Jon FarmerMicrosoft Dynamics CRM helps both product-and services-based organizations in automating their sales, marketing, and reporting strategy, as well as handling clients.

As customers are the key asset of every business, Microsoft’s CRM technology provides real business benefits. This is especially so now, taking into consideration the tough economic times we are in where support in acquiring, managing and serving customers better, while improving operational efficiency, is crucial. Organizations are getting offered easier access to actionable customer data that allows them to identify the right customers, increase their loyalty, and maximize their profitability in a faster and better way.

Asian e-Marketing got the chance to speak with Jon Farmer, Senior Manager, Timezone Lead, Asia Pacific & Japan, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Claus Minet, Marketing Director Microsoft Dynamics Asia Pacific about their dynamics CRM solutions and was pleasantly surprised to receive a lot of insights into Microsoft’s Social CRM activities.

According to Jon Farmer, Microsoft Dynamics CRM has been around for six years now and is currently in its version 4.0 but the company is gearing up for its 5.0 release which is planned for next year. Worldwide, around 22,000 organizations have acquired Microsoft Dynamics CRM, representing a community of more than 1.1 million unique users and a network of partners in over 80 countries that provide value-add consulting and implementation services, including Asian countries. Their clients use it for traditional CRM – marketing, sales, and customer service - and some use it to build their own framework for their own customized applications, which is why they refer to it as xRM relationship management.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM can make use of a wide variety of Microsoft products as seamless connectivity and tight alignment is guaranteed. Its users can take advantage of built-in Office Word mail merge capabilities, e-mail templates, Microsoft Office Excel reports, and easy data transfer between Office Excel and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Embedded presence capabilities from Microsoft Office Communications Server allow Microsoft Dynamics CRM users to instantly see the status/availability of their colleagues and easily initiate communication. In addition, seamless connectivity with Microsoft Unified Communications Manager allows organizations to intelligently route calls and provide relevant screen pops with the associated customer details. Microsoft Dynamics CRM analysis capabilities are built on the Microsoft SQL Server Analytics Services foundation that provide a vast array of powerful business intelligence and data visualization technologies. Streamlined connectivity with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server allows CRM users to get the full benefit of powerful collaboration, document management, and search capabilities through Microsoft Dynamics CRM. And the tight alignment between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Dynamics ERP products allow organizations to achieve end-to-end visibility of their business by holistically tracking and managing customer, product, and billing details.

That’s the rough overview, of what Microsoft Dynamics CRM has to offer, but both Microsoft spokespeople got excited talking about “the cooler side” of their system that deals with social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to name a few. Although the company knows that it is still not the area where the sales occurs or customer service is done, which are currently, still the driving forces behind CRM, Social CRM reflects the zeitgeist and therefore gets a lot of attention. Moreover, as at the heart of any business are customers, social networking represents a good opportunity to build mutually rewarding and sincere relationships with them. Bearing this in mind, companies need to better plan, manage, and measure their social networking efforts to get most out of it.

Claus MinetThus, at the intersection of CRM with social networking, Microsoft’s Social Networking Accelerator is coming into play now. It’s a free add-on module of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which capturesTwitter feeds and enables users to discover online conversations, identify influential people and engage with them on social networking sites using their customer system of record. Additionally, the Social Networking Accelerator includes the same easy-to-use interface and industry leading analytics that allow organizations not only to capture data but also make sense out of it, so that marketing professionals can identify their most influential advocates and better manage the brand. Sales managers can discover new leads and zero in on key data points, and customer service agents can proactively identify and address issues. “It’s a very exciting new chapter in the CRM space”, Farmer confirms, adding that although many people talk about it, barely anybody knows how to use it effectively. Therefore, he gave us some simple advice:

  1. Map out a strategy that says how you are going to employ social networking to form a better relationship with your customer;
  2. Make sure to invest appropriately in the business process and technology aspect;
  3. Monitor, measure and optimize to do things effectively;
  4. If you use social networking for your CRM efforts, make sure you are committed and dedicated to use it to its maximum potential.

I have the feeling that almost all companies are trying to capitalize on the social networking trend right now and are only searching for specific strategies and tactics to derive value from it. Used correctly, social networking channels can without doubt help customer service organizations be more effective and create value for the business, so the Social Networking Accelerator should have a promising future. According to Farmer, “those companies that are very serious about the social media space and that put a lot of effort into it, will achieve their ROI.” He feels social media is just another channel to build and maintain an excellent customer relationship. And indeed, used effectively, social networking sites can enable marketing professionals, salespeople, and customer service agents to develop meaningful relationships with customers in new ways as already seen in some successful campaigns.

Minet emphasized that “it’s not just about IT, infrastructure or business processes - it’s mainly about people”, adding: “What's happening is that individuals are communicating in a very open, transparent way. So it is a challenge for the company to take care and manage the communication as all is happening in real-time and what is said can have a big impact. That’s why a system that monitors what’s going on is very important as you have at least a chance to step in and deal with misunderstandings.” He stated further that Microsoft Dynamics CRM directly engages with their community, which has more than 100,000 monthly visits and that around 34,000 out of their 300,000 customers worldwide are actively communicating through the system.

Asked how happy Microsoft Dynamics CRM is with its current standing and state of development in Asia, Minet claimed that their market has been steadily growing, though over the last two years it has been tough.

“A lot is happening in the market and strategies have to be re-thought”, he said, as a change on how these applications are used to interface with customer is obvious. However, “our customer satisfaction feedback has been very good and customer loyalty quite high with many new projects coming in from all kind of industries like manufacturing, financial services, professional services etc.”, he said. It looks like the success for the module is already very apparent.

When trying to find out more about Microsoft Dynamics competitive edges, Farmer explained: “There are quite a number of things that make us stand out, but the two main points are flexibility and user adoption, which are often cited when we win against the competition”.

Providing users with a familiar look and feel through a commonly-used tool like Microsoft Office Outlook, Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps the company for sure as well in getting the deals. In a nutshell, he explained that the main advantages are flexibility and that the development and customization is easy - which is important as 80% plus of CRM implementations have a substantial degree for customization.

Farmer stressed that the “old way of making your customer fit to your product is over” and the new way of fitting to the needs of the customers' is mainly what they have been working on since version 1.0 was released. Minet also emphasized that “the system works with standard commercially available hardware and is easier to program and adapt which is the reason why the hospitality sector for one, likes to use it for their customer loyalty programs, for instance the new Resort World or Las Vegas Sands not only here in Singapore, but actually worldwide.”

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is built on a services-oriented architecture that offers organizations an opportunity to improve their business by providing the right mix of features and platform flexibility along with strong corporate viability to help ensure long-term success. Isn’t it all about bigger, better, faster? Well, if so, then Microsoft Dynamics CRM is for sure an option that should be taken into consideration.

By Daniela La Marca