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Is Sales More Like Hunting or Fishing?

When you implement a customer relationship management system (CRM) for sales force automation, you must analyze your sales process in order to understand the steps that should be automated, and all the business processes that come into play during the sales cycle.



Salespeople use many analogies that are used to describe sales, but the most common are hunting and fishing.  Hunting is the most common way of thinking about sales.  Your sales prospects are targets, and you spend your time tracking them down and finding out how you can reach them.  Sales tactics are a bit like hunting weapons, and you track statistics on how many of your quarry you bag and how many get away.

You can find sales books that explain sales as hunting, and how to use 'trust as your weapon."  Large sales are called "elephants" or "whales" and small sales are "deer" or "rabbits."  In the sales as hunting world, salespeople wander the earth to find prey and stalk th…

Introducing Employee Self-Service Knowledge Base, from Microsoft

Microsoft recently announced a new option for employee self-service. Some of the biggest drains on employee productivity and engagement come from one thing: a lack of available knowledge. Whether it’s an IT, HR, or customer service question, having to search multiple places or contact another employee for knowledge that is not easily found, wastes valuable time and effort.



Microsoft Dynamics Employee Self-Service (ESS) is a knowledge management solution that provides accessible and consistent knowledge for all employees. Knowledge content is easy to create and manage, and can be delivered internally across all departments, and through multiple channels including devices, productivity tools and applications used every day. For instance, you can:

Provide answers to frequently asked questions such as sick leave or benefitsPromote consistent answers to customer questions through a well organized knowledge baseOffer internal troubleshooting tools 



Microsoft Dynamics Employee Self-Service is…

GovCon Information Services: A List

I have not been able to find a comprehensive list of companies that provide databases to government contractors to find potential opportunities, so I'm starting the list here.

Many of these sources are reviewed here. This is a blog post which I will expand based on feedback from readers and additional research.

FedBizOpps: FBO from the General Services Administration is the best known source of federal business opportunities.  Many of the paid services list below include FBO search results.  Be sure to try the advanced search feature.

Deltek GovWin: Deltek's flagship service GovWin IQ is the largest and probably most comprehensive source, purchased by nearly every large government contractor. When GovWin was hacked in 2014, a news story claimed that 60,000 customers were affected, so this represents a large user base.  Deltek has purchased a number of competitors over the years, such as FedSources, Centurion Research and Input.  Deltek is one of the most expensive of these ser…

When It Comes to Online Collaboration, It's the People and Not the Tools

It has been a long time since Lotus Notes defined the groupware category of collaboration software and Microsoft followed with SharePoint in 2001.  Since then, collaboration software has evolved and new approaches to collaboration have emerged based on social media (such as Yammer).

Business can choose from many collaboration platforms, some of which are free or included (like SharePoint) in widely deployed office suites.

What has not changed is that collaboration itself is a human activity.  Even the best collaboration tools are worth nothing without the participation of users.

Encouraging adoption for collaboration is more difficult than driving adoption of products which empower individual users.  For group projects, have only 80 percent of the participants using the collaboration tool often means failure of the tool for the project.

One of the best techniques to encourage adoption is to have managers and senior staff lead by example.  If they adopt collaboration tools and techni…

Microsoft Software Licensing for Non-Profits

As I mentioned in my previous post, Ten Things You Should Know About Microsoft Software Licensing, purchasing software is not as simple as you might expect.  In addition to the programs and concepts I discussed in that blog post, Microsoft offers additional benefits for non-profit organizations.

Some non-profits may qualify for the ultimate discount -- product donations from Microsoft.

Your organization can become a validated nonprofit to gain access to the Microsoft Product Donation and Volume Discount programs available in your country, including: free software and services, including Office 365, Power BI, and moreupgrades to Windows 10* or Enterprise with up to 50 licensesdiscounts on Microsoft software licenses through any approved Volume Licensing reseller Even if you are not eligible for product donations, your non-profit may be eligible for special non-profit pricing
To find out whether your organization is eligible, you can start here.

Related posts: Ten Things You Need to K…

Ten Things You Need to Know About Microsoft Software Licensing

Microsoft software licensing is a complicated subject, but understanding just a few key concepts can help you get the best value from your Microsoft investment.

Here are the top facts to get you started:

Microsoft sells through a global network of resellers.  Most medium and large sized companies and government agencies have volume licensing agreements which cover all their Microsoft products. This makes it easy to add new products and get the best discounts available. Your reseller will offer the best discount and can add products to your volume licensing agreement where applicable.Volume licensing is available for small and large customers. Microsoft segments its programs for organizations from 5-250 licenses (Open Value, Open Value Subscription, Open License and Microsoft Online Services) and 250+ licenses (Enterprise Agreement, Microsoft Products and Services Agreement, and Select Plus).  Azure is sold based on actual usage.  Microsoft Azure and Azure Government are subscription s…

Ten Truths of Business Rule Complexity

In order to automate business processes, you need to understand the underlying business rules of your organization.  Analysis of business rules is time consuming, and complex business rules add to the time and expense of software development.

