How can an association use CRM with a self-service portal?

Portal Profile

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the Customer Portal

In recent years, organizations (in particular associations) have discovered the power of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Most associations now want an association management solution (AMS) built on an industry leading CRM platform. Robust platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics® CRM enable associations to make smarter decisions and improve member management. But, associations shouldn’t have all the fun. AllowMembersEngageThe association’s members want access to the very same data so they can update their own profiles, sign up for meetings online and pay for dues online—all on their own.

Allowing members to dictate their own engagement with the association greatly improves the overall member experience.

But, how can you enable your members to engage online? The answer is a feature-rich member self-service portal.

But there is a problem… most CRM platforms (and this includes Microsoft’s) don’t have a ready-made, self-service portal built into the system. Microsoft used to (sort of), but it was retired a few years ago.

Note: this blog post was written prior to the announcement that Microsoft acquired Adxstudio – a provider of basic online portal solutions connected directly to Microsoft CRM.

So, if a CRM platform doesn’t come with a ready-to-go member self-service portal, especially in today’s age when self-service and instant gratification are so largely engrained in our everyday lives, what can an association do?

Luckily, Microsoft does offer a SDK portal extension for developers, which enables the creation of  robust and feature-rich customer portals.  The Microsoft Partner Network is one of the largest partner networks in the world, and includes AMS software vendors that can assist associations looking to implement a self-service portal.

These vendors often understand that portals:

  • Are commonly part of the association website and not another software add-on.
  • Are no longer separate, self-contained websites, but should be deployed in web parts and strategically interwoven within the existing website.
  • Often have to integrate Single Sign On (SSO) across a variety of domains to authenticate users and their individual website roles and permissions.

Experienced vendors understand these complexities and how associations can use online portals to increase member engagement. Expertise in website integration, as well as deep association process knowledge, allow AMS software providers to offer solutions that connect directly to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

For associations looking to bolster their member experience, here are three benefits of using a member self-service portal with Microsoft Dynamics CRM:

1. Web Parts Strategically Integrated into Existing Webpages. As mentioned above, implementing a self-service portal involves integrating it into the association’s website. This not only creates a cohesive look to the site, but also enables web parts to be inserted into existing pages. For example, on a page dedicated to an association’s annual meeting, a web part can be inserted to help members register for the event. This creates a friendlier, more streamlined web experience, thus driving increased registrations. Members no longer have to jump over a wall to a separate “members only” website (that somewhat resembles the main website). Instead, the self-service interaction with the CRM database takes places right where the online user needs it.

2. Ready-made, Association-specific Web Parts with Full e-Commerce Functionality.  Most Microsoft partners that provide portals connected to Microsoft Dynamics CRM have pre-built functionality to handle common processes like updating a profile or even registering for a meeting. But it usually stops there and the association then must rely on a different solution for credit card processing or tracking invoices. However, a handful of providers have taken the solution a step further by providing full e-commerce functionality. This includes a complete shopping cart, processing credits cards, automatically generating an invoice back in CRM, and even paying open invoices online. Associations should take advantage of portal solutions that contain out-of-the-box web parts that are pre-built to specific association processes.  Associations can then spend less time getting a self-service portal off the ground and concentrate on increasing engagement and growing their membership.

3. Flexibility to Extend the CRM System “as a Platform” and Track Key Data
Associations are discovering an often lesser known – albeit more powerful – benefit to Microsoft Dynamics CRM—its extendibility as a platform. This allows an association to easily add functionality to its CRM to track any information it wants, such as award applications, grant funding requests, or even industry-specific member demographics. A small handful of vendors provide easy-to-use, out-of-the box portal web parts that can connect any table in CRM to the online portal. So when an association adds the new functionality in its CRM, it is also available online in the portal. Now that is powerful.

One of the main reasons why associations continue to use self-service portals is to provide their members with a greater member experience. Today, that means putting your members in control and giving them the ability to leverage your existing website and online responsive tools. So although Microsoft doesn’t directly offer a ready-to-go customer portal built into Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it does provide access to trusted and vetted partners with the expertise necessary to help associations continue to deliver exceptional service.


Posted in AMS, CRM, xRM | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Leveraging CRM Data for Membership Growth Strategies

Digging into your membership engagement data in Microsoft Dynamics CRM to uncover growth opportunitiesMembership4

If you are familiar with the association world, then you know that there really is an association for just about anything. That also means that there are a lot of associations working very hard for your attention and for you to be included as a member – and to stay a member.

Finding out what motivates a member to join and continue to rejoin can be different from member to member and certainly vary from association to association. Associations have a good idea what drives their membership and their unique value to their members but sometimes find it difficult to continue to attract and retain members year after year.

Increasingly associations are leveraging data that they are sitting on in their CRM to help spur new membership growth opportunities.

Here are 6 areas to consider:

1. Identify True Networkers – One common practice to membership growth relies on your members’ own network of connections. Each of your association members probably knows a person or company who would make a good addition to the association. Many associations often use some type of “Member-Get-A-Member” campaign which provides existing members an incentive (gift card, dues discount or written public recognition) to help recruit and grow the membership. These tried and true methods can be very effective. An important aspect to any campaign is continuing to be creative and adding variety to the campaign (using different promotions/incentives, etc.). An often overlooked aspect is to use your data in CRM to help identify your highly engaged members – they are often the “true networkers”.  Leveraging this group helps with continual year over year membership growth.

2. Looking outside the box. Some associations grow the membership by opening up new membership types and tiers – some with success – some not so much. The key is to have the data in your CRM to back up these important new ventures. For instance, if you don’t currently allow international memberships but have reliable data that supports changing the policy, you suddenly have a whole new avenue for spurring membership growth.

3. Reconsider Failed Attempts. Consider taking a second look at membership growth ideas that may not have worked out so well in the past. Maybe now you have the right data in your CRM to support your new membership idea, type, or tier.

4. Strategic Tiers. Be careful not to offer too many new memberships all at once as your association may leave some money on the table. Continue to offer your base membership package with the valuable benefits that everyone seems to be happy to pay. The key is having reliable data to help plan any paid extra options or tiers (i.e. premium content on your website, an executives only tier, etc.) that may cater to members who want access to premium services.

5. Using your CRM to maximize growth. Review your current CRM to make sure you have the technology in place to support your membership growth goals. Some CRM systems built for associations as well as older systems called “association management software” may only support a few membership features and options, leaving you out of luck if you want to expand your membership offerings. Having easy to get to data at your fingertips helps drive good business decisions. Having online membership self-service features that make joining easy and renewing easy also greatly helps. Even features such as automated membership progression (i.e. automatically changing a 4th year student to full member) saves your staff from doing that manually. Don’t let the limitations of your technology burden your membership growth. The less time staff has to fiddle with older technology, the better. Find the CRM that lets you grow.

6. Using data to set smart goals. When it comes to setting realistic membership growth goals, it’s up to the association to decide the best strategic plan. It may be unrealistic for a long-standing association in an established industry to expect to achieve big increases in membership every year. But a newer association in a dynamic field might easily meet aggressive goals. Good data in your CRM helps create good realistic goals. As with any goal setting activity, remember to take the necessary time to create strategic action plans on how exactly the association plans to achieve those goals. Then leverage technology and data to monitor goals over time. Good reporting can help to adjust goals as needed throughout the year.

Using the engagement data you have in your CRM about your current, past, and prospective members, can help align the right association benefits to the right members (i.e. your certification helps make certain members more money at their job, educational webinars that increase their knowledge, events that help them connect and grow, etc.) Good alignment can help increase membership value – the value you can report back to the member come renewal time.

If you would like to learn more about how Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help with membership growth, feel free to contact me for guidance and suggestions.




Posted in AMS, Association Management Software, CRM | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The “Our CRM Stinks” user proclamation and the top 3 ways to avoid a stinky CRM

Stinky CRM“Our CRM Stinks” – have you ever heard those words from a CRM user?

This post is about stinky CRM – the kind of CRM (customer relationship management) that users find offensive and therefore avoid using and leveraging into their daily work activities.

This post also includes the top 3 ways to avoid a stinky CRM (stinky crm is worse than ring around the collar).

Here is an example.  In a recent casual conversation with a family member, he said to me “you know CRM right?  Well get this – the CRM I have to use at my company really stinks”.  He went on to say, “corporate is making us now use a new CRM to track our sales activities but the CRM is impossible to use.  It is from the same company out of Germany that does our operations software and our corporate thought that adding this CRM was a good idea.  Well it is not set up right, it is so hard to use, the data in there isn’t right, and nobody on my team knows how to use it.”  So there you have it folks – a good example of a stinky CRM.

