Microsoft Plays Collaboration Catch-Up With Updated Dynamics CRM

Microsoft on Tuesday morning unveiled the latest iteration of its Microsoft Dynamics CRM software complete with enhancements including Skype, Yammer and Lync integration as well as widepread availability of MarketingPilot.

Due for widespread release this fall, the software will also bring long-awaited functionality for iOS and Android phones.

“Microsoft is taking some critical and necessary steps with this release to remain competitive against the likes of,” Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, told CRM Buyer.

‘Focus on Collaboration’

Indeed, Microsoft had several industry trends in mind as it worked on this version, Fred Studer, general manager for Microsoft Dynamics marketing, told CRM Buyer.

‘”The market has been changing and becoming even more dynamic and exciting with the continued prevalence of social and the focus on collaboration,” Studer explained.

Another trend developers at Microsoft paid particular attention to was the ongoing blurring of lines within CRM and between CRM and social media outreach,” he added.

“We see customers in some situations go down, say, 60 percent of a sales cycle without talking to an actual human,” Studer explained. “There isn’t a firm line between marketing and sales anymore. Those categories have effectively blended.”

Integrating MarketingPilot

With that in mind, Microsoft Dynamics CRM aims to offer a solution that doesn’t force users to work in ways different from how the market is trending. Specifically, Microsoft built a new user interface that better mimicks the morphing sales and marketing processes in the industry.

“We wanted to establish a methodology that allows companies to create a process for their customers to follow — a process that can be flexible and changed depending on the circumstances,” he said.

Microsoft also wanted to make the application as easy as possible to use.

“It is very intuitive,” he said. “Our goal was to have people love using these tools — and not to be forced to use them.”

Bringing Mobile on Board

Microsoft is adding new mobile functionality as well. There will be applications for both PC and tablets, including the iPad.

After the initial release, Microsoft will be offering touch-optimized capabilities for phones including Windows 8 phones, iOS and Android, Studer said.

MarketingPilot, a marketing automation solution acquired by Microsoft, is also part of the newly unveiled app. MarketingPilot was available to a select group of users before this release; when it becomes generally available in the fall, it will be available to all users.

The application helps businesses manage products, campaigns and resources across various channels. It also has analytic tools that help users understand their customers’ digital footprint and convert these “footprints” to leads and then sales.

‘An Immersive Experience’

Finally, Microsoft will be stepping up its collaborative bona fides with the integration of Skype, Yammer and Lync as well.

Acquired by Microsoft over the past few years, the applications will be embedded in Microsoft Dynamics CRM for the first time with this release.

“The integration of these three applications offers an intense immersive experience,” Studer said. “They offer our customers outbound connectivity that can be extended to our customers’ customers.”

All of these upgrades and enhancements are being offered both on Microsoft Dynamics CRM online and on-premise products.

‘Going Head-to-Head’

Meanwhile, as part of its Fall 2013 release, Microsoft will also be offering a limited beta version of Netbreeze, a recently acquired social monitoring and analytics application.

The integration of Netbreeze will be particularly interesting to watch, Wettemann said.

“Microsoft could really get a leg up by having a solution that is more global, and Netbreeze could deliver that,” she explained.

That said, Microsoft in some ways is still fighting competitive battles that it should have vanquished a while ago.

“It is important to remember that Microsoft Dynamics CRM has a diverse set of users,” Wettemann said. “It is going head-to-head with a wide range of applications, from to Zoho.

“This isn’t a major release in the CRM world at large,” she added, “but it is major to Microsoft, which has been getting pinged around collaboration and mobile.”

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