Microsoft Dynamics CRM Review

An Independent Microsoft CRM Evaluation

Microsoft is the number 4 CRM software market share leader (behind Salesforce, SAP and Oracle) with about 12 percent of the market and an estimated $2 billion in annual sales. The product name is Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE), but most industry insiders and many customers continue to use the more generic reference of "Dynamics CRM". Most analysts believe Microsoft Dynamics CRM is growing faster than SAP and Oracle, but clearly not as fast as Salesforce CRM.

Competitive positioning in the CRM software market is highlighted with the following strengths and weaknesses.

Microsoft Dynamics CE Advantages

  • Microsoft continues to improve the user interface and user experience. The application optionally positions a dynamic process flow diagram at the top of forms which brings context to otherwise static records. Instead of viewing (account, contact, activity, opportunity, campaign, case, etc.) records in isolation, the process flow visualization illustrates each records position (how it got to its current state) and the records destination (what are the next steps to achieve the desired outcome). Users can also switch among multiple business process views.
  • Microsoft CRM for the Outlook client is a frequently cited user benefit. The CRM system runs within Outlook thereby permitting users to perform their CRM activities without having to navigate to another screen or open a different application. CRM for Outlook leverages the Outlook user interface which increases ease of use, decreases training time and delivers a consistent user experience.
  • The company is steadily improving its Business Intelligence. Wizard-driven visualizations, data export to PowerPivot and Excel cubes, integration with Power BI and easy to create dashboards empower users to analyze information without IT involvement.
  • Microsoft offers choice in software delivery—including on premise, cloud or partner hosted. The Dynamics online and on-premise versions share the same code base thereby also enabling customers to change delivery models. Additionally, the software is hosting agnostic, thereby permitting customers to choose among many hosting providers or bring the software in house.
  • Dynamics CRM includes strong software customization and platform integration tools which increase product flexibility and extensibility. The business software leverages the SQL Server stack, such as Windows Workflow Foundation for business process automation, Reporting Services for reports, Analysis Services for data warehouses and the both the .NET framework and Power Platform for integration. SharePoint integration offers integrated content management.
  • Microsoft is ahead of many competitors in business process automation capabilities. The CRM software offers multiple workflow types (i.e. background or real-time workflows, Dialogues, Actions and Business Process Flows) and the Power Platform's Power Automate put automation design in the hands of Business Analysts. For automation beyond the CRM stack, the Windows Workflow Foundation platform can extend workflow creation and customization.
  • Desktop integration with Office or M365 is native and seamless. Office users can easily share CRM data in order to use document or email templates for distributions, create mail merge documents from Word or use Excel pivot tables for data modeling and analytics.
  • CRM permits quotes and sales order processing for sales staff. Integration with the Dynamics ERP software applications (such as Dynamics F&O or Business Central) for sales order fulfillment is performed using the Dynamics Connector, which is somewhat limited and rigid but delivers out of the box CRM to ERP integration.
  • This is a global CRM software solution that delivers localized functionality in about 40 regions with 41 languages. The application covers all the "multi's", such as multiple company, multiple currency, multiple languages and multiple time zones. To support this international software product, Microsoft has over 2200 CRM value added resellers (VARs), about 100 independent software vendor (ISV) partners and hundreds of hosting partners in about 85 countries. Microsoft has the most mature global business partner channel in the world.
  • While corporate viability is never assured, Microsoft's size, growth, brand and profitability suggest a much greater likelihood of corporate longevity that many of the much smaller, emerging growth competitors.
  • The CRM market share report shows Microsoft gunning for the number 2 market share leader position. Although Salesforce continues to grow their market share leadership, Microsoft has challenged Oracle and SAP CRM for the runner up spot.
  • Dynamics CRM is often the lowest subscription pricing CRM software product among the big four CRM vendors.