Modern features help but really are not the cause of the stinky.  In the above example, there was no mention of any particular feature or lack of features.   Although modern CRM features help, the CRM in this case was stinky mostly because of basic implementation issues such as:

  • Inadequate training on the way the CRM is supposed to support user processes.
  • Poor data quality in the CRM make users not trust the data/reports. It is the bad data in-bad data out mantra (data quality could be a whole separate blog post).
  • Not being set up in a way that the user understands.  Not intuitive. Not purpose driven.
  • The team was not bought in on the solution and has since turned against it.
  • Provided by a company that considers CRM an extra module or after thought.

The best CRM can still be stinky.  Even the best CRM solutions on the market can turn stinky.  There is however a nice advantage starting off with a modern CRM application like Microsoft Dynamics CRM because it has a basic intuitive user experience across your device of choice.  Built in sales, marketing, social, and customer care features that easily help users perform their high value activities more effectively.  Yes these features help tremendously, but don’t let these features blind you into thinking that simply turning on a CRM in the cloud will immediately solve all CRM needs.  If your CRM isn’t tailored to your unique processes, then it could become a stinky crm.

Top 3 Ways to Avoid a Stinky CRM

1. Don’t over complicate your most important user tasks.  If you want your users to use CRM, keep things as simple as possible and included within an organized and logical flow.  Work to understand how your users do their work now and how CRM (with the minimum of screens and clicks) can support/enhance that process – even enlighten with new information and analytics right on the same screen.  Sometimes there is the desire to add every conceivable field to the screen that any department and any user might need.  After all, this is an important process, right?  Actually, this tends to crowd the screen with lots of fields that seem to have little or no purpose.  Work to keep screens clean and purpose driven.  If you have teams/departments that have different needs, consider using role based forms per department.  Each department (role) would see just the fields they need included within a clean logical screen by screen flow.  This makes the CRM easier to use for the most important tasks.

2. Sweat the small stuff.  As powerful and easy as most CRM solutions are, don’t just turn on a cloud subscription to a CRM and expect your users to fend for themselves.  I realize that there is the thinking that “we will do minimal upfront definition because we will just adapt our process to the way the CRM works”.   This thinking may work on some areas of CRM but more than likely, this “just turn it on as is” type thinking is setting up CRM to fail.  Take enough time upfront to sweat the small details – the unique processes, the data, the reporting needs, etc.  This will leverage CRM within the organization and allow CRM to become the focal point to the entire enterprise. For users, it will make CRM meaningful and hence easier to use (and no stinky CRM complaints).

3. Start with a modern CRM.  Starting with a modern CRM like Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides so many powerful features and advantages.  Microsoft provides built-in integration to Outlook, Office, Skype, InsideView, Yammer, and more.  Compared with custom-made CRM solutions or CRM add-on’s from software companies that don’t focus on CRM, the modern CRM leverages the latest technology. It can help reduce costs and increase profitability by organizing and automating your unique business processes that nurture customer/member satisfaction and loyalty.

At the end of the day, CRM is a just a business application.  It is a tool.  Even with all the advanced technology and features and built-in integration and ready to go examples and data import templates, CRM still has the potential to stink if it is not implemented properly.

Think you might have a stinky CRM?  Not happy with how it was implemented?  Feel free to contact me for guidance and suggestions.

Related posts:


Posted in CRM | 1 Comment

Math Gone Social

Many seem to enjoy an occasional online brain teaser and there seems to be an increasing number of these little math challenges being shared across social platforms.  With all the sharing and engagement going on, the next logical step is to get the marketing folks involved – and add a little message.

With that said, I thought I would create a puzzle that includes a message.


The above puzzle is displayed as an image so it is easy to share.  If you don’t have the time to figure it out, click here for this answer key.

And here is another exponentially fun puzzle,…


The answer key to this 3 letter message is here.

Those that enjoy solving brain teasers might lead to new and innovative ways to market a message using social tools.


Posted in CRM, Off-topic | 1 Comment

CRM Confusion: The Double Definition of CRM

Double CRMThe acronym CRM is increasingly becoming a household name or at the very least a well-known business term.

But what exactly is CRM these days?

To most, CRM has the fairly straight-forward definition it started with: Customer Relationship Management – the ability to track leads, prospects, customers, opportunities, sales, marketing, and customer service.

But CRM really has a double definition.   

There is the common sales-oriented definition and then there is a newer additional definition for CRM referring to CRM as a platform, or “xRM“. In the past few years the xRM approach to CRM has gained so much momentum that it often overshadows the traditional CRM definition.

Hence, there tends to be some confusion when trying to compare a wide variety of solutions that include the term “CRM”.

Some businesses simply want the sales features of a CRM solution, while other organizations don’t want any sales features at all – they want CRM to meet a unique need like tracking meeting registrations or managing members of an organization.  Both may refer to their system as CRM.  A group other than “customers” may have taken over the first letter of the acronym.

There are still CRM systems that can only provide the traditional CRM sales features. But most modern commercial CRM solutions (such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM), provide both – the traditional CRM features and the increasingly popular and powerful platform features that help extend CRM as well as leverage the latest technology such as:

  • Outlook integration
  • Skype integration
  • Mobility
  • Social media monitoring
  • Easy analytics and dashboards
  • Intuitive user experiences
  • Collaboration
  • Automated workflows

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and xRM can disrupt legacy software

There are other business applications (e.g., accounting software) that may include some CRM features, maybe a CRM add-on.   This take on CRM, which is added to an existing application, may only provide basic sales features and not have the latest technology/platform capabilities. Nonetheless, the general term CRM is easily thrown around, so businesses selecting a new CRM need to be careful.

Here is an example from the association industry of how CRM becomes xRM. Similar examples exist in a range of industries from the public sector to education to franchise management to wealth management and beyond. In the world of associations, there are specific solutions to help associations called AMS systems (association management software). These solutions manage membership, meetings, certifications, committees, and a lot more.

CRM 2013 as AMS

Some of these AMS systems are built upon modern commercial CRM systems (like Dynamics CRM) so an association can leverage the latest technology, extend the platform to meet specific needs, as well as utilize the inherent traditional CRM sales features if needed.

More traditional AMS solutions from legacy providers have to compete with these modern CRM-based AMS solutions. These vendors have started to offer CRM add-ons that will handle sales and service (the traditional CRM definition).  It is an effort, I guess, to say, “Hey, we have CRM too”.

Anyone who has seen a complete CRM solution like Dynamics CRM or one of its competitors understands that a real CRM/xRM solution is in another class from a CRM add-on to a legacy system that’s vertical-specific. If an association executive is looking for modern features, they should take care when selecting a new AMS system with merely a CRM add-on.

In conclusion, CRM has become a rather common (dare I say…trendy?) business term for many businesses and organizations. But examples of xRM success are showing that modern CRM platforms do a lot more than they used to. Just remember the double definition of the modern CRM.


Feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions.


Posted in AMS, Association Management Software, CRM, SystemSelection, xRM | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Breaking down CRM options for Associations

The Pros and Cons of moving to CRM at your Association

Modern CRMLots of talk about CRM these days – more so than ever it seems. How can associations leverage CRM? Where does an association start? What are the options out there for associations? This article will attempt to review the 4 most common ways that a commercial CRM application (i.e. Microsoft CRM, is utilized at associations and the advantages, risks, costs, and benefits of each.

CRM 101 – Before we jump in, let’s first review what CRM is to provide some context. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. In the most traditional sense, CRM helps track the entire customer relationship including sales, marketing, and customer service. Most modern commercial CRM applications have the ability to be easily extended to meet unique needs. Extending CRM is often referred to as “using CRM as a platform”. In the case of associations, this means that they can use CRM to manage membership, committees, chapters, events, speakers, expos, transactions, and more.

The Modern CRM – Better, Faster, Cheaper Unlike traditional Association Management Software (AMS), most industry leading CRM systems are provided by major software companies like Microsoft,, Oracle, and SAP. Microsoft for example spends $9 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) on product research and development.

Better Faster Cheaper

It might be difficult for an AMS vendor to keep up with what the major software companies are doing with CRM. Most modern commercial CRM systems are better, faster, cheaper. An article on written a couple of years ago helps explain the better, faster, cheaper mantra. Association executives are also looking to properly leverage better faster cheaper technology to stay competitive and further their mission. Hence the interest in the modern commercial CRM.

