This recent post on LinkedIn, re-ignited the ongoing Dynamics 365 vs. Salesforce debate. Not surprisingly, emissaries from both camps weighed in, and the debate continues as I write this. Formerly a Salesforce shop for 10 years, we are now a Microsoft shop since 2011, so I am as biased as any other debater.
Let’s face it, we all live in our bubbles. We are keenly aware of what is happening in ours, and tangentially aware of what is happening in the others. As a former Salesforce partner, I am often asked my thoughts on both bubbles, but to be fair, we have not been inside of the Salesforce bubble for almost seven years. My knowledge of Salesforce is fading, and I have enough to keep up with, just keeping current with what is happening in my current bubble. The same would be true of Salesforce partners. So we are essentially arguing in circles. A SFDC partner can no more argue the “cons” of Dynamics 365, than I can argue the “cons” of Salesforce, particularly now that my knowledge of that bubble has gone stale. All that we can both speak to are the “pros” of our own bubbles, unaware that the other camp may well have that very same “pro”. So I am going to try and point out some of what I feel are the “pros” of Dynamics 365, and avoid the “cons” of Salesforce. Salesforce partners, please keep me honest, if I point out a “pro” that exists in your bubble also, let me know in the comments. I also welcome pointing out the unique “pros” for the SFDC camp in the comments as well. But before I get into that, we have to level-set on some evolution.
The Old Company
Microsoft has had an interesting relationship with customers, partners and competitors over the years, and it was not always good. Few people in the industry would have trouble recalling some shitty thing that Microsoft did to them, at one point or another over the decades that they have been around. Many constituents had a love/hate relationship with Microsoft for decades, but like it or not, Microsoft, by hook or by crook, became indispensable. I remember begrudgingly moving from WordStar to Microsoft Word a long time ago. Microsoft simply outspent WordStar, built a better product, and then intentionally crushed them like a bug. I loved WordStar, but not enough to limit myself to an inferior product. The same thing happened with Lotus 123. I was keenly aware that I was being assimilated into the Evil Empire, but there was no better option. Bill Gates was pretty ruthless, and Steve Ballmer doubled down on that. An employee could potentially lose their job for using an iPhone! It was not just “Microsoft First”, it was “Microsoft Only”. Every competitive motion was a “Zero-sum game”, we can’t win, unless you lose, and we are bigger and stronger and have more money than you. There is still a lot of bitterness out there from this legacy.
I remember back in 2014 when Ballmer announced that he was moving on, and the search for a new CEO began. Some of the names being floated around seemed like obvious choices to continue the Microsoft we all knew, like it or not. Like most of us, I had no idea what to make of this dark horse Satya Nadella that ended up getting the job. He was not loud or brash, as I expected the new CEO would be. To be honest, I have not read his book… I did not have to, as I witnessed directly how he operated. I wondered how the board of directors came to select him? I assume that since Microsoft’s stock value had been flat, for like forever, in the words of Monty Python, it seems the board decided, “And now for something completely different”.
I was as skeptical as most, when Satya was offered Darth Vadar’s throne on the Death Star. My skepticism continued for a little while, even as he talked a good game. I was still convinced he was simply painting the Death Star white to fool us. But actions speak louder than words, and he started taking actions that seemed contrary to everything I thought I knew about Microsoft. I think that many, outside of the bubble, are still skeptical, there’s a lot of history to overcome. But I am now convinced that Satya is committed to building a new reputation for Microsoft. Apparently the Stock Market is convinced to, and now Microsoft is the most valuable company in the world, recently overtaking that spot from Apple, and its stock has been on a steady upward trajectory.
It’s not about CRM
In that LinkedIn debate, many SFDC loyalists felt that any comparisons made, should be limited to CRM capabilities. But I don’t think Microsoft cares about competing with SFDC at a feature level, they seem to be thinking about changing the established rules of Business Applications. I don’t think it is because they feel they would lose in a tit-for-tat battle, rather I think they are seeing a different path to business applications and are not really focused on SFDC at all. Of course they are going to bring Office 365 and Azure into the conversation, not because it is an unfair comparison to SFDC at a feature level, but because it is a key part of their overall story. The CDS (Common Data Service) motion is bigger than CRM, way bigger, but CRM is a part of that story. It is really about breaking down silos, across the organization, not just in your business applications. It is about empowering Citizen Developers to solve many business, and other problems on their own. It is about empowering ISVs to build whatever business solutions they feel would solve their target customers’ needs, across the stack, not just within CRM. Salesforce is a very tall tree, for SaaS, it may be the single tallest tree, but Microsoft is aiming at the forest.
The business applications story is evolving, from tools that generate forms to collect data, and then automated processes to move that data around. This is the legacy CRM proposition. But for business applications to generate more than they ever have, you really have to look further than just continuing to add features to capture more data. If you look at the data from the other side, oblivious to how it got there, the real opportunity is about using that data differently than we ever have, or could. The “AI Story” will eclipse any feature battle very soon. While not a direct investment in CRM per se, the huge amount of money and resources that Microsoft is pouring in to AI, will accrue to CRM… and everything else.
The Fences Come Down
In order for Microsoft to continue their trajectory, they need to be able to engage with everyone else on the planet. This was not the old Microsoft way, far from it. But today’s Microsoft is opening it’s doors to all comers, and several doors are opening from all sides. Many of Microsoft’s moves towards this end have been met with skepticism, again based on history. For example acquiring GitHub, and then becoming the most prolific provider of open-source software on it. Remember, before Satya, open-source was a “cancer”. With CDS as a the core thrust, and CRM being but one of many ways to populate it, a huge investment was made to build a “connector” framework. With some 250+/- connectors, and more being added every day by third-parties, there are now many ways to capture, and work with data in CDS. Don’t forget the long-tail story is AI.
Renewed Love for ISVs
There is no doubt that Salesforce AppExchange has set the bar for how a third-party marketplace could succeed. Microsoft’s efforts to date, on similar motions have been less than stellar. There is now a laser focus on that motion, and again it has little to do with Salesforce, but logical moves have been made, that Salesforce made a long time ago. Starting with the release of a Platform License. Again, this is not CRM specific, but CRM will benefit, rather it is about, once again, CDS. As a master database repository, ingesting data from many sources, business applications are yet another doorway, and with platform licenses, ISVs can build their own applications to access it. Will these be custom CRM systems? Could be, but many will not be what we traditionally have thought of as CRM systems. Automated forms over data? Sure, some will, but again, feeding into CDS, which becomes the beginning of the story, instead of the end. Don’t forget the long-tail story is AI.
Changing the Rules of Engagement
To be sure, while not a primary focus, you have to expect that Microsoft is keeping an eye on Salesforce, just as Salesforce is keeping an eye on Microsoft. Microsoft has not made a dent in Salesforce’s trajectory, but the rising tide has raised all boats and Microsoft has grown significantly as well. The result of Microsoft’s efforts will be rippled through, and CDS will be the key story. It is not specifically designed as a Salesforce Compete story, rather it is a different story, that will also happen to compete with Salesforce’s story. So when you hear that comparisons should be limited to CRM features, you can see why that makes no sense from our bubble.