Dynamics 365 – Business Central vs. Customer Engagement

Microsoft recently announced Dynamics 365 Business Central, the official name for the product that was code-named “Tenerife”. This is the long anticipated, fully “SaaSified” version of “Full” NAV, and it is available now. At the same time, Microsoft also announced a new Customer Engagement option, Dynamics 365 Sales Professional, a feature limited version of their full Dynamics 365 Enterprise Sales Application at a lower cost. Where do they fit in the picture?

Don’t Say SMB

It’s not that SMB (Small and Midsized Businesses) is now a dirty word in Dynamics, rather Microsoft would prefer not to segment their Dynamics products by company size anymore. Once you lay the SMB brand on a product, you kind of remove it from consideration for any non-SMB. What is more important is the complexity of a business… any business. This should really be the determining factor for what product(s) will best suit a customer. All SMBs are not necessarily simple, as I wrote here, nor all all large businesses complex. “Dynamics 365 Business Central” and “Dynamics 365 Sales Professional” are good examples of size-neutral product names. Maybe next we will see “Enterprise” changed to “Ultimate”, for size-neutrality across the line.

I can hear you… I’m standing right here…

SMB represents a pretty good sized customer base, it actually dwarfs all other segments combined in sheer numbers. SMB has also gotten used to “Special Treatment” from everybody, credit card issuers, office supply discounts, small fleet programs, government programs, you name any business need, and there is a special deal, just for them. Some of these deals are so good, larger businesses try and pass themselves off as “small” just to take advantage. So has Microsoft abandoned the SMB? Not at all, they are just leaving it up to you to figure out what products you need. Would it be easier if there were a flashing sign over the one product that fit you best? Maybe, but given the fact that all businesses are different, wouldn’t you prefer making the decision of what is best for your needs? We’ll see.

What’s in a Name?

What do you think of when you hear the name “Dynamics 365”? If you are thinking that this is a single product, you would be incorrect, Dynamics 365 is a family of products, all focused on “Business Solutions”. “Isn’t email a business solution?” Sure, you use email in your business, but it is really a communication tool, so email falls within the category of “Productivity Solutions”, along with everything else that is part of “Office 365”. The line between Business Solutions and Productivity Solutions is a little fuzzy, even for people who use these terms daily like me. We can make it even fuzzier by integrating the two sides, but that is a post for another day.

The key here is that Dynamics 365 is a family of “different” Business Solutions, sharing a top-level name. Some of these products are vastly different, not only in what they provide, but the platforms upon which they are built, they ways in which they are customized, and even the UIs in which they are presented. In many ways it is like a Chinese menu from which you can assemble your own custom plate, but in some areas there are forks in the road that must be taken. Over time some of these forks will be eliminated, but today you will have to make some forking decisions.

Dynamics 365 Business Central

One of the first forks in the road that you will come to is what I call the CE/BC crossroads. “CE” is Customer Engagement, which itself it not so much a product, but a sub-category of products that sit on a particular platform that we used to call CRM. I will cover this below, but know that CE and BC are two different platforms, which I will also cover below. Business Central (BC), as I said before is a fully SaaSified version of NAV. What does that mean? It means that Microsoft has built this product on their own servers in a multi-tenant configuration which allows for Microsoft to offer this product to customers on a monthly subscription basis. This is the same path that CRM took a few years ago, and the same path that Office 365 was launched on. It is the path of all future products coming from all modern providers. So that kinda had to happen.. and it did.

Dynamics 365 Business Central is the evolution of NAV, a product that was primarily an ERP (Finance and Accounting) system that was primarily targeted to Mid-sized business. Like many ERP systems, it also has some basic sales capabilities, so for certain businesses it could be considered an “all-in-one” solution. In fact, NAV powers businesses of all sizes, from very small SMBs all the way up to full-on enterprise customers. Business Central is, for all intents and proposes, NAV in the cloud, so there is no reason to think it cannot do the same.

Customer Engagement

The Customer Engagement sub-category includes things like Sales, Service, Marketing, Project Service and Field Service. Notice, it does not include Finance or Accounting. There is no General Ledger in Customer Engagement. Therefore, Customer Engagement is clearly not an “all-in-one” path. You will still need another system for Accounting and Finance… like for example… Business Central. “What a minute, you said BC is an all-in-one, so why would I need two?” Depending on your needs, you may not, BC could be all you need. How would you know? It will depend primarily on how complex your Sales needs are, as well as you needs for Service or Marketing, or Field or Project services, if you have those. While Business Central is very strong on the finance and accounting side, its Sales capabilities are quite light, at least in comparison to the Sales capabilities of Customer Engagement. Are your sales needs sophisticated or complex? Do you have a Customer Service or Marketing need? If so, then you will probably take the Customer Engagement fork in the road.

Forking Convergence

The great Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road.. take it”. So if you choose a fork today, do they ever connect up again? I’m glad you asked; yes they can. For example, let’s say you started with the BC fork, and later your sales needs became complex. You can certainly add Dynamics 365 Sales Professional and it could “take-over” the sales aspects of Business Central. Or coming from the other side, let’s say you already had an ERP system in place that you were satisfied with, so you took the Customer Engagement Fork for something like Dynamics 365 Sales and/or Dynamics 365 Marketing. Later for some reason, like maybe outgrowing QuickBooks, you decide you want to add BC to the mix, no worries, your sales system doesn’t change, it just starts talking to your BC Finance and Accounting system, via integration.

The Big Mac

Customers will choose a path, based on where their needs are deficient; if it is Sales, but their ERP is okay, they will head down the Customer Engagement fork. If their ERP is lacking, but their sales are okay, they will head down the Business Central fork. But what if everything is crap? Then maybe these forks become parallel paths, with the integration occurring as they go forward down both. Of course it’s more than just integrating between CE and BE, any customer will also want to integrate Office 365 into the mix. All of this is possible; it isn’t necessarily as simple as checking a box, but this is where your knowledgeable Microsoft Partner will help.

Frankly, your partner will also be able to guide you on the best path, based on your specific needs, because there is no solution that is “Best for SMB” or “Best for Enterprise” anymore. There is only what is Best for You.

Add your thoughts below, just don’t pimp your stuff on my blog 🙂


  1. Cloudfronts

    Great post, Thank you for sharing this article.

  2. Chr

    We are currently at a fork and still trying to figure out which one but more on the PM side of things. What are the prongs on the project management fork?

  3. Stephan Smith

    Good stuff. Thanks.

  4. Eric Klauss

    ” but today you will have to make some forking decisions.” Love it! Thx Steve!


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