Launching Improved Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner Add-Ons


c360 (a Microsoft Dynamics CRM ISV) was recently acquired by a management group that included David Hutchinson and Whit McIsaac. David Hutchinson and Whit McIsaac joined us (with Carlos Ekkert) to share some of the new things that are happening at c360. c360 is a Microsoft Dynamics CRM ISV partner. 

Carlos: How about we start out with you telling us a little bit about your role in the organization, and how you came to be there at c360?

Whit:  Well, it’s really interesting story. We actually tried to acquire c360 about four years ago.  At that time we had a tentative arrangement put together with c360 before another organization ultimately paid a lot more money than we could afford to buy the company for. So we already knew quite a bit about their approach and we really liked the whole concept of c360 filling the gaps with Microsoft Dynamics CRM widgets, templates or add-ons.

What our original thought process was, we were going to build what we called vertical productivity packs. Microsoft essentially now calls them skins.  In the end we got outbid and the other organization bought the company and we went down the Microsoft Dynamics CRM route where I’d say we were moderately successfully building something called CRM Legal.  What we built was a fairly comprehensive layer on top of Microsoft Dynamics CRM which changed the way the software works so it would fit in a professional services organization. We learned an awful lot doing that whole process.  We got to be very close with Microsoft Dynamics team at the highest levels.

We distributed 30,000 seats in about three years and achieved Microsoft Partner of the Year for three years in a row.  We got named ISV Software Developer of the Year as well as at President’s Club in Inner Circle.  We enjoyed a lot of success in space before it was declared wide open. It was wide space at Microsoft we had never played in before.

Carlos:  What is it about your roles that you enjoy there at c360?

Whit:  We are small company and we really in our roles under c360 have an opportunity to do a whole bunch of things. I think that adversity is part of what we enjoy the most.  We get a chance to be active with the developers and be active with the clients.  We are also heavily engaged with Microsoft and every day is a new experience from the acquisitions, the marketing, the PR communications, and convergence. We spend time strategizing and discussing the whole concept of what we are going to do and talking about new initiatives that we want to try to get in line for the Worldwide Partner Conference late in the Summer.

Being able to be close with the employees and the clients and Microsoft is great. I know that probably sounds like a stock answer but it is the reality. We are deep in the day-to-day operations as well as provide the vision for where c360 is going.  When we bought c360 there were people that told us that c360’s market presence is declining. That told us that Microsoft has more and more of what c360 used to do. But we really — we wanted c360 for the existing customer base in the partner channel.

With 2,200 clients and 500 partners distributing the tools we weren’t going to sit stagnant.  They would have been right, but I don’t think anybody realized how aggressive we were going to be with follow up acquisitions with new products and with custom development with new services. So it has been not the least bit boring and so we’ve embarked on this.

Carlos:  So with the acquisition now, how is c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM going to be affected? Are there changes coming? How will c360 will be different now than it was in the past?

Whit:  Yeah, there is going to be quite a bit of change.  I venture to say that what everybody sees at the end of this calendar year will be radically different from what it was coming in 2012.  We’ve actually changed quite a bit right now and Dave Hutchinson from an operational standpoint has been the person that’s been entasked with changing everything from the company culture to, the leadership approach and the way that the support process operates.

We’ve already completely changed the support scenario. Dave has doubled the size of the support team with the acquisition of an organization in Russia.  We’re going to almost a 24 hours support role now. The other thing we did is expand the development team. c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM used to be built in Bangalore and currently there is a significant team over there.

We have been running a parallel development team since mid-December.  We now have the the team in Bangalore as well as the team in St Petersburg Russia working with our team here in North America. The other strategic shift is the teams are not separated from support anymore. Support used to be separate division within c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Our perspective is we are attached at the hip. So if something needed to be escalated from level one to level two and ultimately level three, people are engaged early on – and the team can be active and make sure things are addressed in a timely basis.  That process has served us well over the years, a little bit more expensive, but more effective in support Microsoft Dynamics CRM products.

Carlos:  If you would say something what would you say that’s unique about c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM as an organization?

Whit:  The company is not a real heavy-handed management. So everybody is encouraged, all the employees, at all levels, to make decisions.  We all know some of the decisions are going to be wrong, but our view is we can correct the decisions that need to be corrected down the road. Whereas, if everybody is waiting for guidance on what to do, C360 can’t be as mobile.

So there is no “you got to do it this way”, there is no playbook, etc. There is what you need to do which is take care of the partner and the clients and make sure that they are getting what they expect out of the product.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a $45 per seat product, or a $95 seat product, just do what’s right for the customer and the partner.

Carlos:  There is a lot of trust put in the employees to take their own advice and run with it when developing these Microsoft Dynamics CRM products. That puts pressure on good hiring practices.

