Microsoft Pushing CRM Into e-Biz

Microsoft is laying the groundwork for a broader push into e-business applications while expanding its partner channel to build out the software.

As it begins the North American push for its just-released Microsoft CRM suite this week, Microsoft Corp. is laying the groundwork for a broader push into e-business applications while expanding its partner channel to build out the software.

Future versions of the customer relationship management software, which began shipping late last month, will expand beyond Version 1.0s sales and customer service applications targeted at small and midsize businesses. They will include marketing applications and broader e-business functionality, such as applications for field service, mobility, e-commerce and portals, Microsoft officials said last week.

The Redmond, Wash., company has signed up 105 ISV partners, many of them startups, to build advanced applications and solutions on the Microsoft CRM platform. The hope is that these, along with future applications planned by Microsoft, will increase the suites appeal to the enterprise.

"Were giving our ISV partners a chance to extend the domain expertise [of Microsoft CRM]," said Holly Holt, senior product manager for CRM strategies at Microsoft. "Were building the horizontal functionality that our partners can extend with vertical extensions."

Holt said Microsoft is relying on partners to add functionality to the suite or be a bridge until Microsoft adds features on its own.

"Youll see more and more around marketing automation, field service, mobility, commerce and e-portals [from Microsoft]," she said.

The next release of Microsoft CRM, planned for the second half of the year, will include some marketing applications but will be mainly focused on globalization, with support for seven foreign languages, Holt said.

Over the "next couple of releases," Microsoft will add to Microsoft CRM field service applications from its Great Plains Business Solutions and Solomon business software, as well as the Appointment Manager scheduling tool from its bCentral service, Holt said.

Some Microsoft CRM partners have already begun introducing such products to the marketplace. Boston-based Zoomio Inc., for example, released last month a hosted marketing campaign management service add-on called MyMarketingMachine to Microsoft CRM.

Tallying Microsofts CRM goals

  • Shipping now: Has sales, customer service apps
  • Second half of this year: Will support seven foreign languages, additional marketing functionality
  • By next year: Will offer complete marketing automation support; will integrate Great Plains and Solomon field service apps, bCentral Appointment manager
  • Support: For mobility, e-commerce and portals
  • 105 ISVs: Signed up to build add-ons to fill gaps in product and add specific vertical-industry extensions
Separately, Green Beacon Solutions LLC, a Microsoft CRM reseller in Watertown, Mass., last month released four add-on applications for Microsoft CRM including Lead Capture, Forecast Manager, Relationships Manager and Organizational Chart.

iQ NetSolutions Inc., which develops computer telephony applications, has built plug-ins for them to Microsoft CRM. Tom Racca, vice president of sales and marketing at iQ NetSolutions, has been using Microsoft CRM for sales and customer service since it became available in beta. Racca said the partner add-ons to the product will make Microsoft CRM into something closer to enterprise-class software.

"This application is highly scalable," said Racca, in Westboro, Mass. "It works well for small-to-[midsize] businesses, and its sweet spot is the midmarket. But it can scale well for large enterprises, too. It just needs partners to help fill in the holes as they expand up to the larger enterprises."

Ben Holtz, president and CEO of Green Beacon Solutions, agreed that Microsoft CRM can scale but said its a long way from being an enterprise product.

"I havent seen any partner offerings so far that would make [Microsoft] CRM more appealing to enterprises," said Holtz. "Enterprises want a total solution from one vendor. The add-ons Ive seen will help them to compete better against [Best Software Inc.s] SalesLogix and maybe a little against Pivotal [Corp.] and Onyx [Software Corp.]. But against Siebel [Systems Inc.]? I dont think so."