Dynamics 365 – How to Evaluate

A big part of the job for a Dynamics 365 Partner, is talking to customers about their business problems. They heard about Dynamics 365 somewhere, and are hoping that it is “the” Silver Bullet that will solve all of their issues. Maybe it is… and maybe it isn’t… how can they know? I apologize in advance, this is a long one, so you might want to save it, and come back later.

Can you get There, from Here?

As I listen to, and ask questions of, customers, I often realize very quickly that they have no idea what Dynamics 365 is, or does. You sense a keen combination of frustration and hope, as they pour out every challenge they have. Sometimes, their issues cannot be solved by software of any kind. Sometimes, a couple of issues could be solved, but the cost to solve them, is higher than the pain they generate. And then there are times, where your smile continues to widen with every word they say. Dynamics 365 Business Applications are designed to solve a lot of common business problems, right out of the box, add extensibility, and the list of cures grows exponentially.

The Chicken and the Egg

One of any customer’s biggest business fears is wasting money; their only bigger fear is wasting time. Customers who have been down this road before are easy to spot. From the jump, they are looking for reasons that whatever you are promoting, will not work. They are predisposed to think that their unique issues are not solvable… by you… or anyone else. It makes you wonder why they even called you. Some start the conversation with an almost combative tone, like somehow their business problems are my fault, and all I said was “Hello“. I will usually quickly suggest to these customers that they might want to check out Salesforce.com. For the rest of the customers, they just want to have a degree of confidence that this “journey” will not end at the same place it started.

How can a Customer “Know”?

Words can only go so far, if you are good at using them, you can convince many people of many things. Many customers will indeed move forward based on your words alone. If that happens, you own whatever follows. Other customers will want more than just words before they pull the trigger. These customers have two paths at this point: they can run off on their own and try and figure it out, or they can work with a Dynamics 365 Partner to help them figure it out. Let’s discuss both paths.

“Let us think about it and get back to you”

So maybe your “words” were convincing enough that the customer sees a possibility. At the conclusion of that initial call, you suggest a few options for next steps, maybe a demo, or a Proof of Concept. But the customer instead suggests that “they want to mull it over“. Nine times out of ten, this is code for “we can figure this out ourselves”, and you will never hear from them again. After numerous attempts to re-engage, you may get a cryptic response that they determined that “Dynamics 365 was not the right fit for their needs“. Then you think… hmm… from our initial conversation it certainly seemed like a good fit… how did they determine later that it was not… they did not talk to me. Did I get out-sold? That is certainly a possibility… or… did they get “help” from Microsoft directly, that led them to their conclusion.

Hey Microsoft, Please don’t HELP me

Microsoft wants your customer to buy their product, that is no surprise. As a Dynamics 365 partner, it just so happens that I want that also. Let’s face it, Customers are Liars. Okay not all customers, but you can usually spot the liars because they almost always expose themselves with their first lie: “I’ll get back to you“. They just spent 90 minutes of your time, picking your brain, but in the back of their minds they are thinking that a Microsoft Partner is just a middleman. They have no intention of getting back to you, instead they jump out to Microsoft directly, probably thinking that they will save time and money in the long run. And Microsoft is there to catch them.

To be fair, if the customer goes down the business solutions route into Microsoft, their first encounter will usually begin with a Microsoft representative asking if they have talked to a Partner, prompting the customer’s second lie: “Nope“. This does not make Microsoft smile, but rather, knowing that the customer has a proven higher chance of success with a partner, leads to a suggestion that they put the customer in contact with one. But Microsoft does not hold that line. If the customer says they don’t want to work with a partner, Microsoft caves. “How about if we set you up on a free 30-day trial so you can evaluate it on your own“. I have discussed this failing Dynamics 365 Trial strategy at length here, so I won’t repeat myself, but the cliff notes version: Customer goes bye-bye.

BTW, to the surprise of many of these customers, Microsoft does not “deploy” Dynamics 365, okay maybe for a few very large customers they will, but in 99% of the cases, a partner will be suggested. If you think about it, Microsoft built Dynamics 365 with a fairly specific assumption of how customers would use it. They have added new capabilities galore, but with each, they have an assumed way that a customer would use that feature. In the end, what we really have is this huge kit-of-parts. Between these functional parts and extensibility, there a millions of combinations that can be created to solve customer problems. These combinations are created by Partners, not Microsoft.

