Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting Users on Board with Dynamics CRM 2015

In a previous post, I discussed some techniques for getting developers on board with your Customer Relationship Management implementation. Now for the real challenge...getting users to adopt your CRM.

The success of your CRM implementation hinges more on user adoption and data quality than any other factors.  Despite the arguable progress in software features, driving user adoption remains the most difficult challenge of CRM implementation.

Much has been written on the subject, such as Microsoft's training and adoption kit. Here are some highlights from my experience:
  1. Adopting CRM is not painless.  Help users understand that it will be hard work and sometimes frustrating, but the results will be worthwhile.  Setting unrealistic expectations of an easy process will make it harder to succeed.
  2. Show the support of upper management.  This means communications from leaders of your organization, attending meetings on the CRM project, and participating in implementation decisions.  Lack of interest can be contagious.
  3. Establish incentives for adoption.  Find those that fit with your organization's culture and which will work to motivate users.  For instance, in sales force automation, use a CRM dashboard as the centerpiece of every sales meeting, and don't discuss opportunities that have not been entered.
  4. Be sure to save enough funding and energy to provide training for users. Provide enough training but not so much that it seems overwhelming.  Don't train until your system is ready to use, at least as a proof of concept, because we forgot quickly without a chance to practice.
  5. During the adoption period, fix defects quickly and communicate problems to users.  Don't provide excuses to abandon the system.
Call me at 202-364-8822 x109 if you would like InfoStrat's help with driving adoption of your CRM system.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Moving Your Association to the Microsoft Cloud Part 1


Associations are often ideally suited to gain the most from moving their computing infrastructure to the cloud.  Industry experts point to cost savings, performance, and reliability gains you can achieve by moving your organization’s computing to cloud data centers. In order to make the most of cloud infrastructure, associations need a sound business case for moving to the cloud and an approach to determine which applications and servers should be moved and when. 

We recommend a gradual approach to moving to the cloud to minimize migrations cost and disruption.   This approach leads to a hybrid cloud where you will be using some applications in the cloud and some applications on premise.

InfoStrat has worked with national associations for over 25 years.  We have helped associations migrate to the cloud and have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

This blog series is written for associations that are beginning their analysis of the benefits and costs of moving to the Microsoft cloud.  Read the full whitepaper Moving Your Association to the Microsoft Cloud Step-by-Step.

Call me at 202-364-8822 x109 or email me at jimt@infostrat.com if you would like to discuss your needs and how we can help.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The DATA Act Driving Grant Management Automation

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act enacted in May 2014 calls for making spending data available in open, standardized formats to be published online.  It is a continuation of transparency initiatives and lessons learned with experiences such as grants.gov, the 2009 economic stimulus under the Recovery Act and the spending site USASpending.gov.

Government grantees will have significant new administrative responsibilities.  Many organizations that were tracking grants in spreadsheets or documents will have to adopt more sophisticated automated grant management systems such as Microsoft Grants Manager to keep up with reporting rules.

For profit companies will lose some privacy as a result of this law.  Grant recipients will be required to disclose information including officer salaries.

Continued improvements to publishing grant opportunities such as grants.gov may make it easier to find grants. These reforms together are designed to improve the effectiveness of grant programs and to prevent fraud and abuse in such programs.

Call me at 202-364-8822 x109 or email me at jimt@infostrat.com if you would like to discuss your needs and how we can help.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

To Code or Not to Code in Dynamics CRM

Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers a wide range of features combined with the ability to customize the data model and workflows without any coding.  The question is, will these features fulfill all your business requirements or do you need to write some custom code? 

This is an important question, because once you start writing code you need to put in place a commensurate framework, methodology and platform to support it.  For instance, you may need multiple environments for development, testing, staging and production.  You may need version control for code as well as documentation. 

If you choose to go the No Code route, you may need to compromise the complexity of your business rules and change the way you work to suit the product better.  You will also have to settle for a bit less automation of some functions that could be streamlined through code. For instance, if you are determined to assign Account IDs that are a combination of the abbreviated customer name, state and date that they became a customer you will need to write some code.  Integration with other systems such as inventory or timesheets nearly always requires writing code.  Complex field derivations and validations require coding. 

