Microsoft is beefing up its presence in the customer relationship management (CRM) market with a product, targeted at small and medium sized companies, due to ship in the UK in January 2003.
Microsoft Customer Relationship Management is the first business application built on Microsoft's .Net platform, and is designed to help companies increase sales effectiveness and deliver more consistent customer service.
It offers access, via Microsoft Outlook and the web, to tools including sales forecasting, lead and email campaigns management, and the ability to track sales and customer service activities.
Pricing is expected to be detailed nearer its launch.
Holly Holt, Microsoft senior product manager for CRM, said the market was ripe for picking as only 10 per cent of mid market customers had already implemented a CRM package, with the majority opting for home grown products.
"We have to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of this integrated solution. Mid market customers are not interested in having a large IT staff or long implementations. This is easy to deploy, it's easy to use. One of the challenges of successful CRM is getting salespeople to use it," Holt said.
But Microsoft has experienced only limited success with Great Plains Siebel Front Office, a co-branded CRM suite aimed at upper mid market customers, amid ongoing scepticism in the market about the return on investment of the technology.
In two years, only 100 UK customers have bought the product.
"Today when people talk about CRM they associate it with the enterprise level space. But this gives us an offering with a much quicker return on investment and we can say we have something at a lower cost that also integrates to a back office system. We'll make the ROI model more attractive," said Adrian Hobbs, managing director of Microsoft Great Plains in the UK.
The product will be available as a standalone product but also integrates to the Microsoft Great Plains Dynamics ERP suite.
It will be sold and implemented through Microsoft Great Plains' reselling partner channel. Selected partners will also offer a hosted version of the suite.
Judith Jordan, an analyst at Ovum, said the product would plug a gap in the mid market that enterprise resource planning vendors had failed to address.
"Everyone is looking to the mid market as an area for growth, even companies like SAP. And although CRM is suffering a bit at the moment, it's still a business to be in," said Jordan.
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