The 4 most common ways associations utilize CRM – CRM has been making its way into associations for many years.  Here are 4 ways CRM applications have worked their way into associations:

Standalone CRM1. Stand-alone CRM – separate from AMS: Whether an association has an AMS or not, in this scenario, the CRM is used as a stand-alone database separate from any AMS database. It is typically used as a traditional CRM. For example, tracking advertising sales for the magazine or tracking sponsorships to the annual meeting. Companies and people in CRM are not shared with the AMS which can create separate silos of data.

Still, the cost and risk can be fairly low if used for a specific task that is outside the AMS. The cost and risk might also be low at the beginning because you can simply abandon the CRM in a short period of time if it no longer meets your needs. In general though, the stand-alone CRM can be risky. What may start out as a few people at the association signing-up online for a CRM to tackle a specific sales oriented task, often ends up becoming much more as additional people gain access to the CRM and more critical data is stored in CRM.

Adding CRM users and premium features can start to add up, but the bigger costs are when the CRM stores and manages key association data outside the main AMS. When an association has some key data in CRM and some in the AMS, it often creates lots of extra manual work – especially for data error corrections and reporting. With data corrections, it is difficult to know which duplicate record is the right one. Which email address is the one we should use? From which database? On the reporting side, things get complicated quickly.  What often ends up happening is the creation of an advanced data warehouse or the creation of a grand Excel file to bring in the two data sets. Then there is lots of manual manipulation and Excel file tweaking. It can be difficult to trust the data in these reports.

Because the modern CRM systems are so easy and provide so many benefits, they quickly start to take over many data management needs at an association. What starts as an innocent online CRM trial can quickly get out of control. Be careful with a stand-alone CRM. Use it for the powerful new functionality but keep it limited to a specific purpose – maybe something that the AMS just can’t do.

CRM connected to AMS2. CRM Connected to AMS: In this case, an association has CRM and they have an AMS and the two systems are integrated together to share and synchronize key data. It is sometimes a “fix” for the above mentioned stand-alone CRM situation. This scenario also may arise when an association wants to leverage a modern CRM but they still have the AMS connected to their website for the member experience online. For example, association staff enjoy using CRM because it seems easier to use and it is right inside Outlook, but the IT department is stuck with how to get CRM connected to the association’s website for online event registration. Hence, the blend of CRM and AMS.

The reality is that this situation can have several challenges. Usually not all the data is shared. For example, the company name and address might be shared between the CRM and AMS but not every note, activity, phone call, email and transaction. For some data, you still have to go back and forth between two separate systems.

The technical integration and synchronization between the CRM and AMS can sometimes be difficult to create and touchy to maintain. In addition, a growing majority of CRM systems are in the public cloud such as or Microsoft CRM Online. Most public cloud CRM systems do not provide direct access to the database – only access via web services (and sometimes at an extra cost).

Connecting your CRM to your AMS can provide the powerful new benefits of a modern CRM while still utilizing the association specific features of the AMS. Be careful though. Plan for all potential costs such as the cost of integration, the ongoing support, and the annual software maintenance fees for both systems.

3. CRM as an AMS – with no 3rd party product add-on. In this scenario, an association has decided to retire the AMS and move all the data and business processes to CRM. The CRM is used as a platform and the association’s needs are fulfilled without a 3rd party add-on or any custom code. An association can innovate using CRM whether on their own or with the help of an experienced consultant.

With the right strategic planning and consulting, an association can build just the right amount of AMS functionality they need right within their modern CRM. The association pays just for the modern CRM without the additional cost and annual fees of add-on products. Most importantly, an association can have a better, faster, cheaper way to manage members. It is a good option for some associations; however, there are some major drawbacks. There is the lack of a web portal for online member self-service connected to CRM.  There is also the lack of AMS specific accounting features.

Portal – As powerful as CRM can be, there is no easy way to extend CRM for an online member self-service portal without advanced configuration using the platform SDK (software development kit). That means, if you want to have event registration online with the transaction and payment going automatically into CRM from the web, it will require either a custom solution or an add-on product from an independent software vendor (ISV). 

Financials – Having solid association specific financial features can sometimes be challenging to extend in CRM.  There is no out of the box credit card integration for CRM. There are a handful of 3rd party add-on products for credit card integration, but those may or may not fit into how you have built your transactions/invoices.  Also, it can be difficult to extend CRM to be a complete Accounts Receivable sub-ledger to your accounting system. This includes having the same General Ledger  account numbers and tracking general ledger detail for each transaction, payment, and refund.

The advantage to a CRM with no 3rd party add-on is that you are not contractually tied to any one particular vendor, you just have a modern CRM – most likely from a major software company (i.e. Microsoft, that has a channel of partners. This option works especially well when an association just wants to roll out CRM as an AMS for the internal association staff.  

Word of warning – good planning is essential. If an association knows they will eventually need member online self-service functionality or credit card integration, it is strongly recommended to plan that out in advance. If an association moves forward with this option on their own and configures their own meetings module in their new modern CRM and then later wants to add an ISV product for event registration online, all the work they did with CRM might not be compatible. Not only do they have to start all over again with the ISV’s event management module, the association has to move all the event data. If an association knows they will need the ISV product, it is better to start with the ISV company in the first place and use their product that is most likely pre-configured for the functionality needed. 

Other than the ISV solutions, the only other realistic option is to go custom. Find a consulting firm that can customize what you need directly on your own modern CRM – however it may be set up. You can go down this path, create the AMS features you need in CRM, and have a firm then build a custom portal for you. Again, planning is vital to keep cost and risk in check.

4. CRM as an AMS – with a 3rd party product add-on. With this option, an association gets all the full features of CRM with all the typical AMS functionality. This includes the all-important member self-service portal, credit card integration, and accounting functionality.  These solutions are from firms and ISV’s that serve the association market. They have created an all-in-one AMS system built on a commercial CRM platform.

An association buys the modern CRM and also buys the add-on product. It is usually sold as one complete package or product or hosted service. These add-on products vary in functionality from light AMS features to full AMS systems in CRM.  Doing a little homework and planning on vendors and their products can help.

Cost – This option can be more expensive than rolling out just CRM, but in the long run, if it has the features you need, it can be more cost effective. It may even have additional features that can be leveraged that the association didn’t initially consider.

Vendors – This option can lock you into a relationship with one vendor and their 3rd party add-on for CRM.  This is only an issue if the vendor doesn’t meet your expectations – so do your homework to compare user design, features, vendor reliability, deployment options (hosted or on-premise), and all related costs.

Conclusions – First off, if an association has a traditional AMS system they like and it is working for them, don’t change anything – stick with what you have. A good time to start to look at CRM options is when the traditional AMS becomes outdated, hard to use, or forces the association to stay on older technology like older versions of Outlook, Office or Windows.  Forced to stay on older technology makes it difficult to remain competitive for your members and effects the development of your core mission.

Annual Costs vs. Benefits – Associations can look at their current AMS from a cost/value point of view. Are they getting the value and benefit from all the money invested annually? You can also look at it from a competitive point of view. Do my competitors have a technological advantage? When evaluating a change, an association should not only consider the actual dollars for a new CRM but also the related benefits and return on investment.

Skype setting in CRMBenefits such as a more efficient staff, happier staff, happier members, easier and better analytics, enhanced member insight, no new hardware costs if hosted, social media monitoring (such as Netbreeze) for deeper member engagement, automated workflow, built-in disaster recovery if hosted, integrated products (such as Skype, Office, Outlook, SharePoint, Yammer), data aggregators (like InsideView), newer technology, and on and on,..

Basically leveraging better, faster, cheaper technology.


Not sure where or how to start?  Contact me for guidance and suggestions.


Posted in AMS, Association Management Software, CRM, SystemSelection, xRM | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Discussing xRM, Legos, Restaurants on Rothman Tech-Tips

I was recently the Tech-Tip guest on Rothman Tech-Tips (video blog).  The host was Matthew Rothman.  Matt helps educate clients regarding technology.  He “connects the dots” for the everyday person on enterprise-level and emerging technologies.  Today’s topic was xRM and the value of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform.

Tech Tip Guest Video Blog RTT

Matt read my blog post on “Using LEGOs to Help Explain xRM and the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Platform” and thought it would make for a good Tech-Tips segment.


I am sometimes asked to explain xRM.  After all, what is xRM and how is it different than CRM?  I will often use the Legos analogy.  Microsoft provides the rich foundation, the various interconnecting blocks, and the many special pieces to easily extend Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a platform and extending CRM to meet new and different business needs is often referred to as xRM.

