I've been getting asked a ton of questions about Microsoft Live CRM over the past few months. And today I had a chance to spend an hour talking with Bill Patterson, Microsoft's Director of Product Management for Dynamics CRM. He spent the hour filling me in on what's going on with the heavily anticipated Live CRM. I had interviewed Microsoft's GM of Dynamics CRM, Brad Wilson, back in September for our radio show and was pretty curious to find out where things stood.
Bill was very good about answering my questions and filling me in on where things are. Now I haven't been hands-on with it, But Bill did walk me through a some of the interface. I hope to get my hands on it soon to really dig in and try some things out. In the meantime I have to say I was impressed with what I did see and hear.
Here's what stood out to me:
- Currently in Early Access Program phase with about 500 North American based companies
- Expecting to be available in April 2008
- Early Access Program gives you access to Live CRM for free until the product goes live. You can apply for the program at http://crm.dynamics.com/default.aspx
- Two flavors - Professional and Professional Plus
- Offline functionality available with Professional Plus
- The product is aimed squarely at REAL small businesses, with the "perfect fit" being described as 5-25 users.
- Deep integration with Microsoft Outlook. Most CRM services/apps are integrated with Outlook at this point, but what I saw today was the deepest level of Outlook integration (2003 and 2007) that will be available. But are you really surprised by this?
- The user interface will make those Outlook users feel right at home
- Deep Office 2007 integration that will be very helpful to those who spend a lot of time in Word and Excel
- Pretty robust list management capabilities
- Integration with third party services from Exact Target and Eloqua for heavy duty email blast/ sales acceleration needs.
- Integration with Office Live (didn't see this but Bill touched on it)
- Website integration
- Customizable without coding
- What looks to be a pretty robust workflow engine
- CRM Mobile Express - a service that will launch sometime after Live CRM goes live that will enable various mobile devices (including non Windows Mobile devices like BlackBerrys) to access Live CRM
- A community portal with content aimed at assisting companies with CRM best practices at http://community.dynamics.com/.
Since I only got a peek at things it's hard to really go into detail, but Live CRM did look promising. Now we didn't touch on things like back office integration and what it will take to pull it off, reporting/dashboards, e commerce and some other things I'm on the lookout for. Plus needing an email marketing partner to carry out big campaigns is an added layer of complexity that small business folks could really live without. And I really have to see for myself how easy integrating a website to Live CRM will be. But the Outlook integration will be a big hit with those small businesses looking for an smooth transition and quicker adoptions. And the interface is pretty easy to deal with.
All in all I think Live CRM will be a major player in the small business CRM space. Especially for those small businesses that are heavy Outlook users and are new to CRM. In fact Microsoft will help the entire sector out as I think they will spark a whole bunch of new CRM buyers into the market. Good for Microsoft, good for other vendors serving small businesses, and most importantly good for small businesses. Now more than ever they have great choices to select from. With inexpensive, easier to use, highly functional options all over the place, 2008 should be the year small businesses finally GET CRM.