Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Administration Bible


By way of a disclaimer, back at the MVP Summit last year (end of February), supremely nice guy and CRM MVP Matt Wittemann asked me if I would review his new CRM book. I said I was happy to and it has sat on my desk for the last six months waiting for me to come through on my promise. Today is that day. Given I have to look him in the eye at next year’s summit, it is the least I can do.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, here it is.


Matt Wittemann I know well. To call an MVP a ‘nice guy’ is something of a tautology, given the reason you get the award is for being friendly and sharing knowledge. In Matt’s case though he is really, really friendly, but not in a creepy way. He works at Click Dimensions (who make a really great marketing add-on product for Dynamics CRM) and was the source of my LinkedIn integration post earlier this year.

Geoff Ables, the other author of the book I do not know.

Other than a beer at summit if I am reasonably complimentary, I will receive no compensation for this review other than keeping the review book.

Overview of the Book

The book is a sizeable tome weighing in at 778 pages and, given you can get it on Amazon for US$30 or on kindle for $23 that is great value.

The first thing I noticed was the foreward. Most forewards I ignore but this one was written by Paul Greenberg. Paul wrote ‘CRM at the Speed of Light’ back in 2001; a seminal work on CRM as a philosophy and a technology. The book coined the term ‘xRM’ ten years ago! It should take pride of place on any CRM worker’s desk. It would on mine if someone had not stolen it.

If you think I talk up Matt, you should see what the ‘godfather of CRM’ says about him (all of it true). Paul also gives the book his seal of approval, which is enough for me to read on. He implies that the book will assist in ensuring a successful implementation of Dynamics CRM and I tend to agree with him.

Structure of the Book

The book is divided into nine parts:

  1. Laying a Solid Foundation
  2. Installing Dynamics CRM
  3. Administering Dynamics CRM
  4. Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  5. Customizing Dynamics CRM Through the User Interface
  6. Customizing Dynamics CRM with Custom Code
  7. Visualizing Your Dynamics CRM Data with Charts, Reports and Dashboards
  8. Extending and Integrating Dynamics CRM
  9. Appendixes (Integration with SharePoint 2010, Accessing and Using Online Resources)

This is, in my opinion, a good taxonomy as it reflects the tasks which one encounters when implementing and working with the product. For example, if I have been thrown at a CRM project which has been installed and ready to configure, it is pretty easy to work out that chapters 1, 3, 4 and 5 are a good place to start; if I am looking to integrate CRM with another system, chapter 8 suggests it is a good place to go.

Part 1: Laying a Solid Foundation

Nice work Matt and Geoff! This section is a ‘Whitman’s Sampler Tour’ (no surname pun intended) of the product. They cover aspects such as:

  • Using CRM to manage complex relationships (I am working with a customer using ACT! at the moment which is a great product to see how Dynamics CRM handles complex relationships so well)
  • Where CRM stops and ERP begins (an often confused area)
  • Common terminology of Dynamics CRM (e.g. what is the difference between a contact, lead, opportunity and account?)
  • Unique differentiators of Dynamics CRM, relative to its competitors
  • Customising and extending CRM
  • A framework for development and implementation
  • What’s new in CRM 2011
  • The differences in the deployment options (advantages and disadvantages)
  • System requirements

It is almost impossible to work with Dynamics CRM or design it correctly without the knowledge in this part. If you are a client, working with a Microsoft partner, and you want to have enough knowledge to keep them honest, this section is worth its weight in gold. Being able to say stuff like “rather than create a series of web pages to manage the approval process, why don’t we use dialogs and child workflows?” or “rather than implement a series of complex jscripts to manage the visibility of fields on the form, why don’t we create custom forms for the different user groups?” will let the consultant know you are not to be trifled with.

Part 2: Installing Dynamics CRM

The title explains it well. Aspects covered include:

  • Planning the installation (goals for CRM, integration points, infrastructure in place)
  • Installing the CRM server (through the next button, via script etc.)
  • Upgrading the server
  • Installing other common components (e-mail router, Outlook client etc.)
  • Setting up internet-facing deployment and claims-based authentication

A good overview of the elements involved. Would I do an enterprise deployment armed with just this book? Not a chance but, again, a great overview so a client can speak with authority to an expert on the subject. Also a good ‘sanity check’ if you are installing a small deployment and you want to make sure you have covered off the essentials.

Part 3: Administering Dynamics CRM

Part three begins where part two left off, setting up those post-installation system settings and some best practices. Aspects include:

  • Best practices (configuring a backup administrator, backing up)
  • Setting system settings
  • Setting up security (a very complex beast relative to CRM 4)
  • Licensing (this is quite light and needs supplementing now that the licensing model has been released)
  • Setting up users
  • Using the Deployment Manager (Product key, server management, organisation management)
  • Data migration and enriching
  • Data de-duplication
  • CRM maintenance (updates, backups, monitoring resources, server and client optimisation
  • Troubleshooting CRM (turning on developer errors, enable tracing etc.)

This part is an excellent guide for essential system maintenance to keep an existing system ‘ticking along’ and, if you are not changing the system in any way through configuration, this is as far as you need to go in the book because the rest of the book is focussed on how the system is used and how to extend its functionality.

Part 4: Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM

This section is essential reading for staff looking to support the out of the box features of the product. Aspects include:

  • How to navigate the interface
  • Record ownership and security
  • Activity management (and a warning about the hidden nasties of working with them under the covers)
  • Queues
  • E-mail templates
  • Record merging
  • Mobile devices
  • CRM Outlook client (including the new features of the massively improved 2011 client)
  • Sales functions (leads, opportunities, quotes, orders, invoices etc.)
  • Marketing functions (campaigns, marketing list)
  • Service functions (cases, contracts, service scheduling)

This section is not designed to be a definitive guide to CRM functionality but more of a high level overview. So, for example, support staff can speak sensibly on the product when dealing with queries. If you are looking for a user deep dive, this one might do the job, although I have not got a copy to review (hint, hint Winking smile).

Part 5: Customizing Dynamics CRM Through the User Interface

This is where I do most of my work; configuring the system through the user interface. As the book says you can get 90% of where you need to be through the front end configuration tools without sacrificing a single curly brace or semi-colon. Aspects include:

  • Data enrichment (a strange place to have this section in my opinion)
  • Mail merging with Microsoft Word (also unusual since this has not a lot to do with configuring the system)
  • SharePoint integration and document management (a little more at home in this chapter)
  • Solution management
  • Entity configuration and custom entity creation
  • Processes (the new name for workflows and dialogs)

A great section for laying the foundation for configuration. If you are a small company working with Dynamics CRM and someone on staff wants to be the designated ‘developer’ for the system but they have no coding experience, this is a great place to start as it will teach them how to get started and exactly how far they can go before getting a coder in.