In addition to the Lego analogy discussed in the video segment, I was able to show a few live demonstration examples of xRM (like the below screenshot).  Plus a quick “how to” on adding a field to a form in CRM.

Association Dashboard in CRM

The video segment also highlighted the importance of strategic planning when it comes to CRM (and xRM) projects and we again turned to the Lego analogy.  As easy as playing with Legos may sound, most companies seek experienced assistance to properly implement and strategically extend CRM.  Otherwise, without a plan for your CRM, you may end up with a bunch of pretty blocks snapped together that few wish to use.

As in all the Rothman Tech Tip segments, it ended with the guest giving a restaurant recommendation in their hometown.

I enjoyed the discussion – it was fun.  I shared a few basic tips on xRM that were hopefully helpful.  Thank you Matt.  Matt can be reached via his blog at

If you have any questions for me, please do not hesitate to reach out.

The use of the word “Lego” and “Legos” is a registered trademark of the LEGO® brand.

Posted in CRM, xRM | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Top 4 Recent Microsoft Videos Worth Viewing

Visually Understand Where Microsoft is Now and Will Be Soon

It would seem that Microsoft has started providing a lot more interesting videos to share.  From their corporate YouTube channel ( to videos specific to my favorite application, Microsoft Dynamics CRM (

So many that you may have missed a few really good ones.  Unfortunately, this list does not include any Harlem Shakes or long basketball trick shots.  This list is just a handful of recent videos from Microsoft that I thought were of interest and worth viewing.

1. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile – Since this list has an emphasis toward Microsoft Dynamics CRM, this first video is on mobility and CRM.  The video walks through the power of getting business done across devices.  It highlights examples of working in the field, remotely, wherever you happen to be, and having access to the same information you are used to while “in the office”.

Mobile CRM Video

2.  Microsoft’s Future Vision: Live, Work, Play – This video is interesting to me – and simply fun to watch.  It is on Microsoft’s vision of the near future.  It highlights how technology can enhance the way we live, work, play.

Microsoft Future Video

3. CSX Transportation and Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Question: How does a company founded in 1827 survive in today’s economy?  Answer:  Innovate (and Microsoft CRM helps play a vital role). 

CSX and CRM Video

4. Reignite Your Passion – Unlock Your Potential with Microsoft Dynamics – This video provides an example of the new ways to think about how we view “work”.  It highlights the use of Microsoft Dynamics and the Surface tablet – and no formal desk and no formal tie 😉

Microsoft Reignite Passion Video

There certainly were more videos I could have included.  As a matter of fact, there are many good videos just on Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  To learn more about how Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help your organization, please contact me.



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Using LEGOs to help explain xRM and the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Platform

Microsoft provides the rich foundation, the various interconnecting blocks, and the many special pieces to easily extend Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a platform and extending CRM to meet new and different business needs is often referred to as xRM.


I always enjoyed playing with LEGO® sets when I was a kid.  I guess I still do, just look at my handy work for the images in this blog post.  Maybe that explains why many enjoy working with Microsoft CRM.  The two are similar in that you can build and create completely new and different things from the common set of building blocks.

Let’s take this analogy further – LEGO with wheelsYou could say that Microsoft provides three pre-built “Lego sets” with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  These sets include Sales, Service, and Marketing for a compelling Customer Relationship Management solution.  You can use the features in Sales and even build on top of it if you wanted like adding your own custom fields.  To perform specific tasks, you could use the special pieces that Microsoft provides such as workflow or charts for example.  These special pieces fit nicely with the existing blocks.  You could even dismantle Sales down to the core blocks and rebuild it your way.  As a matter of fact, you could dismantle all three sets and build something completely new and different that had nothing to do with Sales, Service, or Marketing.

Using Legos to explain xRM – Building a solution using CRM that is completely new and has little or nothing to do with traditional Customer Relationship Management (sales, service, marketing) is sometimes a challenging concept to grasp.  Hence, the Lego analogy.  What occasionally throws people off is the name of the solution, CRM.  Microsoft really can’t change the name of CRM at this point.  I think that is why the term xRM is so popular and used so widely.  xRM is not a product but rather a strategy for innovation using CRM. This makes CRM unique – using CRM as a platform to create solutions.  Since this idea is similar to the use of Microsoft Access, I have sometimes heard CRM called “Access on steroids” but that is not a fair description.  Not because CRM uses a more powerful Microsoft SQL Server database but that there is so much more in CRM as a platform as well as a detailed and example-filled Software Development Kit (SDK).

Snap it all together with Microsoft CRM – Microsoft has different offerings for businesses and people such as Outlook, Office, Skype, Lync, SharePoint, and Yammer to name a few.  Microsoft CRM helps unify your experiences and connect these solutions together.  By “together”, I mean data and a central point for solutions.  Companies need one source (one database) to go to for the truth – the complete truth of a customer.  Companies desire a true 360 degree view of customer activities, transactions, communications, social interactions – all the layers of customer information.  Companies looking to deploy CRM often have customer data, product data, inventory data, financial data, events data, accounts receivable data, you name it, stored all over the place in separate databases and Excel files.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help integrate to or replace those systems entirely. Just like adding the right Lego blocks, CRM can be extended to bring the data AND the business process of the retired solution directly into CRM. This makes Microsoft CRM a pivotal and key component to consolidating systems, operations, and experiences across a diverse set of screens.

LEGO builder for CRMBefore you start putting blocks together – As easy as playing with Legos may sound, most companies seek experienced assistance to properly implement and strategically extend CRM.  Before you start putting blocks together in CRM, it is recommended that you form a roadmap and plan that is specific to your CRM goals and business drivers.  Start strategically by asking the critical “why” questions such as why are we doing this?  As you seek help, look for partners that not only have many bright and shiny CRM blocks (some of which may already be put together for you giving you a head start), but more importantly a partner that has the discipline to know when to set those blocks aside to focus on developing your plan for measurable business improvement. Otherwise, without a plan for your CRM, you may end up with a bunch of pretty and flashy blocks snapped together that few wish to use.

CRM is like using Legos – The blocks all fit together – particularly the many unique special pieces – to consolidate business systems and data, connect applications, make it easy to use, and unify experiences.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

The use of the word “Lego” and “Legos” is a registered trademark of the LEGO® brand.

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Windows 8 and the Tablet – Getting Stuff Done

Do you have a tablet?  Do you like it?  I know for me, I can sit on a comfortable sofa, browse the internet, play games, watch video, look at pictures, and basically “consume” information and content. If you or I had to create a large complex document, my guess is that we would not want to attempt such a task on a touch screen consuming tablet.

(Note: I briefly touched on this topic in the post: Having My Documents available on any device rounds out cloud computing but I thought that it was buried too far down the post and deserved its own blog post so here it is.)

Consuming Device vs. Creation Device – If I am doing ‘real work’, I prefer to use a big monitor, keyboard, and mouse as it is still for me the most effective way to work. This allows me to both consume content (viewing, reading, browsing) and create content (create, change, collaborate, invent).  My smartphone still plays a key role for me but is mainly a mobile consuming device for things such as reading emails. I might type a quick email response or text message.  A long detailed email is just easier on a creation device – as that is what that device was engineered to do.

Leverage the Cloud Across Devices – As shared in a previous post, I have access to my own My Documents folder from my tablet or phone or laptop using SkyDrive – same documents on any device.  Just recently I received a call from a client that had a question related to a document we both share on SkyDrive.  I was not in the office but I could pull up that exact document on my phone and go to the section immediately to help answer their question. I have the ability to view these documents on my phone or tablet, but I am unable (with my current consuming devices) to make edits or create anything new – just view the files.  That is changing.

The Change – Viewing (consuming) is nice but PC computing in general is going through some big changes and getting much better.  We are seeing a shift to tablets or hybrid touch tablets/laptops that run Windows 8 and it is this same interface across all the Windows devices. That means you can create and edit the same files across the device of choice.  To further expand on this, here is some related information:

  • Listen to Microsoft founder and Chairman Bill Gates as he shares his thoughts on Windows 8 and the new Surface device in this video.
  • Joshua Greenbaum has a blog post explaining consumption and creation and how it will affect the future of the enterprise.
  • Paul Thurrott has a post explaining Why Windows 8.
  • Windows 8 website.

The Work and Play Device – I am not saying that consuming tablets like an iPad are for play only. Certainly iPads can be used for work in many ways, but not all work in my view.  The true work/play device will be on Windows 8.  The Windows 8 website says, “Use your new tablet or laptop for entertainment, work, or both. Chat with a friend while scoping out a map, or play a game while getting stuff done. Go from spreadsheet to video in one swipe, or snap them side-by-side for easy multitasking”.

