A Tale of Active Use vs. Sale of Seats

The best I.P. ideas begin with a wide view; making sure as many possible challenges are being solved. The best ideas, are by definition, the “Best” ideas, but they have to withstand the cyclical nature of business.

To do Less would not do

In December of 2014 I had a one-on-one meeting with Thomas Hansen, then head of SMB for Microsoft. The topic of this conversation was the pending announcement that Dynamics CRM Online would be coming to Open shortly, and what that might mean. At this time, CRMOL was only available via WebDirect, and in order to get paid on sales of CRM, a Partner had to be certified at some level. While non-CRM partners “could” sell CRM, few did, as there was no money in it for them. This served a purpose; ensuring that only CRM Partners would be assisting customers with this complex product. Thomas’ concern at the time, was that Open would mean that any partner could sell CRM and get paid… he feared a floodgate opening. He shared his opinion that if a customer had a bad experience with a product, for any reason, including an unqualified partner, they would blame the product. And once lost, these customers may not come back for a long time… if ever.

Fast Forward a few months >>

Dynamics CRM Online is available in Open, Thomas’ fears do not materialize, because for better or worse, CRMOL in Open did not open any floodgates. But the forthcoming CSP model might bring about the apocalypse that Thomas lost sleep over. Thomas moved on from Microsoft before CRMOL came to CSP, so he does not lose sleep over this anymore.

Fast Forward a few more months >>

CRMOL is going to be coming to CSP; and it will be announced at WPC 15. A new team steps in with similar concerns that Thomas had and starts inquiring about our RapidStart model, which at the time was a customer facing model. We went through our entire process, including each milestone that must be checked off in order to achieve “Active Use”. They got it! Their was a clear understanding that we covered the right steps, not too many, and not too few. RapidStart CRM was going to be a major conduit for Active Use of CRM within the SMB space. We started transitioning to an ISV and launched RapidStart CRM at WPC 15; within earshot of the “CRMOL coming to CSP” announcement. It is also at WPC15 that we all heard, loud and clear, the “Active Use’ a/k/a “Consumption” message.

We Need to Sell HOW Much?

Around the time of WPC, Microsoft starts letting their sellers know what their new goals are for the coming year. These goals will manifest on their Scorecards. While CRM may not have met the prior year’s goals, Microsoft did not let that stand in the way of placing a big bet and significantly increasing the CRMOL goals for FY 16. I started to see a lot of worried faces on PSEs as they scanned down to that line item for CRM on their scorecards. Fortunately, I was heading straight from WPC to MGX (Microsoft’s Internal Conference) to let the field know about our model; Victor Morales introduced me, and the sense of relief during my presentation was palpable.

The Funnel Narrows

Right after WPC is an interesting time. Everybody at Microsoft finally goes on vacation. The next year-end is… well, a year away. As Microsoft people return from vacation, it is a time of great pontification (That’s rich, me calling others “Pontificators”). Anyway, lot’s of lofty ideals are discussed ad-nauseum… but, it seems to me, not a whole lot really seems to actually happen for the entire first quarter. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of planning to have planning sessions; many of which were regarding Active Use this year. At this time, June 30 seems far off in the distant future… and then, BAM, all of the sudden, it’s right around the corner. I watched the faces as they went from worried at WPC to nonchalant early in the year, then start to turn a little desperate. It seems that time does not stand still, even for Microsoft.

How to Make a Watched Pot Boil

There are things that are in our control, and things that are not. Of those that are not, we can only hope to have influence. Distributors are not in Microsoft’s control. While CRMOL in CSP was announced at WPC15, six months later no Distributor had yet “lit it up”. RapidStart CRM, while available for use with any method, was really designed to accelerate CRMOL in CSP, and we were in a holding pattern of sorts. We were running some pilots, and tweaking the tweaks in our model, and also having lots of conversations with distributors around the world. Some Distis grasped the concept (Tech Data), many did not. Most distributors only really listen to certain parts of a conversation. Frustrated at the pace, and with June 30 looming, Microsoft asks us what we can do to help move things along. Fortunately, with all of our time to tweak our tweaks, we were in a position to lower our cost significantly, and we did. But, tempting as it might be to remove some steps, we kept everything intact. I know, with a high degree of certainty, what needs to happen to get to Active Use of CRM for SMB.

Our Shadow Starts to Fill

I fully understand that it is not in Microsoft’s best interest to have only one source for a critical solution to an important challenge with a key product. So I was not at all surprised when I was informed that some other vendors were also exploring the trail we had blazed. I am open-minded, and would freely admit if someone were to come up with a better solution to the actual challenges. But, I have looked at some of these alternative approaches. In the best light, I can only assume that they do not actually understand the problem; in the worst light they may simply be money-grabs that will not even remotely achieve Active Use, and could actually bring about Thomas’ fears. My personal biggest fear is that they will be lumped in with RapidStart CRM and presented by Microsoft as “similar”. This is also why I have been shifting the goal post from just Deployment, to what must ultimately occur… Active Use. I am pleased to report that the churn rate for past RapidStart CRM deployments is Zero. I look forward to being measured, against the alternatives that I have seen, on that very metric in the future. Of the reputable efforts from firms I respect, they all still sell direct to our partners’ customers, which they will soon discover is a non-starter.

I realize that this post is quite “Inside Baseball”, but I found it interesting enough to read it again myself. Let me know in the comments if you find this type of information interesting also, or if you would prefer that I just focus on trying to sell you our stuff. I am starting to run out of different ways to say the same thing.

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