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Blogs in 2018

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Pastures New? - Delivery options in CRM


A current scenario: We have been engaged with a client who is looking to move from, in this instance, their old on-premise Microsoft CRM 2013 system to Dynamics 365 cloud and are now seeking consultancy and support in migrating as a result of their new Cloud First IT strategy.

But. This client is in a quandary over which is the best delivery option for them, since until recently they employed two long term contractors who supported the system and helped heavily customise the system to meet their needs. But both of these have left in recent months to pastures new! A theme we may encounter again!

A common problem?

This is a mid-sized organisation with over 35 Users and with their own processes and customisations needing a steady stream of work to be done to continually evolve their system, rectify faults and amend and update processes. They are now looking to move to the Cloud model for the standard reasons.

The nature of this project could just as easily be for Microsoft CRM or a migration from Salesforce Classic for instance, both of which will be needing a high level of application knowledge and technical and consultancy skills to effect a smooth transition and importantly to take advantage of new features and the new User experience in each application.

What are the Options?

My view is that there are three core approaches to delivering this project that can be considered and we will examine the pros and cons of each in more detail. The exact costing figures are less easy to guesstimate since for any particular project day rates and the amount of time and effort will be different depending on the complexity of your installation and to some extent your geographical location. So, to keep things simple, the three key options are:

• Employ your own staff

• Hire a freelance Contractor

• Hire a CRM consultancy

Is there another option I’ve missed or just a hybrid of these options? In this post, we will try to be concise and just consider each in isolation, although some form of hybrid option may be more likely in reality.

We need to consider this over a time frame and to take in account the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) costs here as well over say a year. As always, there is more to this problem than meets the eye and so we need to take a more holistic and strategic perspective in our due diligence approach for each of these options:

In this post, we consider the top 5 pros and cons of each option. However, a longer version of this post was published on LinkedIn with more focus on some of the Cons you need to consider

Option One: Employ your own Staff


• You have a fixed monthly cost to budget for

• Full time availability (min. 35 hours per week, every week)

• Lower day rate than all the alternatives, even with employer NI, holiday’s

• Able to cross-use on other IT projects

• User reassurance and available for training and support 5 days a week


• An experienced full time MS Consultant/Developer will be over £40k* per year plus costs of NI/Pensions and any other benefits.

• They are on holiday 20-25 days per year plus 8 Bank Holidays (and you pay for any sickness)

• Vision. Will they have a short term tactical focus to maintain their role? Do you need a more strategic approach?

• Knowledge Limitations. We have come across instances where as a Developer, they want to develop and so may create additional work and complexity, for instance, new entities when an existing entity could have been reconfigured to meet a requirement or module added. After all, Developers develop!

• What happens when they decide to move to new pastures…They get a better offer, life changes mean a move or health changes have an impact?

Option Two: Hire a freelance Contractor


• You can employ on a short term contract, say just for 3 months

• Flexibility of contract is possible, you may find they could do just 3 days per week for example

• You can dismiss them easier and find replacement(s)

• You can get others in to support your key contractor at key times

• You can employ for an initial project surge and then drop down the time required per week/per month


• Their day rate will be higher than your own staff. For Developer skills allow for £450-550 per day, depending on locations and skill-set**

• Will they be onsite every week? Experience shows they often shuffle a client’s days around. This is something most consultants will let you know about. It’s part of the payoff, but annoyingly can be at short notice

• How up to date are they? Are they to busy ‘earning’ to stay abreast of new developments

• Do you still need some sort of CRM Helpdesk as a fall-back?

• What happens when they get offered another project…that pastures new again?

Option Three: Hire a CRM Consultancy


• Pay as you Go. Most consultants invoice on time and effort basis, so you only pay when you decide you need the project consultancy.

• Reference ability and experiences. Your supplier will have done this and other migrations a number of times. You can ask for this information and lessons learned.