Windows 8 Start Screen with Dynamics CRMWindows 8 as a CRM Dashboard – Using the new Windows 8 Start Screen as your new dashboard allows you to combine your “tiles” in the order you want.  Tiles can represent apps (such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM), websites, analytics and KPI‘s, pinned contacts, your Outlook, calendar, tasks, weather, games, photos, and a whole lot more.  You can even tile just the parts of CRM you want.

The Start Screen can be your personal and business dashboard rolled into one.  Now that’s getting stuff done.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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Having My Documents available on any device rounds out cloud computing

Do you have your ‘My Documents’ folder in the cloud?  If not, read on to find out how (and why).

Having My Documents in the cloud truly does round out cloud computing and the common everyday needs for users which usually include:

  • Email/Calendar
  • CRM
  • My Documents

All of these can now be in the cloud and available anytime from any device (phone, tablet, laptop).  Along with email, calendar, and CRM, users need an easy and safe place for their work and personal stuff (meaning My Documents).

“You need a place for your stuff”  George Carlin

The late George Carlin had a funny comedy routine based on the fact that you need a place for your stuff.  From a business and personal point of view, having all business applications along with your work and personal stuff available from any device, all in sync via the cloud, creates tremendous efficiencies.  Some people reading this article may already be using some sort of cloud file sharing but read on how Microsoft brings it all together.

Email – Before we discuss My Documents in the cloud, let’s start with email.  For example, I can go to my “Sent Email” folder and all my sent email is there whether I sent an email from my phone or tablet or laptop. I remember the days when I used to bcc myself when I sent email from a different device.  I don’t have to do that anymore.  All my email, tasks, calendar (all appointments are in sync across devices) and even my saved email folder structure is in the cloud and available from the device of choice.  This is made easy with the new free or Microsoft Office365.

CRM – The same is true for CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  Having one central database of truth for all my business relationships, team collaboration, a rich 360 degree view of my customers, activities, processes, next steps, buying trends, and analytics helps me do my job better. It helps me provide better value through better information and better relationships.  Having that same information available anywhere on any device is no longer a ‘nice to have’ in the competitive landscape of today, it is expected.  This is made easy with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

My Documents – I recently moved my entire “My Documents” folder to SkyDrive – the whole thing.  It is free with 7 GB.  If my hard drive on my laptop crashes tomorrow, all my stuff is safe.  I remember the days not too long ago when I would be working on an important document at the office.  When I left to go home, there were times when I didn’t feel like packing up my laptop, so I would just email the document to myself so I could continue working on it from home.  I then graduated to SharePoint but I didn’t keep everything in SharePoint.  Everything was in my local My Documents folder on one device which was my laptop. This included all my personal stuff like kid’s soccer schedules, workout fitness programs in Excel, my personal stuff that I was reluctant to put out to SharePoint or a shared drive.  Now all my work and personal stuff is in the cloud.  I can easily share documents with anyone I wish.  I have access to My Documents from my device of choice.  And this is made easy with SkyDrive.

Consuming Device vs. Creation Device – If I am doing real work (as opposed to what?  fake work?), I use my laptop hooked up to a monitor.  This gives me a big monitor, keyboard, and mouse and is still for me the most effective way to work as it is both a consuming device (viewing, reading, browsing) and creation device (create, edit, save as, change, invent).  My smartphone still plays a key role but is mainly a consuming device such as reading emails. I might type a quick email response or text message.  A long detailed email is just easier on a creation device – that is what it is supposed to do.  It is great having access to the My Documents folder on my phone.  Just recently I received a call from a client that had a question related to a document we share.  I was not in the office but I could pull up that exact document on my phone and go to the section immediately to help answer their question. Tablets are great for one-on-one meetings to show a PowerPoint or file – again directly from SkyDrive.  Currently, I don’t have the ability to edit documents or create documents on my phone or tablet – just view the files.  Viewing (consuming) is good but it is about to get much better.  We are seeing a shift to tablets or hybrid touch tablets/laptops that run Windows 8 and it is this same smooth interface across all the Windows devices. That means you can create and edit the same files across the device of choice.  To further expand on this, here is some related information:

  • Joshua Greenbaum has a blog post explaining consumption and creation and how it will affect the future of the enterprise.
  • Listen to Microsoft founder and Chairman Bill Gates as he shares his thoughts on Windows 8 and the new Surface device in this video.
  • Paul Thurrott has a post explaining Why Windows 8.

There is an app for that 😦   In my opinion, I think you may start to hear a different context to the word “mobile app”.  I believe the word “app” which was so cool to say as in “there is an app for that”, may not be so cool in the near future and may start to be viewed as a neccessary work-around for a particular device.  You should be able to run most programs/apps/websites across any device and you should not neccessarily need “an app for that”.  Mobile apps will still have their place but my guess is that your browser will start becoming your all-in-one app due to HTML5 and hence the need for specific apps will decrease.  We may not be exactly at that point yet in all situations, but I believe it is coming.  Part of the reason why I decided to write about SkyDrive and your stuff in the cloud is that it helps get ready for this any device anytime anywhere computing.

How to Move the My Documents Folder to SkyDrive – First, go to SkyDrive which is at and sign in with your Microsoft LiveID. This is the browser access to SkyDrive and where all your files will be.  Next, go to the SkyDrive app store at and download the desktop application for your laptop/desktop.  I found the following blog post by Sajeev Nain to be helpful with this process. Lastly, for phones and tablets, go to the Windows, Android, or Apple App Store to download the appropriate free mobile app.

Screenshots – To let you see what all this looks like after you have moved the My Documents folder to SkyDrive, I have included screenshots immediately after this post.

Microsoft Rounds Out the Cloud There are lots of other cloud services from Microsoft I certainly could have mentioned in this post such as OneNote (quick note taking, stored in cloud, embedded in Office apps) or Lync (IM, online meetings, VoIP, embedded in Office apps and CRM) but I mainly attempted to concentrate this post on SkyDrive.  In summary, having all your own core computing needs/files available from any device, all in sync via the cloud, is a game changer.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Screenshots – The following screenshots are of SkyDrive in action as My Documents.

Setting this up.  Right click on the MyDocuments folder and go to properties and change the location to point to SkyDrive.

SkyDrive on a Tablet

SkyDrive on a SmartPhone

SkyDrive on a browser

SkyDrive on the desktop

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4 Steps to Improve Data Consolidation Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Data SilosI often hear from business executives about their concerns with duplicate systems and multiple data silos.  I also hear the desire to create or improve “a grand all-encompassing data warehouse” so executives can better understand customer trends as well as all sorts of business informatics. Mostly, there is a desire for one easy to use consolidated database – the one single database of truth for all customers, contacts, and related information AND accessible across all devices – phone, tablet, laptop.

Here are four steps to improve data consolidation and get to that one database of truth using Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

  1. Understand why data consolidation is important
  2. Recognize reasons why data silos occur
  3. Catalog all the data sets
  4. Form a strategic plan on how CRM will be leveraged

STEP 1 – Understand Why Data Consolidation is Important

The first step is to understand the value of good customer data. Many executives would already agree that consolidating customer data is critical in business today but there are some that are hesitant to invest in the endeavor or they are unsure where to start. There are many valuable advantages to data consolidation, but in a nut shell, businesses are more effective, more competitive, and have greater insight when they can see one shared customer record that has a deep 360 degree view. This view could include all customer activities, purchases, visits to your website and where they went, accounting information from the ERP, real time data from data aggregators, customer complaints and their resolutions, and yes, the customer’s correct email. That is at the record level. Good data then rolls up for quality analytics. Reporting on your key performance indicators and customer buying trends and even predictive buying just got a whole lot easier now that everything is in one place. Keep in mind, in your current state, you probably have most of this data already, but it is just spread out in too many duplicate databases and Excel files to be usable.

STEP 2 – Recognize the Reasons Why Users Create Data Silos

The next step is to try to stop data silo creation. There is usually a central system in place but then users remove the data they want to an Excel file and continue to update that Excel file outside the central system. Why? Why are users compelled to create Access databases and Excel files? There can be many reasons but usually it is because the central system is hard to use and it is just easier using Excel or their own Outlook. So how do you stop users from creating their own data sets?  Improve the user interface is one way and that is where Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help. Although Microsoft CRM uses a powerful Microsoft SQL Server database to handle Big Data, it is the user Interface of Microsoft CRM that will often help reduce data silo creation. Microsoft CRM has the potential to be designed putting the user first – meaning the interface is clean and purpose driven. It also helps that Microsoft Dynamics CRM can be accessed from within the very tools that frequently drive silo creation to begin with – in this case Excel and Outlook. All of CRM can be accessed from Outlook and there is one click in CRM to bring data to Excel.