Part 6: Customizing Dynamics CRM with Custom Code

Starting where the previous section ends, this part talks about how the product can be enhanced through code. Again there are some curious entries in here but, to give an idea of how the system can be altered the section does a good job. Aspects in the section include:

  • Setting up option sets (more at home in the previous section in my opinion and no mention of global option sets that I can see)
  • Setting up queues (again, as this is codeless I would be inclined to have this in an earlier section)
  • Setting up mobile express (codeless)
  • Managing connection roles and relationship roles (very good that the two were mentioned and the difference highlighted. Also codeless and, therefore, probably belong in an earlier section)
  • Extending CRM (forms, dashboards and processes)
  • Development options (great when you know the functionality you want but you are not sure how to implement it)
  • Setting up development and testing environments
  • Client-side customizations (including a great overview of working with jscript and the CRM form events and some sample code)
  • Server-side customizations (a great attempt to do a high level summary of a complex set of development tools, including some sample code and a walkthrough of registering a plugin. It also taught me what a REST endpoint is in language I understood)
  • Connecting to Azure
  • Building workflow extensions

Other than starting with a bunch of stuff which involves no code whatsoever, the parts which did talk about code are a great ‘101’ for client and server-side coding in CRM. This section will not make you an elite coder for CRM but it will whet your appetite on what can be done, again, perfect when discussing a vision of functionality for the system.

Part 7: Visualizing Your Dynamics CRM Data with Charts, Reports, and Dashboards

An area I am passionate about. If you are going to spend all this time setting up a system to centrally capture information, make sure you and your users have a way to extract it in a meaningful way. The section covers:

  • Advanced Find and views
  • Report wizard (my least favourite tool)
  • Using Excel as a BI Tool (my most favourite tool)
  • Charts
  • Dashboards
  • SSRS Reports (including a walkthrough for creating a custom report and report security)
  • Fetch

A great summary of the reporting options of the product. Combined with my seven ages of CRM reporting article, you should have an excellent idea of how the information you need to get to can be extracted and presented.

Part 8: Extending and Integrating Dynamics CRM

A very high level review of how to approach having other systems talk to Dynamics CRM. Aspects covered include:

  • Integration points in the product
  • Planning the integration
  • Data movement considerations
  • Best practices for migration and integration (including a handy chart to suggest which tools are best for which scenarios)
  • A section of widely used integration tools such as Scribe Insight and Pervasive Data Integrator
  • Web site integration
  • Using Add-ons (including reviews of some usual suspects such as Data2CRM, CWR Mobility and Experlogix)
  • Exploring xRM (in other words, managing business processes outside of traditional sales, marketing and services. This includes a walkthrough of an HR scenario and how CRM could help)

Again this chapter is not designed to make the reader an expert but simply to know the essentials and to make the reader aware of some of the commonly used tools in the market. The explanation of the widely mis-used ‘xRM’ is also straightforward and easy to follow.

Part 9: Appendixes

This section talks at advanced SharePoint integration and provides a table of online resources. The table of web links is a collection of the authors’ favourite CRM administrator and third-party tool links. Worthwhile and, hopefully, they will stay active.

The SharePoint section is very interesting as it gives an overview of common integration points between the products with some common examples. If this is on the cards for your CRM implementation, this is definitely worth a look.


If you know someone who is about to take on the administration of a CRM in the new year, this is a great stocking filler (and at 750+ pages it better be a big stocking). The book is specifically written to give an administrator enough knowledge to do their job and enough to ensure the others they need to interact with (e.g. consultants) are doing theirs.

My only complaint is, as is inevitable with such a book, there are some things which are out of date. The first, and most obvious, are the screenshots which are taken from the pre-released version. I expect this was all the authors had to work with at the time of writing. Fortunately not a lot changed from pre-release to production, so this should not distract in any significant way from the usability of the book. Also, the information about licensing is a little dated, referring to enterprise and professional licensing and not mentioning the ESS license. Again, I imagine this was a function of timing. Given licensing is one small aspect of this very large book this is not a big deal (here is the definitive licensing guide if you are interested).

Overall a really well crafted book. Where I see this book having its ‘sweet spot’ is with smaller implementations (either on-premise or online) who have one person being a ‘many hats’ administrator i.e. someone who manages security, users, configuration and needs to work with a Microsoft partner or customiser. I guarantee you, if you are such an administrator, buying this book will be a great investment the next time someone from the business says ‘how could we make CRM do this…?’

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moving To The Cloud Part One: Office 365

What do you do when you have a laptop full of e-mail, historical data, and photos and are constantly annoyed you have to haul the laptop around to access stuff? Move to the cloud.

This blog is a bit of a departure from the CRM stuff but, I imagine, talks about a problem many of us face. I am making notes as I go down this path (and there are quite a few of them) so I expect this to be a multi-part blog.

The Problem

I have a laptop with a 12G PST file comprising of about 12 years of accumulated e-mail. I also have about 35G of data (excluding stuff I could easily ‘regenerate’ such as music and movies).

To back up, the theory goes that, on the weekend, I hook up my laptop to my media player and xxcopy the hard drive contents. Not the most elegant solution but it would work, if I ever got around to actually doing the backup. Also, I am known at work as ‘that guy that travels with two laptops’. Why? Because when I travel interstate I want to catch up on all things CRM and most of this is set up to happen through Outlook on my personal laptop. This includes emails, subscribed distribution lists, RSS feeds and twitter feeds (thanks to TwInbox). It all feeds into the PST file for centralisation and easy searching.

So my goal is to:

  • eliminate the need to backup or, at least, automate it
  • give me an easy way to read and process e-mails/RSS feeds and tweets while away from home without carrying an extra laptop

Note that what I mean by ‘processing’ is reading e-mails, filing them in a folder, setting myself appointments and tasks resulting from them and so on. So while I can read my e-mails on pretty much any internet-enabled device e.g. an iPad or an Android slate, this is not productive for me and not practical as a solution. Outlook is so much more than an e-mail client.

Looking To The Cloud

Microsoft are making a bit of noise about Office 365 at the moment so I thought I would look into it. Essentially for a per user per month fee you get:

  • Online collaboration via SharePoint (10G +500M*# of users of storage)
  • Online meetings and communication via Lync (at a very high level, think of it as a corporate version of Live Messenger crossed with a softphone)
  • An online version of Exchange (25G of storage)

For my e-mail the last point was the important one. With an online version of Exchange you also get the Outlook Web Access client (OWA) which is a pretty good approximation of Outlook online. OWA would be sufficient for my needs. It would show all my Outlook folders, let me drag and drop emails and let me create Tasks and Appointments which would come back to my laptop when I was back at home. What’s more, my 12G PST is within the storage limits and, hopefully, give me growth for another 12 years.

