Microsoft borrows from Saturn to sell CRM product

MINNEAPOLIS — The much-maligned CRM market presents a golden opportunity for Microsoft and its resellers, as long as they look before they leap, a company manager says.

The premiere offering from Microsoft’s newest brand,

Microsoft Business Solutions, a Microsoft CRM product is going to be shipped North America-wide sometime in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year, Don Nelson, Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions general manager of U.S. channels, said at the Microsoft Stampede conference Thursday.

The product will offer savvy channel partners a good opportunity to succeed, even in a market marred by disastrous implementations and failed rollouts, added Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions partner development manager Jerry Pyle.

“”The people who are saying they’re leaders in this space, some of these guys have 20 per cent of the market. The numbers are absurd. The market is wildly fragmented and it’s there for the taking,”” said Pyle.

But caution is necessary, Pyle said, and anyone thinking of becoming a Microsoft CRM-dedicated channel partner should look before they leap to avoid the frustrations and disappointment that has up to now been the name of the CRM game, he says.

“”Don’t stop doing what you’re already doing well,”” he said. “”This needs to be additive to your practice. Two and a half years ago when we had some people considering whether or not get into CRM everyone was looking at graphs that were going (straight up) and they thought it was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel.””

The CRM market was difficult then, Pyle said, and it’s even more difficult now since it’s full of customers who may have gone trough a failed implementation already and will have to be convinced they’re making a good investment.

Aside from a global marketing campaign, Microsoft is planning to build customer confidence with a new pricing structure. The strategy was described as the

Saturn-ization of the software market by Nelson.

“”We want to change it the way Saturn changed the way you would buy cars. It used to be you would go in to a car dealership and talk and talk and talk, and you always felt like someone else was getting a lower price,”” Nelson said. “”Saturn came along and said, ‘We’re going to put our best price out there and everyone is going to buy at the same price.’ You were fairly confident when you walked out of the dealership that everybody was paying the same price and no one was getting a better deal than you did. It’s a more trusting environment for the customer.””

To that end Microsoft plans to publish prices and embed discounts right in the pricing structure, making the whole process transparent to the customer, he said.

The traditionally lucrative core mid-market will again be the target for Microsoft CRM, with the software company going after a threefold market entry strategy, said Nelson.

“”We’ve seen interest from three groups on a broad basis and that’s who we’re pursuing. One group would be the traditional back office partner,”” he said. “”They’re really excited about having a product that’s priced a little lower, it’s simpler to use, has great Outlook integration and is built on Microsoft technology. The second group is a channel that has solely dedicated itself to CRM. Products they represent are typically (competing) products, but those folks seem to be interested in learning lots more about Microsoft CRM.””

Nelson said the company has also seen a lot of interest from traditional Microsoft channel partners who have so far focused on Office and Exchange, since those two components are the underpinnings of Microsoft CRM.

Microsoft is adopting a “”fill-in the gaps”” approach to adding channel partners, said Nelson, focusing on vertical markets as well as geographic regions where its presence has not been traditionally strong.

“”We don’t have as strong a partner base in Vancouver as we do in Toronto,”” he says. “”And Vancouver is a very rich market, so we should think about bringing on partners in Vancouver more than in Toronto, because we’ve got Toronto covered in a general ERP sense. In this way we think we can protect our partner’s margins.””

Canadian channel partners are on the most part ready to roll out this new product, Nelson said, and the company plans to provide support for interested partners who don’t feel confident enough going it alone by buddying them up to other, ready partners.

A difficult market can provide more opportunity to partners who are willing to provide their customers the assurance and post-roll out support, said Marie-France Poissant, sales representative for Montreal-based Jovaco Solutions.

Jovaco is a software company that has been a Microsoft partner and solution developer since 1993, so it’s seen both the up and down side of the market, she said. Sometimes a tougher market can actually be a better time to enter into the sales fray, she said.

“”A more competitive market means that the people must have the right tools to maintain their competitive advantage. If they have the information faster, if they have more information or if they have tools to make the analysis, they will be better than their competitors,”” she said.

The customers still have the same needs, but in a more difficult market the sales process needs to be adjusted to instill more confidence that a purchased solution is not going to sit on a shelf, she said.

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