Microsoft adds heft to CRM

Microsoft Corp. is making it sure that it’s not going to play second fiddle to competitors in providing customer relationship management solutions.

The company announced last week at its Convergence conference for the Dynamics enterprise resource management family that it has bought Swiss-based Netbreeze Gmbh, a provider of social media analytics.

NetBreeze analyzes Twitter, Facebook, millions of blogs and hundreds of thousands of message boards so chief marketing officers can track marketing campaigns and product image.

For the time being NetBreeze will be a separate product, but will be integrated into Dynamics CRM, Microsoft’s on-premise or cloud suite for connecting with customers.

The acquisition follows on December’s deal to buy MarketingPoint software of Evanston, Ill., which helps chief marketing officers track the success of marketing campaigns.
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At the conference Microsoft said later this month it will offer a connector from MarketingPoint to Dynamics CRM customers in the U.S.

In a post-conference interview, Richardo Wagner, Microsoft Canada’s CRM lead, said Canada will be among the first countries added by the end of the year.

Finally, Microsoft said that when Dynamics CRM is updated later this year it will include a mobile application for Surface tablets and Windows Phone 8, BlackBerry, Apple iPad and iPhone and Android platforms.

“The key thing is Microsoft is going after the marketing budget” of organizations, said Rob Helm, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an industry analyst firm. “Microsoft recognizes there is an opportunity there –triggered by things like social networks and the continued growth of digital advertising –to really make marketing a centre for IT spending and Microsoft’s own revenue growth.”

The NetBreeze and MarketingPilot acquisitions show “Microsoft is trying to assemble a complete suite for the chief marketing officer that’s built around Dynamics CRM.”

That’s needed for the company to keep pace with competitors like Salesforce, Siebel CRM, Oracle and SAP AG.

According to Wagner, Dynamics CRM is used by 39,000 organizations around the world. The company doesn’t break out the number of Canadian customers, although Wagner said there is a “huge” installed base here.

The NetBreeze deal is “a very important piece on the social offer” for Microsoft, he said. Dynamics CRM already works within Outlook, Wagner said, and soon NetBreeze tools will be integrated with Microsoft Yammer, a social media platform used internally by enterprises. At that point Microsoft will be able to make an “end to end offer” to organizations with a platform to attract, retain and grow customers, leveraging the information within CRM

Citing analyst reports, Wagner said Microsoft believes the role of chief marketing officers in the next few years will expand significantly which is why it bought NetBreeze and MarketingPoint.

MarketingPoint helps automate marketing project management, spend and budget management and campaign management.

According to Helm, Microsoft will need every tool it can get to keep up with competitors.

When Microsoft built the Dynamics family – which includes Dynamics AX and NAV—its goal was to get new customers who hadn’t gotten into enterprise resource management through SAP, Salesforce, Siebel or Oracle.

Now, he said, all of them are fighting to take customers away from each other. Dynamics CRM and the new marketing products seem to be the best prospect for Microsoft getting new customers, Helm said.

Also at the conference Microsoft [Nasdaq: MSFT] said Dynamics GP for accounting will be delivered in the cloud through partners hosted on Windows Azure in June.

It also expects its ERP solution for enterprises, Dynamics AX, to be updated in the second half of 2013 with the mobile applications as well as and capabilities such as warehouse management and transportation management. The next major release of Microsoft Dynamics AX will be available in the cloud on Windows Azure and on-premises next year.