Three months later than expected, Microsoft's long awaited and much talked-about CRM offering for mid-market businesses has at last been officially launched in North America, with other regions including Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific to follow later this year.
Microsoft claims that its new product, which leverages technology previously only seen in larger corporations, both supports and automates CRM strategies for mid-market enterprises, helping them build profitable relationships with their customers.
After Microsoft's acquisition of CRM provider Navision in 2002, and despite being a few months later than expected, the system does indeed appear to deliver the features, benefits and licensing originally announced by the software giant (see July 18th, 2002).
The system provides a real-time view of all interactions with each customer, throughout the entire customer lifetime. Microsoft CRM features Microsoft's usual intuitive user interface, and is accessible both as a browser-based (thin client) application and through customised Microsoft Outlook installations.
Among the benefits of this CRM implementation, sales teams and service personnel have easy access to current, accurate, integrated data, ultimately improving the customer's sales and service experience.
What's in the box?
Microsoft CRM has the distinction of being the software giant's first business application built on the .NET platform. This makes it easier than usual to connect disparate systems and external web-based services (including credit checking, analytics and marketing automation services).
Additionally, a number of reporting, analysis and information delivery features within Microsoft CRM have been provided by reseller, Crystal Decisions. Users can access Crystal Enterprise to explore their customer data, identify high-value opportunities, analyse short and long-term revenue, and distribute information across their organisation.
A specially tailored version of Crystal Enterprise is included in Microsoft CRM (at no extra cost) and is installed by default, providing users with the ability to view, filter, print and export over 100 predefined reports. Users may modify or add new reports at will.
The 'Professional Edition' of the system provides more complex features including work-flow rules, customisation, and back-office integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
Alternatively, the 'Standard Edition' provides a range of features for a stand-alone CRM environment (without extensive business automation and integration requirements).
Both editions are now being distributed in North America by Microsoft Business Solutions CRM-certified reselling partners, and the Standard Edition will also be available to Microsoft resellers through trade distributor, Ingram Micro. Other distributors are expected to be announced over the next few months.
Available either as an on-site solution or as a hosted solution through authorised resellers, the system's pricing model is designed to encourage companies that previously considered CRM systems unaffordable to start systems and expand them as necessary.
Licensing costs range from US$395 per user (plus US$995 for the server) for the standard edition, up to US$1,295 per user (plus US$1,990 for the server) for the professional edition.
Other markets soon
Localised versions of Microsoft CRM for the Europe and Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Latin America markets are currently being developed, and are scheduled for release in the second half of 2003, according to Microsoft.
"Microsoft CRM is a key component of Microsoft Business Solutions' overall mission to give mid-market businesses the tools they need to succeed on their terms, their schedules and their budgets," said David Thacher, general manager of CRM for Microsoft Business Solutions.