Based on my experience in developing business solutions, I would like to offer the following observations to help organizations understand how business rule complexity affects them. If you think your business rule is simple, you are not thinking hard enough.  Many business rules seem simple but turn out to be complex on closer examination.  For instance, you may have a rule that a contact person may be listed only once in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.  If each contact may be associated with only one account (or company) record, what can you do when a person acts in a different role for different organizations.  For instance, I can be listed as a customer of the phone company as the primary contact for my company as well as f…

How Much Office Space is Enough?

After twenty-five years in the same building, I'm planning to move my office, and reminded of how much office space has changed since I started InfoStrat. In may ways, office space has suffered the same fate as the men's business clothing industry.

When I started my first job, everyone's goal was to graduate from shared space to a private office, preferably a window office.  The ultimate was the corner office, guarded by an assistant.

Today all this is changed, and I had to ask myself whether we needed an office at all.  Of course the assistants are long gone as well. Many new companies don't have offices at all, working at home and meeting in public places or temporary as-needed office space.  I have heard that some Google employees wander the earth to work out of offices in exotic areas.  Hey, why not, especially with free food at the office?

I recall when our clients and partners such as Microsoft and federal agencies started redesigning office space for "hot…

Online Resources for Microsoft Grants Manager Plus

I often receive requests for information on Microsoft Grants Manager Plus.  While there are many resources for the solution, they are scattered a bit on several websites, so this blog post is designed to provide links to them all in one place.

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus is Microsoft's software solution for grantors to track the entire grant process, from establishing programs to publishing opportunities, accepting online applications, reviewing and scoring applications, grant awards, post-award reporting and closeout. It is built on the Microsoft platform, including Dynamics CRM and SQL Server, so it shares the same security model as these products.  It includes record and field level security as well as an organizational hierarchy in the security model which together provide quite granular security options.  You may use single sign-on in conjunction with Active Directory.

Microsoft chose InfoStrat to develop Stimulus360 in 2009 and later Grants Manager Plus based on the company&…

Dynamics CRM and Government Contracting

My company InfoStrat has developed solutions for government contractors to get the most out of Microsoft Dynamics products, and is a member of the Microsoft GovCon Alliance.

Our most important solution is Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors.  It contains customizations to Dynamics CRM which allow you to track the entire government capture management process, including all the stages and decision points (called gates in the Shipley sales model) that government contractors go through from targeting an agency to eventually winning a contract award.  Dynamics CRM automates these steps using business process flows.



Because Dynamics CRM is easy to customize, it pays to make it conform to your business processes and to reflect the differentiation that your company brings to the market. Government contractors differ from one another based on their product and service offerings, and how they sell to government.  For instance, a military aircraft manufacturer looks at the procurement proces…

10 Best Practices for Online Customer Service

Online customer service is being adopted by a growing number of companies, government agencies, and non-profits.  It is easier and less expensive than ever to provide online knowledge bases, live chat, and social channels for customer service in addition to call centers.



If you are just starting on the journey of online customer service, you may want to start with some fundamental best practices to chart your course.

Start with executive commitment. Customer service requires significant resources and perseverance, and will become an ongoing task that will grow along with the demands of customers.  Success is unlikely without the explicit support of senior executives.  Put yourself in the customer's shoes.  Many products and services are becoming more complicated with each new version, and customers can be overwhelmed with the pace of change.  Try to consider how a new customer regards your products and find a way to fill the gap in knowledge. Share helpful content.  Create a feedba…

You May Not Need a GSA Schedule -- At Least Not Yet

When you decide to pursue government contracts, the first thing you may be asked is whether you have a GSA Schedule -- the most widely used contract for federal, state and local agencies to purchase goods and services.

A good place to start to learn more is the official GSA FAQ: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/122123

In general, government contractors need contract vehicles, and many will win a place on the GSA Schedule. Before you reach for your checkbook to hire a company to help you with your GSA Schedule, consider some cases in which you may want to wait:

Yours is a new company.  GSA uses past performance and pricing to validate you as a government supplier. For example, GSA Schedule 70 for information technology calls for two years in business.You haven't nailed down your commercial pricing. GSA looks for a track record of pricing, and commercial prices are often the basis for government pricing.You aren't prepared to handle the administrative burden.  Government contra…

Overzealous Office Automation

In the quest for efficiency, it's easy to get caught up in a desire to automate all the processes of your business.  Sometimes, however, you can go too far and hurt your performance or productivity by excessive automation.

This is another way of saying that software design can fall into traps where it is needlessly complex, fails to deal with abnormalities that arise, or provides unhelpful feedback to users.

