Microsoft came to Toronto on Wednesday to launch its worldwide partner campaign, boosting the upcoming release of the latest version of its customer relationship management application.

Microsoft is hoping CRM 3.0 will propel it higher not only into the enterprise but also in market share with the release, expected early next year. Its value added resellers, who install and customize the application, are a key part of its strategy, executives said.

But Brad Wilson, the general manager of Microsoft CRM, seemed caught off-guard when he asked how many of the southern Ontario VARs at the meeting bring in significant revenue from after-installation work.

“Not that many,” he observed after a few hands went up. “I’m surprised.”

Perhaps the showing wasn’t typical of all of the estimated 250 partners across the country certified to sell CRM, but Wilson urged the audience to reconsider.

“Those of you who aren t doing after installation marketing, I’d advise you to go back, ” he said. “There’s so many opportunities you have to tailor things for your customers. That’s where a lot of your money will come from: a long-running relationship you’ll have with the customer.”

Microsoft’s Canadian partners are the first to get closed-door briefings on the upcoming CRM 3.0., although the company is still finalizing the code and features, which have already been announced. Reporters were allowed to stay for Wilson’s opening remarks.

In an interview with, Wilson said partners have to become more aggressive. “I thought more hands would be raised,” he said of the straw poll. “The most successful strategy is to put in a basic system, get people using and then you can add more configurations or customizations. Don’t try to over-engineer it immediately.”

While partners have yet to see a fully operational version of CRM 3.0, a number who have been able to work with Microsoft on early versions are enthusiastic.

“There’s more features, more functionality than we expected,” said Jim Heaton, president of Vox Wireless, a Toronto systems integrator that specializes in Microsoft CRM implementations with about $3 million in revenues.

He predicted his company could see that income rise to $8 million in 12 months thanks in part to the new version.

“(CRM) 3.0 is coded in a way that allows ISVs to build solid solutions that are scalable, ” said Sean Gocher, president of Ten Digits Software, which in December released an application that allows Microsoft CRM data to be pushed to a BlackBerry.

“The ability to customize it I believe is a reason a lot of customers are holding out for the 3.0 version.”


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