• Art of the possible. A good CRM consultancy should be taking a holistic and Strategic view and helping you roadmap the future. In this instance, we are reviewing the Microsoft suite of applications to help innovate, reduce the licence footprint and save clients time, for example through Workflows. A great example is the use of Power Apps to create simple task related mobile apps, say for a Client Meeting Review or a simple Site Assessment. Apps are simple to use on smart phones/tablets and the data syncs straight back into Dynamics 365, possibly saving a full User licence.

• “Pool of Resources”. A key difference. You are not just reliant on 1 or 2 people, but have a dedicated technical and on-hand Helpdesk Team, every working day.

• There are No Pastures new! Businesses are there to retain and develop their customers to enable them to grow their own business. Customer retention is frequently monitored and measured by the major vendors such as Microsoft and Salesforce, so there is a further strong incentive to client retention and good customer service.


• Higher day rates than either Option 1 or 2, but these may be negotiable somewhat on a project basis. Rates range, by location and required skill-sets from £900 to £1500 per day.

• Initial cost can be a lot higher for any project or surge costs.

• You may fall out with your partner, but of course, it is still easy to change partners.

• Partner may try to in-build and then own their custom code locking you in. This is less likely nowadays due in part to the vendors’ annual upgrades and lessons learned and a good partner will focus on a Configure First approach to reduce or eliminate customised code.

Project Complexity

One of the key considerations when comparing these various options is to fully understand the complexity of your project apart from the actual user numbers and modules being used. If you have a simple, very much an out-of-the box system, clearly the risks in your migration may be a lot less. By reviewing these Pros and Cons for each approach in delivery may help you determine the risks and likely financial impact. Don’t underestimate the complexity of migrating to a new CRM system, especially when your CRM has been used for a long time internally.

Many CRM systems installed over the last few years have been customised to a high degree to fit the process requirements of the business organisation at the time. Typically, this may involve in Microsoft CRM terms the use of plug-ins, new entities, java code and similarly in Salesforce Classic, extensive use of new Objects and the use of Apex code to meet the gaps of the application at that time or as we mention above, a Developer may have preferred to customise rather than configure.

With the launch of Dynamics 365 and Salesforce Lightning editions, the extension of out-of-the-box capability configuration and in-built functionality in both applications has been incredible. So in just a few years, what would have been a customisation or specific custom code requirement may now be a simpler, and more upgrade proof, simpler configuration solution instead… providing you know the application of course!

As a CRM consultancy you need to be up-to-date on the application, aware of what is possible and importantly closely aligned with the vendors to understand their vision and future roadmap. Sometimes, this will require lateral thinking, such as changing or migrating a process to fit with new functionality, but this is where a Configure First approach again pays dividends.

In fact, I would argue that the more complex the system, then the more likely you will want to reduce your own degree of risk and call in experienced, external help who can provide you with client references and learning as part of your due diligence and selection process. What to look for in choosing a CRM Consultancy has been covered in an earlier LinkedIn post.


Modern Customer Relationship Management systems are ow cloud based, but at the same time in recent years the leading applications functional capabilities have become so much larger than just the traditional CRM of a few years and have additional modules such as Self Service, Social Media engagement to full Marketing Automation as part of their core offering. They have the ability to link with multiple additional applications, not least of which are from their own vast eco-systems of approved 3rd party apps.

Today, my view is that it is rare indeed for one or two people to have the depth of resource to be able to invest the time and effort in keeping their knowledge up to date across such a wide spectrum of features whilst still having the ability to support and configure this depth of functionality. Their distance from the vendors themselves can often mean they are only aware of changes and developments sometime after publication.

For many mid-sized businesses, engaging with a specialist CRM consultancy can in the long term lead to both a lower Total cost of Ownership and a stronger CRM system more aligned with the vendor’s development roadmap and less reliable on just one or two individual’s knowledge.

So, my conclusion is that for these organisations, taking on-board your own permanently employed and dedicated staff or even full time contractors may not offer you the value for money you first think and may in fact prove to be a more costly decision in the long run compared to selecting a specialist consultancy with its own pedigree, ‘pool of resources’ and closer relationship with the vendor.