STEP 3 – Identify and Catalog all the Data Sets

Next, start to identify all your data. Data you have and even the data you don’t have. Catalog all the In-house data like main central systems, the many rogue Access databases and Excel files, as well as website databases and SharePoint Lists and so on. Just focus on the data that is being managed and updated away from a central database. Think also about the data you may not have now but could get from an online subscription to a data aggregator to sync real time business and social data or to validate and clean your data for total data quality.

STEP 4 – Form a Strategic Plan for Data Consolidation and How Best to Leverage CRM

The last and most important step is to form a long term strategic plan. This is where some companies may need assistance. Without going into too much detail, the plan should attempt to include what data will be migrated and what will be integrated.

· Migration: With data migration, this is the data that will be completely moved permanently to live in CRM. These aren’t just the rogue Excel files; this could potentially be retiring some completely separate business applications – meaning move the data along with the functionality and business process to CRM using the innovative xRM approach to duplicate functionality where logical.

· Integration: What data then gets integrated in and out of CRM? Is the integration one way (asynchronous) or two way (synchronous)? What are the outside data sources and services that will be utilized? What data integration tools may be needed?

The strategic plan may also include new reporting needs, how data will be displayed across devices, and what users get to access and not access based on their security. As you can see, having a well thought out plan divided into logical phases will provide the long term blue print and framework for continued data success.

If you understand the value of one consolidated database and you know why users make data silos and you have cataloged all your data sets and then formed and documented a well thought out plan that leverages Microsoft Dynamics CRM, well then, you should be on your way to improved data consolidation.


Need help with your data silos?  Please feel free to contact me.

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Data Security Online and Searching for Trusted Technology

Online experiences shape our opinion of cloud computing and with use of the cloud expanding, people and companies are in search of trusted technology experiences.

More companies are testing the waters with cloud computing – especially with CRM.  The cloud promises better computing power and cost savings as well as the ability to securely access the same data from either your laptop or tablet or smartphone.  Since that data is going into this magical place known simply as “the cloud”, there are no doubt initial concerns about data security.  People have a wide variety of personal and business experiences with the cloud (both good and bad) and hence look for trusted technology experiences.

The inspiration for this blog post came in part from a recent round of Twitter direct message viruses.  You may be familiar with these messages saying something along the lines of “someone is making very bad rumors about you” followed by a link daring you to click.  These direct messages on Twitter were from my industry contacts, people I really trust, people and enterprises that are quite knowledgeable with technology and wouldn’t dare send a virus, right?

Unfortunately, these colleagues unknowingly picked up the twitter phishing virus.  It was no doubt an inconvenience for them, a little embarrassing maybe, and a reminder of how cautious people and companies still need to be regarding our technology experiences.

Let me ask a few quick questions regarding trust and personal computing:

  • Do you trust every Twitter link?
  • Do you trust Facebook with your personal information?
  • Do you trust every smartphone app that requests access to your location?

The answers to those questions probably lie with your own technology experiences and I would bet dollars to donuts that you have become more cautious on social networking sites.  Those recent experiences may have also helped form your opinions related to cloud technology in general (maybe, maybe not).

It is easy to use popular social networking sites as examples but what about larger business critical applications and services that run in the cloud like CRM.

When looking for trusted technology experiences, here are my top considerations regarding CRM in the cloud.

1. Pick an Industry Leader.  Who developed the CRM?  It is a name-brand company with solid cloud experience and lots of research and development (like Microsoft).  Can you trust John Doe’s open source app emporium with your company’s data in the cloud? Um no.  Hence, pick an industry leader.  Read the post on the recent Analyst Round Up to see CRM industry leaders (and see  where Microsoft ranks).

2. Cloud Track Record.  For some CRM industry leaders, the cloud is still rather new.  Specific to Microsoft, many people I talk to are unaware of Microsoft’s long experience with the cloud.  For more than a decade, Windows Update and Hotmail have been served up via the cloud.  Xbox Live has more than 5 million users worldwide (all cloud based).

3. Financially Backed Service Level Agreement (SLA).  For business critical enterprise applications and services that run in the cloud, access to CRM should be extremely reliable.  Microsoft CRM has a finacially backed SLA with 99.9% uptime.  You should demand a good SLA with monetary adjustments for unscheduled downtime.  Be careful, there are still a handful of CRM industry leaders that don’t offer a financially backed SLA – no matter how much you try to force them.

4. CRM Focused Implementation Partner.  These days you can “turn on” most CRM systems in the cloud and start using them right away.  So why bother with a CRM implementation partner?  While we’re at it, why bother with gathering your unique business processes?  I mean, can’t you just change your process to match the way the CRM works out of the box?  Yes and no.  Yes, an organization can and should utilize the rich features that come with the cloud CRM system out of the box. No, not all organizations have the exact same processes and not all users will take to a CRM that is out of the box.  Take the time to plan a strategic long term roadmap with CRM.  Do this with a qualified CRM partner with cloud experience.  A partner that you have vetted and trust with your technology.  Gather and document your unique business processes (how you do what you do) including requirements such as data and systems integrations and BI/reporting needs.  Then scope out in logical phases how CRM in the cloud will support each process with a clean user friendly (I want to play with this CRM) interface.  This places emphasis on the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).  After all, your users have to use the CRM to get any ROI.   If your company has installed or ‘turned on’ a CRM in the past and it failed, you might have a keener understanding of the importance of this effort and the importance of a good partner. Lastly, pick a CRM implementation partner where CRM is the primary practice and not treated as an afterthought. A strong CRM partner will make a huge difference.

In summary, the use of the cloud will keep growing – especially CRM. Twitter viruses and such will still be with us reminding us to be careful.  Companies want their cloud data safe as well as convenient and will seek out industry leading products and services they have come to trust.  For technology support, expertise, and guidance, companies will turn to those experienced  business partners that have earned their trust.


Need help or more information related to this topic?  Please feel free to contact me.

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Is Windows 8 Metro Your New CRM Dashboard?

Grouping your KPI’s on Tiles is a Touch Away

Using the new Windows 8 Start Screen as your new dashboard allows you to combine your “tiles” in the order you want.  Tiles can represent apps (such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM), websites, analytics and KPI‘s, pinned contacts, your Outlook, calendar, tasks, weather, games, photos, and a whole lot more.  You can even tile just the parts of CRM you want.  The Windows 8 Start Screen can be your personal and business dashboard rolled into one.

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen - Example

This idea for this blog post came to me while I was at this week’s Microsoft Convergence 2012 in Houston.Microsoft Convergence 2012  Microsoft Convergence is a conference all about the Microsoft Dynamics business applications such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) and Microsoft Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning).   This year we saw just as much of the new Windows 8 on a tablet as we did all the others Dynamics applications – which was a good thing – because the new Windows 8 Metro interface is a vital part of a user’s experience.

KinectMicrosoft showcased other technologies at this conference in live demos using a combination of tablets, phones, Facebook, Internet Explorer 10, and even Kinect.  Yes, live demos using Kinect integrated with business applications and showing it to 10,000 attendees during the opening keynote.  I wondered if I was witnessing the dawn of “xBox for Business”.

I have been to a variety of Microsoft conferences over the years, and this conference, this year, seemed different – better. It seemed more innovative.  Microsoft had definitely stepped up its game.

To better understand what I am saying, take a look at the video on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Demo atWindows 8 Consumer Preview Demo The video shows Windows 8 on a tablet using touch. It also shows Windows 8 on a laptop using a mouse and walks through new navigation, app charms, and the clean purpose driven user interface (UI).

All of this relates very well to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  CRM is a .net web-based application so the CRM parts you want are web pages (secure web pages that is).  You can make your hot CRM opportunities a tile. Windows 8 Start Screen with Dynamics CRMYou can make certain CRM lists a tile or important analytics a tile. Your key contacts can be pinned and when accessed, you can combine information from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more.  The tiles can be moved around and share space next to your email, your photos, your calendar, your life.


Note:  Windows 8 is scheduled for Q4 2012 release.

Microsoft Future Vision Video—————————————

Note: Also, at the Conference, Microsoft showed this unique and stunning concept video of technology use in the future:


Need help or more information related to this topic?  Please feel free to contact me.


