Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015

by Matt Nicholson

How much do you know about your customers? We look at the tools that can help you make the most of each interaction.

HardCopy Issue: 66 | Published: June 1, 2015

Regardless of the business you are in, the relationship you have with your customers is vital. Not only are they the source of your revenue, they are also your most valuable source of information. Every interaction can increase your understanding of their needs, provided you have the tools to gather, store and analyse the data they generate.

Microsoft Dynamics ERP

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is just one of the packages that make up Microsoft Dynamics ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), a family of solutions that cover financial and management accounting, payroll, recruitment, training, scheduling, workflow and lifecycle management, quality control, order processing, purchasing, project management and inventory handling.

Each member of the Dynamics family centres on an acquisition, so Microsoft Dynamics AX is based on Axapta, a suite of accounting applications originally developed by the Danish company Damgaard Data in collaboration with IBM. Microsoft Dynamics NAV comes from a Windows-based accounting system developed by Navision Software, another Danish company. Microsoft Dynamics SL is based on Solomon IV for Windows, while Microsoft Dynamics GP builds on the Dynamics package developed by Great Plains Software.

Each address much the same set of problems, but there are differences, and they each foster their own community of users and third-party developers. Dynamics AX, for example, is better suited to larger enterprises while GP, NAV and SL target mid-sized businesses. Dynamics SL has strengths when it comes to professional services and project management, while Dynamics NAV comes in more than 40 country-specific versions.

Such tools come under the general umbrella of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and include support for sales teams, helping them work together to make the most of every interaction, and Business Intelligence (BI) tools for analysing and displaying the data collected in a fashion that will help your marketing team make effective decisions. More recently, CRM software has included support for customer-facing websites with features such as Live Chat or online discussion groups.

Microsoft’s contribution is Dynamics CRM 2015, now in its seventh incarnation. This is a client-server application that runs on top of Internet Information Server (IIS). User access can be through a web browser, or for a richer experience there is a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook, and as you would expect Dynamics CRM works well with the Microsoft Office suite. There are also client apps for devices running Windows 8, iPad and Android which support offline working and are free to download.

You can install the server component in-house, or you can subscribe to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, a cloud service that is charged on a per user per month basis. Furthermore, for a little extra, you can include Office 365 and Power BI in your subscription to deliver everything your staff need within a familiar client environment.


Sales and marketing

The modern consumer uses Facebook and Google to research purchases as much as they might access more traditional sources, and your first contact is as likely to come through a discussion group or chat facility as it is from a phone call or someone walking into a store. Buying options have increased as well, to what Microsoft refers to as the ‘omni-channel’ which encompasses eCommerce, mCommerce (as in ‘mobile’), in-store and call centre. Dynamics CRM 2015 copes with this through tools that facilitate coordination and ensure everyone involved in both marketing and sales has the information they need at their fingertips.

For example, you can use the Email Editor to create marketing emails which work with the Campaign Management Console so that you can see in real time how many emails are opened, how many recipients click through, and how many unsubscribe or forward the email on. You can also create different versions of the same email and perform A/B tests to determine which is the most effective.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 overview dashboard screenshot

The Overview dashboard lets you drill down for more detail.

Dynamics CRM 2015 offers the option to store new leads in a ‘holding tank’ separate from your established accounts or contacts. Leads can be scored automatically depending on, for example, registrations to marketing events or responses to emails. A lead might be issued a quote which can become an order and an invoice once the lead is elevated to a full-blown account. There are tools to help you design and track a wide range of business processes, so ensuring that each lead and each account is handled appropriately.

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly regarded by customers as valuable sources of independent advice. New to Dynamics CRM 2015 is Microsoft Social Listening which can analyse online forums for mentions of particular brands or products. The tool can analyse conversations held in any of 19 languages, and understand sentiments expressed in 6 of them.

On the sales side there are facilities for creating guided processes that branch according to the response of the customer. Sales staff can be guided to cross-selling or up-selling opportunities, while managers can put together bundles or price lists tailored to particular customer groups, with prompts for front-line staff to help them make the most of every opportunity.

Also new is the Sales Collaboration Panel which allows sales staff to input information garnered from the front line into the design of the campaigns that target their customers. Dynamics CRM 2015 integrates with technologies such as Skype and Yammer to help staff work together effectively, whether they’re in the next office, on the road, or halfway around the globe.


Development platform

Trek Bicycle Corporation

The Trek Bicycle Corporation has long been an advocate of Microsoft technologies, and now has solutions in place built around Office 365, Azure, SharePoint, Yammer and Dynamics CRM Online. The company recently deployed Power BI to analyse use of Helpdesk, which is where employees go to sort out their technical problems. As Trek’s Enterprise Collaboration Manager David Peterson explains: “What we had before just didn’t work. Our former reporting tool was too confusing and didn’t operate the way we needed it to, so no one used it. Microsoft Power BI has completely changed that – it has given us better insight than we’ve ever had before.”

For example, Peterson uses a Microsoft Power BI workbook to track how long support tickets remain open. This highlighted a particular type of request made repeatedly by the HR department. Once identified, Peterson put in place appropriate training which has cut the time Helpdesk staff spend on the issue from 12 to 15 hours a month down to zero.

Using Power BI, Peterson also discovered that the Helpdesk was dealing with up to 35 requests a week from guests to the company’s headquarters requiring Wi-Fi access. He is now looking to add this as an option to the visitor check-in process: “It’s a simple request and on a small scale, not a huge deal, but day after day, they were really adding up. We didn’t see this until we started tracking everything in Microsoft Power BI.”

Jens Voigt Trek Bike The Trek bike used by Jens Voigt for his Hour Record ride (photo by Ludovic Péron).

These are just a few of the many tools that come with Dynamics CRM 2015, however it is also a development platform in its own right with a flourishing market of add-ons and apps, many of which are available through the CRM App Store. Dynamics CRM 2015 exposes a comprehensive set of web services that give developers access to the underlying data, workflow and security models.

On the client side, developers can make use of its integration with Microsoft Outlook, Excel, Word and SharePoint to deliver solutions within an environment already familiar to their users. Alternatively they can create lighter applications for access from a web browser, or full-blown Windows apps of their own.


Licensing options

For in-house installation, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 is licensed in much the same way as any Microsoft server application, so you need a Server Licence for each instance that you are running, either directly on a physical machine or within a virtual machine, while user access is authorised through a system of Client Access Licences (CALs). A User CAL allows a single user access through any number of devices, while a Device CAL gives any number of users access on a non-concurrent basis through a single device. You can buy a combination of User and Device CALs, depending on your needs.

External customers and suppliers can access your server without a CAL, provided they are not performing business processes on your behalf. This allows customers to update their details directly through your website, for example, without requiring a CAL.

Both User and Device CALs can be Professional, Basic or Essential. Professional CALs give users access to all features, and are recommended for most users. The Basic CAL is a cheaper option for those that don’t need full access, while the Essential CAL is intended for users accessing a custom Dynamics CRM application that has been developed in-house or by a Microsoft partner.

Access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is on a per user per month basis. The Professional licence is the version recommended for most users, or there is the Sales Productivity licence which is only a little more expensive and includes Office 365 Enterprise E3 and Power BI for Office 365. Accounts with at least ten Professional licences get access to Microsoft Social Listening as well.

More expensive is Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Enterprise which includes Social Listening as standard, and adds Microsoft Dynamics Market Enterprise and Parature help desk software. There are also Basic and Essential options.