Aug 20 2008

Dynamic Sales Engine

SMBs say Microsoft CRM frees up the data so salespeople can look good in front of customers.

Photo: Chris Bucher
Renaissance's Jon Raimondi says the dental-claims services company uses two servers to run its Microsoft CRM system.

It was once the hallmark of any top-notch salesperson to store an incredible amount of information about customers in his or her head.


This “mental marketing” required such an amazing capacity to store and sort data — from lead generation to the close of a sale — that it defied the organizational skills of even the ubiquitous BlackBerry. In many cases, the only discernible paper trail or record-keeping besides the eventual purchase order were notes scribbled on stickie pads or jotted down in a ragged notebook.

So if a salesperson left for another job, called in sick or was otherwise unavailable, all that valuable customer data became unavailable as well. This could disrupt the work flow, compromise the small but vital tasks essential to customer care and increase the likelihood that customer service would falter and clients would be lost to competitors.

Automated CRM

When Renaissance Systems and Services opened its doors in 2002, the dental-claims clearinghouse and billing services provider knew straightaway that it didn’t want its customer service and sales to rely on the mental dexterity of its marketing reps, but rather on an automated CRM system. Microsoft Dynamics CRM already had emerged as a competent alternative that even a small company could use to automate business processes, manage data, build services on demand and accommodate and encourage growth. And Indianapolis-based Renaissance was interested.

For a brief time, Renaissance used an online CRM system that Director of IT Jon Raimondi says worked fine for a five-person firm with limited data. But when the company outgrew the system’s data management features, it purchased a Microsoft Action Pack that included Dynamics CRM.

“With [the other solution], the data was there — you just couldn’t do much with it,” explains Raimondi, who says that the company now has 100 employees and manages more than 15,000 accounts. “And if the Internet went down, we were out
of action.”

Dynamics CRM is better suited to the company’s needs, Raimondi says. “We can operate locally; we have all the data right there; and if we want to run queries or data analysis in SQL, we can,” he explains.

The system can sync leads and contacts with the newest version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Outlook, and it offers a number of categories — from sales and marketing to billing and tech support — that accommodate users in different operational areas of the
company’s business.

Dynamics CRM helps users and management track all contact with customers, and web-based work-flow functionality keeps customer relationships and sales efforts on track, prompting sales, marketing, billing and tech support when action needs to be taken. Reporting features let users and management parse and analyze data as needed.

Now available in version 4.0, Dynamics CRM also integrates with familiar Microsoft applications such as Office and Exchange, as well as with third-party programs.

“One of the things we like is that the interface looks a lot like Microsoft Outlook,” says Jeff Hislop, chief information officer at Service Repair Solutions in Las Vegas.

“The navigation is intuitive, and people can sit down and start using it right away without lots of training,” he adds.

Best-in-class companies that have deployed CRM have seen a 27% increase year over year in average deal size and a 16% reduction in sales cycle time.
SOURCE: Aberdeen Group

Raimondi says that although Microsoft touts Dynamics CRM’s point-and-click customization features, it is hard to understand and organize all the categories without outside assistance. In fact, says Raimondi, “it took a good couple of months to set up.”

Randy Rupert, director of MIS at Comprehensive Software Systems of Golden, Colo., says setup remains tricky because Microsoft has yet to work out certain issues with Dynamics CRM.

CSS is a Microsoft partner that develops enterprise and point solutions in the financial-services industry. The company recently began implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM to pull sales and marketing information into a central location.

What Rupert found was that Microsoft CRM didn’t integrate well into Microsoft Exchange, nor was the much-ballyhooed compatibility with Outlook up to par. “That’s definitely a feature for us. You should be able to highlight names in your global contact list and import them into CRM, but you can’t,” Rupert says.

But overall, Rupert is pleased with the promise of Dynamics CRM, as is Raimondi.

Raimondi says once it’s up and running, Dynamics CRM delivers on its promise to help companies foster better customer relationships and build their businesses. Without the CRM software, he says, Renaissance Systems might have gotten lost among the other, lesser players in its market. Instead, Raimondi says it now ranks number two among its competitors.

And the software has proved easy for employees to use, says Raimondi, a sentiment that Rupert echoed. “It only takes about three hours of training, and that might even be too much,” Rupert says.

Raimondi says that to smooth implementation and get the most out of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, companies should put in the time and effort to optimize the system. Here are best practices Raimondi, Rupert and Hislop recommend:


25% For contact management
8% To take salespeople off a paper-based system
46% We have no plans to deploy a CRM system
1% For permission marketing
4% For data de-duplication of contacts
8% To access tools remotely using any web browser
8% Don't know

Source: 547 BizTech readers

Determine a specific business need. For Service Repair Solutions, Hislop says the company had to figure out how to get all of the rest of the company’s systems to talk to Dynamics CRM so that customer support people could have all the information they
need to have intelligent conversations with customers.

Use third-party import tools. Dynamics CRM comes with a set of import tools designed to break through and prevent data silos, integrate with familiar desktop applications, and tap into legacy systems.

Microsoft has made the import of contacts from Outlook easier in version 4.0, but Raimondi says the tools still fall short of the mark, making importing data from a number of sources a difficult proposition.

“You need some data cleansing, extraction and modeling tools,” says Sheryl Kingstone, the Toronto-based director of enterprise solutions at the Yankee Group.

“Microsoft has partnerships with companies that dedicate themsevles to [these] tools and also to work flow.”

Exceed minimum system requirements. Companies must not expect to simply buy a standard computer and “throw it out there” Raimondi says. Dynamics CRM touches and affects virtually all users, and the system requirements are greater than might be expected.

Renaissance Systems used two servers to accommodate the CRM system. The company started with 4 gigabytes of RAM and a single processor but soon decided to upgrade to 8GB of RAM and multiple processors for better performance.

Work with it first. As with any software, it’s prudent to let IT and prospective users, either through a pilot program or in their spare time, test and become familiar with the system’s features. With Dynamics CRM, despite its ease of use, single sign-on, and familiar look, it takes time to understand the different ways information can be categorized, from sales and marketing to tech support, and to take advantage of work-flow capabilities. “It’s easy to use from the client side,” says Raimondi, but requires IT to climb a steep learning curve.

Stick to Internet Explorer. Microsoft Dynamics CRM works best with Internet Explorer. Other browsers such as Firefox don’t deliver optimal performance. “On the client, you only need a computer and a browser [to get going],” says Raimondi. “Internet Explorer works well; Firefox and others, not so good.”


IT Takeaway

Here are some features to keep in mind that are in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0:

• The user interface is improved, with features such as AutoComplete, which lets users type information in one time instead of over and over.
• Users can also pull up live CRM data and import it into an Excel spreadsheet.
• Companies looking to do business overseas will find improved support for multiple languages and currencies.