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Early adopter gives Redmond a 'C' in CRM

Roughly seven months after Microsoft Corp. jumped into the midmarket CRM scrum with the release of Microsoft CRM 1.0, we figured it'd be a good time to take a closer look at just how the software giant's offering measures up -- at least according to one early user. North Highland Co., an Atlanta-based management and technology consulting firm with offices in 12 cities, has been piloting Microsoft CRM for the past month. It currently has 12 seats deployed, mostly for business development execs and account managers to improve collaboration. In about a month, North Highland will decide how well the project is working and whether to add more seats. Previously, the company had been using ACT software. asked Bob Lamont, North Highland's business development manager, for an early assessment.

What convinced you to go with Microsoft CRM in the first place?
We're a company of 250 people and were looking at something the appropriate scale for a company our size. We took a look at some of the different products out there and considered what the future may hold. Microsoft seemed to be a great choice. Where has it not lived up to your expectations?
There are some very fundamental things that Microsoft really left out of this product that are baffling. One of them is my own workflow. If you're managing activities and close an activity, odds are that generates another activity. There are a lot of key clicks involved with closing an activity and opening up a subsequent activity for that same contact. Fundamentally, you would hit 'create new activity for same contact.' Instead, I need to close that specific activity, verify that I'm closing, open up the contact record, create a new activity, close that activity, and close the contact. You're talking about a number of mouse clicks. That's been fairly disappointing.

The other [disappointment] is in the ability [to] customize some of the displays. [The product] does a really good job of presenting information in kind of a dashboard. Unfortunately, with that dashboard, you can't customize which fields you're shown. [Microsoft CRM] shows me I have an activity that says 'follow up on proposal sent,' but I don't have any ability to see who that proposal is for without actually going into that record. Talking about a Web-based solution, which this is, if you are acting in a dial-up situation it's very time consuming.

I'm well aware this is version 1, basically, and I'm forgiving. It has definite potential.

Where has the application lived up to or exceeded your expectations?
I am in love with integration with Outlook, as far as the calendar goes. I love that I can quickly go out and schedule an activity, and also scan for people not on the system and set up deployment. That would be really it as far as what's blown me away. Are there benefits you hadn't considered beforehand, places where it surprised you?
It really ties to the Outlook client. The integration is nice. It's better than I've seen before with creating activities on the fly, the ability to promote an e-mail that you've received to a CRM activity and then track subsequent e-mails in Microsoft CRM. That's nice. The collaboration that I've experienced with my peers in other cities has really been a surprise. Can you describe how the transition to Microsoft CRM went?
We did some initial training. We've got some pretty seasoned folks as far as using different SFA [sales force automation] applications. It was pretty intuitive. This was not a hard product to pick up. To me, it was important to have something simple. Ease of use was very important, especially right out of the gate, if you're trying to prove a point, like we are with a pilot. What advice would you give to another company considering Microsoft for CRM?
My advice would be to make sure you understand this is release one. If you're looking at this as your end-all, be-all solution, look long and hard. Understand that when talking about Microsoft, they're probably going to invest necessary R&D to make this application be what it needs to be. They'll consult with the user base and make sure, functionality-wise, it's delivering. I wasn't involved in the technical side of implementation. I'm sure there are probably elements there. What overall grade would you give Microsoft CRM version 1.0?
A solid C. They've got some work to do, but I have no doubt that they'll do it.

Let us know your thoughts on Microsoft CRM. E-mail Barney Beal, news writer.


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What would you want in the next version?
A little bit more flexibility in some of their summary screens. A little more automation in terms of activity management. Those two things are big-time for me and have been my No. 1 issues. Increased performance would be nice. From what I understand, they're rewriting the application to address some of those issues. It can be challenging sometimes. You said it integrated nicely with Outlook. What about other applications?
We have not integrated with other applications. Is that something you need or want?
That is to be determined. Have you had to add on specific solutions?
We haven't had to add on any solutions to date. We've made some minor modifications, customizations, to be aligned with our sales process. That went pretty well. That was actually very easy to do. How has support from your reseller or Microsoft been?
We've had pretty good turnaround. If we have a question, we supply that to our internal technical folks [and] they come back with a resolution or status that this has been forwarded to our integrator or Microsoft. They've been pretty good about getting back to us on status on different issues.

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