Update: 3/26/12

Read a related post by CRM industry expert Paul Greenberg.


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People Use What Works – Well

Top 3 design considerations in CRM for “trickle up” benefits

When it comes to design, people tend to use what works well. The key word there being “well”.   An easy to use CRM (and xRM) system not only increases user adoption and productivity but also has a “trickle up” effect for the entire organization.

What is the trickle up effect in CRM? 

In my view, since a well-designed CRM/xRM provides numerous user benefits, the organization realizes “trickle up” benefits.  Here are 3 to consider:

  • Lots of good quality data that drives compelling analytics on an organization’s key performance indicators thus providing insight on past and recent performance.
  • Comparative and historical data that provide predictive indicators to maximize growth opportunities and thus provide insight to future performance.
  • Greater satisfaction.  Happy users are more productive and happy customers provide repeat business and referrals.

My Top 3 Design Considerations

When deploying or upgrading your CRM, take into account these top 3 design considerations.

1.  Business Process Driven – These days you can turn on most CRM systems and start using them right away.  So why bother with gathering your unique business processes?  I mean, can’t you just change your process to match the way the CRM works out of the box?  Yes and no.  Yes, an organization can and should utilize the rich features that come with the CRM system out of the box. No, not all organizations have the exact same processes.  Take the time to gather your unique business and data processes as well as reporting needs and then have your team (or more likely a consultant) document how CRM and xRM (eXtended CRM) will support each process.

bing homepage2.  Think Clean – Most search providers these days like Bing and Google are a simple web page with only a text box and a submit button – an example of clean purpose driven design.  It might help to keep this type thinking in mind. If the system looks cluttered or busy, it is usually more difficult to use and there is a higher risk of user error.  Try to include only the items that support an efficient business process.  Remove all the extra fields, items, charts, parts, buttons, grids, toolbars, menus, and clutter that do not support the business process.  If your CRM supports JScript, JavaScript or multiple role-based forms (like Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011), then strategically hide fields based on user role or based on other data elements in the form.

3.  Sweat the Small Stuff – Attention to detail is key.  To maximize user adoption and productivity, make sure you drill into and properly address all the details – before and after user testing.  It is these design details that often make the difference.  Things like placing a short cut to a key report or process conveniently on the user taskbar or increasing the default font size on the mobile interface.  Even with xRM (see video on how to customize CRM), creating proper icons for new entities make a difference and sends a strong message to users that they are using a well thought out and complete system.  The design details and experiences across device make the difference.

Design will influence how users will interact with CRM.  Just remember that people tend to use what works well.


Does your CRM provide “trickle up” benefits?  Is it hard to use? Do users even use it? If you need help with making your CRM shine, please feel free to contact me.

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Innovation and xRM

New business solution innovation from unlikely sources by extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM – often called xRM

This post focuses on the following questions related to small and large business solution innovation through the use of xRM (eXtended Relationship Management):

  • First, why is innovation important to your organization?
  • Next, who in your organization is responsible for innovation?
  • Lastly, how is xRM used for business solution innovation within Microsoft Dynamics CRM?

Why is innovation important to your organization?  –  In today’s economy and competitive landscape, innovation and constant improvement are critical for businesses, but don’t take my word for it.

“The enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present…the decline will be fast.”    – Peter Drucker (father of modern management)

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament”Steve Jobs  (founder of Apple and Pixar).

“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.”Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft)

Who in your organization is responsible for innovation? –  Obviously Peter Drucker, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates know all about innovation, but who in your organization is responsible for innovation or even thinks about improvements via innovation?  Does innovation require a laboratory? Do you need to wear a lab coat?  Do you need an advanced degree in science or engineering?  All of that certainly helps, but in my personal opinion, the first step to making significant business improvements and innovation, is to start with people who have vision.  That vision can come from the CEO or anyone else in the organization.

“Throughout the centuries there were (those) who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.” Ayn Rand (author)

How do you identify a person with vision or an innovator in your organization?  “Innovators are learners, not knowers” according to an article by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón.  Below is a paragraph from their article.

“The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures, either through intuition or experience, know that in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. They must fail fearlessly and quickly and then learn and share their lessons with the team. When they behave this way, they empower others around them to follow suit—and presto, a culture of discovery is born and nurtured.”

How is xRM used for business solution innovation within Microsoft Dynamics CRM? –  Now let’s relate all of this to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and how everyday users can either solely or collaboratively make small to rather significant contributions and innovations with easy to use tools.

In the past, if you had a good business application idea and wanted to create a new custom software solution based on that idea, you needed to hire software developers to write code and create that solution from specific requirements.  This was a long and costly undertaking, and sometimes the vision of the exact solution never quite came to be.  It was better if the person that had the vision could also code the solution (i.e. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg).  But not everyone is Mark Zuckerberg.

What if people in the non-developer community could create solutions on their own based on their own ideas and vision?  They would then be able to create the specific solution that is in their head or their team’s collaborative heads.  This is what Microsoft can help provide with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Microsoft provides an easy to use tool for users to create, customize, and extend an already rich foundation to allow for something wholly new and original.

Innovations can be large or small.  The results could be cost savings, operational efficiency, or even new revenue streams.  Small innovations and improvements could include consolidating outside databases into your CRM or replacing third-party solutions. Big innovations could include creating completely new business solutions based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” – Peter Drucker

There are many other software tools available to innovate and Microsoft Dynamics CRM is but one of them.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM is here – available now – for the unlikely innovators out there.  Start innovating today.


Need help getting started?  Feel free to contact me.


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What if a Car Could Change its Own Oil? – a Cloud Analogy

Why should companies embrace the cloud?  Here are two quick analogies to help explain the power of the cloud and the easy low maintenance benefits of cloud computing

Analogy 1 – The Car that Changed its own Oil:  Do you change the engine oil in your vehicle or do you have someone else do it?  What if the car just magically changed its own oil – you are not sure how it happens – it just happens.  What would that mean?  Other than the fact that you might miss the burnt coffee in the waiting area of Jiffy Lube, the car would be easier to own and maintain.

Let’s take this same analogy one step further.  What if you woke up and your car had an upgraded engine and new features on the dashboard?

The analogy is similar to how business applications run in the cloud.  “The Cloud” or cloud computing allows businesses to pay a predictable monthly fee to have access to their line of business applications (example: CRM) over the internet with little to no maintenance.  Organizations no longer have to buy software licenses, pay annual software maintenance, buy servers to install software, buy supporting software for the servers, pay someone to install, look after, maintain, upgrade, trouble shoot the server, or support all the software.  Most if not all of the monitoring, maintenance, upgrades, and tune ups are done in the cloud.  Hence, cloud solutions provide low (or no) maintenance options.

What about new features and new technology?  Technology in general always seems to be changing.  It is difficult for organizations to stay on top of and leverage new technology as it becomes available.  A system upgrade is stilled viewed as a very big deal – as they tend to be costly, time-consuming, and disruptive.  The cloud is changing much or all of this old way of thinking.  Businesses can have their systems in the cloud upgraded automatically and the cost is usually included in their monthly cloud fee.

Analogy 2 – Escalator:  The cloud is like being on a technology escalator.  As technology changes and improves over time, you simply ride each new advancement and wave and you are not left behind.  In the cloud, you get upgrades, new features, and new technology with little or no effort, little or no additional cost, and little or no disruption.  You are on the technology escalator.

Let’s take Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online as an example of robust cloud computing with easy maintenance that gets you on that escalator.  There is no software license to buy or own.   It is simply $44 per user per month.  The fee includes all the hosting on powerful servers along with technical support and upgrades. You truly are on a technology escalator as you leverage new CRM features and advanced technology with each automatic upgrade (upgrades are scheduled so you are well aware in advance).   It is easy to use and you don’t have to think about changing the oil.

If your organization is tired of maintaining systems in-house or struggling with costly upgrades, the cloud is worth considering.


To learn more about the next generation of cloud computing for your organization, click on the links below:


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Is that an AMS in your pocket?

Associations can utilize smaller devices to bring their AMS (Association Management Software) to where their members are.

  • Imagine having your entire association database on your smartphone or tablet as you walk around the Expo floor of your Annual Meeting.
  • Imagine being able to answer member questions on the spot.
  • Imagine all the people, living for today (note:  I don’t think John Lennon used an AMS).

Mobile computing is not necessarily new; it is just that the usability on these smaller devices have matured to the point where a larger portion of association staff might want their AMS on the go.

If your organization wants to have their AMS on the go, here are some thoughts worth considering.

