Brad Wilson is the uber-talented general manager of Microsoft's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Group. He heads up the global product management and marketing and is responsible for driving awareness, demand and revenue for Microsoft CRM on a worldwide basis. In January, the company announced that they were bringing Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online service to businesses outside of America for the first time.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Wilson on the market the new product will fill, the innovative direction his company is taking and why CRM in the cloud truly matters in 2011. In addition, I had our good friend and CRM expert, Brent Leary, add his thoughts on a few of the same topics. Brent is the co-founder and partner of CRM Essentials LLC, a consulting firm focused on small to mid-sized businesses. Anyhow, considerable thanks to Brad for his time and great thoughts here:
How do you display to customers that Microsoft is doing more than just updating Microsoft Office, particularly with what your division is offering?
- Microsoft Office products continue to innovate with each release but to me it's really exciting to show consumers what Microsoft can do across the broad range of technologies we deliver. For example, Microsoft Dynamics CRM directly feeds into Outlook giving customers a familiar user interface, it integrates with Microsoft SharePoint to help with collaboration, and is accessible to users across the PC, a web browser as well as any web enabled mobile device The new release of Microsoft Dynamic CRM is really focused on helping people be more productive, handle customer situations more fluidly, and get the most value out of the resources they're already using. I believe we have a tremendous ability to transform the CRM marketplace and to really showcase Microsoft as a company that offers businesses and IT decision-makers remarkable value. Beyond that, Microsoft Dynamics CRM software makes it easier for businesses to react in almost all social channels by reflecting each person's point of view, by thoroughly analyzing social media traffic, by taking that big step and actually engaging in social media, and most importantly by focusing on customer engagement.
The direct integration of this CRM software into all of the various social channels (with a variety of different action items and analytics) would seem to set this type of product apart. Why was that important to focus on?
- Microsoft SharePoint offers collaborative document-sharing and publishing capabilities but more importantly, it lets businesses simplify the data they are gathering within their organization and from the web. The new release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM that we announced just a few weeks ago natively integrates with SharePoint, which for many businesses will be a really big deal. It also allows much more collaborative platforms for businesses to sort through the various social media media channels, feeds, podcasts and more. In many ways, we are serving as an aggregator but we're focusing on turning that insight (or data) into manageable and actionable solutions.
That makes great sense. But from a more general sense, why do companies need to focus on integrating their CRM practices into the cloud? Why does it matter and how is it different than traditional CRM methods?
- Our goal with Microsoft Dynamics CRM has always been to give customers the power of choice. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is one of the few CRM solutions in the market that enables customers to get CRM how it best fits them, whether on-premises, on demand in the cloud, or a combination of both. Regardless of how customers get it - online, on-premises, or as a hosted solution - Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 is designed to increase productivity for organizations of all sizes whether they have a handful of users or tens of thousands. What I'm finding within the CRM space is that on-premises is a great deployment choice for businesses that can run technology in a cost-effective way, and that have the internal IT capacity to deploy and manage a CRM system. For some businesses, deploying on-premises may be the only option if they have specific regulatory or other compliance restraints. For a very big part of the market, however, the cloud is becoming an important and credible option. You'll see more and more businesses saying, "The cloud is trusted, the cloud is reliable, the cloud is always on. Microsoft has a long history of running reliable and trusted cloud services, and I can trust it to run CRM and other cloud services for me." In this case, the cloud becomes an important part of a company's' and IT portfolio.
- BRENT LEARY: The main difference in terms of cloud-based CRM is that companies can focus on core business competencies, and creating deeper, longer-lasting relationships with their customers - instead of spending time and money buying and maintaining hardware and software. And because vendors maintain data and applications in the cloud, the information is more accessible at any time, in more formats, and on a growing number of device types. So the cloud increases the opportunity to stay connected with customers and prospects in order to more efficiently build richer relationships. While the cloud offers new ways to engage customers, the name of the game is still finding, catching and keeping good customers. So the importance of implementing the right processes to optimize the efficiency of marketing, sales and service is still key to finding CRM success - whether it by in the cloud or on premise. And while new tools and technologies help to optimize processes, it still comes down to people being the single most important part of any CRM initiative.
Let's finish on this, which in some ways relates to CRM. What is your strategy in terms of influencers, and how do you even define who is an influencer?
- What a great question. If 2010 was the year of the expert, 2011 is going to be the year of the influencer. There are just so many that we work with, including our customers and partners as well as industry analysts and experts that provide us with actionable feedback that really helps us improve and set the direction for our new offerings. That's why it is important for us to use technology to engage broadly with all of the audiences that matter. Whether you're a company-based influencer or your own brand altogether, we're looking at it from a big picture perspective.
- BRENT LEARY: It's quite simple: An influencer is someone with the ability to change someone's thoughts or actions, based on their domain knowledge and expertise, and their ability to effectively communicate that knowledge. That's all that matters.
Disclaimer: Microsoft is a presenting sponsor of The Customer Collective, one of the nine, member-based communities of Social Media Today.