New features will help sell Dynamics CRM 4.0, Microsoft partners say

Dynamics CRM 4.0's integration capabilities and multi-tenant architecture bring new sales and services opportunities, according to VARs and SIs at Convergence 2008.

ORLANDO, FLA. -- Partners who sell Microsoft Dynamics CRM say the new version of the software features improvements that will help them reach new, larger customers.

Dynamics CRM 4.0 and Dynamics CRM Live -- Microsoft's forthcoming hosted customer relationship management (CRM) service -- were featured
at Convergence 2008, Microsoft Business Solutions' annual enterprise applications conference. During his keynote address Wednesday morning, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the software's versatility is one of the biggest assets for partners who sell Dynamics CRM 4.0.

"CRM stands for customer relationship management, but increasingly we think of it as XRM, helping people manage relationships of all different forms," he said.

New features in Dynamics CRM 4.0 will let customers more easily run their call centers, improve interoffice communication and perform other tasks that typically haven't fallen under the realm of CRM, according to Scott Millwood, CEO of Customer Effective Inc., a Microsoft partner in Greenville, S.C.

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"You can drop this whole thing that it's customer relationship management," he said. "It's business relationship management." He added that Version 4 will give partners "an immediate advantage in being able to model" new functions for customers.

Improved integration with other Microsoft software -- as well as third-party applications -- is another feature that will help sell Dynamics CRM 4.0, said John Yaggie, enterprise business solutions director for Avanade Inc., a Microsoft systems integrator (SI) in Seattle. With Dynamics CRM 3.0, that integration was sometimes impossible; other times it required SIs to write custom code, Yaggie said.

"We're dealing with enterprise customers who want a tailored solution they can make their own," he said. "It's headache savings."

Much has been made about the multi-tenancy architecture of Dynamics CRM 4.0 and its benefits for hosting partners. (Multi-tenancy allows partners to host multiple instances of the software on one server instead of buying a new server for each new customer.) But the new architecture also helps partners who sell Dynamics CRM 4.0 and deploy it on premise. Now, customers can run different departments or branch offices separately but integrate them more easily as needed, according to Todd Chapman, a business solutions director for Avanade.

"It's added some real nice interplay," he said.

Multi-tenancy also improves the software's performance and increases its speed, Millwood said. Customer Effective has one customer that runs CRM at 23 different sites, and integrating them with Dynamics CRM 3.0 would have required on-location work at each of those sites. Now, when a partner sells Dynamics CRM 4.0, "it streamlines that and makes it a heck of a lot more easy for IT to administer," Millwood said.

"They really thought through their architecture in a meaningful way," he added.

The release of Dynamics CRM 4.0 is also creating new opportunities for independent software vendors (ISVs). Scott Eller, an enterprise solution consultant for Dallas-based ISV Endeavor Commerce Inc., said the new version is "a lot better" to work with. And Idera, a Houston company that compresses and encrypts dynamics data stored on SQL Server databases, is now targeting customers who run Dynamics CRM 4.0 on SQL Server back ends.

"If you're going to do implementation of a financial or CRM application, one of your first thoughts should be how to secure it," product manager Heather Sullivan said.

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