Microsoft markets Microsoft Dynamics as an easy-to-use, flexible customer relationship management (CRM) solution "engineered to fit your business," particularly for businesses that use Microsoft Office and Outlook. That strategy has clearly worked as more than 1 million businesses currently use Microsoft Dynamics CRM, many of them small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) that specifically chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM because of its integration with Microsoft Office and Outlook.
However, while in many ways Microsoft has delivered on its promises of providing SMBs with an easy-to-use, flexible CRM solution (particularly when you use a Microsoft Certified Partner/systems integrator to help set up your CRM system or need to migrate from another CRM solution), when it comes to its capability to seamlessly integrate with Microsoft Outlook the jury is still out.
Dynamics Earns High Marks for CRM, Not for Outlook Integration
As a certified Microsoft Gold Partner, it made sense for Schoolnet, a provider of education software, to choose Microsoft Dynamics as its new CRM solution. But that wasn’t the only reason the company chose it. Sure, cost played a role, explained Kevin Keogan, Schoolnet’s director of systems engineering, but the company ultimately chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM because "it was very configurable, and we were able to modify the schema to fit our business."
Five years after first deploying Microsoft Dynamics, and growing from 10 employees to more than 100, Schoolnet is still using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. And, Keogan said, Microsoft Dynamics CRM has been essential in helping employees better perform many customer-facing tasks. "The ticketing system is very robust and configurable," said Keogan. "And we have a better understanding of our clients because of [Microsoft Dynamics CRM]. It has been a good tool."
Keogan also gave high marks to Microsoft Dynamics’ capability to help manage sales cycles and contracts.
However, when it came to Outlook integration, Keogan was unable to give the software a passing grade.
"In the four years that I have been managing the system, we have not had much success with remote users accessing [Microsoft Dynamics] from their Outlook accounts," he said. "The problem is speed and reliability. The first Outlook client slowed the laptops down. It also crashed Outlook on several people’s machines." And things did not get better.
In fact, the situation got so bad that Schoolnet removed the Outlook client from users’ machines -- and has yet to restore it. ("People are gun-shy about putting bad software on their machines," he said.) However, Keogan said he planned to give the Outlook client one more shot when the latest version of the software, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 5.0, which supposedly resolves the issue, comes out later this year.
CRM Software That Doesn’t Go Dark
For CAST Lighting, an outdoor and landscape lighting company, anything had to be better than GoldMine, its old CRM solution, which frequently crashed and was "very non-intuitive," said Steve Parrott, CAST Lighting’s communication and marketing director. What’s the point of having a CRM system, he reasoned, if your sales people and office staff won’t or are afraid to use it?
So Parrott went in search of a new CRM solution that his sales team, who spent much of its time on the road, would be comfortable entering data into. "We also wanted the ability to customize the database (I’m not a computer programmer, and I wanted to be able to go in and add fields, modify fields and do stuff on the marketing end)… create workflows that made sense… and have it integrate with Outlook."
After doing "an extensive search," weighing features versus cost, hosted solutions versus in-house ones and ease of use, Parrott chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Two years after deploying the software, he stands by his choice, though, like Schoolnet, CAST Lighting also experienced some problems with Outlook integration (the primary reason CAST Lighting chose Microsoft Dynamics CRM). In particular, Parrott said, they had difficulty with the calendar integration and generating e-mail within Dynamics. As a result of the latter, he said, they currently don’t use the e-mail feature in Microsoft Dynamics, though like Keogan, Parrott said he was hopeful both problems would be resolved in the new version.
On the plus side, he said, Microsoft Dynamics CRM hasn’t crashed a single time -- and has lived up to its promise of being both easy to use and easy to customize. As a result, Parrott said it’s been much easier to monitor what’s going on in the field and quickly follow up on leads, create workflows and stay on top of and in touch with customers.
Pyramid Real Estate Group: Building better e-mail campaigns through CRM
Like CAST Lighting’s Steve Parrott, Russell Munz, co-owner of Pyramid Real Estate Group, a commercial brokerage that also provides property management and maintenance and construction services, was looking for a CRM solution that would be easy for his salespeople to use – and would allow information entered remotely to automatically be fed into the system, so people in the home office could immediately access and use it. As his sales team already used Microsoft Outlook, and were comfortable with it, Munz figured the easiest way for them to adopt a new CRM solution would be to choose one that integrated with Outlook and had a similar look and feel.
"Technology changes can be hard," said Munz. "So I wanted to make it as easy as possible, and choose something that would be adopted quickly." And with its built-in Microsoft Outlook integration, particularly the calendar integration, Microsoft Dynamics CRM "just sort of made sense."
Working with an integration partner, Pyramid Real Estate Group was able to migrate from ACT, its previous CRM system, to Microsoft Dynamics "relatively easily and painlessly," said Munz. That was a year ago, and since then Microsoft Dynamics CRM system has performed pretty much as expected, said Munz said, though he said it had taken a bit longer to do some things than he thought and that it was "still a work in progress."
One of the areas Microsoft Dynamics CRM has really helped Pyramid Real Estate Group with is e-mail marketing. "It’s really helped with segregating types of contacts, so we can target specific content to specific clients," said Munz. For example, when a new law is enacted or is about to be enacted that might affect clients, or there is some property management-related issue Pyramid Real Estate Group thinks customers should be aware of, it can use Microsoft Dynamics to create a targeted e-mail alert. "It allows us to communicate more frequently and cost effectively with our client base," he said.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM has also helped the company stay on top of its sales pipeline, follow up on leads faster and better track and process customer service requests.
As for that all-important Outlook integration, Munz said they did encounter a few problems, but they were mainly on computers running older versions of Microsoft Office and/or that didn’t have sufficient memory (at least 2 GB RAM and 400 MB free hard-disk space).
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to Internet.com and runs a blog for and about small businesses.