Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stuck behing the CRM cloud

As I have already wrote on this blog, CRM in the cloud is all the rage now. All important software vendors in a CRM industry are offering their cloud solution, and some of them depend only on the SaaS business model.

Microsoft is of course one of them, with their flagship product "Dynamics CRM 2011" being offered in the "on premise" and "online" model. But, few people know that Microsoft has another product that has characteristics of a CRM application, namely the Business Contact Manager for Office 2010. It is not cloud based, far from that, it is offered as an add-on for Outlook 2010 and cannot be bought separately, only as a part of volume licensing for Office.

Although it's more of a contact manager application that enables small businesses to move all of their contacts in personal Outlook folders to one location, it has more advanced features that could classify it as a CRM application - opportunity management, marketing management and basic project management. It even has an offline capability, a feature that is lacking even in some professional CRM applications.
On another hand, BCM has many limitations: it's bound to Outlook and cannot be used separately, it can be obtained only through an Office volume licensing (although, Microsoft has recently relaxed this requirement) and it has only limited customization capabilities.

In spite of all of this, I found BCM to be very interesting to small businesses that are already using Microsoft Office. It seamlessly integrates with Outlook, offering well known environment to the user and it works very well as a contact management application without overwhelming user with features he basically doesn't need.

Unfortunately, the future of BCM seems to be questionable at best. Microsoft is obviously not paying much attention to further development of this product, which can best be seen if you visit official BCM blog, that hasn't been updated for more than one year. I would not be surprised if Microsoft doesn't continue to offer BCM with his next version of Office. It has already done similar thing few years ago when he discontinued the Office Accounting - a basic accounting package which was offered in almost the same model as BCM. Microsoft is obviously using such add-on products to boost the sales of Office, but as long as they don't endanger their other products. In the case of BCM, it is in some sense the competitor of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, so it would be logical, and desirable from Microsoft's point of view, that current users of BCM gradually move to Microsoft's online Dynamics CRM.

It remains to be seen what will happen - will BCM continue to exist, or it is living his last days. Until then, BCM is living in some kind of Limbo, stuck behind the CRM cloud.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dynamics CRM and Skype

The Microsoft's purchase of Skype at outrageous purchase price of 8.5$ billion is already the old news. There were many speculations at what is the Microsoft's plan with his new acquisition, is it ingenious move not recognized at the moment, like Microsoft's investment in the Facebook, or is it yet another blunder by the software giant. But, by now the dust has settled down, and as always the time will tell was it the good idea or not.

But, of course, Microsoft for sure has in plan to integrate Skype with his other products. He already has software for conferencing, phone calls and collaboration - Microsoft Lync, but through Skype they will be able to reach much larger customer base and to strengthen their position in the mobile market. After all, telephone and data networks are already integrated, and why not to have the same communication software on your mobile phone, fixed phone and personal computer?

One interesting integration is integration with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM. There have already been comments on that issue, and I think that such integration will give addition strength to the CRM offering, but not much. It would be cool for Skype and CRM users to automatically call a contact from their CRM windows, or to automatically record a time and duration of the skype call, but such integration already do exist, although through third-party tools, and is not expensive. Call centers are important users of phone integration, but such establishments use IP telephony and specialized software for the calling, and usually it can also be well integrated to the CRM. Therefore, out of the box integration with Skype would be nice feature, but not crucial.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Comparing Apples and Oranges

Our marketing professor at MBA studies used to say: "You can always find a market where you are a leader, if you define market accordingly". A similar wit could be applied to comparing one product to another: "You can always find that your product is better than competitor's if you define criteria accordingly".

The idea for this post came after encountering some sort of "comparison war" between two global players in the CRM market: Salesforce and Microsoft. Microsoft has made a strong entry in the hosted CRM market by launching the online CRM 2011, which has obviously provoked the, by now the global leader in that segment, to respond with typical chart aimed to present to general public the advantages of Salesforce vs Microsoft. This chart was published at the beginning of the year, and since then it was changed, so firstly I will post the original chart:

This chart has of-coruse caused a response from Microsoft, primarily from Microsoft parners and bloggers. They have presented evidence that this chart is misleading and plain wrong. The most erudite was a blog from Sonoma partners, one of the leading Microsoft CRM's partners, in which they have analyzed and refuted each of the seven claims that Salesforce has presented.

Now comes the interesting part. Salesforce has since then changed it's original chart and now, at the time of writing it looks like this one:

You can also look at the link where the graph was published, but I'm posting the graphic, so not to lose the original chart if the Salesforce choose to tweak it once more.

Now, not knowing anything about Salesforce or Microsoft, you can notice that Salesforce has changed a criteria a little bit, and most interestingly, they are now more generous, as before they were better on all 7 points, and now they are better on 6 points, with Outlook integration being listed as a feature which both products support.

