An initial assessment of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016

by Richard Boardman on September 13, 2015

Microsoft released their Dynamics CRM 2016 Preview Guide this week (here) and a one minute fifty two second release overview video (here) , which set out what new capabilities will be available later in the year for both CRM online and on premise versions.

Microsoft release documents aren’t the easiest to interpret, (lots of impenetrable phrases such as ‘end-to-end, outcome-focused journeys’, ‘automated triage and adaptive sentiment’, and, my personal favourite: ‘ubiquitously connected’) but I’ve had a good run through it, and picked out what I felt appeared – based on my initial interpretation anyway – some of the more interesting enhancements.

So here are the ten that caught my eye:

SMS Marketing – will give marketers the ability to send and track the performance of SMS campaigns. I’ve worked on a number of projects recently where SMS messaging was a key requirement and we’ve had to use third party apps to facilitate it, so anything that works more natively within Dynamics looks a big step forward.

Excel Integration – new Excel integration appears to let users work in Excel directly within the CRM application, including making changes and committing them back into CRM. There also seems to be the ability to export to predefined Excel templates. It’s difficult to envision exactly how this will work without seeing it first hand at this stage, but if it gets over the thorny issue of sales people preferring to manage their forecasts in Excel rather than CRM, it’s a big step forward.

OneDrive for Business – Microsoft have added OneDrive for Business, so that users can access OneDrive documents within a record alongside data held in SharePoint, and Office 365 Groups.

Simplified document generation – looks a big one for me. A number of my customers are heavy users of the mail-merge function to generate the paperwork that supports many of their business processes. Generally this is effective, just very long-winded. If, as it appears, documents can be generated with a few mouse clicks, this will make a huge difference.

Surveys – Another interesting one. CRM 2016 will let users create and send questionnaires, and store the results back in the customer’s record in CRM. So much information gets gathered about customers in apps such as SurveyMonkey that never makes its way to the CRM system. Having something that’s integrated with the potential for automated follow up actions (perhaps if feedback was particularly poor) looks very appealing.

Customer service enhancements – this relates to what Microsoft describes as the interactive service hub, with CRM 2016 now shipping with new dashboards specifically set up to support the needs of tier one and tier two service agents.

Social listening capabilities – Microsoft’s social listening capabilities are built on its purchase of NetBreeze back in 2013. It allows users to monitor social conversations and associated sentiment relating to specified topics and keywords, and then assign follow up actions in CRM such as cases, leads, and opportunities. These capabilities are being extended in 2016 to include more sources, including internal sources such as Yammer, as well as 14 additional languages. Additional intelligence is also being added to allow users to be presented with what interests them i.e. cases for the service team, and leads for sales.

Mobile offline support – will give users access to mobile apps when offline, and allow them to add, update, and delete records, and have these changes synchronised when next connected. This capability seems to be restricted to CRM online users with 30 or more Professional or Enterprise users however.

Mobile management – in order to manage the security concerns posed by increasing mobile CRM usage, particularly where users are using their own devices, Microsoft has added mobile management capabilities through integration with Microsoft Intune, and appears to support policies such as PIN enforcement, encryption, and data wiping.

Bulk data loader for CRM online – is a new feature for CRM Online which will allow administrators to upload data to a cloud staging area where light data quality changes can be made before completing the migration to the CRM system. The service will also support ongoing data import/export. This would seem to have the benefit of allowing users to perform more complex data migrations to CRM Online without the need to use third party tools.

Anyway, those are the areas that stood out for me, based on, I emphasise, my interpretation of the September release document. Doubtless we’ll understand more as we approach general availability, and I’m assuming there will be capabilities in the final release relating to the recent acquisition of the FieldOne services management application. However if anyone has more first-hand exposure to what’s coming up, then please feel very free to comment on anything I’ve missed, glossed over, or misinterpreted.

