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Microsoft CRM Server

We received licences for MS CRM as part of our Partner package this year and so far the sales department and the tech support guys have had a play with it and all agree that it beats hands down our current system which consists of:

1. Act! 6 for the sales guys
2. A homegrown support app written in ASP.Net and based heavily on the FogBugz UI and Case driven mentality.

We have been looking for a system to "tie" the sales and support guys together for a while and this is the first one we have seen that looks like it could prove to be the replacement. But we have some questions:

1. Has anybody used the MS CRM Server 1.2 in a production sales environment for any period of time?

2. How did you find it compared to your previous solution? (What was your previous solution?)

3. Have you used it in a tech support environment?

4. Has anybody had experience tieing a licencing routine into the backend (or doing any custom work on it)? We have a setup in our program much like the FogBugz licence input form picks up how many users you have through an automated query based on your invoice number - we currently have this running through our custom support app and CRM  would have to support this somehow.

5. (The killer) Has anybody had any luck importing their Act! data into the MS CRM program? I spent half a day looking at the data migration framework supplied with it and from what I can tell, I am going to have to write an app to massage the Act data into a compatible format ready to put in the import staging databases ready for upload. Is this the correct mentality or is their an easier way?

Chris Ormerod
Sunday, February 22, 2004

Before singing praise for MS CRM 1.2, make sure you can do something as simple as replicating data for offline use.  My job this coming week is to figure out why replication for our sales reps is not working for anyone.

I wrote an internal data migration application for MS CRM 1.0 back when we implemented it - using .NET and their accompanying "SDK" which was semi-painful.  We were pulling data in from our internally written Lotus Notes/Domino system. 

Our previous system, Lotus Notes/Domino was sufficient, but did not integrate with our newly installed MS Solomon financials package.  The company has pledged it's life to Microsoft recently (away from IBM.)  Overall, MS CRM is still a 1.0 Microsoft product and will not be the most robust, flexible, easy to maintain system.  With regards to the offline usage, Lotus Notes/Domino makes it extremely simple to do.  Whereas in MS CRM, the replication system is not yet mature.  In fact, I'm going to have to go in Query Analyzer and run some stored procedures and the likes to get it work - supposedly, from a CRM knowledgebase article I found.  That aside, the product works well. <grin>

We've had 1.0 running since last August and 1.2 was installed recently...

We mainly use it for sales, not for tech support, so I can't really comment on that aspect of it.

Your approach to migrating the data makes sense.  When I wrote our migration application, I exported from Lotus Notes into a CSV file, massaged the data in excel, and then imported the file with my custom application.  Nothing fancy, but personally I did not like their 1.0 sdk.  XML is not the end-all, be-all and should not be used for everything IMO.  Maybe things have changed in 1.2's SDK, I wouldn't know. 

If you have any specific questions, get stuck, etc - send me an email...

Sunday, February 22, 2004

"The company has pledged it's life to Microsoft recentl"

Time to sell your stock

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Thanks for that info GiorgioG,

Apparently the Sales for Outlook addin gives us the offline ability right in outlook2003 but we haven't got that far into testing it out yet - we have just been evaluating the server side of it so far.

Obviously we still have a lot to go over before we did implement it and if we do implement it we would trial it in "real life" for a little while just to make sure it worked as advertised. This message was more just to gather others experiences with it to make sure we weren't wasting our time even looking at it.

Offline isn't the top priority in our case as we only have 2 or 3 people who sometimes (once every 2 months or so at the moment) need offline ability anyway but obviously it will become necessary so thanks for pointing that out.

Chris Ormerod
Sunday, February 22, 2004

And having CRM web based rather than desktop bound like Act! may need we don't need Offline anyway.


Chris Ormerod
Sunday, February 22, 2004

We've had some experience installing/converting/customizing CRM for customers and are going live with it ourselves at the beginning of the month. 

1.  The customer who has used it the most in production sales just went live with it (1.2) for the second time in four months (first time was 1.1 and they canned it after three days).  They were coming from Goldmine and the change in interface really slowed them down, (also 1.1. just ran slow and required many more steps for certain tasks than Goldmine and version 1.2 of CRM).  If your sales guys are used to a lot of keyboard shortcuts and desktop app speed, there's going to be an adjustment.

2.  See above

3.  We have one client doing service.  They are not heavy users of it and had a "by hand, pass the paper around" method before.  So, yeah, they like it.  :)

4.  We have customized the heck out of it for the client in #1.  You can make your own custom ASP or ASPX pages and launch them from the menus similar to the built in sections.    We have tied their accounting and web site sign up process all through the backend.  The table structure is pretty straight forward and everything relates via Unique GUID identifiers.  If you have a good database guy, you shouldn't have much trouble.

5.  For data conversions, you want this product:

It's very flexible and powerful and can handle just about anything you need to do regarding conversion, clean up, deduping, combining etc.  But it is a little buggy, however their support is very good and they will get you through everything and you will get your data in just how you want.  I wouldn't recommend doing a do it yourself import, there are too many things that need to be just right for all the relationships to work right and you will waste way more than $995 worth of your time.

A couple of gotcha's
(1) You can't do an attachment to a bulk mailing
(2) In order to automatically, (as opposed to manually promoting yourself), have emails you send/receive in Outlook with your contacts be associated with them in CRM, there is a big ugly GUID in the subject and it triggers the spam filter in a lot of places.  We've had to turn this feature off for most people.
(3)The Outlook client will only sync the contacts and associated information for the accounts that you own.  And each account can only have one owner.  So if that model doesn't really reflect your business model, (i.e. two or more people often work with and have a lot of interaction with an account), using the Outlook client may be an issue.

As to whether you need to use the Outlook client at all, you don't; at least for the offline capability.  If you're in the office all the time or have access through the VPN you may never need to go offline.  I'm fairly certain most, if not all, of the functionality is present in the web client vs. the Outlook client.

However, being able to promote (i.e. associate) emails, tasks, and calendar appointments (which you are already viewing and maninpulating through Outloook anway) to an Account with just a click of a button is really nice and saves you a few steps vs. doing that sort of thing through the Web client. 

Monday, February 23, 2004

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