So what does Office 365 cost? Well, according to the US site $6 per user per month for the simplest plan.


PLEASE NOTE: I signed up for the P1 plan despite strong suggestions from fellow MVPs to go with the Enterprise E1 plan. Evaluate the differences before signing up and take note you cannot move from a P1 to an E1 if you change your mind later.

Signing Up And The Australian Complication

I thought this is sufficiently low cost to give it a try. Being a good Microsoft citizen, this is the process I followed:

  1. Go to
  2. Type in “Office 365”
  3. Click the first result link
  4. Click the ‘Buy’ button
  5. Follow the steps

Where this process comes unstuck is when you select the country. There is a long list of countries available but Australia is not one of them. Confused, I consulted the FAQ.


So, by rights, Australia should be there. Unsure what to do I clicked ‘United States’ figuring I would either change it later or delete the account and start again one I figured out what was going on. This turned out to be a bad choice as it eventually asks for a US address.

The problem is you cannot officially sign up to Office 365 for Australia via the US web site (which is the one Bing sends you to). You have to go to the Australian equivalent site (which, ironically, Google sends you to from the outset when you type “Office 365”).

The next problem is, despite the black and white claim of global pricing, Australians pay over 30% more for their Office 365.


While the reasons are not completely clear, Office 365 is provided through a third party in Australia (namely Telstra) so I am guessing they are adding a little extra to cover their overheads. This flies in the face of the global pricing claim though.

The Unofficial Workaround

The problem I now had was it turned out to not be possible to delete my account or change the country. I could have started again but I wanted to keep my free vanity domain you get when you sign up. I was also a little put out that Australians were paying more for a cloud solution than the rest of the world.

The problem was a lack of a US address. Fortunately my wife has an American Express card and they have a member benefit, courtesy of which means card holders get a complimentary US address and reduced shipping rates. The reason for this unusual benefit? A lot of US suppliers flatly refuse to deal with people outside of the USA and will only ship within the USA. This service gets around that.

Wielding my newly found US address and my credit card I signed up at the global rate of $6 per user per month. Can Microsoft or Telstra force me to go through Telstra and spend $7.90 per user per month? Well, by my interpretation, this would be third line forcing which is illegal in Australia.

Even if you do not have an American Express card, you can sign up to and pay a once-off fee of $10 and get an address. Within six months you will have recouped the difference (6 * ($7.90-$6.00) = $11.40), assuming US$/A$ parity.

Experience So Far

Well I will save that for the next blog, along with a bunch of tips and tricks I have learned along the way for transferring my PST over to Exchange Online and for configuring SharePoint Online but, overall, the experience has been very positive. Assuming Microsoft and Telstra do not kill my account for that little nugget above, I expect to be using Office 365 for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Interplay of People, Process and Technology

Before I get into the article, Google Analytics is telling me I am not getting as many hits as I used to.

While this may simply be a seasonal thing, I am keen to keep my audience. Therefore, if there is a specific type of article you would like to see or, if you feel I have been dropping the ball of late, let me know. Generally I write one of three types of articles:

  • Codeless tricks for Dynamics CRM
  • Competitive analysis (often directed at salesforce)
  • Thought leadership on CRM in general

Today’s article is in the ‘thought leadership’ camp.

The Processing of Information

There is a reliable model in IT circles when it comes to implementing software into a business which is the model of People, Process and Technology. The idea is that if you are processing information e.g. converting an order into a delivery or going from a lead into a sale, inevitably these three elements will be involved.

Overall it is a pretty good model in that it is understood that all three elements have to be considered for an IT project not to fail. To put it generally:

  • People: who is involved in processing the information?
  • Technology: what systems are being employed in processing the information?
  • Process: How is the information transformed/transferred?

What is often overlooked, and the purpose of today’s blog, is the consideration of their interplay.

Scenario One: The Dreaded Timesheet

A few employers ago, my boss asked me to look at how we could improve the internal process of lodging timesheets. The consultants complained that the process involved multiple handling of emails from the resource manager (the person that assigned them to projects), their calendar and the ERP system where they eventually logged their time. All three elements held basically the same information but none of them were linked, except through the keyboard of the consultant.

The resource manager complained because his calendar, showing all consultants, was not linked to the CRM or ERP system so he had to monitor when deals closed and then assign resources manually. The general manager complained because the numbers in the ERP system of closed deals never matched the resource manager’s calendar of completed work and the CRM system of future deals never matched the resource manager’s calendar of upcoming and assigned work. It was a mess.

As an aside, for those of you not in the consulting game, this situation is nothing new and is pretty much par for the course in most consulting businesses.

I began reviewing the situation and quickly concluded that Dynamics CRM could be used to resolve the situation.

  • When a sales opportunity is closed in Dynamics CRM, a workflow could automatically create a project task for the resource manager
  • The resource manager could assign this to a consultant and it would automatically appear in their Outlook calendar
  • When the work was completed, the consultant could mark the activity as completed and this would then feed into the ERP system via an integration component
  • Everything could be monitored through CRM’s Service Calendar or through SRS reports

An elegant solution and entirely practical. All the resource manager would ever have to do would be to assign jobs to consultants and all a consultant would have to do is complete the work and mark it as such in Outlook. The systems would take care of the rest.

I was so excited about the possibilities, I mentioned the idea to my boss’ boss, the general manager. To my surprise he was lukewarm on the idea of using CRM as the ‘glue’. His response was “let us look at the process first and then we can look at the technology”. Unfortunately, despite lovely process diagrams being created, nothing changed and the business continued to drown in  poor information and overly manual processes. Because so much time was being spent on the manual processes generating inadequate information, there was never any time to improve the situation and, as far as I know, the situation remains the same to this day.

Scenario Two: The Dream System

Another time, the company I worked for was asked to deliver a system, using Dynamics CRM, which met the specifications gathered by a third-party system-agnostic business analyst. We were told it was the system the client’s staff had designed and it was vital to give them what they wanted to guarantee user adoption, no further workshops required. Unfortunately, the consultant involved (who will remain nameless to protect the inexperienced) accepted the challenge and the project horribly failed with budget blowouts and compromised solutions. No-one got what they wanted.

Scenario Three: Consolidating on the One Platform

The final situation was a conversation I had with a client where they loved Dynamics CRM so much they wanted to do everything through it, including their financials and inventory management. Fortunately, I managed to convince them otherwise but it is an excellent example of when you have the CRM hammer how everything looks like a nail. For the client, it did not matter that CRM has no concept of a general ledger or that the accounting department would have to learn a completely new system which would deliver a fraction of the functionality of the incumbent ERP software.

Why Considering Elements In Isolation Never Works

The problem in each of these scenarios is that one of the three elements was being considered without regard to the others (process, people and technology, respectively). This happens a lot and is often why CRM projects fail. Use your favourite search engine to find lists of reasons why CRM projects fail and you will see lists talking about how one or more of the three elements are being ignored.