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I’ve been involved (at the time of writing at least) in the CRM industry now north of twenty years, eleven of which have been spent as an independent CRM consultant. Over that time I’ve been involved in, or a spectator to, hundreds of CRM projects, involving a wide range of CRM technologies, across the full spectrum of commercial, government, and not for profit organisations.

As I talk to organisations, it’s apparent their approach to CRM is often shaped by a range of assumptions that seem entirely logical, except that the reality, based on my experience anyway, is very different. As basing your CRM approach on a false premise is likely to lead to problems, I thought there was merit in setting some of these out.

So here are eight common myths:

The main challenge is choosing the right CRM software – this might seem a little rich coming from an independent CRM consultant as a lot of what I do is help organisations identify the right CRM technology. And this is not to say selecting the right software isn’t important, it’s vital, but the problem is that there’s often a belief that once you’ve chosen the software everything else just slots into place. This simply isn’t true, as I’ll cover in some of the points below.

Software vendors understand how to apply CRM technology – in principle you would expect, having chosen your CRM technology, the vendor, or their partners, would be able to implement it in a way that benefited your business. My experience is that vendors may know a great deal about the technology they sell, but are often surprisingly wanting when it comes to the practicalities of implementing it in a way that adds value for the clients. I’m not completely clear why this should be the case, other than to note a vendor’s primary raison d’etre is generally to sell software, rather than generate value for their clients – though you might expect the two would go hand in hand more often than they seem to.

Software is the only cost – understanding how much a CRM project is going to cost so that it can be resourced properly is vital. Commonly organisations tend to see costs just in terms of the software itself, or software plus vendor implementation services. The reality is there can be a variety of other expenses such as IT infrastructure, third party software, project management, consultancy services, and internal costs. Perhaps reflecting the preceding point, vendors tend to articulate pricing in terms of the software and services they sell, rather than the full investment necessary for a successful outcome.

The quality of implementation partners is uniform – as a general rule, software tends to be implemented by a network of implementation partners, sometimes referred to as value added resellers, rather than the organisation that develops the software. The general assumption is that the quality and capability of these partners is generally high, but this is not what I’ve found over the years. Experienced, capable, resellers that offer fair value to their clients, are very much the exception rather than the rule.

Vendor recommendation is a good means to identify implementation partners – many organisations will look to the software vendor to provide recommendations as to which implementation partners they’re best to work with. In principle this sounds a logical approach, but I’ve found it a far from reliable means of identifying good partners, largely because vendor recommendations tend to reflect factors such as the partner’s pedigree in selling software (rather than implementing it), assigned territories, or as simple as whose turn it is to receive a sales lead. As an addendum to this point, rather mystifyingly, I note some of the worst CRM projects I’ve worked on have been with some of the CRM vendor’s most highly decorated partners. Go figure.

We’re going cloud, so we’re not going to get these problems – there is a perception, perhaps resulting from some of the hype that surrounded the advent of cloud-based solutions, that some or all of the implementation challenges that apply to traditional on-premise deployments, don’t apply when using software as a service. Nothing could be further from the truth. The choice of deployment – cloud or on premise – has little bearing on the complexity of successfully implementing CRM technology.

User adoption is just training – getting people to use CRM technology in a consistent way is fundamental to extracting value from it. However achieving this is often seen as simple as offering users training and letting them get on with it. Training on its own however, while necessary, is not sufficient. Successful user adoption is much more involved, requiring a raft of initiatives and associated resources. The practicalities are that as much effort and investment needs to be made in the user adoption phase as the initial implementation of the system.

CRM is a project – too often implementing CRM is seen as a tick box project – ok, we’ve done that, on to the next thing. However success with CRM relies on driving value out of the system over the long term, and this can be very challenging. CRM systems are fragile flowers. Changes of personnel, technology, and the underlying business need to be successfully accommodated otherwise the system can head into rapid decline.

While a lot of what I’ve highlighted here may seem counter-intuitive or in conflict with conventional wisdom – and in many cases I struggle to comprehend just why things are the way they are – it’s just what I’ve found over the years. I hope it helps.

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