Salary Sources:

*Indeed search West Midlands, **Indeed search West Midlands

Picture Credit: Pastures New - Artist: Paul Corfield

27th November 2018

CRM today: Build your own or off the shelf


I must admit that in 2018, I feel a bit surprised that I am still writing about the choice between a bespoke or custom developed solution and the benefits of off-the-shelf CRM software.

But for many companies with some technical software expertise, they have seen the choice as more complex than just choosing between different pedigree systems. If there is technical resource internally or often available locally, then you may consider your choice as being between:

  • Build your own CRM
  • Off-the-shelf CRM

"Build your Own" ...Before you start

This option has in recent years become less of a factor as Cloud based, subscription Customer Relationship Management systems have brought the initial up-front licence costs down significantly. This was often a key reason for reviewing this choice and the benefits of cloud have also moved the choice of implementing CRM from an Capex (capital expenditure) decision to more of an Opex (i.e. operating costs per month) financial and budgeting decision.

But for some organisations, this can still be seen as a relevant choice where they may have strong connections with external partners or more likely where there is a high degree of internal software development expertise. Other clients may feel that their needs are so unique that a custom solution has to be developed.

However, whilst this may seem initially to be a good solution and may be seen as cost effective since you own both the IP and the software, you do need to be aware of some of the pitfalls that in 20 years in CRM I have frequently come across when clients make this decision, or more relevantly After they have made it.

At first sight, a straight-forward comparison between developing your own and the cost of the off-the-shelf licences and services may be easy to calculate. But, first take some time when you compare these costs against your own developed solution to review and estimate the Total Cost and commitment.

Whilst the comparison at first glance may appear more cost effective, say over a three or four year time frame for Build your Own, if you have the relevant skill-sets. But you do still need to undertake some extra care and due diligence and look below the iceberg surface at the other, sometimes hidden costs including:-

  • Management and Project Management time. This can often be the biggest consumer of time and effort, not to mention stress.
  • Understand true cost of focusing on non-core activity. Even if you are a software development house, ideally you want your highly skilled and expensive developers working on fee able activity.
  • Linking to MS Outlook. One of the most common issues encountered when replacing internally developed or bespoke systems is there is no link to email or it has not worked or been updated, so you may be back to having islands of information.
  • Other Office 365 links. Users expect integration with MS Word, Excel as standard.
  • ERP systems integration. You may have to develop your own links and then support these, for example to your ERP or Finance software.
  • Hardware costs. Even if Cloud services are now preferred, there is still a hosting subscription cost and commitment here.
  • Marketing Integration. These applications are almost always off-the-shelf solutions, after all, who wants to recreate an email marketing tool when you have MailChimp, ConstantContact and many others already available? Unless there is integration in place, this will lead to yet another island of information outside the bespoke CRM.
  • Staff costs and morale. Working on an internal project can a take up a lot of time and effort and be wearing on the developers and the project team, since often there is no clear documentation or specification plan and whilst this can be seen as a somewhat Agile approach, the project can continue longer than anticipated.
  • Upgrades. Once the system is rolled out, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, but then a new requirement appears. A good example in the last few years is the advent of Social Media and how this is now included within most CRM systems. This development was driven by competitive activity and market requirements. Bespoke systems may struggle to keep up with new and evolving needs.
  • Planning and documentation. Again, as above, it is rare indeed for a system to be fully and thoroughly documented. Time is usually focused on a core brief and then ‘getting on with it’. Projects are often seen as smaller tactical solutions to begin with, but can then acquire a life of their own as more features/functions are asked for.
  • Competency. With over 300 systems or more now to choose from according to just one leading software review site, most organisations competency is in their main business and not in developing a CRM system. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, and the unseen management and other costs mentioned above can all take away from the central competency of the business.

And finally let’s not forget…

  • Mobile. Every major vendor now provides a Mobile app capability. We live in an increasingly smart phone age so your system will need to have mobile capability. This is involves even more development work and testing, but without this option, you will find sales buy-in and adoption can be especially tough.

When added together these visible and hidden cost should be estimated and compared against the somewhat clearer costs of purchasing an off-the-shelf system, professionally implemented and configured.