If you focus on the technology and process but do not ensure the people are equipped and motivated to use the system (through training) user adoption will be compromised.

If you focus on process and people but ignore the technology, the misalignment will lead to expensive development to make the system ‘fit’ blowing out budgets with minimal gain.

If you focus on the people and technology but ignore the process, you risk automating and magnifying inefficiencies or failing to deliver what the business actually needs.

Getting in the Zone

A rough analogy can be drawn to the idea of the head, heart and hands and the idea of being ‘in the zone’; that state of mind, similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ where productivity is achieved effortlessly.

Hugo Kehr researched this area and came up with the ‘Compensatory Model’. The theory goes that if the head (rationale for an action), heart (personal motivation to perform the action) and hands (perceived ability to perform the action) are aligned, the individual will achieve effortlessly. If they are not, without intervention, achievement will be difficult or impossible. A classic example is a smoker who knows quitting is good for his health (head) and he has the ability to stop (hands) but his heart is not in it. To achieve success will require willpower; it will not be effortless.

In our case, we can consider the process as the head (the logical approach to processing the information), technology as the hands (the tools to enable the processing) and the people as the heart (those performing the action who must be personally motivated).

Reviewing the misalignment through this filter:

If the people are unmotivated e.g. they perceive CRM as unhelpful and merely a ‘big brother’ system, they will be able to achieve the outcome but there will again be frustration and the requirement for willpower.

If the technology is inadequate but the people and the business both agree the outcome is necessary, creativity and problem solving will be used to ‘work around’ the systems e.g. Excel and Access systems will be created.

If there is no process, people with the right resources can achieve the outcome, but there will be frustration and willpower (volitional regulation to use Kehr’s terminology) will have to be employed.


The idea of considering the elements of people, process and technology when implementing an IT solution to help with a business process is a good start but it is not everything. Changing one of the three elements inevitably affects the other two and, often, in subtle ways. Therefore, it is also necessary to consider how all three are linked in the ‘as is’ process, how this will change in the ‘to be’ process and what steps will be necessary to transform from one to the other. Being rigid with one element and expecting the others to fall into place is a recipe for disaster.

The closer all three are aligned, the less frustration there will be with the system and the more consistent the process: business nirvana.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Woolworths Homeshop Needs a CRM (And Maybe You Do Too)

For those of you from foreign shores Australia, basically, has two supermarket chains (Woolworths and Coles). Both offer online shopping and delivery (for a charge). I use Woolworth’s Homeshop and while, in my experience, the range is a little more limited, the costs are a little higher and the quality a little inferior, relative to the the physical stores, the benefits of time saving and convenience outweigh the negatives.
All was fine until we moved house a few weeks ago when the problems began.


Late Deliveries

Woolworths provides customers a range of windows for delivery. One Monday we picked 6am-8am so that the delivery was part of the usual morning drama of getting the children and ourselves ready for work. 8am came and went and nothing turned up. My wife called and asked what had happened. She was told the bad weather and traffic had delayed the delivery and it would be there soon. At 8:10am it turned up. A minor delay and a little disappointing but these things happen. I wrote it off as an outlier.

Eight days later it was time for the next shop. Again we picked the ‘morning madness’ slot. 7:45am and nothing had arrived. My wife’s spider senses began tingling so she called Homeshop. She was assured the driver was on his way and would be there by 8am. 8am rocked around and still no groceries. My wife called again and was told the driver was running late and he would be there at 8:10am. Nothing at 8:10am and she called back. She was told the delivery was delayed and that is the way it is. An apology is apparently not part of the standard customer service.

If you imagine the Hispanic wife from Modern Family with an Australian accent, this is my wife. Respect is a big thing for her. No apology when groceries are late and a cold attitude is not the way to go with her. She was told the next delivery will be free and asked if there anything else that can be done. My wife asked to speak to the warehouse manager so she can give him some selected thoughts on improving his operations management. After all, she has knowledge of operations management from her time at a Fortune 100. The customer service operator refused and suggested she get her manager to call later. This was accepted. Unfortunately, the customer service operator failed to organise this call.

With two late deliveries, being generous, I put this down to a coincidence.

Eliminating the excuse of traffic, we decided to opt for a Sunday delivery. Sure enough, the clock chimes 8am and no delivery. My wife, again, puts in the call and receives an apology from the operator who assures her it should not happen. Next delivery will be free. My wife tells the operator she values her time more than a nominal delivery fee, suggesting she will give the business one more chance before moving to Coles.

The groceries turn up as she puts down the phone. Unfortunately, no checklist is provided and some foods have been substituted for cheaper alternatives (despite us ticking the box ‘no substitutes’ on the online order and no discount given for the inferior product).

Three in a row is now a pattern and suggests something systemic is involved.

Where Are The Problems And How Can A CRM System Help?

To see where the problems are, let us look at the steps in the process:
  1. Customer orders online and selects a delivery window
  2. Goods are selected from a warehouse and loaded into a truck
  3. Driver takes goods to home
  4. Goods arrive late and customer phones up customer service, receiving mixed service
Let us also summarize the issues experienced in the three deliveries:
  • Goods were consistently late, despite a two-hour window
  • Customer service did not know where the trucks were
  • Customer experience from the call centre was mixed
  • No reliable escalation process
  • Cheaper substitutes provided despite the order specifying not to
So how can a CRM system help?

Traditionally, CRM systems were about sales automation; helping sales people track sales opportunities and converting them to sales but, these days, they cover a much wider range of processes than just sales.

In the case of Woolworths, a good CRM system would link the online ordering system with the warehouse and the customer service centre. It would also allow for better management of the process of delivering excellent customer service. Let us review the specific issues.

Late Goods

This one is probably beyond a CRM system. Given the consistent inability to deliver on time to our new address, relative to our old address, I can only conclude Woolworths have a predefined route for the area and we now fall towards the end of that route.

Where a good CRM system could help would be in reporting on complaints received and determining the cause. It is likely others, nearby, also have the same experience as us and in the effective capture of these complaints and consolidation of reporting through a business intelligence (BI) system this issue could be identified and remedied through a review of the route or through the hiring of more drivers.

A cynic would suggest that Woolworths are willing to endure some level of dissatisfaction in order to maximize profits but I am sure this is not the case, given the high level of competition with Coles.

Customer Service Not Knowing Where The Trucks Are

In these days of ubiquitous GPS systems, it would be a relatively simple procedure to link a GPS tracking system with a CRM system via wireless internet, allowing the call centre to know where the trucks are at all times. Failing this, another option would be electronic signature for deliveries, similar to what is experienced with many courier companies (Homeshop still has a paper-based signature). The electronic signature would be transmitted back to the CRM system and the call centre, presented with an ordered list of deliveries, would be able to see where the truck is up to and estimate a delivery time (or the CRM system could estimate for them).

