Analyst Gives Microsoft CRM a Thumbs-Up

By Heather Baldwin

If you’re contemplating a CRM project in the near future, put Microsoft CRM on your short list of vendors. So says Richard Bohn, president of Denali Group, an independent analyst of CRM solutions. Bohn recently spent a week of intense discussions and product demonstrations with Microsoft and its new CRM application. The product, he says, is still working its way through his complete review process, but his initial reaction is an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Here’s why.

First, while Microsoft CRM is billed as a great solution for the middle market, Microsoft is not placing any artificial seats requirements on it as most current CRM vendors do. Instead, the company will leave the seats question to their resellers to decide where they can provide the best value. Still, because installation requires a server running at least Small Business Server, the product likely will have a low-end of five or 10 users. At the upper end, Microsoft already is performing stress tests with as many as 1,000 users.

“The key is that Microsoft CRM is built on a scalable infrastructure that has been proven reliable in countless other applications,” says Bohn. “Today’s feature set might not meet the requirements of every large prospect, but the company is placing no artificial requirements on minimum or maximum seats.”

The second reason for Bohn’s enthusiasm is the application’s simplicity. Microsoft CRM is simple to use and simple to customize, he says. “If you are comfortable using Outlook, you will be comfortable using Microsoft CRM. Everyday tasks, like sending emails to prospects, are mindlessly easy to perform,” Bohn says, noting that more complex tasks like opportunity management and customer support are just as easy to accomplish.

Bohn also says the application may be the most easily customized solution he has ever seen. “With a few clicks you define the data type of the field and appropriate default values or error checking. It is easy to add these new fields to existing forms or create entirely new forms,” says Bohn. “I’ll need some more time to test the workflow capabilities, but already they look as powerful as anything else I see in the middle market today.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Microsoft CRM is the first Microsoft business solution built on .NET. Without going into a full discussion of .NET, Bohn says users simply need to know that .NET contains all that’s needed to build and run software based on XML, the lingua franca of Internet data exchange. “Yes, there are competing technologies,” he says. “But one way or another, this is how all software will be developed over the next few years.”

If you’re gun-shy about a 1.0 release, don’t be. While Microsoft has decided to postpone certain features like robust marketing capabilities to a 2.0 or 3.0 release, Bohn says this initial release is a very solid product offering that will meet the needs of many sales organizations. Bohn concludes: “Yes, the product will improve and evolve with subsequent releases. However, Microsoft CRM 1.0 is already superior to many products on the market.”