The Cost of Sales

Let’s say that instead of the path to nowhere described above, your customer says: “Yes I would like to schedule a demo or a Partner-Led Trial, or do a POC”. What does this mean? Well, it means that your words were good enough, that they now what to see you back them up. This is a good thing, unless your words were bullshit, in which case it means you are about to be exposed as a Seller Liar. But let’s assume, that you did not spend 90 minutes on the initial call, blowing smoke up your customer’s ass… knowingly or unknowingly. You are about to incur some internal cost for this prospect, so your first thought might be “ugh”. But actually, this is the best thing that can happen. Moving forward with a customer based on words alone, while a low cost of sale, is very risky. Down the path, they likely won’t remember what you said in the initial call, just that it was “convincing”. While demos, Partner-led trials or POCs have a cost, they also shift the burden from your words alone, and dramatically increase the odds of success with that customer over the long haul. So let’s talk about these things for a while… It’s Sunday and I got nothing better to do right now, and clearly, if you have read this far, you don’t either.

Demos Done Right

I have sat through a lot of bad product demos. I try and use those snooze inducing experiences to inform how I go about giving a demo. I have done a lot of demos, and I have experimented with a lot of different approaches. I would love to be able to share with you here the the secret recipe for the “Perfect Demo”, but such a recipe card does not exist. What does exist are two lists of ingredients: on the one side are things that will make for a bad demo, and on the other side are things that make for a successful demo. You will want to avoid anything on the bad side, but from the good side you will need to select the right ingredients for each customer. Ironically, if you used every single ingredient from the good side, you would have a bad demo. I am going to keep you in a little suspense here, because I am realizing now, that this topic is a post of its own, that I will write soon.

The Partner-Led Trial

This approach is one that should be used a lot more often than it is. It’s not just sending a customer a trial link with your partner ID attached, that is customer-led. That is really no different than when Microsoft sends the customer a link to a trial, and the result will be the same. If you have a customer who insists on doing a trial on their own, then I guess you really have nothing to loose by sending them a link, but I would go ahead and mark them as “Lost” in your CRM, right after you email them the link.

In a true Partner-Led trial, you don’t send the customer a trial link, instead you provision the trial for them. The first time they click on a link, it should take them directly to the instance. They don’t need to see, or participate in, the sausage-making of provisioning. But before you even send them that link, you should do a few things. First, you should have provisioned the Apps they might need, and only give them roles to those apps. Obviously you should have provisioned the demo data as well. When you do send them the link, it should be part of a Skype call to give them some context, the lay of the land of you will. You should also create a document to share with them on “Day in the Life” persona scenarios that they can follow. Left to their own devices, seeing any business solution is too overwhelming. If you don’t know how to set them up for success, you should not be doing this. Be accessible, and quickly respond to questions. Make sure they understand that this has not been configured for their specific needs, that would be a POC. Make them aware that there is a lot of capability, but don’t try and dig too deep into the details of that. The goal is for them to have a good experience, ending with them wanting to continue further. BTW, it would take an additional 5 minutes to pull their logo and primary color off of their website, and knock out a custom Theme. Not critical, but a nice touch.

The Proof of Concept Slippery Slope

Occasionally, for a larger opportunity, it might make sense to do a Proof of Concept (POC). If you offer to do a POC at no charge, you are a moron. POCs require a lot of work, and if you are not being paid, you will cut corners and defeat the purpose. A Partner-Led trail is also some work, but you won’t be able to get paid for that, but that is as far as you can go for free, and get to a successful outcome.

A POC is not a mini-deployment… unless it is. Sometimes, customers will draft a document of everything they feel they need to see in a POC, that reads like a full blown requirements document for an ultimate deployment. If they are prepared to pay for a full deployment project, under the title of a POC, that is one thing, but they won’t be. They are thinking that a Proof of Concept is an inexpensive “taste test”. This is correct, and I don’t have to check every single thing on your requirements document to give you that taste. The true goal of a POC, is for the customer to see enough that they can know, with some degree of certainty, that Dynamics 365 will get them where they want to be. Identify some key workloads, in a perfect scenario this would be one workload, that can be configured within the application, or easily added with a trial of an App from AppSource. You would not go and build out a complex sales commissioning system for a POC. But they should end up seeing and believing that you could, based on what you do show them. You can easily throttle what you agree to show them with dollars.

I will write that post on Demos, as soon as I figure out what to say.

5 Comments

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