One of the warning signs of excessive automation is when users experience exceptions to the standard process and then stop using the system and fall back to manual processes.  In many cases, business rules are difficult to extract from users and may be so oversimplified or needlessly complex that when you automate a process it becomes too brittle to stand up to the real world.

The best way to validate how far to go with automating tasks is to get feedback from users.  Doing comparative tests with features can identify opportunities to simplify your system.

When a new softwa…

Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365 Bundle

Microsoft has dropped the price of Dynamics CRM Online for its Office 365 subscribers.  This has previously been available only during limited time promotions.  Newly released pricing for U.S. customers is $48/user/month for Dynamics CRM Online Professional for Office 365 users.


Your pricing may be different depending on your volume licensing plan.

With each successive version of Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft has added new modules for marketing, social, customer service and other functions, so the Dynamics CRM that you purchase today is more powerful than earlier versions.

Microsoft offers a sales audit to help you improve the performance of your sales team with Dynamics CRM.

For more complete coverage of Dynamics CRM implementation costs, see my post.


Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 Deployment: Estimating Costs

One of the questions I am asked most frequently by clients is to estimate the cost of a CRM project. This blog post offers an approach for estimating implementations of Dynamics CRM. If you are in a big hurry, go straight to the InfoStrat CRM cost calculator.

Choosing the Deployment Model
One of the advantages of Dynamics CRM is that you may deploy your solution on premise at your office, in the Microsoft cloud, or at a hosting facility. Your choice of deployment options will affect the licensing or subscription cost.

You can start here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-purchase-support.aspx The comprehensive source is here:https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh699677.aspx

Dynamics CRM Online
Cloud-hosted Dynamics CRM is the easiest deployment model to deploy and to price.

You can choose from the following plans:

Essential. Provides access to custom applications built on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform without using the Dynamics CRM user interface. B…

End of the Computing Platform Debates?

I am relieved that some of the debates on computing platforms are finally coming to an end.  Few discussions are more boring than hearing people debate on Windows v. Macintosh, or Android v. iOS, or .Net v. Java.

It's not that competition among hardware and software vendors has come to an end, but in some cases the value of cooperation and interoperability seems to have won out.  This is certainly the case for the new Microsoft, which has embraced all platforms, from offering Office products for iPhone and iPad to providing top drawer cloud hosting for Linux.

Hardware manufacturers are spreading their bets across multiple software platforms as well.  The market for tablets becomes more diverse each year, and the line between tablets, phones, notebooks and laptops has been blurred as phones grow, notebooks sport removable keyboards, and tablets take on the power of desktops.

Perhaps we are on the verge of a peace dividend for all technology consumers.


Software Demos: It's Not About You

Since software is my business, I am obliged to attend quite a few software demonstrations.  I was reminded last week of a rule that is all too easy to forget when you are running a demo: it's not about you, it's about what the audience needs.

When you give a demo, do not feel obliged to cover every feature and suppress questions until you finish.  Your audience comes to the demo with expectations and sometimes prior knowledge of your product, so listen to their feedback.  Speed up or skip sections that they have already seen, and go to the areas that they care about the most.

Too often I feel like the presenter of a software demo thinks he is being paid on a per-feature basis, and most bring all of us in the audience along with him.  Nothing good comes from this approach.

If we wanted to see an exhaustive list of features rather than participate in a conversation with a human being, we might be tempted to read the manual or watch a training video instead.

Consider what you wou…

Software Requirements: Is it a Toaster or an Aircraft Carrier?

Building software solutions begins with identifying business requirements, and many project failures can be traced to poor requirements.

Part of the problem is that features and requirements language is often too broad or ambiguous, leading to conflicting interpretations, as I discussed in a blog post Stuff Passing as Requirements. These include meaningless expressions such as "intuitive," "user friendly" and "seamless integration" as well as impossibly broad statements like "meets all applicable compliance requirements."

One of my favorite classic information technology textbooks is Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design by Donald C. Gause and Gerald Weinberg.  The book is a great foundation for understanding product development, not just for software development.  It will encourage you to ask more questions and think about requirements in new ways to make your projects more successful.
Another, related problem, is that information tech…

Learning from the Bank ATM Experience

When I first opened my own bank account, the only way to make a deposit or withdrawal was to go to the bank during business hours, wait in line, and interact with a human teller.  If a bank wanted to provide more service to its customers, their main options were to open more branches, open longer hours, and hire more tellers.

When automated teller machines (ATMs) were introduced, many customers were wary because they were afraid of errors and uncomfortable interacting with a machine rather than a person.  It didn't take long, however, for customers to learn that the convenience of the ATM was too good to resist for a large number of transactions, which allowed banks to change how branches were staffed and open ATMs essentially as micro branches to serve new neighborhoods.