Whit:  Good hiring practices and we were blessed with great people when we acquired C360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. You know when people make decisions they just get better and better and everybody starts to operate on the same wavelength. That goes a long way for building culture and it’s been effective.

Carlos:  What type of awards have you won in the past? What type of awards has c360 won in the past?

Whit:  So from an award standpoint, as I mentioned earlier, we have won three Partner of the Year awards for the professional services space.  Three in a row had never been done before. We also won a marketing award. We had highest return on opportunity investment with the Microsoft Dynamics team and I took everybody to Hawaii on a wonderful trip. All of this was with the same leadership team that we have now over at c360.

Dave:  It’s not an award but I would say something also that we are very proud of is, we were the first partner, I’ll say in the North America, but I am pretty confident in the world that was recognized by AMR Gartner and certified in the professional services space.  We stepped up to a process with Microsoft to be certified and they’ve validated everything from our internal subject matter experts, our process, our development, our support, and our customer experience.  It was a very in depth certification that the clients had to be involved with. So being named at as the first partner is pretty powerful.

Carlos:  As a Microsoft independent software vendor, it’s obviously important that you are aligned with Microsoft’s product vision.  How would you characterize your relationship with Microsoft Dynamics team from a c360 standpoint?

Whit:  Carlos, when we sold our businesses we started looking for what we are going to do in the future.  We took inventory of our intellectual capital, IP and we’re trying to determine where we could be the most successful with a reasonable amount of risk.  The item which sits at the top of our inventory is our relationship with Microsoft and members on the Microsoft Dynamics team.  We were very, very fortunate in that.

We were put in the right spot, the right time and we were able to deliver on a whole bunch of Microsoft licensing and a whole of really successful customer stories. So we received attention all the way to the top with Microsoft at a point where our first mega global project, our executive sponsor was Steve Ballmer.  So fortunately we got connected with the right teams at Microsoft as Microsoft was embarking on this whole concept in verticalization.

We became the vertical poster child for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and we ended up spending a lot of time with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM admin in Belleview going over what was making our approach to verticalization successful so they could help communicate that information to other partners.  Some people were Michael Park, Dave Willis, Darlene Perfetto on the ISV side, as well as Patrick Fitzhenry and Richard McGuckin. All these people we were intimately involved in and before we acquired c360.

We spent a good bit of time talking to the product group to see how much of the gap there was going to continue to be between what CRM out of the box offered versus what c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM was doing. What ended up happening is the discussion turned from how can we protect what c360 is doing to getting ideas from Microsoft.  They provided us with more ideas on what they would like to be done to allow their online solutions to be more sticky in order to get better traction. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM team showed us vertical wide space, areas where there is not enough partner coverage and not enough tools that allow CRM to compete effectively with SalesForce. We came away from those sessions with some fabulous ideas on what we could do to grow the business.

Carlos:  Sounds like a great partnership.

Dave:  Two other quick points that in terms of how we work with Microsoft. Whit has done an excellent job explaining at the executive level and some of the sponsorships.  Another item is that we also sit on the partner advisory council as well as the online partner advisory council for cloud-based solutions.  So we are very familiar not only with a good community partners but with the Microsoft teams as well.

Carlos:  Share a bit more about your solutions. What benefits do customers receive from your products?  For example, one of our customers that might not have heard about c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM before, what do your solutions do? Take some time to expand on that.

Whit:  The c360 is really known for Microsoft Dynamics CRM widgets which are designed as filler in the product. If somebody needs to search across entities, somebody needs to change records in mass, if somebody needs a different perspective on their data looking at different entity tables at one time – we have widgets that fill those gaps.  These are basically ideas that customers have come up with and partners have driven. Widgets that they would like to see built and productized to make Microsoft Dynamics CRM better in the end user environment.

The one product you are going to hear a lot about in the future is going to be this relationship charts tool.  The concept behind what relationship charts is what was pioneered by Visual Relationship Management. Normally when you go into the CRM system and look at an account and bring up a list of the contacts, unless somebody has physically gone in and connected the docks to show where relationship exists, it’s difficult to know how connected you are. It’s difficult to know how deep our penetration is into that account and how well we really know those people. We are now making connections on a dynamic basis. What the relationship charts will do is it will bring up those contacts under the account, almost like in organizational chart and it allows me to off the boxes to show how they are related. It’s really unique.

Whit:  One of things that is not appreciated often is that with Relationship Charts, I can see where I am missing data, missing contacts, where I am missing email information, where I am missing people. And all too often, somebody has that information, the information just has not been contributed to the database yet or not connected to the account or something along those lines.  The Relationship Charts for Microsoft Dynamics CRM gives people a different perspective of the companies and the contacts, entities and the relationships and it makes it so much easier to understand. We think it’s going to drive massive user adoption.