Microsoft Dynamics CE Disadvantages

  • The upgrade process can be difficult and lengthy. It is not as bad as the fork lift upgrades from the client/server era, but also not nearly as effortless as Salesforce. The Microsoft Fast Track program can help, but it is only available to larger customers.
  • The company lags many competitors in key areas such as social CRM, mobile CRM and marketing automation.
  • Microsoft lags in aiding social strategies or social CRM techniques to better engage prospects, customers and communities in social channels. Teams integrates with CRM for an internal social network, but the company lacks both vision and tools to help customers engage external constituents.
  • Dynamics has a default integration with SharePoint, but does not share security roles among the apps which can pose risks to shared content and documents.
  • In part because of the prior mentioned lack of social business prowess, Microsoft lags direct competitor Salesforce in terms of growth and innovation. Dynamics CRM is the fastest growing Dynamics product line and is growing significantly faster than the Dynamics ERP applications. However, Dynamics  growth is about half of Salesforce's growth, thereby suggesting the gap between the two is increasing.
  • Microsoft CRM is missing key business process management capabilities such as business process routing and approvals. Workflow notifications can distribute email notifications but multiple person routing with approval processing remains a big gap for many customers. This gap can be remedied with Power Automate, but that's a custom solution.
  • Microsoft struggles with large clients. The company's direct and channel sales model grew up in the SMB market and has been slow to recognize the objectives, issues and risks that are most important to larger enterprise customers. Microsoft also has very few global system integrator alliances of any significance.
  • CRM buyers looking for a balanced CRM suite may require third party solutions, system integration or software customization to accommodate missing functionality in the marketing module or the limitations of only straight-forward business processes in the customer service module.
  • Microsoft's marketing software strategy has always been uncertain. The company's CRM competitors have stepped up their marketing capabilities with acquisitions that bring sophisticated marketing automation capabilities. Microsoft acquired Marketing Pilot (later named Microsoft Dynamics Marketing) but this solution was weak in lead management and somewhat stronger in Marketing Resource Management (MRM). MRM is generally only used by very large companies. The acquisition was eventually scrapped. Microsoft now offers Dynamics Marketing for SMBs and an integration to Adobe for larger companies.
  • Some high volume sales processes such as lead management are weak. For example, there is no round robin lead distribution function and a rigid Lead to Account conversion routine does not permit standard features such as optionally determining whether to also create an opportunity.
  • Despite Microsoft's company strategy of aligning along industry markets, Dynamics CRM has few vertical market versions. The company instead relies on its ISV and business partner channels to create industry solutions. The strategy is not unreasonable, however, complicates multi-vendor software management and creates a layer of abstraction between the publisher and its customers.
  • Microsoft supports a third party partner eco-system called Pinpoint. This portal is a decent online marketplace, however, lacks the breadth, social rating features and usefulness of other eco-system destinations such as AppExchange.
  • Microsoft has integrated CRM with the Outlook client providing a familiar and user friendly presentation layer. However, the server side sync solution is only available for customers using Exchange online. Companies wanting to use Exchange to better scale the management of syncing contacts, tasks and calendar appointments may require third party ISV or partner products.
  • Microsoft does not provide Dynamics Online coverage for several countries.

Dynamics CRM Best Fit and Alternatives

Sweet Spot
Microsoft Dynamics CRM customers frequently choose this product for its native Outlook user experience, choice in software delivery and affordability.

Consider short listing Microsoft CRM when:

  • You want a flexible but easy to use Sales Force Automation (SFA) application.
  • You want low total cost of ownership (TCO) for an unmodified CRM system.
  • Your staff use Outlook and Office 365.
  • You may change software delivery models from cloud to on-premise or vice versa.
  • Your IT department is a Microsoft shop and makes use of the MS stack and platform products such as Visual Studio, Windows Workflow Foundation, SharePoint and SQL Server.
  • You want a tier 2 CRM system.

Alternative Solutions
CRM software buyers may be best advised to consider alternative solutions when:

  • Seeking industry-specific CRM applications.
  • Seeking social CRM, or social selling, social marketing or social service applications.
  • Seeking lead management or marketing automation technology, or marketing software designed to acquire more leads for the sales force.

Microsoft's most strategic shift over the last decade has been toward the cloud. The company found cloud religion a bit late, but is now devoting over 90 percent of its R&D budget, or about $9 billion, to cloud-only solutions.

The company's strategy is to deliver a competitive CRM suite with multiple delivery models (cloud, partner hosted or on-premise) at an aggressive price point. In an increasingly competitive cloud CRM market, Microsoft has raised the bar by lowering the cost and backing online software delivery with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) complete with financial guarantees.