Microsoft is poised to deliver its latest customer-relationship management software, CRM 3.0, a few months ahead of schedule.
The application will be available in December and features several improvements over the company's previous offerings, including new configuration, customization, and integration capabilities.
Microsoft has added a marketing-automation module to complement the service and sales module. The kit also offers tighter integration with Outlook and Office.
How Suite It Is
"We now have a complete CRM suite," said Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft CRM.
Wilson said the latest offering provides a native Office and Outlook experience, enabling users in different parts of an organization to access the applications in the suite that they need to do their jobs.
"Microsoft has made a number of fixes to the previous version of their CRM software, including putting all of the tasks in a single account," said Yankee Group program manager Sheryl Kingstone. "This version makes it much easier for companies to access the information they need."
In addition, users will be able to get a better understanding of sales trends and related data in real time. The software also interfaces with Microsoft Excel for online or offline analysis and supports Windows Mobile, for workers on the move.
A Small Business Edition has been added to the CRM line for customers using Windows Small Business Server.
Customer Base Growing
Microsoft is seeking to bury the "weak functionality" criticism that was leveled at early versions of its CRM software. The company now boasts some 5,500 clients for its CRM software, with 150,000 users.
In addition to new features, the company is introducing new subscription-based licensing models for customers who prefer a hosted, as opposed to an on-site, deployment model. Because the same code is used in both models, customers can switch from one to the other as their business and I.T. needs change.
For Microsoft's partners, the update will help to reduce the effort required to create vertical applications. The software-development kit for Microsoft CRM 3.0 will be available to Microsoft partners later this year via the Microsoft Developer Network.
Kingstone pointed out that the CRM market has weathered turbulent times because early deployments were plagued with performance issues. "Businesses have found that they need to spend more on getting to know their customers and on responding to those customers' needs," she said.
A new CRM report by research firm Gartner Group supports that view, noting that revenue generated from CRM software licenses should continue to grow, driven by quickly moving industry segments such as marketing automation .
License revenue grew by 2.9 percent in 2005, compared to 2004 figures, Gartner said. The firm expects sales of customer service and support tools to be flat, declining in 2006, but bouncing back slightly by 2007.