Microsoft opens up CRM to partners

Microsoft Business Solutions has tagged late November as the launch date for its first foray into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, and has also signalled that it will be available to a much wider range of resellers than first anticipated.

Microsoft CRM integrates the functionality normally reserved for much larger organisations with existing Microsoft software such as Windows, Exchange Server, Small Business Server, Outlook and Office. It is being pitched at organisations with between 25 and 500 users.

The software will be released by Microsoft’s Business Solutions division, that markets the ERP software the vendor acquired from Great Plains and Navision. This division has its own dedicated sales channel in Australia which requires separate accreditation from those partners accredited to sell Microsoft’s core technology.

The Standard and Professional editions of Microsoft CRM will be the first MBS applications that the vendor will open up to the wider reseller channel.

Local channel manager, Kerstin Baxter, said there were wider opportunities available for the CRM product that required all partners to be considered.

“The CRM product has a different distribution mechanism than [Microsoft Business Solutions]’ ERP solutions,” she said. “While the ERP solutions had a limited channel, CRM will be a volume product. There has been a lot of interest from resellers in the volume channel that work with other collaborative products such as Windows or Sharepoint.”

Regardless of what part of Microsoft’s channel a reseller was coming from, certification would be required to compete in the CRM space, Baxter said.

So far more than 36 Microsoft Business Solutions partners have gained the necessary accreditation to resell the product.

Baxter said that there were some ISV partners that had traditionally profited from developing CRM software around Microsoft’s core technology. Without question many of these partners would be affected by Microsoft’s move into the CRM vertical.

“We have been talking to many of these partners about extending our technology to create ‘last mile’ solutions for the customer instead,” she said. “Just as people have come to accept the database as part of the core platform, now CRM is becoming a part of the core platform.”

To assist these partners, Baxter said Microsoft has subsidised Microsoft SDK (Software Development Kits) on a case-by-case basis. “We’ll do what is needed to assist them,” she said.

While local pricing has not yet been made available, Microsoft has confirmed it will sell the CRM software both through its Open and Select volume licensing and also as a full packaged product (i.e. retail box) before the end of the year.

In the US, where the software has been on sale for several months, Microsoft CRM ranges from $US395 per user plus $US995 for the server software for a standard Sales module package to $US1295 per user plus $US1990 for the server for a Professional Suite package.

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