Carlos:  Does c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM have an industry or specific niche that you serve? At c360 do you find there are certain customers that come to you for your solutions?

Whit:  There are a couple of verticals which c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM has done really well with, one of which is financial market. The tools that c360 delivers there, the productivity pack, the service pack, those tools did really, really well in a financial services space.

Another area that we have done really well with is a high-tech market and technology companies. The customer portal components, the coding systems, the customer service scenarios, the mass record editing. These are just some tools that we have that fit very, very well in that space. We’ve gotten better and better because we use our products internally.

What we are seeing now is we are seeing a lot of activity in groups that have high volume sales scenarios.  For them the relationship charts piece helps, the quote piece, etc. the software fits really well with groups that have to figure out a way to automate with high volume sales processes.  That’s a vertical and an area in which we are seeing a lot of momentum.

Carlos:  Any case studies that you can share with us that you are working on?

Whit:  Today we are getting ready to start one in Germany, right?

Dave:  We are – we are working with a large manufacturing group.  Actually, I think they have now grown to our largest client, maybe number two.  One of the initiatives we wanted to do was use some of these large high-profile customers like this group at Germany – the Draeger Corporation.

We are doing business with some pretty well known sports organizations as well such as the Pittsburg Pirates, a big user here in North America. One that we are really proud of is that is also being worked on is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After Bill Gates started Microsoft, he started this charitable organization that does work all over the world.  They are a client of c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and doing some pretty cool things. Those are all case studies that are all underway right now.

Carlos:  Let’s just back up a bit, if for example a customer was to choose between let’s say your solution and doing a customization on their own.  What would you say to that customer?

Whit:  A number one challenge is communicating the differences between what can be built from an Microsoft Dynamics XRM standpoint on top of the framework versus a productized solution that’s installed in 1000, 1500, 2000 locations.  It takes a little while to communicate those differences and too many times people don’t think it all the way through.  They really don’t want to be in the software development business.

Customers really want to be able to be mobile enough to take advantage of the new releases and service packs and versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Unfortunately, a lot customizations that have been done over the years using have locked a lot of people in to legacy solutions and have them running on obsolete platforms.  So you know our explanation to the marketplace is, you have to build in the flexibility, you have to build in the auto installers, and you have to have the ability to be able to update systems.  What we end up doing is we productize the customization, so it’s automated, so it’s obviously more stable, reliable, and that goes a long way.

It can be difficult to communicate that message to clients. There are a lots of moving parts.  Microsoft Dynamics XRM is very powerful and very flexible. I think my suggestion would be focus on your core business, not necessarily becoming a software support organization.  Dave and I were on the phone with a company, they’re great client and they are out of upstate New York and they are in the software business. They use several of the c360 tools quite heavily and they had some upgrade stuff that they needed to go through. And interestingly enough this client said, we use Microsoft Dynamics CRM to support our clients, but we use our technical people to support our products.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM isn’t our product so what we want is to make sure that this stuff does what it supposed to be doing, so we can focus on our software that we are delivering.

Carlos:  Do you have any future goals for your products that you can share with us?

Whit:  You know it’s not top secret, we were extremely successful with our first venture with the CRM For Legal and CRM For Consulting.  What we didn’t have was a huge market to cater to, so with c360, we have got almost 50,000 Microsoft Dynamics CRM installations. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is adding an amazing 2,400 new customers every month on CRM online. So we think that these c360 for Microsoft Dynamics CRM tools, the utilities, the distribution channel, the support organization represents a really good platform.

We’re taking products that are really good ideas that historically either haven’t been productized or haven’t been taken to market in mass.  If we take these ideas and put them into the c360 organization, we can very quickly ramp up the distribution and sales of those products. Relationship charts is the perfect example of incredible technology that we’re bringing to market. Lots of organizations are developers and not sales and marketing and support organizations, they are software people.

What they have elected to do is allow us to take their product to market, get it integrated with these other solutions, install it, provide the services behind it, get our partner teams engaged and educated and then use our Microsoft relationship to get some exposure. A winning combination.

Carlos:  Do you release roadmaps for your products or is that a feature?

Whit:  There is fairly significant roadmap process underway right now.  There is a total of twenty six c360 products and we are still supporting 3.0 and 4.0 and obviously 2011, so that’s a combination of seventy five products. We also have new Microsoft Dynamics CRM tools that we will be releasing at that Convergence this year. In summary, what we are doing is we are making sure that everything is up and running on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online.  By the end of 2013, our goal is to have have 50% of C360s revenues to be based online.

Carlos:  Obviously you are a big fan of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, what is something that stands out to you, a benefit about the Microsoft Dynamics CRM product.

