For years Microsoft has been telling us that they have great new products in the pipeline that were competitive and an approach that was social and customer centric. But for the last couple years, we had to watch the slow maturation of that vision. First there was Windows 7, which was pretty good, and then Windows 8, Windows 8 Phone, the Surface tablet and new Microsoft retail stores followed it last year. The last step has been getting new enterprise products into the hands of users and giving them the time to come up to speed and finally be able to tell a success story.
We have had glimpses of success and the customers I have spoken with were interesting though a bit out of the mainstream and many have been too small to qualify for the “enterprise” label. I once had a valuable conversation about CRM with a company in the aggregate industry for instance. If you aren’t sure what aggregates are, think about the stones embedded in asphalt and concrete and you’ll have the picture.
Finally, at this year’s Convergence held in New Orleans last week, Microsoft was able to take the wraps off the whole analyst experience, or at least they tried. Scheduling conflicts kept me from one or more valuable sessions that would explain the new CRM orientation in greater detail than Kirill Tatarinov’s keynote. But the keynote was good in its own right. I saw technology, happy customers and user stories that drew me in.
Corporate vice president Kirill Tatarinov had a parade of customers on stage including companies with names like Chobani, the world’s best yogurt IMHO, beauty products powerhouse, Revlon, Shock Doctor, and Weight Watchers — all users of Microsoft applications and all using ERP and some using CRM.
Now, at this time of year I am painfully aware of the saying that one swallow does not a spring make, or even four. Nonetheless for me the importance of this parade lies in the big names as well as the reality that multiple companies can say roughly the same kinds of things about their front to back office experiences. There are more than these four and that’s what is interesting. In most ways it looks to me like Microsoft has delivered a product set that can compete with any other vendor in the enterprise.
That’s all good. But I have to say that for all of Microsoft’s success there is still more to aspire to. That’s not a bad thing, when there’s nothing left to aspire to the market is over. That said, for all the progress, and it has been substantial, it still looks to me like Microsoft is still transitioning from a company whose software supported manufacturing age business processes to one that supports the social business.
The really good news is that all of the executives I spoke with understand this and the transition required or more precisely, they understood that a transition is required and maybe that’s the point. There is an element of thought leadership that is still not quite there. You see it in the Herculean or possibly Sisyphean need to transition the bulk of the business partners from software vendors to solutions providers. But at the same time I attended a panel discussion of premiere partners who were well versed in the need for and application of social technologies, cloud computing and the like. They were also very ERP centric which is OK but I wish Microsoft would convene a similar session on just CRM.
On the CRM side Microsoft announced acquisition of Netbreeze, a solution that offers natural language processing and sentiment analytics. Combined with the last marketing acquisition, Marketing Pilot, these products should form the basis of an expanded marketing offering. Job #1 will be expanding the kinds of analysis Netbreeze can perform such as influence and intent. Also, predictive modeling needs to take a more prominent position.
The marketing messaging though is still raw though. For instance, while Marketing Pilot has a spiffy new UI and is well integrated into Dynamics CRM it carries baggage from its earlier incarnation of a “CRM connector” to ferry data between the two supposedly integrated parts of Dynamics.
That’s a cosmetic issue and a happy problem given that solving it takes nothing more than revised messaging and no new coding. Indeed Microsoft has many similar happy problems that involve messaging and positioning for its Dynamics CRM offering. For instance, there wasn’t enough talk about bringing the package together with better messaging around platform, social, marketing and cloud. It will happen though it’s a shame there wasn’t greater emphasis on those finer points in New Orleans.
So with all that Microsoft continues to make progress in delivering a credible front to back office integrated solution that can support large companies like Revlon and Chobani. But it’s important to make the point that all this brings Microsoft to parity with its rivals and the name of the game today is leapfrog. There are a lot of ways that Dynamics can jump and it will be interesting to watch.
Marketing is for many CRM vendors the last frontier and many are integrating what had been a stand alone function into their solution sets. Marketing requires a different mind set and can deliver significant value as this report points out.
Fred Studer is the new GM, Microsoft Dynamics Product Marketing. He’s been on this job for about a month and I think he’s a good pick given his experience and background — Studer has a lot of tools to work with professionally and from the product side.
He’s been in the business for over two decades at companies like Oracle and Microsoft and most importantly he comes to Dynamics CRM at a point when the product set is hitting its stride. Last week at Convergence 2013 in New Orleans, Studer ran a general session (among other things) that highlighted Microsoft’s two marketing acquisitions including Netbreeze, a sentiment analysis and natural language processing engine from Switzerland, that will help power Microsoft’s foray into marketing. Also, he managed a discussion with analysts about Marketing Pilot, an earlier acquisition that forms the foundation of Microsoft’s marketing approach.
Marketing Pilot does the marketing blocking and tackling enabling marketers to build, manage and deploy digital content and programs through multiple channels. You could say the two products will form the yin and yang of Microsoft’s marketing products for the foreseeable future. Think of it as Marketing Pilot for outbound marketing and Netbreeze for inbound customer data capture and analysis.
So is Microsoft done with marketing? Far from it. Netbreeze and Marketing Pilot are only the beginning and on this framework you can expect to see many more ways to analyze customer data beyond sentiment which is a Netbreeze specialty along with natural language processing (NLP) in multiple languages. As valuable as sentiment analysis is, there are other things like intent, leadership and influence and more that analytics will be assumed to have in the near future. Netbreeze provides the basics and a roadmap and for now that’s fine.
So, back to Studer. He has a great combination of experience in product and corporate marketing, understands the enterprise, and is deep in back office and front office.
There were a few rough edges apparent in the Convergence messaging that I expect will quickly be polished away now thanks to Mr. Studer. For instance, there is the redundant and incorrect idea of a marketing connector to move data from Marketing Pilot to Dynamics CRM. It is a remnant from Marketing Pilot’s history as a private company. The product underwent some significant improvements between acquisition and Convergence — for instance, it got a new and simpler interface and many internal changes that make it a good fit within the Dynamics product set. By virtue of these changes, Marketing Pilot needs a connector the way my cats need my dog.
But old habits die hard I guess. One thing that impressed me about Microsoft Dynamics CRM messaging last week was how many things like the connector issue there are. They aren’t bad things and this is not a knock at Microsoft. Just the opposite. Issues like this take no coding to fix, they are messaging and positioning related and are easily addressed once you focus on them, so pay attention as Microsoft comes on strong in the months ahead.
Another thing I saw in the General Session video was a good presentation by the Illinois Department of Corrections. You might wonder what the connection between corrections and CRM ought to be — Corrections Relationship Management? It was not adequately explained. Of course, the right answer is Microsoft’s XRM solution, which might be referred to as the platform in other schemas. Microsoft has capable tools for building whole new applications on a CRM or XRM foundation or for extensively modifying CRM to fit a specific need.
The Illinois Corrections story is about XRM but the messaging around it was strained to say the least. It’s another example of how Microsoft has product but is not optimizing the way it brings the solution to market. Again, this is a happy problem because it takes marketing and not software development to fix.
Sometimes we take marketing for granted thinking instead that great products sell themselves but that’s not often true. Great products are great because someone saw the connection between what the product does and a market need and figured out how to explain it to buyers in concrete ways with simple language. As Microsoft itself becomes a vendor of marketing solutions I expect that people like Studer and Corporate VP and industry veteran Bob Stutz will help school the company in the finer points of product marketing in a social world. Microsoft has always been a good engineering company, they aren’t moving away from this but they are, I hope, bringing a heightened marketing sensibility to the party.