and Lush was enthusiastic about that software-as-a-service approach.

"In 2006, we adopted a 100 percent Web service-based approach," Lush said. He added that the idea of using Web services and being able to pull from a service-oriented architecture is "huge." Lush explained that you can create dependencies in and out of Dynamics CRM. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel [and] Web services really help out."

Dynamics CRM Partners
There were about 10 vendor-sponsor booths at the event, featuring products that extend the capabilities of Dynamics CRM. Cisco Systems offered a few products that integrate with Dynamics CRM 4.0, including the Cisco Unified CallConnector (both as part of the Cisco Unified Communications platform and as a hosted solution) and the Cisco Contact Center. Genesys, an Alcatel-Lucent company, provides switched and IP-based customer interaction communication solutions.

Other interesting vendors included Richmond Hill, Ontario-based VoiceGate, which makes a product that automatically records sales calls and saves them as WAV files, providing a customer interaction history. New York-based SalesCentric makes a charting application that provides visual models of Dynamics CRM users, showing their relationships within an organization. There was also a mobile software-as-a-service provider at the event, Rockville, Md.-based Logotec Group, which provides remote mobile access to Dynamics CRM via a Pocket PC.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.