tashatuvango - Fotolia

How one of Microsoft's top CRM partners uprooted its business

A top Dynamics CRM Online partner has spun out a new business, which aims to enable other partners with a CRM deployment methodology.

Why would one of Microsoft's most successful U.S.-based CRM partners shut down its business? How about because Microsoft made an attractive offer?

Yup; that's about it.

"We created a product, initially for our own internal use with our customers, that solves a problem that Microsoft has," said Steve Mordue, CEO of Forceworks LLC, based in Tampa, Fla., and more recently, RapidStart LLC. And, it's a product that Microsoft wants to use to grow its Dynamics CRM Online business, he added.

So, when Microsoft approached Mordue about seven months ago to see if the partner was interested in offering his company's RapidStart for CRM -- also referred to as the RapidStart CRM for Dynamics CRM Online methodology -- to Microsoft's worldwide partner base, he accepted.

Steve Mordue, CEO, ForceworksSteve Mordue

"That's when we went from being a customer-facing Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) to becoming a partner-facing cloud solution enabler," Mordue said.

RapidStart LLC officially launched at Microsoft's 2015 Worldwide Partner Conference in July. Now branded as RapidStart CRM , it's an offering that any Microsoft partner -- especially would-be CRM partners with no CRM experience -- can use to safely and easily deploy customer relationship management software to their small and medium-sized business customers, according to Mordue. The offering includes a deployment methodology and associated software that helps customize the CRM technology for customers.

In an effort to develop the company's own business, eight-year-old Forceworks developed the RapidStart for CRM deployment model for Dynamics a few years ago. The partner business was initially a Salesforce consultancy, but it became a Dynamics CRM-focused company about four years ago.

"When Microsoft launched CRM Online, I looked at it and decided I liked it a lot better than Salesforce. It was a better, lower-cost solution for the customer and less expensive to deploy. Also, I saw the opportunity: Why be a small fish in the big Salesforce pond when we could be a big fish in a small Dynamics CRM pond?" Mordue said.

Just three years after becoming a Microsoft partner, Forceworks in 2014 was awarded Microsoft's Partner of the Year Award for the East Region. The CSP partner also offered Office 365, SharePoint Online, Microsoft Azure and Power BI.

Now, all that will change.

Forceworks will no longer offer RapidStart CRM and will forward any customer inquiries to other partners. The company also offered Office 365.

"Office 365 was a good product for us, but the partners we're looking to work with offer that product and we really can't do that," Mordue said, adding that he wants to eliminate any potential conflict of interest with potential partners.

Forceworks hasn't been shut down, but it's been quieted down, meaning that the company will continue to support existing customers and work with larger customers on more elaborate CRM deployments -- areas where the company won't be competing with partners.

"We're cutting off the arm of a successful cloud practice in the hope that it regrows as a true partner provider," Mordue said.

Building a channel for CRM partners

Clearly, making this kind of business decision isn't for the faint of heart. And the Forceworks and RapidStart founder is anything but. In fact, Mordue has spent his entire career -- except for less than one year -- as an entrepreneur, including a 20-year stint in commercial real estate. He admitted to having a high tolerance for risk.

Still in the process of putting all the pieces together for RapidStart, the company has checked off many of the to-do items on its checklist.

For starters, there's a RapidStart website where Microsoft partners can go to learn about becoming a CRM reseller, register as a partner reseller, find a partner portal for management of leads and orders, and obtain training materials on CRM.

Mordue modeled the partner program on that of Skykick, founded by ex-Microsoft employees who started the company to help partners have successful Office 365 deployments. In fact, Mordue turned to friends at Skykick to understand what it takes to become an independent software vendor and to avoid potential potholes.

We're cutting off the arm of a successful cloud practice in the hope that it regrows as a true partner provider.
Steve MordueCEO, Forceworks and RapidStart LLC

Mordue's company also developed a wizard-driven interface to RapidStart CRM that a partner with no CRM experience will find simple to use.

"As they go through the wizard with their customers, it builds a customized manifest in the background. When it's complete, it goes to our team and we go into the CRM software to make the customized changes for their customer," he said.

For RapidStart employees -- currently, 22 have transitioned over from Forceworks -- the RapidStart CRM wizard is built like a recipe, which makes the work required on their end very easy. "A college student can learn it in two weeks," he said.

And that's exactly what Mordue expects to do as the product takes off: hire hundreds of students to scale up. "By simplifying deployment costs, we leave room for partners to mark up margins and charge a consulting fee," he said, adding that Microsoft CRM Online offers the highest partner incentives of any Microsoft subscription service today because the vendor is bent on grabbing market share.

There's a separate deployment portal for customers who want to do the deployment themselves.

The CEO noted that RapidStart is also developing what he called a CRM marketplace for partners looking to build a CRM practice beyond generating licensing revenue only.

These CRM partners will work with other partners and their customers who, after using Dynamics CRM Online for 60 to 90 days or so, decide they want additional customization. This offers yet another partner growth opportunity.

"We don't want to leave customer's hanging," Mordue said.

The Dynamics CRM Online footprint: How big?

The goal for Microsoft and RapidStart is to sell 100,000 seats of Dynamics CRM Online in 2016. Since the offering targets small business, the average deployment is about 10 to 20 seats. Mordue said that some larger companies might be interested in RapidStart CRM as a proof-of-concept offering.

Mordue's agreement with Microsoft is to be able to scale the online offering as necessary and offer it in all of the languages supported by Microsoft.

Microsoft has offered Mordue assistance with marketing and localization.

The global endeavor is currently getting attention by Microsoft's global sales team, with the U.S. team figuring out its game plan. The RapidStart CEO said he's getting inquiries from U.S. partners and expects the offering to gain traction here in about 90 days.

There are a couple of things that need to happen to grab the attention of U.S.-based partners. "We have to convince partners that we can get them comfortable selling CRM without taking a big risk," Mordue said. "So, I have a sales cycle with the partners, and then the partners will have a sales cycle with their customers," he added.

Next Steps

Read about the impact of gamification on CRM partners

Learn more about Microsoft's cloud strategy

Dig Deeper on Front office and CRM apps