Mixed Call Centre Experience

There is little excuse in today’s world for an inconsistent call centre experience. Most CRM system provide a scripting facility and the ability to automate the process of servicing the customer. In my opinion, it is clear the Woolworths Homeshop call centre do not have access to standard procedures for dealing with common complaints and, unfortunately, have to improvise to the detriment of the customer.

No Reliable Escalation Process

It is often the case that call centres are geographically separate from management so it is not practical or possible for the call centre to escalate a call directly to a manager. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary for a call centre operator to request a customer be called back by management to deal with an issue more appropriately. Where the system breaks down is if there is not a simple system to action this escalation. Most CRM systems have a workflow engine, allowing the automation of activity as the system is used. In this case, the call centre operator could tick a box in a CRM system and the system would take care of the rest; contacting the most appropriate senior member of staff, based on the type of complaint. Even then, if the issue has not be addressed within a fixed time period, the system automatically escalates the issue further. Most call centres, meeting international standards, have such systems in place as well as well-defined service level agreements (SLAs).

Cheaper Substitutes Despite Instructions Otherwise

In this case there appears to be a breakdown between the online ordering system and the warehouse picking slip. Given substitution, when it does happen, appears to be a cheaper product, the same cynic from before would suggest there is a conscious decision, on behalf of Woolworths, to ‘try it on’ and occasionally slip in a cheaper product to improve profit but, as before, I doubt this is the case because the cost in customer satisfaction would massively outweigh any benefit in a few pennies extra profit.

If the picking slip from the warehouse was generated from the same CRM system as captured the online order, it would be a simple case of ensuring the ‘no substitutes’ option was displayed in large font on the generated picking slip.

Taking it a step further, let us assume a barcode reader is used for inventory management, scanning the items as they are removed from the warehouse to update the ERP system. If the CRM system presented an on-screen picking slip, rather than printed out, it would also be possible to link the scanner to the CRM system so that, when a substitute is picked for a ‘no substitutes’ order, the warehouse operator received a warning so they could fix the mistake or automatically generate a credit, email to the customer etc.


Ultimately, people implement CRM systems to improve communication, either internally or externally. In the case of Woolworths Homeshop there appears to be communication issues between the online ordering system, the warehouse, the delivery drivers and the call centre. A consolidated CRM system has the potential to address these issues, improve customer satisfaction and provide a competitive advantage. Let us hope Woolworths starts reviewing their process before our next order, otherwise we will be going to Coles.

The challenge for the rest of us is to look at our own businesses and consider whether we also have communication issues, which affect our ability to deliver excellent service, and consider how technology can be used to improve the situation.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Salesforce’s Third Quarter Results (and fixing up a small mistake)

Salesforce has just released their third quarter results. This gives me an opportunity to see how they are tracking financially but also to fix up an error in a previous post. Back in September I had suggested that salesforce was getting away from Microsoft in terms of subscriptions. It turns out my ability to combine tables was in error and thus the conclusion that salesforce was moving away from Microsoft was also in error. Let us delve into it shall we?

The Third Quarter Financial Results

For the details, you can go here.

My last review of the financials was back in September. At that time, salesforce had made a loss for the first time since the start of 2009. Unfortunately they have now made it two quarters in a row. The loss is smaller than before, but a loss regardless. If salesforce do not make a profit of more than $7.5m in the last quarter, they will make a net loss for the year. Marc should make some calls into the North Pole. They have a bunch of folk up there trying to track customers worldwide and delivering goods to them via overnight delivery. They might need some help in the next couple of months.

Here is the graph of the financials.


Those non-GAAP revenue costs appear to be tapering but those pesky operating costs keep growing. If only salesforce did not have to operate a business (improve the product, pay commissions, paint the world in adverts, run offices etc.) they would be making a fortune.

I again embraced the pleasure of listening to the earnings conference call and no one bothered drilling into the loss. Marc was certainly unconcerned, but this is no surprise. The fact that the analysts on the call were not overly concerned either was surprising. The analysts have noticed the slowdown in billings growth but that is about it. So, like a water balloon left on a running tap (faucet for our American readers), it is all still about growth and not about the long term consequences.

Subscription Numbers

Unfortunately, salesforce no longer report subscription numbers with their quarterly results. However, the revenue results can give us a clue. Here is the obligatory table of financial results.


2011 Q1

2011 Q2

2011 Q3

2011 Q4

2012 Q1

2012 Q2

2012 Q3









Revenue Cost








Operating Cost








Salesforce Income
























Revenue Per Subscriber








Revenue PUPM








Revenue Growth ($) yoy








Revenue Growth (%) yoy








The first four rows and the Revenue Growth ($) are in the thousands.

Numbers in red are my best guesses using the average company size as an indicator of subscriber numbers.

In this last quarter we have had to be a little smarter because the customer numbers were not released. In this case I have used the Revenue Per User Per Month which has tracked at around $50-51 for the last 18 months. Combining this with the Revenue numbers gives us a number for subscribers and, again, using the predicted average company size we can get a number for customers.

Assuming things are on track, salesforce is poised to make four million subscribers before the end of the next quarter.

Fixing Up My Market Maturity Numbers

As mentioned, back in September I made an error with the market maturity numbers which led to the conclusion salesforce were getting away from Microsoft. Time to fix that error. Here is the corrected table.

SFDC Subscribers

SFDC Customers

MSFT Subscribers

MSFT Customers

Subscriber Ratio

Customer Ratio

Difference in Subscribers

Total Subscribers

Customer Size Ratio
Mar-06 423,667 22,298 150,000 6,000 2.82 3.72 273,667 573,667 1.3



























































































Essentially, the error came because salesforce quote their financials by fiscal year. So the most recent results are Q3-2012 even though we are still in 2011. This led me to put the previous years subscription numbers in for salesforce in all but the last quarter. I also misunderstood when the salesforce quarters started. I had assumed fiscal year started on the first of January. It appears it actually starts on the first of February so this has also been adjusted. The above table, as far as I know, is now correct.

Again, the numbers in red are best guesses based on the information at hand.


The total number of subscribers for the two companies continues to grow unabated with it likely that the two products are already serving six million subscribers or more.


The graphs no longer show the jump seen previously. We now see that either the ratio of subscribers is flattening to just below two or the ratio is decreasing and the difference is flattening out. Time will tell which is correct. What is clear is that salesforce are not pulling away through the subscriber land grab acquisitions as previously speculated and Microsoft are still in the chase. Honestly, nothing would please me more than another drop in the subscriber ratio and a reduction in the subscriber difference. I cannot wait to see if Santa Marc will package that up for me in the next quarter results.