I would argue that these actual hidden costs, often not fully allocated or estimates at the outset can end up being a lot more than first envisaged.

And after you started the project...

Whenever a prospective client says they are going down the bespoke route, in my own system, I never see this as a Lost Opportunity, just merely delayed. Within less than two years, I find that in many instances, bespoke development clients become very receptive to my calls and we will start talking again in earnest about off–the-shelf solutions with some of the more common project experiences being:-

  • Escalation of costs. ‘Mission creep’ happens and costs started to increase against the original estimate and plan.
  • Never quite fully rolled out. Again, ‘Mission creep’, more functionality, like Mobile for instance is deemed as needed for full buy-in.
  • Sales and Marketing team enthusiasm wanes. There may still have to use systems outside of the development or they start to compare against off-the-shelf systems, already available with the richer functionality they require.
  • Developers needed elsewhere. A common reason is where there is a reallocation of resource to an important client project, so the project is delayed or shelved or only partially rolled out.
  • Need to constantly develop the system. If internally developed, extra requests can continually come in, leading to User frustration and disengagement.
  • New people arrive. And review and demand a full solution with rich functionality and inter-connectivity ‘like we used previously’.
  • Poor project management and the system plan overruns.

“It never did fully meet requirements.”

  • Issues with the supplier(s) This is probably one of the biggest reasons and can be split down into:-

o Personal issues. A falling out as developer could been family or friend (especially relevant in smaller SME type projects).

o Specification issues. These were never fully met, leading to a communication break-down.

o Size of Project and Company. Smaller developers are often keen to win the business and may price attractively, but they may underestimate or not have full resources needed.

o Supplier loses interest or disappears. So many items are never completed.

o Supplier costs escalated. This relates to the two points above.

  • Lack of Automation. Processes were too task intensive, automation is frequently not built-in or requested until later, adding to this sense of ‘Mission Creep’ or cost escalation or both!

All of the above are reasons that I have come across where clients have then come back to an off-the-shelf solution after some painful experiences, you may have more examples!

Why Off-the-Shelf works...

When comparing with an off-the-shelf solution, the key difference is that here all your costs are visible, unlike the iceberg approach of build-your-own, where good estimating and project skills together with judgement are needed in forecasting costs over say a 3 or 4 year time-frame.

Like the Iceberg in the picture above, build-your-own can have many unseen and unexpected costs, not always easily estimated and sometimes as the examples I have given of ‘After’ the project started show, many of the most costly issues appear only after the project has commenced.

So, in spite of the first sight cost benefit felt by some companies, I would argue that with today’s cloud based software subscription model, with ever increasing functionality coming from leading market players such as Microsoft's Dynamics 365 suite and SalesForce Lightning platform, you need to be brave indeed to consider a build-your-own as your solution, however, big or however much resource you may have available at this moment.

The big players are investing heavily in R & D and in acquiring companies that can augment their own offering. This level of spend is unprecedented and in just the last 2 years alone, just Microsoft and Salesforce have approaching £40 billion on acquisitions aimed at evolving their capabilities.

CRM today is a very different beast from just 5 years ago and these companies now offer so much more than just traditional offering with most of these advances coming in the last five years as the opportunities offered by cloud computing have been developed.

Leading players like Microsoft and Salesforce are keen to augment and fill in any perceived functionality gaps and are rapidly moving towards offering the complete CRM-ERP integrated suite. Both these and many other systems have strong eco-systems of powerful third party add-on apps used to fill niche gaps and which are fully supported.

When all this rich functionality is taken into account and the fact that as cloud based systems, for instance, Salesforce release three updates per year, whilst Dynamics 365 release two major updates a year, this in my view becomes a very strong proposition, unlikely to ever be matched by any internally developed offering.

So, the question I posed at the start of this post is still relevant and it is this:-

“Why would a new to CRM client, even with their own software development expertise, really try to build your own in 2018”?

My view, is that there are just too many pitfalls to catch the unwary, too many sometimes 'hidden' costs, just like the iceberg!