If you are a do-it-yourselfer and not a programmer, and you want to implement Dynamics CRM on your own, try not to take on more than you can handle in terms of custom code.

Third party plug-ins can extend the capabilities of Dynamics CRM without forcing you to write and support custom code of your own. You can purchase plug-ins for reports and calculations or for functions such as sales tax calculation. 

Be sure to consider where you stand on custom coding in your implementation of Dynamics CRM. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Essential Dynamics CRM Customizations for Government Contractors

Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers a rich set of features and a data model for sales force automation and marketing activities.  Each industry (and each company) requires some configuration changes in order to make it work according to their business processes.

For government contractors, here are some of the most common customizations:
  1. Change the focus from individuals to organizations.  You are likely selling to agencies (accounts) rather than consumers (contacts).  Add the relevant fields to forms and views.  For instance, marketing list members doesn’t show the account name by default. 
  2. Define the sales process in opportunities.  Define all the steps that an opportunity goes through before becoming a contract, such as sources sought, request for information (RFI), request for proposal (RFP), down-select, orals, best and final offer, and verbal approvals.  Be sure to allow for all your proposal review steps. 
  3. Add fields to track contract vehicles and types of competition.
  4. Add your own metrics. For instance, we often track how many users a software system will have in order to calculate license costs.
  5. Update reference table values if needed, such as the reason for an opportunity loss.  Do you want to add an option to show you decided not to bid?
  6. Update dashboards to show what you really care about.  Win ratios?  Proposal activity?
  7. Decide how to add the documents which accompany an opportunity, such as solicitations, amendments and proposals.  You could store them in SharePoint, in attachments to Dynamics CRM or in other repositories.
  8. Add your bid team to the opportunity, showing the roles for each person in the proposal.
  9. Allow for teaming if you pursue contracts as a subcontractor or if you hire subcontractors.
  10. Decide how to use the Leads entity.  Do you want to start there for the sake of email marketing campaigns?  Do you prefer to build out the list of targeted accounts and contacts instead?
InfoStrat has put all these customizations and many more in its solution Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) Benefits

Microsoft offers a special licensing plan for organizations that offer hosted software and services to end customers who can sign up for subscriptions rather than traditional perpetual software licenses. This program is Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) and is probably Microsoft's least understood licensing option.

Hosting providers who want to offer software services to their customers and who will include software licenses as part of their service offering should use SPLA. Microsoft SPLA is the only Microsoft Volume Licensing program that allows Microsoft products to be used for commercial hosting.

Under SPLA, Microsoft products are licensed per month, either per user or per server depending on the product.  Nearly the full catalog of Microsoft products are available under SPLA. 

If you already own perpetual licenses for Microsoft products, you can also use them in conjunction with a hosting partner, in essence extending your on premise deployment to a dedicated hosting facility. 

InfoStrat has been a Microsoft SPLA partner for over five years, allowing us to offer our clients greater flexibility than perpetual licenses as well as greater customization than Microsoft cloud hosting. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Optimism Imperative for Small Business Owners

Small business owners must remain optimistic, even after repeated setbacks, in order to be successful.  It's tough to own a small business, and easy to become bitter from the bad experiences you are nearly sure to suffer. 

Many people will try to take advantage of you, from customers to suppliers to employees to business partners.  You can swear never to be victimized again, and institute tougher practices to prevent loss, but most of these will alienate the good customers and partners.  This hurts business more than the direct damage from bad actors.

Yelp is full of unflattering descriptions of small business owners who treat customers with distrust or arrogance.  You often read of restaurants that quickly make diners feel unwelcome, or bike shops whose mechanics and clerks make paying customers feel stupid. I try to avoid such businesses, although I can't stop buying bagels from the grumpy deli owner in my neighborhood.

Only through optimism and the related acts of forgiveness (and perhaps forgetfulness) can a small business owner maintain the positive outlook that attracts customers, employees, and business partners.