Google Trends


Here is the latest difference between “dynamics crm” and “” according to Google trends. In the past I have used a linear trend line but I do not feel this accurately represents the movement (with an r-squared value around 50% its presentation was unjustified). To this end I have changed the trend line to a moving average graph, akin to what is often used for stock prices. The advantage of this kind of trend line is it smooths out the fluctuations and still gives an indication of the general direction of movement. The graph indicates Dynamics CRM continues to gain mindshare amongst the Google search population.


My first conclusion is avoid crunching numbers in the wee hours (although I am writing this at 2am so I am not good at taking my own advice). Moreover, as any good theoretical physicist will tell you, if you do crunch numbers and a strange result pops out check and re-check to make sure you are not going to put something out there which is a nonsense.

In regards to the salesforce numbers, I predict that salesforce will make their four million subscribers by the end of the year and this year will result in a financial loss for the company. I often say “one is an outlier, two is a coincidence and three is a pattern”. Let us see if salesforce can turn their financial losses into a pattern next quarter.

As for accelerating away from Microsoft, this is far from the case. Microsoft continue to pursue salesforce like a dog chasing a car. Whether the car will stall or shift into second gear is yet to be seen.

Finally, Microsoft continue to gain public mindshare and this does not appear to be slowing. While it was close in July 2011, we are yet to see a day when more people search for Dynamics CRM than Appearances would suggest that day, however, will be soon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Socialmention Battle Arena: Battle of the CRMs

I came across this tool called socialmention and thought I would give it a bit of a plug. Essentially it is a free social analysis tool covering quite a wide range of sources. Here are the results of the vanity search:


Most of it is pretty self-explanatory. The four measures in the top left are as follows:

  • Strength: Likelihood of keyword being mentioned socially (turns out I am not mentioned very much)
  • Sentiment: Ratio of positive to negative mentions (this is a pretty dodgy measure as it appears to use keyword matching to determine the sentiment of messages)
  • Passion: Measures how likely people are to repeatedly talk about the keyword. For example, if it is a small group of people that constantly mention ‘leontribe’ this will have a high passion score even if the relative Strength of the output is low.
  • Reach: A measure of influence

They also offer a service similar to Google Alerts, although I have not been able to get it working yet.

Battle of the CRMs

Using the CRM’s mentioned by Gartner we get the following results (I used all quadrants except the bottom left): Dynamics CRM Oracle CRM Siebel CRM SAP CRM SalesLogix
image image image image image image

The Winners

In terms of likelihood of being mentioned (Strength), SalesForce is the winner, closely followed by Dynamics CRM. Except for SAP CRM, the others are far behind.

For sentiment, SAP CRM can do no wrong but, as mentioned I am somewhat sceptical of this measure. Any system which gives Hitler and Osama Bin Laden a three positive to one negative ratio has got limitations.

For passion, look no further than SalesLogix. That small group of social networkers talk about SalesLogix the most frequently. Interestingly, SalesForce has the smallest passion score meaning the people mentioning it are not concentrated to a small group.

In terms of influence (reach), Siebel has the longest arms, closely followed by Oracle CRM and SalesForce. SalesLogix had the shortest arms so while the SalesLogix socialites talk often, they do not talk to a diverse group.

Review of the Keywords

The keywords of the different products also offer some insight. For SalesForce we see their focus on the cloud and for enterprise business to make use of social channels. We also see mention of Benioff, their CEO, speaking at the strong influence he has on their brand. They also mention Oracle, which may be because of the recent circus at OpenWorld.

For Dynamics CRM, the terms are a little more general but talk about office software and a customer focus.

The Oracle and Siebel keywords talk about business software with a strong salesforce automation and marketing focus.

The most interesting, in my opinion, are the SAP CRM keywords which are more about the people who work with the product and their career than about the product itself or the customer.

The rather strange keywords regarding SalesLogix are because of a recent press release put out by Sage regarding one of their customers.


If you are looking for a free social analysis tool, this is not a bad place to start and, while it is not as comprehensive as many of the non-free alternatives it is a good way to get an idea of what a brand is up to. If you are feeling bored, you can also play the Social Mention negative sentiment game where you (and as many of your friends as you like) try to find ANY keyword phrase which has a negative sentiment score i.e. more negative mentions than positive (it took a colleague and I about an hour to find one). If they are family-friendly rated, feel free to add them to the comments Winking smile

Sunday, October 23, 2011

CRM Things To Come: The Release Preview Guide For Q4 2011

This came out a few weeks ago but is worth a going over because there is a fair amount of stuff coming. For those that have not seen it, here is the link. This is Microsoft’s vision for Dynamics CRM as at August 2011.

The Executive Summary

It is good to see they are still going with the ‘familiar, intelligent and connected’ line. As CRM becomes more social and collaborative these will become more and more relevant. They also introduce the idea of ‘waves’ which seems to be the term they will be using for the major updates. The only other observation is a linguistic one. The summary uses the word “you’ll”. They could have used ‘you will’ but went with the less formal version. The piece wants you to be a friend, not a cold analyst (I rarely contract in my blog because I want to pretend I am, at least, a little bit formal).


They mention this is the fifth major release. By my reckoning it is the fourth (v1.2, v3.0, v4.0 and v2011). There was v1.0 as well so maybe they are including this one.

Improved Agility

Here they again confirm the twice yearly cycle for major releases. If you are thinking that every six months you will get the same kind of bang we got when CRM 2011 came out you will be disappointed but, hopefully, there will be a few goodies to look forward to each time.

Key New Capabilities


There is a lot of love for online here. Stuff either works online only or for both online and on-premise. No features for on-premise only. In terms of what all this means we have the next few sections.

Unified Office 365 Experience

While Microsoft lay it on thick with how awesome Dynamics CRM and Office 365 are together, the fact is these two products will be getting closer and closer together as time goes on. The Q4 release is the start of this. Sign up for one and you will be able to get the other. Rather than get two charges it will be one or, at least, that is how I am interpreting ‘Unified Provisioning’ and ‘Unified Billing’. The administration bit I think refers to Microsoft’s internal administration simplifying as the products come together.

Enterprise Cloud

Identity Federation

Today, you can log onto CRM Online any way you like as long as it is with a Live ID. This is a little annoying, especially if, like me, you have a Live ID for IM, Live ID for forums and then Live IDs for CRM logins. Q4 will allow people to use Active Directory, much like Lync does today. No more Live ID logins (hooray!)

Enhanced Data Recovery

I am a little underwhelmed by this one. They will be doing backups in the same region as the data centre. What I want is the ability for CRM Online customers to do their own backups. I do not really see this adding value but just achieving expectation.

