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Microsoft CRM – Not Here, But Already Better?

Mid-market consulting and systems integration company Green Beacon Solutions announced it has added several enhancements to Microsoft’s CRM application, including functionality in lead capture and forecast management. Microsoft CRM is now scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2003, after missing its original goal of year-end 2002.

The beta version of the application’s sales force automation and customer service functions are strong, according to Benjamin Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions. “I think what they chose to do is build a particular feature set and release it,” he told CRM Buyer Magazine. “It will provide them with a lot of good customer feedback, so they can make improvements to version two.”

Gaps in the application relate more to user-interface issues — such as screen handling and information in the lead entry set of screens — than to specific capabilities, he noted.

Customizing Microsoft CRM

Working along those lines, Green Beacon “developed specific extensions to the platform based upon our experience implementing and customizing CRM solutions,” Kostas Tzigizis, vice president of technology at Green Beacon Solutions, said. The following features have been added:

  • Lead Capture integration, which will allow companies to convert Web site visitors into Microsoft CRM leads. As prospects respond to marketing campaigns or request assistance on the Web, Microsoft CRM automatically captures their contact and qualification information as a new lead and triggers the lead-qualification process. New leads are created in seconds, eliminating manual entry and delivering hot leads to sales in seconds, Green Beacon says.
  • Forecast Manager, which provides both representatives and management with an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the sales pipeline via one-click access to underlying opportunity details. Representatives also have the ability to categorize and filter the report by territory, status or probability.
  • Relationships Manager, which enables representatives to track bidirectional relationships between any two account and contact records in the application.
  • Organizational Chart, which provides a consolidated, hierarchical view of Microsoft CRM accounts, contacts and the relationships between them. When used with the Green Beacon Relationships Manager, the Organizational Chart displays key relationships between accounts and contacts that are not necessarily related. It also offers one-click access to account and contact records, enabling users to easily navigate and update account and contact information, Green Beacon said.

    Success Hinges on Partners

    Microsoft partner strategy surely will have a significant impact on its CRM application’s ultimate acceptance in its target marketplace. Some competitors claim that Microsoft is weak in this area.

    “They will have to sign up different kinds of partners,” Karl Johnson, vice president of CRM strategy at J.D. Edwards, told CRM Buyer. “I don’t know if they will be able to make the cultural shift to establish a whole new channel with different kinds of implementation skills — different kinds of business consultants who can look at business processes and map them onto the software.”

    Leading the Parade

    However, it does appear as though Microsoft has been working its distribution channel with these needs in mind. Over the past several months, a number of partners have announced plans to resell Microsoft CRM. Equarius, a Microsoft Gold Certified Consulting Partner, recently qualified as a reselling channel partner for the upcoming release. It has worked with at least two companies in the beta testing program: the NBA Seattle Supersonics and American Seafoods Company.

    Another example is Tectura Corporation, which formed a partnership with ManagedOps.com, a provider of application outsourcing services for small and mid-market businesses. The two companies will work together to bring hosted Microsoft Business Solutions offerings, including Microsoft CRM, to mid-market organizations across the United States.

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