The key to success is for clients to focus on their own core competencies and to take advantage of the massive investment in CRM by the Big Vendors and the almost boundless opportunities now offered by the cloud business application model.

Building your own as a choice in 2018 should only be for the brave!

If you are considering off-the-shelf or developing and building your own system, as a first step before you commit, we recommend talking to us. You may find this a refreshing experience as we can take an CRM independent viewpoint of the market leaders and do not have to just offer you one vendor. We can even undertake Fit-Gap Analysis to help you make your selection choice and support your own due diligence.

27th September 2018

Selecting a new CRM system in 2018 - Is it now a two horse race?


With the Grand National tomorrow, this started me thinking that reviewing the CRM market and my experience over last 12-24 months talking with clients, increasingly, I get the feeling that choosing a new CRM system for most mid-sized companies is now a two horse race between Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce..

Of course, there are a range of other vendors’ just behind, depending on the industry and your own particular requirements may nudge some of these forward so that for you it may become a three or four horse race.

But for the rest of the time, it’s a bit like Grand National, there are a whole host of runners or applications in the field, but realistically there are only a few that are likely to be on your short-list and have a chance of meeting your requirements. My estimate is that there are at only say around 6 or 7 mainstream Customer Relationship Management key players that can really meet the needs of the UK SME market. Whilst there has been an explosion in cloud based system in the last 5 years, there is a danger in that clients who are not fully aware of the CRM marketplace can find all sorts of nearly rans, but the key thing is are they likely to stay the course?

Market Leaders?

It is very clear these are without doubt the two market leaders and have been for a few years now, these are the Big Beasts as I referred to them in an earlier blog from 2016:-

Dynamics 365


First, let me explain since clearly Dynamics 365 and Salesforce are powerful CRM applications and may not be so relevant for example in a small micro-business (say 1-10 employees) you may think the focus on this post is that if you are an organisation requiring CRM and have say around 15-100 Users or at least 10 users, then in this User size space, Salesforce and Dynamics 365 will pretty much feature on your short-list to review and if they don’t then you must have a good reason.

Both applications have an incredible pedigree, are cloud based and importantly are investing heavily in their future road-maps. They are the market leaders against which other applications should be measured and Microsoft Dynamics 365 in particular with its seamless integration to Office365 is now according to Forrester Wave ahead of Salesforce in the global marketplace. This is likely to be no short term changing of place as the launch of the Dynamics 365 suite in 2016 massively increased the range of applications and footprint and this is now making itself felt. Microsoft’s investment and acquisition spree in the last few years is over $40 billion as its adds and embed functionality, for example with its LinkedIn purchase alone in 2016 costing $26 billion and out-bidding Salesforce. The results of this purchase are now being felt in the latest releases with ever closer integration as you would expect. After all, Apart from your CRM and Email/Word and Excel for most Salespeople their key tool is using LinkedIn.

So, why are they becoming the mainstay CRM in 2018?

My list below really summaries what I believe are some of the key factors in these two applications increasing dominance:

• Cloud focussed. This is probably the single most important factor in the future growth of this sector. If you are cannot offer a cloud based application, then you are in effect fast becoming a legacy application in my view.

• Commitment to CRM Marketplace with a clear business focus from the top. Satya Nadella, since 2015, CEO of Microsoft is the person credited with bringing CRM to Microsoft in the early 2000’s and along with Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce are both visionary leaders passionately committed to this sector.

• Massive investment in R and D, for example both apps now include extensive AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities embedded to improve productivity.

• Strong and visionary Road-map for future, AI is just one example from above.

• Massive infrastructure to support clients around the world. Salesforce has 28,000 employees with $8.9 billion income whilst the bigger Microsoft has over 150,000 employees and nearly $90 billion income.

• Acquisition funds to infill gaps and add innovative new features/functionality with Salesforce recently purchasing Mulesoft’s integration software for $6.5Bn.

• Strong CRM pedigree over many years (I would suggest a minimum of 10 years is a good indicator of an applications ability to sustain itself in this competitive market).

