“We’re not looking for a Sales solution“, said the person on the other end of the phone call. I have heard this many times. While those of us in the Power Platform arena know that Sales is only one of the business problems we can solve with the tools today, many still think “Sales” when they hear Dynamics 365.
Once more from the top
I have previously explained some of the evolution of what was formerly known as CRM, at least as it relates to Microsoft’s offerings…. but I will try once more in super-layman’s terms. Up until just a few years ago, Microsoft had a product known as Dynamics CRM. It was a Sales focused solution, primarily aimed at Salesforce.com as the market leading competitor. Originally only available as an on-premise product, meaning it was installed somewhere on machines you owned or controlled, it became available as a SaaS offering in 2011. As a SaaS offering, this meant that it was now running from machines that Microsoft owned and operated, and the application was made available for you to use via a web browser. Not dissimilar to how you use LinkedIn, Facebook or even Salesforce. This is essentially what Cloud means.
The Salesforce Clouds
Salesforce, which also started as a Sales focused Application, although cloud from the very beginning, started to see opportunities in adjacent markets quite a while ago. They created some new “Clouds”, there came the “Sales Cloud”, “Service Cloud”, “Marketing Cloud” and more recently, the “Commerce Cloud”. Clearly redefining what CRM, and Salesforce was, to encompass a much broader spectrum of business solutions. Microsoft followed suit.
Clouds vs Apps
Where Salesforce created distinct “Clouds” for their expansion, Microsoft created distinct “Apps”. The difference in approaches is not easy to grasp, but fortunately, it is not important to grasp either. Looking at it from the Microsoft side, their Dynamics application had spread out some to include some post-sale capabilities, primarily around servicing activities.
While Dynamics was always highly customizable, it was delivered with a very specific kind of business model in mind. First, it was assumed that you sell things, directly to customers, and most likely those customers were businesses (B2B). It was also assumed that you had some sort of incoming Leads from somewhere, and that your sales process began there. It was assumed that your made contact with these “Leads” to determine their interest, and if interested, you would convert them into “Opportunities, together with an Account and Contact record. While at the Opportunity stage, it was assumed that you would create “Quotes”, and in order to create Quotes, it was assumed that you needed a Product Catalog. Once a Quote was accepted, it was assumed that you would create an “Order” and close the Opportunity as “Won”. Once the Order was fulfilled, it was assumed that you would want to create an Invoice to get paid. Now that the “thing” has been sold, it was assumed that you would want to offer some kind of post-sale support with Case Management, and of course you would want SLA management for your support staff. Microsoft made a lot of assumptions about how a business would work in their Dynamics CRM offering. In my 20 years in CRM, I never met one that fit.
Bending and Molding
I am not sure if it was there from day one, or if it came along later, but the XrM capabilities are what made Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM a viable product. Dynamics’ XrM capabilities were similar to Salesforce’s Force.com capabilities. Basically they both gave the ability to customize the offerings… significantly This was a good thing because neither of their offerings fit any customer.
The general public was seeing basically Sales solutions offered by Microsoft, oblivious to the fact that they could be completely customized into something totally unrelated to sales. It was even tougher for Salesforce to shake the “Sales” only stigma, since it was baked into their name. You would have thought that Microsoft could have taken advantage of this opportunity, but until recently, the product was lead by a bunch of idiots, who were so focused on catching up with Salesforce, they missed the clear opportunity to just pass them.
Back to customizability: over the years, customization became a very big business. Working with skilled Partners, customers were taking the products offered by Microsoft and turning them into completely different things, like Member Management solutions for Associations, or Grant Management solutions for Non-Profits, or Franchise Management solutions, etc, The list is endless of what has been done to “CRM” with the XrM customization capabilities.
Breaking shit apart
Several years ago, Microsoft embarked on a journey to separate their Dynamics capabilities, first from each other, and then from their underlying platform. It’s a long story, that is still ongoing, and I have written about it several times in the past, so I will cut to the chase here. Dynamics CRM is no more, instead we have several Apps that carry the Dynamics brand. Dynamics 365 for Sales, Dynamics 365 for Service, Dynamics 365 for Marketing, etc. Sounds eerily similar to Salesforce’s clouds. In the same time frame of releasing these finished applications, Microsoft also made the underlying platform that they are all built on, available as a separate product. Again, Salesforce was there first, with a “platform only” offering quite a while ago. More on that shortly, but Microsoft also kept building on their apps, adding intelligence and a whole slew of capabilities. Sadly, the original “assumptions” that Microsoft made about how businesses operate, still dominate their offerings, but luckily XrM is still available to make them actually fit.
Microsoft’s “Platform-only” offering is called the Power Platform. Think of it as a smorgasbord of ingredients, but there is no finished stew. If you want a finished stew, then you could look at Microsoft’s “finished” apps. But in my experience, all of those required significant tweaks to the ingredients to get right for anybody. “Tweak” is probably not the right word… decapitation is probably closer. This is not a knock on Microsoft’s first-party apps at all. As aspirational showcases of modern technology, they are pretty awesome. But most customers I run into have neither the time, patience, budget or need for much of that “aspiration”. This customer needs to go straight to the Power Platform. In most of the cases I can recall, we spent more time modifying the first-party apps to fit customers needs, than if we had just started from scratch. So, in almost every case, that is what we are doing today.
Long Live the Platform
Microsoft’s Business Applications Group is on the odd position today of potentially eating it’s own head. When you hear them discuss the Power Platform, it is with great zeal that they talk about its capabilities to solve “small” problems. There is clearly a concern about cannibalization of their first-party apps coming from the platform, either by customers or ISVs.
While they continue to position Power Platform as a solution to small problems, the only reason it could not solve the biggest problems that exist today, would be artificial limitations that Microsoft may place on it, to protect their first-party apps. As we continue to solve bigger customer challenges with the platform approach, I sense a tightening coming from Microsoft.
Is Dynamics 365 Dead?
My co-host on our weekly live show, and good friend, fellow MVP Mark Smith, once publicly proclaimed “Dynamics 365 is Dead“. This sent shockwaves through the community at the time, (Somehow I even got blamed for it), but he was only voicing what a lot of us were thinking, the day Microsoft made the decision to open the platform. So is Dynamics 365 Dead? That’s a good question… I know for myself, a customer has to have a pretty specific need, that is only met by one of Microsoft’s pre-made apps, before I would suggest even looking at them. However, Microsoft continues to invest heavily into capabilities and marketing of their apps. I am sure it would be quite a financial blow to Microsoft’s Business Applications Group if everybody dropped their pricey apps, and built their own on the inexpensive platform. But I, for one, am mostly suggesting they at least explore just that.
Interestingly, I seem to recall Microsoft telling their partners a few years ago, that moving to the cloud was going to hurt partners a bit financially in the short term, but it was the future.