Feature Enhancements

Enhancements to Dialogs

Dialogs have the shortcoming that, while you can input values into a dialog, the types of values you can enter are limited. This will be addressed in the Q4 update, meaning that lookups and dates can now be entered as input. Again, not so much raising the bar but achieving a baseline level of functionality.

The ability to generate dynamic hyperlinks is great. One of the common uses of workflows is for ‘reminder’ or ‘escalation’ notifications. The problem is that while you could tell someone about a new record or a record that has not progressed, you could not give them a link to click on to get them to that record. They still had to open up CRM, navigate, go to quick search etc. Being able to generate a dynamic hyperlink fixes this for dialogs and, hopefully, for workflows. I am not sure what is meant by “hyperlinks that guide users to…content in…external applications but I am intrigued.

Additional Business Intelligence Capabilities

We are getting multi-series charts! The new charting capability of CRM 2011 can already produce multi-series charts but you have to export the chart, hack the XML and then re-import. With the Q4 update it will be possible to configure such charts directly through the application; no more XML hacking. The sky is the limit with CRM Charting because the underlying tools are so feature-rich. I imagine each major release will give us a little more each time.

Extended De-duplication Rule Processing

Another shortcoming removed from the product. To understand the problem, try de-duplicating a contact on an e-mail address. You will see that any contact with a blank e-mail field is labelled a duplicate with any other contact without an e-mail address. The new enhancements fix this. If only they would also give us SOUNDEX matching…

Social Investments – Wave 1

While many of the improvements up until now have been ‘fixes’ in the sense that they bring functionality to the table that a general user would expect to begin with, the social investments are the meat in the Q4 update sandwich.

Microsoft introduces its social model of three communities:

  • Internal: communities within the organisation e.g. a company Yammer group
  • External Managed: communities involving the organisation and external parties in an environment controlled by the organisation e.g. a corporate Facebook page
  • External Unmanaged: communities in an environment not controlled by the organisation e.g.a fan page

Microsoft also suggest Dynamics CRM is the hub at the centre of these communities.

Activity Feeds

Essentially Chatter for Dynamics CRM. The way they describe it I am guessing the ‘Activity Feed’ is another entity with a special summary page akin to a Facebook wall called ‘Your Wall’.

Mobile Activity Feeds

Similar to the mobile express client (only hopefully a bit more graphically rich), Windows Phone 7 users will be able to check their wall via their phone and perform related actions. While I understand Microsoft want to leverage ‘the stack’, I think it is fair to say that there are at least a couple of CRM customers who use phones with different OSes in them. Maybe the mobile activity feed will make it to the iPhone and iPad some time in the future.

Leon’s Conclusions

There are some good ‘fixes’ in here. I am especially happy about the ability to generate links in dialogs and, hopefully, workflows. Also, the improvements to graphs is great and is very practical.

In terms of the social stuff, it is a good start and, while not necessarily a healthy slab of steak, it is a good quality piece of ham in the CRM sandwich. This is because I can see how the internal needs are considered in the activity feed but it is not clear to me how it addresses external managed and unmanaged requirements. Hopefully, the Microsoft team have seen Parrot and can take some tips from this for the external components.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Extending Dashboards Without Code

If you have played with the new dashboard feature of CRM 2011 you will find that it is one of the jewels of the product. The ability to codelessly create a dashboard of graphs, grids and iframes, which show real time data, and allow for drilldown is simply fantastic.

However, the tool does have its limitations. One of the key ones is the limitation of only being able to display six panels. This can be circumvented with a little code for on premise. Here is an example from Amreek Singh’s blog.

Another more subtle one is with limitations to layouts. For example, if you want three squares on the top (maybe three graphs) and two rectangles on the bottom (maybe two grids). The closest you can get is the three-column multi-focused dashboard.


But if you want the three on the top to be equal in size it does not work. Your choice is boxes of quarter size or half size. Similarly, if you pick the three-column regular dashboard.


Your choices are columns of 1/3 or 2/3 but not of quarter and half.

The Solution: Loving The Iframe

This is a handy tip passed onto me by Microsoft’s Craig Steere. His official title is Dynamics Solutions Specialist but I know him as a guy to go for excellent Dynamics CRM information (he is also a pretty good source for information on competitors).

The trick is to display a secondary dashboard in an Iframe. So, say we pick the three-column regular dashboard and combine the bottom three windows into one window the width of the screen. We get this:


We now create a second two-column regular dashboard to embed via an iframe. This one we use only one row of blocks.


Getting The Child Dashboard’s URL

To embed the Child Dashboard in a URL we need to know its web address. Practically every form in Dynamics CRM has a unique web address and the trick we use with normal views and records also works for dashboards. However, for dashboards, we have to do it in a slightly different way.


From the left navigation bar we click the black arrow and find our child dashboard. We then right-click and have the option of opening in a new window. When it pops up we can copy the address straight from the address bar. We then add this to the iframe on the parent dashboard.


You will notice I turned off the cross-frame scripting restriction. When I initially tried to do this, I did not use system dashboards but personal ones. For some reason the embedded dashboard was stopped from showing. For personal dashboards the cross-frame tickbox is not editable. I tried with system dashboards, turning off the restriction and it seems to work.

The result is this:


You can get rid of the embedded scroll bar by increasing the height on the iframe, but the ‘Child Dashboard System’ title I could not get rid of.


If you have a specific format in mind or, if the grids you are working with lend themselves to a specific format, but the dashboard formatting is causing you some grief, this might get you out of it. Also, this will work online whereas the coded solutions, as far as I know, do not.

Finally, in theory, this opens up the possibility for a 36 box grid (six boxes, each showing a six box dashboard). If, and I have not tried this, you can embed dashboards another layer down, the number of boxes is only really limited by the screen resolution and size.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Being An MVP

This week Microsoft renewed my MVP status meaning I am an MVP for another 12 months. This is my third year of being an MVP so I thought it might be a good opportunity to write about my experiences with the programme and the kinds of things I do to stay within the programme.

What Is An MVP?

An MVP (Most Valuable Professional) takes its name from the US sporting accolade of Most Valuable Player. For those of us outside of the USA, this is broadly equivalent to a ‘Man/Player of the Match’ or a ‘Best and Fairest’ award. The Wikipedia article sums it up pretty well:

The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) is the highest award given by Microsoft to those it considers "the best and brightest from technology communities around the world" who "actively share their ... technical expertise with the community and with Microsoft".

The key thing to note is the reference to community contribution. What the award does not recognise is elite programming skills. As some of you may know I am not a programmer. I used to code C++ a long time ago but I am not a .Net programmer and yet I am an MVP for Dynamics CRM; a program built on .Net and extended using .Net .