• Wide and Large International Client base (Dynamics CRM/365 has over 4 million users whilst Salesforce is similar with a similar number according to my research). These are big installed base and explain the next two points.

• Extensive reference sites for nearly every sector along with Case studies.

• Strong eco-systems (Email Marketing, Marketing Automation as a minimum.) with a wide variety of application and each have own third party linked software marketplaces, Appsource and AppExchange a testament to the size of their client base.

• Strong links to the Office 365 suite of applications, taken as read of course for Dynamics 365, as it shares a common data service.

• Ability to scale from small implementation and to add functionality as the business grows on a modular basis and this has now been taken further with Microsoft Dynamics 365 suite incorporating and re-branding key ERP applications to give Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Operations.

• Strong and experienced Partner Channel to deliver quality implementation. Both Microsoft and Salesforce have many thousands of partners worldwide, often specializing in vertical markets. This is key to giving clients choice and importantly a strong partner base again reinforces the two horse race analogy.

This list is not exhaustive, but does give you some idea of why these two Big Beasts, now dominate the mainstream CRM market. For many clients, choosing between these can be somewhat bewildering, hence one of our services is the Fit Gap analysis where using our long term experience of working with these applications, we can measure how each will meet your requirements list and the best fit. This is increasingly being taken up and as independent CRM consultants is something that many clients are choosing as a service to enable them to make this key long term investment decision.

So what about the other ‘also-rans’ or the ‘Rest of the field’

Possibly this is far too strong a statement, but in my view is there is no such thing as perfect software for all businesses and every industry sector, with Pharmaceutical CRM for example where the off-the-shelf approach is for heavily verticalised solutions, such as Veeva which are made specifically to fit the demands of that market.

Also, there are a number of other applications such as SAGE CRM which can offer something, albeit with not the same level of current investment, in comparison, I suspect millions of £s compared to hundreds of millions or even billions being poured into R and D by the big two. But these and other applications still have a part to play, so there will continue to be niche applications, for example Pipeliner CRM has a focus very much on the Sales Team enablement sector and the visualisation of data and more importantly continue to motivate development and innovation in CRM.


But my contention in starting this post still holds, and that over the last few years, I have started to notice that other applications when you get to the 20 Users or more requirement who need CRM for their Sales, Marketing, Customer Service departments and especially where you have full time marketing people in support, then these bigger applications with their strong eco-systems of related applications such as Marketing Automation, then alongside the caveats mentioned, it is these two Big Beasts that come to the fore and should be on your short-list.

The need for a strong eco-system, especially with Marketing Automation is one of the main weaknesses for smaller CRM systems. Simply put they don’t have the market presence in terms of client sites or user numbers to warrant the level of investment and this means other software vendors, for example in Marketing Automation, vendors such as Hubspot and Thunderbird are focussing on the Salesforce and Dynamics and investing to enable them to offer native or more simply put ‘one click integration’, again pushing these two to the fore.

This is part of the key to their success and there is now such a wide range of applications inter-connected, you can manage the whole business process from Lead to Prospect to Customer and this can include invoicing and even through to a complete integrated CRM/ERP with the Dynamics 365 suite. All this from the same stable! (my apologies if am I taking this horse racing analogy too far now!).

It is this level of investment in moving forward and providing a rich eco-system to integrate with which is what clients want to rely on going forward. Investment decisions now are on a 5-10 year time frame, CRM is no longer just a short term tactical decision for the business to fix sales’ as in the past, but now forms part of Digital Transformation project and so a long term strategic perspective is taken. Clients need confidence in the future long term roadmap and stability of the application.

How can you choose between these applications?

