With the rollout of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) CRM 3.0 now underway, expectations are running high that this is the version that will finally push Microsoft far into the small and medium-sized (SMB) CRM vendors’ turf.
"This is the first time Microsoft CRM is ready for prime time," Yacov Wrocherinsky, president and CEO of Infinity told CRM Buyer. "It will absolutely disrupt the current market share of other CRM vendors."
Advanced functionality in Microsoft CRM 3.0 is credited for the sea change. Chief among the enhancements are deep integration with Outlook and new campaign management and reporting tools.
"Version 3.0 has all of the functionality that everyone expected in 1.0," Richard Smith, vice president of delivery at Green Beacon, told CRM Buyer.
There are several areas of improvement that could propel Microsoft CRM well ahead of other vendors, Smith pointed out.
The Outlook client, which previously was clunky and lacking several features, is far better integrated into this application, he said, noting, "I have not seen any synch issues and the user interface is much better. It has all of the functionality of a Web client in the Outlook framework."
Also, Microsoft expanded the functionality in Outlook to include service and marketing. Previously, it was limited to sales.
Microsoft also improved the underlying infrastructure to give users more consistency and control of the process, Smith continued. "Just to give one example, if a user wants to export a list of opportunities into Excel, he can pick out the fields that are most important" instead of having them automatically transfer.
In earlier versions, a user would have to use custom code to add a new module or customize screens. "Now it is possible to use the tool set to do this," Smith noted.
Microsoft SQL reporting services, an XML-driven platform, replaces Crystal Reports in this version. "It provides a very rich user interface with great drill down capabilities," according to Smith. "There are also packaged reports included in the application."
Finally, the campaign management features are more advanced in this version than in previous ones.
Stealing Market Share
Many companies that have been using hosted applications will migrate to Microsoft 3.0, Wrocherinsky expects. "We have had customers migrate to Microsoft 3.0, and the transitions have been very smooth," he told CRM Buyer.
There seems to be little basis for comparison between Microsoft 3.0 and hosted products. Microsoft Live might provide some competition, Wrocherinsky said, but not enough to make a significant difference. "Plus, NetSuite has the advantage of being a full suite," he pointed out.
Microsoft will begin to pick up customers that have no CRM installed at all, Wrocherinsky predicted, remarking that its "biggest competitor has always been those people that don’t use anything." As the product’s reputation continues to improve, he sees more companies deciding to take the plunge.
By Erika Morphy