The latest continuation of this trend is the growth in web-based customer self service, allowing customers to find answers to questions and solve problems online rather than on the phone.  Most of today's con…

Grants Manager Plus: Theme and Variations

I have written before about how software solution implementations vary in order to serve the unique needs of customers.  One size does not fit all, and this is particularly true for implementations of Microsoft Grants Manager Plus.

When InfoStrat designed Microsoft Grants Manager Plus, the goal was to cover the entire life cycle of a grant, from creating a funding source to publishing grant opportunities, review, award, post-award reporting and closeout.   Our clients may choose to automate some of all of these processes, depending on the grants involved.

The downloadable solution has a large number of features, and is designed to be extended and integrated with other systems as well.

Some grant programs have large number of grants but small amounts of money for each grant.  They may need simple application forms and review processes.  Large grants tend to have more complex applications and review processes, such as review groups.

Fraud prevention and detection are a priority for so…

Dynamics CRM Deployment Planning Services from Microsoft

Microsoft offers software assurance customers a number of benefits, including planning assistance from qualified Microsoft partners such as InfoStrat or Microsoft Consulting Services.  These services are included in your software assurance plan, and cover a number of products such as Office, SQL Server, Skype, Cloud, SharePoint and Dynamics CRM.

InfoStrat's clients have used planning services to analyze CRM implementations, prepare for upgrades, evaluate cloud deployment options, and other services.

Planning Services days are available in increments of 1, 3, 5, 10, or 15 days, and may include a Proof of Concept or Pilot.  You can access these days through voucher creation and redemption at the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center.  InfoStrat or your Microsoft representative can help you through the process.

Dynamics CRM Integrations for Government Contractors

Dynamics CRM can be the centerpiece of capture management for government contractors, but it is even better when integrated with other office systems.  Here are some of the most common scenarios that we encounter, and integrations we have done for our clients and ourselves.

Document Management

SharePoint integration is included in Dynamics CRM, and it provides a great place to store proposal documents such as technical proposals, price lists, resumes, and more.  You can automate the generation of folders in SharePoint and populate the folder with standard templates and documents.

Dynamics CRM may be integrated with other document management systems if you are not using SharePoint.

Accounting

Accounting systems such as Dynamics AX, Dynamics NAV, Dynamics GP and Dynamics SL can play a role in capture management.  They are likely where you create cost codes to track the activities of a project team.  Price lists may reside in these accounting systems.   Microsoft offers a Dynamics conne…

FAV Plugin for Microsoft Dynamics CRM: Formula, Aggregation and Validation

InfoStrat has developed the FAV Plugin for use with Microsoft Dynamics CRM to support data validation, aggregate operations, and formula support without programming.  Many business applications for Dynamics CRM require complex business operations that are not supported in Dynamics CRM out of the box but can be implemented through plug-in configuration.

Typically, in a complex Dynamics CRM deployment, business rules, complex calculations and additional security measures are scattered across multiple layers.  Often all of the above are implemented in JavaScript code on various Dynamics CRM forms, in Plugins, and in other extensions such as external portals and data integration components. This proliferation of implementation decisions makes a solution extremely hard to maintain and modify, breaking the development agility inherent to Dynamics CRM. The FAV Plugin allows an implementer to concentrate these functions in a single location and implement all requirements declaratively.

Backgro…

Dynamics CRM for Political Campaigns

With the presidential campaigns taking so much of our national attention, I have been think about how candidates can benefit from customer relationship management technology.

My company InfoStrat has implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM to provide constituent management, executive scheduling and correspondence management for elected officials such as governors and county commissioners.
Candidates have similar requirements to communicate with voters as elected officials . These communications come from multiple channels, including website forms, emails, in-person meetings and, yes, even letters.  Dynamics CRM and Parature allow you to respond in kind, using the appropriate communications channel.  With ClickDimensions email marketing automation, you can create richly formatted emails and event invitations, and track responses in Dynamics CRM.

Communications should be handled consistent with the policy positions of the candidate and often require escalation and staff action to respond to…

Planning for Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) Solutions

NOTE: Updated to include Dynamics 365

Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) allows a developer to package  a number of customizations as a solution so they may be installed and managed as a unit rather than individually.  For instance, you could put all your custom entities and attributes as well as reports in a solution.  The solution may be installed into an instance of Dynamics 365 -- online or on premises.

Managed solutions are a type of solution which prevents unintentional changes to the customizations. You must start by creating an unmanaged solution and then deploy it as a managed solution in another instance of Dynamics 365.

There are many approaches to defining solutions.  One extreme is to put all customizations in a single solution.  The other extreme is to use dozens of solutions.

For Microsoft Grants Manager, we would use one solution for the standard Grants Manager Plus customizations, and another which contains customizations unique to a particular agency. A …