3 Considerations for a Mobile AMS

  • Usability – Having an easy to use mobile AMS means more of the association staff will use it, gain value from it, like it, and leverage it for better member service.  The user experience for a mobile AMS has greatly improved for two main reasons.  First, the mobile devices themselves have improved such as tablets and smartphones.  The second reason is the availability of mobile apps compared with mobile websites.   Mobile apps often provide the richer, more personal user experience (UX).  There are even mobile apps that allow you to customize your own interface for your staff – how about that for enhanced and secure usability.
  • Offline Capability – You may not always have access to the internet.  Whether on an airplane or in the underground portion of a hotel where the Expo is going on, the internet can sometimes be unreliable or simply unavailable.  You might consider having a mobile AMS that has secure offline capabilities to view, edit, and add information when the internet is not available.  There should also be an easy and reliable synchronization for when you do reach civilization again and find an internet connection.
  • Supports Many Devices – Most mobile devices (especially smartphones) are used for both work and personal use.  It is more difficult from an organization point of view for an IT department to consolidate to a single mobile platform.  Your mobile AMS should then be able to support many mobile operating systems and devices.  It is also helpful to have the mobile app available via your device’s store.  Lastly, the mobile app should take advantage of the specific device and display size such as having an app specific to a smartphone and then a different app for a tablet that has a larger display.

Taking your AMS with you just got a lot easier and more practical for a larger portion of association users.

Screenshots – Home Screen Top, Home Screen Bottom, Transactions View (with filter), and Tablet screenshot.


If you would like to learn more or see a demo, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or feel free to follow me on Twitter at @WillSlade.

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Social Tools Allow You to Know All Your Customers Like Your Best Customers

Add Vital Data to Your Customer Database from Social Networking Sources

“What’s the husband’s name again?”, I ask my wife on our way to a dinner party.  “Give me a minute”, she says as she quickly goes to Facebook from her phone.  “It is Bill.”, she says in a tone as if she knew it all along.

I often tell that story and its worth repeating as an example of immediate accessibility to information.  That is a good thing because truth be told, I can at times be pretty bad with names and related personal data.  That is why when I meet someone and get their business card, I try to write their basic information and hopefully some personal information on the back of the card.  If I have time, I enter a quick note directly into my CRM via my smartphone (yes there is an app for that).

Over time, you probably add more and more information about your customers.  Your best customers are the ones you know very well.  You know their needs and how best to deliver against those needs. Your customers probably appreciate that fact as well and hence you have a good working business relationship.

Knowing Your Customers Too Well Maybe?So what if you knew ALL your customers the way you know your very best customers?You probably would get a lot more business.   You already know the detailed personal information of your best customers from the relationships you have built over a long period of time.  Beyond their business needs, you might know their hobbies, interests, the college they went to and maybe even the college their kids went to.

Do you have the same deep level of personal knowledge for all customers and prospective customers?  Maybe.  Maybe not. Keep in mind that just because you know a prospective customer graduated from the same school as you doesn’t mean that you will win their business, but knowledge like that can provide better insight and the opportunity to connect and build a stronger business relationship.

Enter the age of social media.

  Leverage LinkedIn  and Twitter  into Your CRM – Social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter can add and validate vital data to your CRM thus creating the opportunity to build a better business relationship.  These social tools allow you to:

  • Validate and keep your own customer data accurate.
  • Track additional demographic and personal information.
  • Know when a key contact moved to a new company.
  • Add additional contacts at a customer company to your CRM.
  • Track and manage specific Twitter conversations about your company or your product directly in CRM.  In Microsoft Dynamics CRM, this is done via the built-in integration to Twitter.
  • Create a holistic view of your own data mixed with “public data”.  For example, in Microsoft Outlook, you can access the customer’s Microsoft Dynamics CRM contact record and blend that information directly with LinkedIn and Facebook using the Outlook Social Connector.  The below screenshot is Microsoft Outlook 2010 that is accessing a CRM contact record and displays in the lower right the live social updates and information.

And below is a close up view of just the lower right portion of the above full screenshot.  Notice that Outlook has pulled in the job title from LinkedIn.  Even if you are not connected to a person on LinkedIn, their title, picture, and other public information will still display if you know their email address.

  • Activity Feeds in Microsoft Dynamics CRM (see below example).  Microsoft Dynamics CRM with a “Facebook-style” interface. You can follow activity feeds, teams, accounts, opportunities, contacts, custom CRM records directly in CRM and hence directly from Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM directly inside Microsoft Outlook with Social Tools

 What about Facebook? – There certainly are other social tools to leverage for business beyond LinkedIn and Twitter.  Facebook can sometimes be a bit more tricky from a business perspective. Facebook (and to some degree Google+) work very well for some business purposes and falls flat for others.  Beyond Facebook, you can also look up other social networks such as a company’s YouTube channel to view their videos.  You can even see if some of your customers have blogs and then actually go read them.

Keep Up with Increasing Expectations – In summary, with all the information available on the internet, specifically with social networks, it is no surprise that customers expect more.  Keep up with customer demands by leveraging information found with social networking directly in your own CRM.  When it comes to customer buying decisions, I think people still buy from people – and these tools might just help with that.


Other Recent Articles of Interest Related to Social Media:


*Above cartoon is from

**Above screenshot with social activity feed (“What’s New”) is from Microsoft.  See the press release:  here.

Posted in CRM, General, SharePoint | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does Your CRM Align with Your Process?

Defining a clear and winning sales process in CRM to increase sales

From company products and services to new memberships at associations, business owners, executive directors, and managers are always looking for ways to increase sales.

Increasingly, they are looking to new technology. So they spend a bunch of money implementing a fancy new customer relationship management system (CRM).  After this shiny new piece of pretty technology has been in use for a while, they are usually frustrated that sales did not increase as expected.  Why?

The answer usually relates to:

  • How the CRM system was set up
  • The way staff and management use the CRM.  That is, if used it all.

CRM systems frequently fail because they are too difficult or too complex to use.  They don’t provide near enough value to the sales staff for the effort it takes to use it.

5 ideas to help align your sales process with your CRM to increase sales

  1. Define your process in advance.  Document your sales process before you implement a new CRM.  This idea isn’t new and it seems fairly straight forward but you would be surprised by how many organizations we help that still use old outdated sales processes.  When asked why they do a particular task the way they do, the answer is “well, we have always done it that way”.   Instead of keeping the status quo, attempt to dig deeper into each critical step of your sales process and evaluate if that process is still effective.  Defining (and often redefining) the business process in advance helps to best align the CRM to leverage your process.
  2. Define your process with no particular CRM product (or system) in mind.  Whenever possible, attempt to flush out the true process from the technology.  Doing this helps you avoid making assumptions of what a new CRM system can and can’t do.   You will also steer clear of any outdated tasks or processes that may have been previously included as the result of limited functionality.
  3. Start with the end in mind.  When deciding on what data to collect as part of your process, envision what you want in your reports and analytics.  By working backward from reports, you ensure proper information is captured.
  4. Involve Key Stakeholders.  The responsibility for implementing new software at an organization sometimes falls on the IT staff (the techie folks).  There are many very capable technical people at companies, but the chances of aligning your unique process to the new CRM system is greatly reduced if left solely in their hands.  If a company has technical staff, they will at times want to install and set up new software on their own.  After all, it’s just software, right?  In reality, that is not exactly fair to the IT staff as they can’t read the mind of an executive or a staff person.   When it relates to rolling out a new CRM system, it is essential to involve key company stakeholders to help define the business processes.  In addition to gaining involvement directly from staff and management, it is helpful to form a team that can accurately represent each specific area of the company as it relates to and affects the sales process as a whole.  It is also important to involve and get executive buy in.  Defining the sales process with executive involvement helps provide clarity and transparency. Projects are much more likely to succeed with at least one executive sponsor on the team.
  5. Stay realistic.  As they say, don’t try to boil the ocean.  As it relates to the new CRM system, attempt to create a realistic sales process and KISS it (Keep It Simple). Once the sales process is defined, focus on the top success factors you want from a new CRM solution and organize the project around those drivers.  If you think you are biting off more than you can chew, divide up the CRM project into phases with a more basic phase first that provides a foundation upon which to grow.   Lastly, be sure to communicate to your staff realistic expectations and timelines.  Staying realistic and setting clear expectations helps ensure user adoption and overall project success.

By defining your sales process, you can then configure and align your CRM.  Sales people tend to use systems tailored to the way the work.   Sales teams can then better manage the entire sales process to increase sales.

Posted in CRM, SystemSelection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments