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At long last Microsoft CRM 3.0 arrives

With new marketing functionality and closer ties to Outlook, Microsoft CRM 3.0 will make its long-awaited debut this week.

Microsoft today is beginning the long-awaited rollout of version 3.0 of its CRM product.

The company is previewing the latest release this week at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis and its TechEd show in Amsterdam.

The latest version focuses on making CRM simpler, according to Brad Wilson, general manager for Microsoft CRM.

"If you're a person with experience in Office and Outlook, this is the simplest way to get CRM," Wilson said. "We've redesigned it to have a native Outlook experience. Many customers will not realize CRM is sitting there. Our goal is to start with how people work today and how to adjust CRM to fit into it." @11905

The 3.0 release also expands Microsoft's offering into a full CRM suite by adding a marketing element. It includes list management, campaign response management and marketing resource management.

"It's a pretty significant release based on what I've seen," said Liz Herbert, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "It's more of a full CRM solution. Most of the customers I've spoken with have had to use partners for their marketing needs. They've had to bridge the gap. Now the need for those add-ons will go away."

Microsoft CRM 3.0 will be previewed to partners in July and thousands of customers will beta test the product in September, Wilson said. The company is still on track for its release to manufacturing in the fourth quarter of this year.

The launch date for 3.0 has been delayed several times and many companies have been putting off their purchase of Microsoft CRM waiting for this version, according to analysts.

"Microsoft clearly doesn't have the best track record and CRM isn't the only product to miss its launch date," Herbert said. "Microsoft will tell you the longer you wait, the more you get in the next release, and this certainly makes Microsoft a more attractive choice."

The new interface is intended to make CRM easier for users, but Microsoft also aims to make it simpler for businesses by easing configurability and making it more workflow-driven. The product will also be simpler for IT organizations, offering easily generated Web interfaces and the creation of forms that can, for example, link customers to products to billing and help partners build verticalized offerings.

With roughly 4,000 customers and 100,000 users, Microsoft is also hoping to expand further into the small and midsized business (SMB) market with a prepackaged release of Microsoft CRM for SMBs to be shipped in the first quarter of next year.

"It's going to really help take us down to a smaller customer that couldn't afford CRM before," Wilson said. "An SMB customer can install CRM in 10 clicks or less."

Starting in the first quarter of 2006, Microsoft will also be offering a new pricing structure for CRM via subscription -- where customers can pay monthly for on-premise applications. Microsoft partners currently offer hosting services and that will continue with customers having the option of moving to an on-premise offering after six weeks. The code is the same, as is the application, and there are no migration issues, Wilson said.

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