For many years now, we have found that whilst vendor presentation can be informative, surprisingly each vendor appears to match perfectly your requirements, and whilst budgets may be broadly similar and where there is an element of doubt, we have recommend engaging in a Scoping Workshop which is product agonistic and where your detailed requirements can be documented in a Functional System Design or Blueprint document. Whilst often there may be a preference, but in those instance where the field is still open or clients are torn between the two or more key vendors, then our experience as mentioned above as independent CRM consultants really can now come to the fore, based on 20 years of working in this marketplace, we will often recommend if it is very close or seen as a difficult choice to conduct a full Fit-gap Analysis. This in my view is a powerful way to endorse your final choice or indeed to help to cement your choice, since you are aware of the application fit to your business requirements from an out-of-the box fit percentage to customisation required. This Analysis report can help to justify what are board level decisions when moving or embracing a new CRM system. With maybe two or three applications in your final short-list, this analysis can help to show how each application will meet your needs both now and into the future. From a partner perspective, this is also of benefit since this analysis can help to justify the final choice with an independent analysis and can give clients the extra peace of mind and a detailed report to know they have taken their due diligence to the next level.

And the cost?

Typically once a detailed requirements document has been scoped and agreed, the a lot of the hard work has been done so a Fit-Gap will take as little as two or three days of work depending on the number and which CRM systems are involved and of course depending on the length and complexity of your requirements, to then build and present a Fit-Gap Analysis document. Interestingly, in some instances, we don’t provide a recommendation but merely a conclusion, since this is for you as a client to decide what the next steps are. However, let me be honest here, often there is a clear winner for your business, but we also need to take into account not just the detailed CRM and Eco-system requirements but other aspects of your business as well in terms of future requirement and your existing business infrastructure and policies.

So, if you have got down to the last two or three horses, heading for the line and are still not 100% certain, then a Fit-Gap Analysis combined with a product agnostic Scoping and Requirements Workshop can be an excellent way forward to establish the clear winner for your business.

What to do now?

If you are interested in finding out more, have a live project or are at the point where you are finding it a tough call to choose, then why not contact me and I am sure that I can give you some illustrations in all probability of similar projects and requirements to your own.

13th April 2018

Account Classification in CRM is as simple as ABC…


A few years ago, we published a similar blog, but I thought it was now time to update this to give a up to date insight into how current CRM systems support and enhance Account classification using Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s CRM solution as an excellent example of how AI (Artificial Intelligence) or Machine Learning can help with Account classification.

Firstly, let us quickly review why do you want to classify your accounts and why we classify? To paraphrase George Orwell famous quote:

“All customers are equal, but some Customers are more equal than others”

We all know it is important to understand and segment customers this and we instinctively know that some clients can be more resource hungry than others, whilst others offer more potential or need nurturing in different ways. So, as a starting point, we need our CRM to have some sort of classification of customers. Let’s look at our way of classifying our Accounts…

Classifying your Customers

We will start with establishing our rules.

A Customer in our parlance is someone who has purchased from us and with whom we have an ideally an Active relationship, be this on a weekly, monthly or annually transaction basis we treat them as a Customer. In most CRM systems, the field is likely to be called Account Type or Account Status and have a dropdown selection for Customer, Prospect, Competitor, Supplier etc.

However, we know that Not All Customers are the same.

Whilst this simple label can be useful, it is helpful to differentiate between Customers, since understanding and profiling your customers can be critical in growth, retention and also for marketing. In effect, we are further segmenting our Customer base. It is important that sales and marketing teams are aware of the differences between Customers.

A useful profiling exercise is the simple ABCD classification we use which is both easy to understand and apply. Using or adding this as an extra field gives in my view an instant view of the perceived value of a Customer.

We use the ABCD classification to focus on potential and may call this Account Type. Here, we are rating our view of the customers underlying potential. You can compare this approach to using the Harvard Boston Consulting Matrix which is a similar concept.

In our own system, we use “ABCD” definitions as follows:-

A Customers are the best, they are your “A” Class or A Grade clients and are great customers to work with and more importantly keep. They should be profitable and you should have a good fit with their needs. In US parlance, they are “Awesome!”

B Customers have “Big potential “and you will want to develop these into becoming your next generation ‘A’ class Customers.

C Customers are those who for whatever business reasons you just ‘Cover” or indeed “Can’t deal with’. This relationship may be dormant or the client is really in just a semi dormant state but in all likelihood, this relationship is not going anywhere, but simply up sucking time and resource. These Customers can hang around and take up inordinate amounts of time so you need to Move them up or Move them out. However, all companies have these types of customer, so it may just be you need to recognise them and not invest undue amounts of your time or resource here.

