Microsoft hosts a sneak preview

Hoping to get a good bounce from the upcoming release of its customer relationship management application, Microsoft is hunting for VARs.“We’re just scratching the surface” in the number of partners selling Microsoft CRM, Brad Wilson, the company’s general manager for the CRM product said in an interview last month.
An estimated 250 Canadian partners are certified to sell the product, with “a couple of thousand” registered worldwide. But he hopes by the end of the year another 1,000 around the globe will have been added.
And, he said, “as we look at the amount of coverage we want to have in regions, verticals and sub-verticals, there’ll be a whole lot more.”
Wilson made the comments in Toronto, where he came to help the software giant launch a worldwide partner campaign boosting the next release of the application.
The company hopes CRM 3.0 (soon to be called Dynamics CRM as Microsoft rebrands all its business solutions software) will propel it higher not only into the enterprise but also in market share with the release, expected early next year.
According to AMR Research, Microsoft was the ninth largest CRM vendor by revenues in the world last year. SAP was first.

Off guard
Although partners are key to its strategy, Wilson seemed caught off guard when he asked how many of the southern Ontario VARs at the meeting bring in significant revenue from after-installation work.
“Not that many,” he observed after a few hands went up. “I’m surprised.”
He urged the audience to reconsider.
“Those of you who aren’t doing after- installation marketing, I’d advise you to go back,” he said. “There’s so many opportunities you have to tailor things for your customers. That’s where a lot of your money will come from, from a long-running relationship you’ll have with the customer.”
In an interview later Wilson said partners have to become more aggressive.
“I thought more hands would be raised,” he said of the straw poll. “The most successful strategy is to put in a basic system, get people using and then you can add more configurations or customizations. Don’t try to over-engineer it immediately.”
Those attending got closed-door briefings on CRM 3.0, although the company is still finalizing the code. Most features have already been announced.
New features in 3.0 include the ability to customize the interface and the inclusion of sales, service and marketing modules. Microsoft is also bringing out an edition for smaller companies tailored around its Small Business Server and a version which will let partners host CRM for customers.
Microsoft CRM’s advantage is that it’s completely integrated with Outlook, said Wilson.
Microsoft has ambitious targets for the application. Krista Kuehnbaum, Microsoft Canada’s product manager for CRM, said the goal is 50 per cent year over year revenue growth (although she didn’t detail what the current revenues are). She then challenged VARs to “grow your business even higher.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Wilson told partners. “The (CRM) market is in great upheaval. There’s no clear leader.”
While partners have yet to see a fully operational version of CRM 3.0, a number who have been able to work with Microsoft on early versions are enthusiastic.
“There’s more features, more functionality than we expected,” said Jim Heaton, president of Vox Wireless, a Toronto systems integrator that specializes in Microsoft CRM implementations, which has about $3 million in annual revenues.
He predicted his company could see that income rise to $8 million in 12 months thanks in part to the new version.
“3.0 is coded in a way that allows ISVs to build solid solutions that are scalable,” said Sean Gocher, president of Ten Digits Software, which in December released an application that allows Microsoft CRM data to be pushed to a BlackBerry.
“The ability to customize it I believe is a reason a lot of customers are holding out for the 3.0 version.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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