Walking the Talk
I usually avoid discussing my products or services on the blog, people seem to get annoyed. But I was having a chat with an ISV the other day, who said he had found me via this blog. He asked me how much of my ISV opinions were “theoretical”, and did I actually have any ISV solutions. So if you don’t want to hear about my stuff, stop reading or listening now.
As many of you know, I have had a love/hate relationship with Microsoft’s AppSource. Apparently I must be a masochist, because I have still not given up… on the potential anyway. Anyone else would have, and many others have, given up, but I keep falling for the rhetoric. I am in frequent contact with the team behind it, and I keep pushing as hard as I can for improvement. At this point, I pre-date any of the current team’s involvement with AppSource, since I was involved with it before it even launched a few years ago. Maybe that’s why I just can’t let it go, I have way too much invested. I still get excited when the revolving door spins and a new leader takes over, hoping I can accomplish some incremental change, before the door spins again, and the conversation starts back at square one.
AppSource is more than just Power Platform and Dynamics 365 related. It has a few other doors for Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) apps, and Azure apps. But the impetus for the Business Applications door was frankly Salesforce’s AppExchange. Basically Salesforce was kicking Microsoft’s ass by leading with ISV solutions making their product look highly specific to industry customers. This was not new, this has been a Salesforce strategy for a long time. I can remember sitting through many demos, that included a lot of third-party I.P., where it was not clear where Salesforce stopped and the third-party began. But it didn’t matter to customers, all they saw was a targeted, relevant solution. In the meantime, the Microsoft seller in the following demo showed the generic CRM solution, and talked about the ability to customize. Game, Set, Match to Salesforce. This was not lost on James Phillips, leader of the Business Applications Group for Microsoft.
It’s a Freaking Store
The internet is full of online marketplaces, for all kinds of things. AppExchange of course, but also Amazon, Target, etc., almost everybody has an online marketplace these days. The online marketplace technology road is well-traveled at this point, the focus is now on UI, customer conversations, cross-sell, upsell, etc. For some reason, Microsoft decided to re-invent the wheel and ignore well established norms. AppSource is an example of a poor user experience, with no excuse for it. In spite of the obvious importance, and huge competitive advantage that Salesforce made out of their Marketplace, Microsoft has just not put in the effort. Why? I have no clue, but the revolving door has not helped. Still today, I do not see the level of commitment that I think there should be, not just with AppSource, but with ISV in general. But I can’t help but continue to believe that eventually, someone will have the full brightness of the lightbulb go off over their head and become the hero to all.
In the meantime…
In spite of a clear lack of light at the end of the tunnel, I have pressed onward. It may well prove in hindsight some day soon, that it was a complete waste of energy, but for now I am cursed to be an eternal optimist. So we have doubled down on AppSource. Our RapidStartCRM App was one of the very first apps in AppSource. I would love to say that it was based on the success of that AppSource effort, that I was compelled to create more, but that would be disingenuous (fancy word for “Big Fat Lie”). If pressed for a reason to continue, I would say that I still feel there are unmet needs out there for I.P., regardless of AppSource. I still feel compelled to build I.P., even if the success of that hinges on everything other than AppSource. At this point, we’ll also put it in AppSource, with zero expectations, but why not.
We currently have five apps in AppSource, all under our “RapidStart” app brand. These were all built by my team at Forceworks Global. Four of these are horizontal, targeting the concept that Dynamics 365 is simply more complicated than it needs to be, and always has been. It’s no wonder the adoption of any CRM solutions is so low.
We launched our first application, the Original RapidStartCRM in 2015, targeting SMB who was struggling mightily with the first party applications. Our churn rate was near zero, so we knew we were onto something. Microsoft noticed also and made a couple of moves in our direction. The first effort was “Business Edition” targeting SMB. I was annoyed, but not for long. Microsoft’s appetite for SMB comes and goes, and it went out the door before Business Edition even launched. There was one survivor of that effort however, Dynamics 365 Marketing, which was originally going to be an SMB solution.
More recently Microsoft took another stab at SMB with “Sales Professional”, an effort that is still ongoing. Again, I was annoyed, particularly when they would ask me for feedback on their SMB app. But again, since Microsoft does not understand the SMB customer, they built a complicated SMB app. Their SMB appetite will wane again soon, as it does perennially.
One of my favorite opportunities, is when a vertical customer wants us to customize our simple horizontal application. This was what led to our first vertical version: “RapidStartCRM for Homebuilders“. The key challenge to building vertical industry applications, is being able to get the domain knowledge of that vertical. It’s even better when you can obtain the domain knowledge, while being paid to apply it to your I.P..
Last year we recast our apps as “Accelerators”. The idea that any app is going to work perfectly for any business out-of-the-box, is not realistic. In almost every case there was a “customizations” effort, sometimes small, other times quite large. I wanted to make sure that customers understood that our app meeting their needs exactly without any effort, was not realistic, so “Accelerator” seemed a better characterization.
We have three other apps. RapidStartCRM Referral, is our app for referral model businesses, which are different than businesses who sell products or services. The three apps I mentioned so far are really offered as standalone applications. We also built two applications intended to be Addons to either our applications, or any other applications built on the Common Data Service. Our How2 by RapidStart is a simple application that we offer at no cost, that basically brings your internal video training content into whatever Model Driven Application you might be using. Lastly, we built RapidStart Project, after having deployed PSA enough times to know that for most customers’ needs, it too is a monster.
We have four more applications in our development pipeline, that I will talk about after we launch them.
Consulting Services Offers
Another facet of AppSource is being able to create Consulting Services Offers. Again, I was engaged with the team long before that concept launched, and we had one of the first consulting offers in the marketplace. This has also failed to meet expectations from a marketplace, and we have tried multiple types of offers and strategies. As of this writing, we have a total of eight consulting offers, both free and paid. So far the only ones that seem to generate any interest are, of course, the free ones. I would be very interested to hear of any partner who offered a paid consulting offer that a customer took them up on via AppSource. I can’t decide of this is a doomed motion or not, because again, AppSource sucks at getting the right message in front of the right customer. Not wanting to rely on AppSource, we have our paid offers on our website also, so we’ll see how that goes.
So that about covers it for now. For anyone who thought my ISV opinions may have been “theoretical”, you can now see that they are actually the result of continuous disappointment.