First Look at Microsoft Dynamics CRM

ITS recently migrated our office to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and we wanted to share our first impressions of this powerful program. The acronym CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. CRM allows us to centralize all activities related to a customer, and share them among all staff…e-mails, support incidents and knowledge base, marketing, and sales. We opted to wait for the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 late last year, and then the version Microsoft finally sent us was incompatible with our Windows Server Enterprise software. A further challenge was simply time...we have had a very busy year. However, being the technical experts we are, we persevered and are now using CRM throughout our office.

Microsoft Dynamics, if you have not heard, is the new brand name for Microsoft's Business Solutions collection of software, formerly known as Great Plains, Solomon, Navision, Axapta, and the home-grown CRM.

CRM provides several areas with different functionality, but all referencing the same set of customers and contacts. Sales staff can see quotes and invoices, marketing staff can create and track targeted marketing campaigns, and the service department can schedule appointments, track resources, maintain a knowledge base of solutions, and track requests for help to completion. For example you may notice the "ITSCRM:" tag in the subject line of e-mails from us. This allows our office to connect e-mails to an existing problem or "case," and any of our staff can see the history of a tracked problem.

The most interesting thing about this program is its customizability. It comes with typical business settings, but almost everything is changeable and one can add features at will. For example, the main customer entity is called an Account, but it can be renamed. A doctor's office might refer to a customer as a Patient, while to a manufacturer they would be called a Vendor. Out of the box CRM tracks over 100 default data points for a Patient but if there are a few missing the doctor can add data fields and set up rules for those fields. Virtually all the data views can be customized as well, for example which fields appear on screen and how they are searched.

CRM also allows automation of tasks. For example when a new lead is entered into the system, an informational letter might be generated, and a follow-up phone call scheduled a week later. Or, CRM can be configured to automatically e-mail a customer when a service issue is resolved. A "workflow," as it is called, may be created and attached to one of 20 entities (such as Accounts or Leads) and trigger automatically when a new one is created, or its status changes.

CRM integrates into Outlook and Office applications, allowing personalized mail using Word documents and templates as well as Outlook e-mail. Messages can be optionally or automatically tracked and tied to service cases, sales opportunities, and more.

Overall Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 is a very powerful program. It is not the type of software most businesses will successfully install and configure in an afternoon, but with some quality design time CRM can easily become the focus of a business...especially one that wants to focus on its customers.

May 2006

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