Also, the award does NOT recognise those that exclusively drink the Microsoft Kool Aid. MVPs are often the most outspoken critics of the flaws in the products they work with. Microsoft welcomes this because, to stay competitive, they need to know what is not working with their products. While MVPs do not often post scathing criticisms on forums or in their blogs they do, behind closed doors, let Microsoft know in no uncertain terms where the problems are with their products. I will talk more about these closed doors a little later.

How Do I Become An MVP?

This is a question that is often asked and it is difficult to answer because there is no specific ‘track’ to getting the award. There is no set of certifications or qualifications which are needed. One thing that is required is nomination. In my case I was nominated by another CRM MVP and this was seconded by a Microsoft employee working with Dynamics CRM. Traditionally, this was how prospective MVPs were put forward (one external, often an MVP themselves, and seconded by a Microsoft employee). However, this is not necessary. Anyone can e-mail someone they believe is deserving of the award (including themselves). The details are here.

Once nominated, a panel within Microsoft reviews the application. I have no idea who is on this panel, nor where they are located (although I assume it is in Redmond). Community contributions from the previous 12 months and technical knowledge are considered. There are no official levels of activity required and it is presumably a subjective decision weighed against the relative merit of other candidates and existing MVPs. Intakes into the programme are quarterly (January, April, July and October).

Once successful, MVPs are reviewed on an annual basis and must be able to demonstrate community activity on par with that which got them into the programme in the first place. If an MVP stops contributing, they will not be renewed.

What Is Meant By ‘Community Contributions’?

Occasionally, Microsoft do release a document talking about the activities considered to be contributing to the understanding and appreciation of the product by the broader community. Typically, the kinds of things mentioned include:

  • Participating in the online Microsoft forums
  • Blogging
  • Tweeting
  • Giving talks at user groups or conferences
  • Organising events for the public such as user groups or public demonstrations

Of these, the forums are the easiest one for Microsoft to measure. You need a live ID to login, meaning it is easy to track how long you are in the forums, and the forums track who proposes answers and whether they are acknowledged as an appropriate answer to the question being asked. The most difficult of these for Microsoft to measure are public appearances. If you are running a user group in a remote foreign land, this is much harder to verify than your forum activity.

What Are The Benefits Of The Program?

Certainly there is no money in it so if you are looking for some kind of monetary reward for getting on the forums and blogging excellent code, you will be sorely disappointed. In my opinion, the biggest benefit is an invitation to the MVP Summit held in Seattle each year around February-March. While it is up to the MVP to pay for flights, accommodation is subsidized and Microsoft keep all attendees fed and watered for the entire time. You get to meet the product team, you get to tell them what you really think and you also get to find out where the product is heading (under an NDA agreement, of course). You also get to go to the Microsoft Shop at the Redmond Campus and buy Microsoft goodies at staff rates.

Throughout the year MVPs also get access to exclusive email groups where they can raise issues they may be having and get ideas from other MVPs and from the Microsoft product teams. The MVPs also use these channels to provide feedback on improving the product. With the sheer volume of communication that occurs in these channels, it would be fair to say the number of messages I try to get across has probably doubled since getting into the programme. However, for understanding the finer aspects of a product, there is no better source of information.

Other benefits include a subscription to MSDN/TechNet, free Microsoft support tickets and free or discounted software from third parties.

What Does Leon Specifically Do To Remain Active In The Community?

Obviously there is this blog. I try to write an article once a week but will often give myself one weekend off so that I generally put out three articles per month. Articles mostly fall into one of three types:

  • Codeless solutions or handy, lesser-known features of Dynamics CRM
  • Commentary on how CRM is stacking up to its competitors (you know who you are)
  • General thought leadership of marketing and business practice

I also tweet when I come across something I feel would be of interest to non-coders involved with Dynamics CRM (users, non-technical administrators, buying decision makers etc.)

I try to propose answers for at least ten forum questions a month but, with the friendly rivalry between the forum participants, it is difficult to get to a question before someone else has answered it. It is really surprising if a question does not get some kind of response within an hour or two.

I will talk at any event about Dynamics CRM and often do so for free. A great example of this are the online Decisions conferences. A number of CRM MVPs regularly present at Decisions with no compensation other than the satisfaction of getting a soapbox to stand on for 30 minutes. If you are looking for a speaker on a Microsoft product, I strongly recommend approaching an MVP. Generally they present well, are knowledgeable and very friendly. As I often say, I will attend the opening of an envelope if it means I get to speak on Dynamics CRM.

To provide content for my blog and tweets, I read a lot of articles on Dynamics CRM and the CRM industry in general. These come to me, almost exclusively through Outlook and are sourced from RSS feeds, Google alerts, LinkedIn groups and tweets. I also read the posts to the forums, via an RSS feed in Outlook.

These are my personal Outlook folders I read every day:


Using Outlook rules, messages get diverted to ‘holding bays’ for reading when I have time. As you can see, there are literally thousands of messages I have waiting to be read and while I will not get to read them all tonight, they are in my PST waiting for me when I get bandwidth (airport terminals and plane flights are excellent for this). For the tweets, I use TwInbox, an excellent product for tracking tweets in Outlook.

All of the above I generally do outside of working hours as I have a full time job. I also have a wife and two kids so I often do things like read articles once the little ones have gone to bed. As an example, I am writing this blog at midnight on a Friday night. The television is on (showing Conan) but I am watching it over the top of my laptop screen.

My Experience With The Programme

My experience has been very positive. I am yet to meet an MVP I did not like. By their very nature, the are smart, eloquent and willing to share information or talk to others, especially if it is about the product they got awarded for.

In terms of the work involved in maintaining the award, to be honest, I would be doing these things anyway. I tend to be a little obsessive-compulsive when it comes to knowledge and learning so squeezing as much information as possible into my brain at every possible opportunity is kind of who I am.

Also, getting to see the human side of the Microsoft ‘machine’ in the form of online discussions involving the CRM product team is great. It is all too easy to consider Microsoft as a faceless engine pumping out software and making a few bucks along the way but, like every organisation, Microsoft is made up of people and getting to know these people is a rare and welcome experience.

If I did not enjoy it, I could simply resign; an option that is available to every MVP but I have no motivation to do that at this time.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking to becoming an MVP as a badge of honour, you will struggle. The fact is, to become an MVP and keeping the MVP status requires a lot of work in terms of maintaining relevancy and expertise. It also requires a paradigm of being willing to share this hard sought knowledge at the drop of a hat. My advantage in this regard is I did a physics degree, not an IT degree so the academic philosophy of sharing knowledge for the benefit of the many is hard wired into me. There are many people in IT who are experts but who hoard their knowledge to maintain an advantage over others. This is not the way of the MVP.

If, after all this you think the MVP programme is for you, I wish you the best of luck. It is a lot of work but I enjoy it immensely and I look forward to seeing you at ‘Summit’.