The best CRM suite

Summary:We look at seven CRM solutions, compare them and give some recommendations for where each would have the best fit.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Intro

Microsoft's Dynamics CRM was a traditional on-premise solution with a focus on medium-sized businesses in its previous version (4.0). That all changed in early 2011 when Microsoft first released the new version as a cloud solution, followed a month later by the on-premise version. Designed to compete head on with Salesforce.com, this version has over 500 new features and is a very capable CRM package.

UI

There are two main interfaces for Dynamics CRM: a web-based client that requires Internet Explorer 7, 8 or 9, and the unified Outlook client. Whilst most of the other packages tested offer Outlook integration (it's a basic requirement of any CRM suite), Dynamics CRM becomes part of Outlook, and many users may never need to use anything but Outlook for all their CRM functionality. This client works with both 32- and 64-bit versions of Outlook 2003 SP3, 2007 SP2 and Office 2010. The web client adapts the ribbon interface of the recent version of Office, making it easy for users to learn.

The Contacts section, where you can contact people directly from the user interface.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Technical

If you opt to run Dynamics CRM on premise, it requires Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 x64 with SQL 2008 x64 SP1 or later as the database. There are two flavours of Dynamics CRM on-premise: Standard has no user limits and lets you set up multiple organisations, whereas the Workgroup version is a single-server, single-organisation affair for up to five users.

The package supports 41 languages and, for global organisations, a central database can be used, allowing users in different countries to access the application in their own language. If your organisation is already using SharePoint for collaboration and document management, you'll be glad to know that Dynamics CRM can easily integrate with it. This works both with hosted and on-premise SharePoint and Dynamics CRM, in any combination. If your business is using Microsoft Lync for VoIP and conferences, presence information will surface in Dynamics CRM and you can contact people directly from the user interface. Field-level security, role-based security configuration and granular auditing are also strong features of Dynamics CRM.

Unlike Salesforce.com, Microsoft offers a 99.9 per cent financially backed SLA for its cloud service.

Customisation

Based on your role, CSR Manager lets users configure and audit articles.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

In-line data visualisations and dashboards are easy to set up and these let you drill into data to uncover trends; there's also user-configured conditional formatting that highlights important information. Dynamics CRM doesn't just assume a single type of relationship — customers/leads and your business — instead it lets you define different types of relationships between contacts and accounts, including tracking competing firms. Creating custom forms is easy with a drag-and-drop interface, and you can even create a "wizard" for subsequent screens requiring more complex interaction. There's also a powerful workflow engine.

There are a large number of third-party add-ons available in the Dynamics Marketplace. For a quick adaptation, take a look at Dynamics CRM Online Quick Start Template by Zero2Ten Inc.

Mobile

There's no built-in mobile access apart from browser access, but MobileAccess 5.0 from TenDigits provides a very capable mobile client that works on BlackBerry, iOS devices, Android, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.

Social CRM

While there are no Social CRM tools in the basic package, several third-party add-ons expand Dynamics CRM in this vital area; examples include Vibe (free), which is essentially the equivalent of Chatter in Salesforce, creating an internal social network. For integration with other networks, InsideView provides information from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This recently released update for Microsoft's Dynamics CRM provides integration with Office 365, as well as an internal social media system called Activity Feeds. Essentially an answer to Salesforce.com's Chatter, this enables messages, updates and microblogging between all CRM users including mobile users on Windows Phone 7. Other smartphone platforms will follow as well as broader browser support with Chrome, Firefox and Safari slated for the first half of 2012.

Summary

There's no doubt that Dynamics CRM is a very capable solution for any size business at a very competitive price point; it's especially attractive for businesses that already use other Microsoft software. Make sure you factor in any third-party add-ons you may require for social CRM and mobile access.

Product Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Price Available on request
Vendor Microsoft
Phone 13 20 58
Web crm.dynamics.com/en-au/home (trial available)

Interoperability 4.5/5 Dynamics CRM can be integrated with many other software packages.
Future-proofing 5/5 Dynamics CRM is a very successful product and Microsoft has demonstrated a clear commitment over the years to it being a major player in the CRM space. Dynamics CRM is a good choice for any small, medium and large business.
ROI 4/5 Given the power and flexibility of the environment, the hosted solution is very price effective.

Topics: Microsoft, Enterprise Software, Oracle, Reviews, SAP

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