Curiously enough, the criteria they have chosen to eliminate in the first chart, "any email app", to be acknowledged as equally supported on the second chart, "Outlook integration", is the one on which they had the best chance of claiming their advantage. It is truth that Microsoft's CRM works great with their most popular mail client - Outlook, but it is also truth that it doesn't have out-of -the-box integration with other mail clients, like Lotus Notes or Gmail, where Salesforce supports all three clients. The customer who doesn't use Outlook as their mail client has to pay for the third party add-on like LinkPoint360 to have the integration. Now, I'm using all three mail clients and in my opinion the Outlook is clearly the best, and globally it's the most popular client. But, of course, not everyone will share my opinion, and in many situations the change of mail client is not feasible.

But, of course, such comparisons are almost never intended to be as accurate as possible. Their main aim is to persuade the potential buyer to choose our solution. And one can well imagine the reasoning of a Salesforce's employee who was responsible for re-crafting the chart: "what is more convincing, seeing a chart on which we are better from competitor in every single aspect, or seeing a chart in which we are better in every single aspect except in one in which we generously give the credit to the competitor? No one is going to believe that we are better in everything, so, to make things more realistic let us concede that just somewhere Microsoft is on equal terms with us."

I don't want to say that Salesforce is deceitful company, Microsoft also has his own fair shares of marketing bluffs and such misleading comparisons are typical in Software industry. Both products have there own strengths and weaknesses, and the buyer has to go much deeper into each product to rightly decide which one is better for him. But, Salesforce's marketing department could have certainly done a better job of promoting advantages of their product to the competitor's.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I have finished my second marathon!

This time in Vienna! After my first marathon two and a half years ago, and a period of reduced level of physical activity, I decided to prepare for my second marathon. Since this time the marathon was held in the spring, I had to excercise during the winter, which proved to be more difficult due to the weather conditions. Nevertheless, I finished it, without any injuries or exhaustion, but I cannot be happy with my race netto time of 4:23:48, which is mediocre at best, even by amateur standards. I promised to myself that the next time I will again run the marathon under the 4 hours!

Apart from that, the Vienna marathon is one fine example of excellently organized sport event. Even with more than 30.000 participants, there were no delays in any part of the event, from registering and issuing race numbers, to the delivering of medals and refreshments. Adding to that the nicely designed course that goes by most of the landmarks of Vienna, and rarely repeats itself, you get the Marathon that is worth taking part in.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What do customers want from a relationship?

In the last yar or so, having some kind of a presence on social networking sites like facebook become almost mandatory for businesses of all sizes. Remember when 15 years ago, the people stopped asking do you have an e-mail, but instead asked what is you e-mail address? Or,"What is your web page?" instead of "Do you have a web page?" Similarly, the questions like "Can I add you as a friend" are more and more common in comparison to the questions like "Are you a member of Facebook?".

In such a situation, it quite natural for businesses to join the crowd and start interacting with customers on Social networks, with the probable aim of establishing their presence, building the their brands, building the loyalty, getting new dcustomers and, of course, indirectly increasing their sales.

Nevertheless, things are not easy as they look on the firs sight. Merely establishing your presence on Social sites is far from enough as customers don't really behave according to our expectations. Fof all of you looking for a way to benefit from Social networking sites, I highly recommend reading the recently published IBM study on Social CRM! The most interesting part is the big gap in perception of the sutomer-business relationship between two groups. But, the other findings are also very interesting.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Kids on the Block

In the last few years CRM market has moved closer to maturity stage. There are now basically 3-4 global vendors that are offering full-blown CRM solutions and that have developed strong community around their products: SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce. Of course, there are lots of other strong players, for example SugarCRM or ZOHO, but majority of them have tried to position themselves in some vertical niche, for example offering customized CRM solutions to finance or telecommunications industry. There are also a lot of players that have jumped on SaaS and Cloud bandwagon and are now offering CRM solution as part of the greater suit of "cloud" applications.

Nevertheless, one may also find companies who have found profitable regional niches. This is especially true in this part of the world where there are lots of small countries and small markets that are not interesting to large vendors at the moment, at least not as much as bigger and more developed markets such as USA. Recently I have stumbled across on one such company – Intera , and their CRM offering – Intrix CRM. Intera is currently operating in Slovenia, and is basically offering a SaaS solution that has basic CRM functionalities like contact and account management, tracking of activities, reporting, scheduling of tasks and appointments, managing opportunities, importing data and so on. As almost all SaaS vendors it operates on a simple principle – customer pays fixed fee per user per month and gets web-based application that he can use on any computer that is connected to internet and has web browser. Advantages of such offering are well know: customers don't have to invest in software or infrastructure at the beginning and can easily scale the usage of the application based on their needs. Saas model is especially interesting to smaller companies who don't have big budget or dedicated IT staff.

Intrix CRM is cute solution with fancy design, but, from the functional standpoint it lags a lot behind big vendors like Salesforce or Microsoft. I will just mention that quote management is completely missing, that integration with Outlook is shaky at best and that possibility of customizations by customer or third party is highly reduced, but as some kind of entry-level CRM solution for small companies it works well enough. And of course, they have found the market niche that is currently too small to be noticed on "radars" of big guys. They know their home market very well, and through some clever marketing they have attained a lot of small companies. As such, they are currently offering one more example of how one small company can successfully find a profitable part of the market that is currently dominated by big players.