5 Things to Consider Before Buying Microsoft CRM

Updated: April 30, 2009

Few businesses doubt the need for CRM these days , but fewer still are sure of what steps to take to get on board. Their understandable inclination is to look to the tried-and-true vendors to lessen risk and speed implementation. One of the first big names to come to mind is, of course, Microsoft Corp .

Microsoft's CRM solution, known as Microsoft Dynamics CRM, is attractive to companies for many reasons. First, the system can integrate seamlessly into other Microsoft Office applications, which are almost ubiquitous in business today. "If your organization is full of heavy Outlook and MS Office suite users, there is not a CRM tool that integrates better than Microsoft," said Jim Sheehan, chief operating officer at PowerObjects , a Microsoft partner that specializes in CRM. "This could also extend to the Windows server environment with SQL servers — Microsoft CRM does a great job of integrating. But, if your organization is a Linux shop doing everything with mySQL, Microsoft is probably not a good fit."

Microsoft Dynamics CRM has an additional advantage uncommon among CRM providers: you can choose and switch between its two delivery methods. "You can very easily switch between Microsoft's on-premise and Software as a Service (SaaS) versions," said Warren Wilson, research director at Ovum . "That can be a significant advantage should you need to switch between them because of cost or growth issues that occur later, for example."

There may be an added price benefit in using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as well. "If you have an enterprise license for Microsoft products you may be able to get MS CRM at a discount or included in your agreement for free," said Dr. Scott Testa, a professor of marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. In addition, the SaaS version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is priced aggressively to thwart lead competitors in the CRM space, leading to even more potential savings.

But these advantages don't necessarily mean that Microsoft Dynamics CRM is right for your company. "Microsoft has done a great job in the last few years ramping up their CRM product and making it equal and competitive with other vendors in the market," said Esteban Kolsky, vice president of eVergance Partners LLC consulting firm. "However, it is not the best fit for everyone; then again, no vendor can claim that it is."

Consider these five things, recommended by Kolsky, to determine whether Microsoft's CRM offering is a good fit for your business:

1. Check your architecture fit. Microsoft CRM is based on COM, which works well for companies that have already adopted that architecture model. Other organizations may have some challenges getting IT to agree to it.

2. Consider scalability. Even though Microsoft has proven it can work in larger environments, the vendor's sweet spot is SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses). If you have a very large implementation project, you may have a harder time finding the right peer references.

3. Weigh integration ability. Microsoft CRM can integrate with just about any program you have, as long as the vendor can make open calls work in that system. However, other packages have more out-of-the-box ability to integrate with existing applications, especially if your business is using their products in other areas, such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) .

4. Compare features. Microsoft offers a very complete package, but it doesn't have the lengthy experience in some verticals and functions as other vendors. If you need specific functionality that may already exist with another provider, you may want to investigate further.

5. Evaluate service providers. Let's face it: Microsoft does have strong relationships with its partners, but it doesn't have as much real-world implementation or service experience as some other vendors since the product is younger. If you want to go with Microsoft, you also need to be prepared to size up consultants . CRM is not an out-of-the-box implementation; consultants may mean the difference between success and failure — and more of them with substantial experience can't hurt.

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