A Closer Look at Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online

Tuesday Feb 8th 2011 by Vangie Beal
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Microsoft rolls out the online version of Dynamics CRM 2011 and a new Marketplace for CRM apps. Does the new version live up to all the pre-launch hype?

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) recently announced the much-anticipated launch of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, the new cloud version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. Currently, only an online version of the new Microsoft CRM system is available, but Microsoft plans to release the on-premise and partner-hosted versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 later this month.

A lot of fanfare accompanied the launch of the new Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. During the Dynamics CRM 2011 beta test period, Microsoft said that more than 11,500 customers and 2,000 partners used Microsoft Dynamics.

Grabbing the most headlines for the Microsoft CRM launch was pricing. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online launched at an online introductory pricing of $34 per user per month. This makes it a CRM solution worth considering for organizations looking to invest in a CRM system for the first time and also for those using more expensive products — like as those offered by Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), SAP (NYSE: SAP) and Salesforce (NYSE: CRM).

Getting started with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Microsoft offers a free, fully-functional 30-day trial of its online CRM product. To activate, simply visit the Dynamics CRM website and start a free trial account. To register, you only need to set up your organization by proving basic business details. Within minutes you have your own custom URL from which you access Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.

After setting up your own account, you will have options to work with a temp database to try the features in Microsoft CRM or you can import existing contacts and CRM information right away.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online supports a number of platforms. You can open your CRM from within Outlook, on a mobile device or using a Web browser.

The Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online platform

One of the best features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is the Web interface. From your CRM dashboard everything is accessible and organized in such a way that a CRM novice could easily maneuver through options and reports. From the dashboard, there are four main areas to get started with:

  • Contacts: These are the files you create for the individual people you do business with.
  • Accounts: These are the organizations your contacts work for.
  • Leads & Opportunities: This allows you to track potential sales.
  • Cases & Services: Lets you track interactions with current customers.

You can manually enter data day-forward, import data from Microsoft products commonly used for CRM (such as Outlook and Excel) or you can import data from another CRM system. The layout is pretty straightforward, and even though the CRM offers a host of features and customization options, users will not be overwhelmed when logging in for the first time.

Some of the additional settings you would want to initially configure for you business includes defining rules for system and data administration. By setting security roles and business units, you can control who in your organization has access to customer and business information within the CRM.

The options are laid out to take you through the process of setting up a new business framework right through to starting workflow processes. In addition to system and data administration some of the options available to get your business data into the CRM include the following:

  • Standards: Define numbering systems, date and time formats and the language used in templates to match what your organization currently uses.
  • Sales & Service Data: Import sales records, a product catalog or data you have on your competitors. The marketing section of the CRM allows you to import current marketing materials and setup your marketing lists and campaigns. You can also setup queues for activity and case routing if you use the customer service features.
  • People: Add your team, send initiations for them to join your CRM and also assign tasks within your organization.

In most cases you are not limited to what Microsoft defines in the CRM. In setting up your business options, you will find a number of ways to customize the CRM to match the current business processes and language already being used by your organization.

 

More Microsoft CRM features

One key element of the interface is that Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides users with the standard (and familiar) Microsoft Office look and feel — from opening or importing files to the contextual ribbon introduced in Office 2010 products.

The contextual ribbon is extremely useful for accessing just the options you need when inside specific parts of the CRM. As you move within the CRM, the ribbon changes to provide quick one-click access to the related functions.

Interface features like this makes those familiar with Microsoft Office productivity software feel at home in the Microsoft CRM product. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 also integrates with a number of other Microsoft technologies, including Exchange, SharePoint and Office. You can run the CRM from within Outlook, on mobile devices or via your Web browser so there is a decent choice of access options for individual user preference.

In Microsoft CRM you can use a dashboard designer function to format your CRM dashboard however you choose. You select a layout and assign components to six different boxes on the page. Once saved, the dashboard can be set as the default view when you log in to the CRM and you can also share the customized dashboard with your team of users.

Microsoft, which had reiterated its "global market" commitment while leading up to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online release, launched the CRM in 40 markets and 41 languages. Previously, the online version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM was only available in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

Also, the online and on-premise versions are scalable for any organization of any size. The same functionality is offered for businesses with a few employees right up to organizations with many thousands of employees.

Boost CRM functionality with the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace

Another much-discussed topic surrounding Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 was that this release marked the first time Microsoft delivered its product as a cloud offering before the server version. Further boosting its CRM cloud capabilities — and delivering on the company's "Software Plus Service" strategy — developers can leverage the Windows Azure platform to create custom code for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online to help an organization achieve even more performance through customization.

On the same day that Microsoft launched the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, it also launched the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace for 20 localized markets. This Microsoft online service lets users of Microsoft CRM Online access professional applications and services from the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).

In the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace, you can expect to find applications that will enhance Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online for any business. Applications typically work like CRM add-ons and bring new functionality to the CRM, like adding group calendars, lead management, social selling functionality and telephone integration, to name a few. The Dynamics Marketplace is also home to a number of CRM applications and services designed for industry-specific use of Microsoft CRM.

Microsoft undercuts Oracle, Salesforce.com CRM pricing

When Microsoft announced introductory pricing for Dynamics CRM Online, it was a direct hit on two of its main competitors in the CRM space, as it severely undercuts pricing for both Oracle CRM On Demand and Salesforce products.

Based on per user per month rates, Salesforce.com pricing is $65 (Professional) and $125 (Enterprise). Oracle pricing starts at $75. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online pricing is set to $34 per user per month and Microsoft will allow current customers to sign a new contract to take advantage of the introductory pricing. The promotional pricing is set through to June 30, 2011 and is good for one year before the non-promotional pricing of $44.00/user per month kicks in. Microsoft also announced up to a $200 rebate per license to customers switching from Salesforce.com or Oracle. This rebate is available to organizations with a minimum of 15 licenses and a two-year licensing agreement for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.

Vangie Beal is a veteran online seller and frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. She is also managing editor of Webopedia.com. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

 

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