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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