D Customers are either “Dead” or “Divorced” from you and it is important to identify these as you need to recognise this fact. You may want to have one last try to re-engage, or just accept your relationship is finished or on a downwards spiral, so you are in the midst, like it or not of a Divorce! It’s over, so deal with it and move on! Following on this analogy, you may still want to re-connect at a later stage, since things may change.

Putting this into practice with Dynamics CRM

With Dynamics 365, Microsoft suite of CRM applications launched in 2016, part of the fundamental enhanced functionality was the introduction of Machine Learning or AI to enable you to gain deeper insights into your Accounts and customer records and importantly your relationship.

One of the biggest issues with CRM over the years is whilst it is easy to create and schedule tasks, this still doesn’t mean these tasks are completed or more importantly the sheer volume of tasks can overwhelm your Users, So for instance, we used to have a regular ‘Account Management‘ call scheduled in, but when push came to shove, these were ignored or were rescheduled, but this could mean a User’s task diary continues to clog up over time.

Microsoft were well aware of this issue and the need to gain much deeper understanding and to help the Users become more proactive and not let things slip by. So, this can be achieved in Dynamics 365 in a number of ways. So, to take one example, let’s look at:-

Relationship Insights

These pop-up action cards are a simple and easily configurable way to help to manage these relationships and reminders, examples include:-

  • Action Cards such as No Activity with a contact over x weeks, no Activity with an Account over x months, Missed or Upcoming Opportunity Close by dates.
  • Email engagement cards include the system reading within the email references to referrals, issues, competitors mentioned for example

Actions vary by card, but these are displayed daily in your ‘What’s New’ page as well as on the Account or Contact record so you can see these each day at a glance and instantly open the record.

More details on Relationship Insights are here

All this is included as standard with the cloud Dynamics 365 and these cards can prove to be every effective in ensuring clients are not forgotten and promoting actions based on activities.

Continuing our theme of deeper client or Account understanding, another really use tool is:-

Customer Insights

This offer an enhanced and deeper understanding and  this module  needs to be deployed which just needs configuring or adding, but includes such useful proactive insights such as:-

• Account Retention Predictions to show accounts likely to change

• Account 360 degree view to show more information and key KPI's

More details here

Within a blog, space precludes delving in too deeply to some of the other aspects and indeed today, we have focussed only in Dynamics 365, but similar functionality is now appearing in other applications such as Salesforce with its Einstein AI and Pipeliner CRM with its own Insights features. Choosing the application to best fit your business and your requirements is outside the limit of this blog, but covered in other blogs.

Added to this are a host of other bolt-on tools for gaining additional knowledge on your Accounts and Contacts such as links to LinkedIn Sales Navigator and for Dynamics 365 the free Versium tool which can provide more background information, albeit this is more limited in the UK than for US based customers together with additional tools from Microsoft Dynamics 365 App store

Conclusion and What to do next

By having a better understanding of your customer profiles simply by introducing an easily understood ABCD classification this can help to identify those clients needing more support and who your team should be cultivating and keeping. Together with the latest functionality and AI from leading vendors such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce this classification and the insights given make for a more powerful combination with to enhance both your sales and marketing effectiveness

We all know the 80/20 rule and this classification reinforces this concept, but for your sales and marketing team, it shows instantly in one simple field who to focus on and why with the A for Awesome customer and B for Big potential it is clear. For SME’s moving from the start-up ‘finding customers’ phase to continued growth phase this is a useful exercise in understanding which customers you want to keep and which you need to spend time on developing or dropping.

If you want to know more how we can help streamline and improve your system, then one example of how we can help is our “CRM Optimisation Audit” and this classification is just one example of where we review your existing systems, people and processes.

Interested in finding out more? Go to the CRM Optimisation Audit where you can download our 2018 checklist, a useful starting point in reviewing your own CRM system.

27th February 2018