An Interview with Microsoft’s CRM Guru

By Geoffrey James

SellingPower recently spent some time with Microsoft Senior Product Manager Bill Patterson discussing his company’s latest offering in the CRM space.

Q: What do you see as the big challenges for CRM users today?
A: There are two. The first is the challenge of getting sales professionals and sales managers to use the CRM system. The second is the ability of CRM software to adapt quickly to the way various companies of all shapes, sizes and industries work.

Q: Even vertical industry versions usually require significant customization. How can that be made easier?
A: Microsoft has been a pioneer in making complex software easier for all sorts of businesses. Take, for example, the concept of wizards found within familiar tools, such as Microsoft Office. These wizards were designed to make complex tasks easier, such as sending a batch of letters to sales prospects. We recently applied much of the same thinking and technology to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This approach allows a business analyst or sales manager to make changes in the design of the CRM screens and application without having to touch a line of programming code.

Q: How complex can those customizations be?
A: Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m the sales manager at a sports management company and want to create a sponsorship object. Through a Web browser-based design tool, Microsoft Dynamics CRM automatically creates not just the entry in the Web server, but creates the workflow around the management of that object so that the sale can run through the correct process. This is possible because the core CRM application and the workflow applications read from the same metadata.

Q. What’s the relationship between this product and Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly known as Great Plains)?
A: Good Question. Microsoft CRM is a sales, marketing and service productivity application that manages the qualification, acquisition and retention of new and existing customers. Microsoft Dynamics GP is a broad business management suite that manages a company’s financial, supply chain and human resource operations. Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics GP are integrated with one another and both are built to leverage the Microsoft Office line of personal productivity products and are targeted toward small, mid-sized and enterprise-scale deployments.

Q: This is a new product. What is its status?
A: It was released in December of 2005 and we’re seeing a lot of uptake among companies that want to own their own system but don’t want a three-year rollout of an expensive application. Because business analysts can customize a system, the integration between Microsoft’s Outlook email program (which is similarly user-customizable) and Microsoft CRM is proving particularly attractive.

Q: What about mobile applications?
A: We’re now readying a mobile version that will work on Microsoft Windows Mobile Pocket PC devices. In working with our extensive network of ISV partners, we will offer support for additional devices – such as the Blackberry. While devices continue to be attractive for users who need lightweight access to customer and sales information, we also provide a more extensive offering for the laptop computer. We’ve revamped our laptop client’s offline data synchronization capability so that it provides mobile power users with their entire, personalized CRM database – without requiring network or Internet connectivity.