Whit:  The concept of having an application development framework in conjunction with these core modules and these core widgets or utilities that are plugged in is a big advantage.  Being able to make this software adapt to my business, my business process, my vertical, versus me having to change the way we do business to work for the software.  That flexibility and then extending it out further, you know the concept of being able to do Online versus On-Premise or even private hosting.  The ease of use is also big, if one is able to use Microsoft Office Outlook, you can use Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Carlos:  Where do you see the market going? What do you see Microsoft’s position in the market a few years from now?

Whit:  You know, it’ll be interesting to see how the integration between Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM has an impact in the marketplace.  When we relocated everybody over to our corporate location, we decided not to put an infrastructure.  We went all cloud, so we’re on Office 365, we are on Link for telecommunications, we are on Live Meeting and we’ve got our accounting in the cloud. Obviously our CRM is in the cloud as well. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to use that extra space that used to be a computer center and for storing stuff that we probably should have thrown away.

Some competitors spend a ton of sales and marketing – so competing with that is difficult.  On the other hand the SharePoint rage, the integration of SharePoint in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the Office 365, the Outlook components, the business intelligence and the report writing tools.  All of that I think is going to have an impact on the success that Microsoft has with both the online and on trend.

Carlos:  What do you to make it easier for your customers to learn your software in conjunction with Microsoft Dynamic CRM, do you provide a type of tutorial or manuals?

Whit:  Yes we do, we provide all the manuals and the self-start tutorials. One of the things that Dave Hutchinson implemented right away when we took over was online education.  So for example, for the Draeger firm over in Germany, we’re providing weekly sessions for their administrative group to understand, learn the details of how the software loads and what tables it’s calling from and what flexibility they have for customizing it.

All that is being done before the actual go-live date. We spent some time with Microsoft and we talked about quick start templates, quick start skins and delivering more than just changing the fields.  There is content that’s associated, there are tutorials that are involved, there are templates for data merging. The next concept that that we are really focused is the concept of data.  It’s great that I have the system it’s built but how do I get my data?

Dave:  Another thing I had, besides all the online tutorials and things of that sort, we’ve got a robust SharePoint support portal that customers can access with a very deep knowledge center with all kinds of information that. The portal has white papers and all the kind of self-help functionality.

Carlos:  On a little bit of a side note. Microsoft has a great set of ISV partners and a lot of them provide many great solutions. If you were going to recommend a different ISV solution that’s in the Microsoft Dynamic CRM ecosphere, what would one be? Do you have one that you come across quite often?

Whit:  Scribe for Microsoft Dynamics CRM is great product on the marketplace.  And I think there is room in the market more of these solutions, whether they are integrated with some of the stuff that Scribe does or whether they are net new technology pieces that fill this space.

There is an opportunity on the data side, with data migration, the data integration, the data capture, the data harvest, the data deduplication and we believe nobody has really taken that market by storm yet.  I’ll little hint in regard to the roadmap in the not too distant future.

Carlos:  We are getting pieces of the roadmap as we talk.  How do you support your customers through a partner like ourselves.  And then lastly I’d like to you to touch on, if there are customers interested in a c360 product, is there a demonstration? How would someone move forward?

Whit:  So the first part, the company is very, very heavily focused on the partner channels, about 60%, maybe closer to 65%. For C360, clients are managed by a C360 partner.  And you know these partners are around the world, and like yourself are some of the leading Microsoft Dynamics partners out there, as well as some of the tiny that are focused on really niche markets.

What we like to do is keep these partners educated and we like to make sure that they are engaged. We don’t want to be a huge end-user focused organization; we want to work for the channel.  We are the tools that make other partner solutions work more effectively and so we’ll continue to drive that.  And what we’ll do is continue to communicate with the partners and help them communicate to us what they need either from enhancement to our tools. Just in the last month, from the results of the discussions we’ve had with our partners, the results have been tremendous.

In that standpoint, what you’ll see is heavy partner engagement from our side, especially with this new relationship charts tool. We’re focusing on how to educate a group of 500 partners over the next couple months. Lots of webinars, also Live Meeting discussions and online presentations.  And in addition to that, we are active with the Microsoft team, educating the technical specialists.

Carlos:  So if someone is interested in the product, you do a demonstration?

Whit:  We have lots of information available on the website, all the product literature and the ability for customers to download free trials of the software, for example a 30-day license key.  And again other thing that Dave and his team have done, if somebody gets on the web and they download one of the productivity packs, Dave has a support team follow up with them to make sure that they were able to get it installed properly to see if they have any questions. They want to make sure the experience they have with that download is what they expected. That has been great in itself.

Carlos:  Well thank you Whit. I appreciate you expanding on the acquisition and your products.  I trust people will find it beneficial and thank you Dave for your insights.  Sounds like more great things are to come.

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