Microsoft wooing rivals’ CRM users

Although a latecomer to the CRM business, Microsoft Corp. has been quietly luring customers away from more established rivals like Siebel Systems Inc., now part of Oracle Corp.

Several users attending Microsoft’s Convergence 2006 conference in Dallas this week said they have turned to Microsoft Dynamics CRM because of its integration with other Microsoft applications, including Dynamics ERP and Office. In addition, a half dozen users said version 3.0 corrects many of the performance, data synchronization and other problems in versions 1 and 1.2 of the Microsoft CRM software.

Global Comfort Systems plans to replace its Siebel call center application with the latest Microsoft CRM software for its integration with the other applications and its relatively lower cost, said Andrew Fralick, Information Technology Director at Global Comfort unit Webasto Product North America Inc.

Global Comfort, based in Stockdorf, Germany, expects the cost of installing Microsoft CRM to be about the same as it would be to upgrade its Siebel call center software, he said. Fralick’s own unit has been using the Microsoft CRM software for about two years through multiple versions; He called the newly installed Version 3.0 an enterprise class product.

Fralick said the Fenton, Mich. unit’s sales force did suffer through the defects of earlier versions of the software. “The [initial] product wasn’t a flop. It just didn’t work as billed. Now they have an excellent new version that’s finally there.”

The integration with Microsoft applications prompted Wilson Language Training Corp. in Oxford Mass. to replace its Siebel 6.0 CRM software with Microsoft CRM 1.2 in January 2005, said Brian Kretchman, technical development manager at the teacher training resources provider.

Despite the cost of licensing, end user retraining and data cleansing associated with the cutover, it was “worth it in the end,” said Kretchman, a panelist at the Convergence conference.

He said customization of the Siebel software by sales personnel led to IT support problems. The more rigid Microsoft CRM process improved the efficiency of its 60 users, Kretchman said.

Wilson intends to upgrade to Microsoft CRM 3.0, most likely this fall, Kretchman said. Helene Cole, CEO of Altara, a Basking Ridge, N.J.-based integrator, said her company replaced its Siebel software with the Microsoft offering in 2002.

Cole said the Siebel implementation worked well for large customers of its integration services, but proved too complex and costly for internal use.

Quiznos Master LLC, which sells sandwich shop franchises, ditched its own home-grown CRM application for Microsoft’s CRM 1.2 offering in February 2005, said Kristie Reid, IT project manager for the company’s Quiznos Sub unit. The company now has 550 users of Microsoft’s CRM software. Denver-based Quiznos will upgrade to version 3.0 in the next couple of months, she said.

Quiznos now uses Dynamics CRM for consolidated reporting; the former CRM system required several different applications were needed to create reports, Reid said.

“I’m not surprised to see SMB companies switching away from Siebel. The cost and burden of a big CRM product like Siebel doesn’t really make that much sense in the [small to mid-size business] market, so an opportunity like [Dynamic] CRM 3.0 would be a good one for these companies,” said Josh Greenbaum, analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, based in Berkeley, Calif.

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