Partner attacks Microsoft CRM critics

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An ISV partner has attacked critics of Microsoft CRM, arguing that long-standing CRM vendor FrontRange is not qualified to assess the new application.

An ISV partner has attacked critics of Microsoft CRM, arguing that long-standing CRM vendor FrontRange is not qualified to assess the new application.

Archie Wilson, Asia-Pacific vice-president of another Microsoft .NET platform partner and SQL Server reseller, GoldMine, and Heat vendor FrontRange, said last week that the functionality and usability of Microsoft CRM 1.2 was “appalling” and “underwhelming”.

Paul Rahme, Japan and Asia-Pacific vice-president of Microsoft ISV partner Zoomio, said that “old-world” FrontRange had “questionable credibility in the .NET environment” and had no business commenting on the new Microsoft application.

Further, Microsoft had invested many millions of dollars in developing its product, so it stood to reason that the product would be a good one, Rahme claimed.

Rahme accused the channel media of bias and of a “naive” picking on Microsoft, a company which aimed “to make our business lives more effective and enjoyable”.

“The result is what seems an anti-Microsoft publicity stunt allowing FrontRange to soil Microsoft's CRM launch,” he said.

Rahme claimed that Microsoft CRM was “.NET-connected” because it had XML/SOAP interfaces, was web services-compliant and had “ASP.NET application”.

“The Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 is a requirement on both the clients and servers running Microsoft CRM. If Microsoft CRM was not .NET then Zoomio's MMM [bolt-on software for Microsoft CRM] would not function properly, since we are 100 percent .NET,” he said.

Questioned about Microsoft CRM functionality, Rahme admitted that Microsoft CRM 1.2 “had gaps”. That didn't matter, since Microsoft was using partners to fill those gaps with third-party applications, he said.

He claimed that “the market” was not interested in legacy products.

“MMM is not a legacy product, nor is Microsoft CRM. Goldmine and Heat, on the other hand, are two legacy applications that come from two different source codes,” Rahme said. “A fresh CRM application free from any legacy ... is all the market is after.”

FrontRange was “out of date”, with its “old world ... mainframes and Unix systems”, he said.

Microsoft CRM also had a simpler interface than many of its competitors, Rahme added.

“No products are perfect, and I think FrontRange is definitely further away than Microsoft. [FrontRange] is the most complicated thing around. Talk about getting caught up in analysis paralysis. But the process flow in Microsoft CRM is clean and clear,” he said. “It's what we wanted five years ago.”

FrontRange's Wilson said he stood by his comments. While Microsoft CRM was .NET-compliant, US analysis had shown that it was not built on .NET from the ground up, he said.

FrontRange had been in the CRM business for more than 10 years and would release its own, fully developed on .NET application in mid-2004, Wilson said.

He said he thought Microsoft's hundreds of developers could have created something better than Microsoft CRM, instead of something which was essentially “a subset” of what was currently available.

Microsoft would likely eventually bundle Microsoft CRM into Outlook, as was already happening with business contact manager software, and adjust its pricing accordingly, he said.

Wilson said FrontRange had chosen to partner Microsoft .NET, J2EE, BEA and WebSphere because it believed in those products. “We've had fantastic support from Microsoft,” he said.

However, Microsoft CRM had focused on sales force automation to the exclusion of marketing campaign management -- functionality provided in many other CRM applications and well-suited to SMBs, he said.

“We'll follow what our customers want. The real thing they want is to be able to track sales opportunities. And that's the bit that's non-existent [in Microsoft CRM],” Wilson said.

Sales force automation was 15 percent of FrontRange's business, Wilson said. “Most of our business is Heat, which is customer service and support,” he said.

Doug Farber, Asia-Pacific marketing director of CRM services provider and .NET certified partner Salesforce, was also at last week's Microsoft CRM launch.

“Microsoft has completely dominated the office productivity suite market and Windows Explorer has all but destroyed the browser market,” he said. Now the company wanted to take the CRM space, but had released an “inferior product”, he said.

“Microsoft CRM is just Outlook on steroids,” Farber said. “There's just two extra buttons on there.”

The product, which required an up-to-date Microsoft environment to work, would further lock end-users into Microsoft products, he said.

“And a lot of people can't afford to have a Microsoft Software Certified Engineer on the staff,” Farber said. “In the SMB market, those guys don't exist. They don't have the resources at their disposal.”

Further, Microsoft CRM could prove problematic for the channel as well, he said, because it wasn't a technology sell. The product demanded a tight fit with individual business needs -- something many resellers weren't able to assess.

“This is business processes,” Farber said. “The channel can't go out and articulate a value.”

Meanwhile, Salesforce's CRM had integrated sales force automation and marketing automation with customer service and support and analytics as an add-in, he said.

“We also have an award-winning interface ... using tab-based metaphor. More like a consumer application than a desktop application,” Farber said.

Stephen Balicki, MD at niche distributor Aquion, said Microsoft CRM represented part of a generational shift in such products. Whereas FrontRange's GoldMine could be seen as part of the older generation, Microsoft and Salesforce were both newer.

“Yes, Microsoft CRM is a little bit light on functionality but the whole integration thing is good. Salesforce is really good but it's online,” Balicki said.

Companies that were already running Microsoft extensively were likely to find Microsoft CRM easier to adopt, Balicki pointed out.

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