With the 2019 Wave 2 release rolling out from the Microsoft Business Applications Group and all of the surrounding fanfare of announcements and updates, and with Microsoft Ignite coming to a close this week, partners in the Dynamics/Power Platform space have a lot to digest this month. Let me take this moment to help you sort through and prioritize what you decide to focus on with your teams over the coming month or two. Not surprisingly, I’d like to suggest that you put Customer Insights at the top of your list. Let me explain.
One word: Salesforce.
It is no secret that the Microsoft Dynamics 365 product team has been taking direct aim at salesforce.com for years. What might be less-appreciated outside of our industry is just how successful Microsoft has been in this competition. In years past, industry observers might have been justified in saying that salesforce.com was the innovator and leader in the business applications/CRM space, and Microsoft was regularly seen to be the late mover or also-ran, bringing technologies to market often years after salesforce.com had introduced them to their audience. Salesforce.com was the first mover in the SaaS CRM market, at least at scale, around the beginning of the millennium. It would be 8 years before Microsoft was able to launch Microsoft CRM Online, and then only in North America. And think about marketing automation: salesforce.com purchased ExactTarget and created their Marketing Cloud years before Microsoft introduced their own marketing application. Think about AppExchange vs AppSource, Trailhead vs. Microsoft Learn, Lightning vs. Unified Interface. The list could go painfully on.
But Microsoft has been rapidly closing the gap and transforming its ecosystem of business applications in a way that could potentially leapfrog salesforce.com. To this observer, perhaps the first and most significant sign of this change of leadership is Microsoft’s entry into the CDP, or Customer Data Platform, space, with the launch this past April of Customer Insights.
To understand why this is so significant, you have to consider the bigger picture of the CRM and martech space over the last two decades. Back in the previous century, these technologies were the domain of only the largest enterprises. With the rise of SaaS, they became more accessible. Today, as we approach the third decade of this new century, they are table stakes for every business bigger than a mom-and-pop storefront. The affordability and power of CRM and marketing automation means that these technologies are almost ubiquitous, and not having strategies around them almost certainly puts a business at a huge competitive disadvantage.
The promise of these technologies was to help companies to scale their processes – whether sales, service or marketing – to larger and larger audiences of prospects and customers. But at the same time as businesses have been scaling their reach through the use of CRM and martech, a revolution has taken place amongst consumers. Starting with B2C consumers, the purchasing process and decision-making process has become something that is largely completed without the direct input of the business that is trying to sell to them using their highly-scaled CRM and marketing tools. This revolution has been driven by the adoption of smart phones, social media, and ubiquitous internet access. And it has also translated to the B2B space. Business buyers are also individual consumers, and they have taken their shopping habits to work with them. They now conduct their research and get to the point of a purchase decision often well before the seller even knows who they are.
In other words, we may have reached a point where CRM and older martech has scaled a business’s reach as far as it can scale – diminishing returns at best.
The goal of businesses now must be to flip the story on its head: approach their selling and marketing processes from a starting point of the customer. It’s not sufficient any longer to be able to build a subscriber list that you can target with your monthly newsletter. That may well be a necessary ingredient, but it is hardly a sufficient one if the goal is to reach this revolutionary new consumer. In marketing terms, the mandate now must be that businesses adjust their sales and marketing processes around their customer, around a “segment of one,” instead of simply around how they want to improve their processes internally.
That is why over the last few years, savvy marketers have begun to embrace the emerging tech of Customer Data Platforms, CDPs. CDPs are designed to deliver on the promise that CRM once had: get to know your customer at an individual level so they might be more inclined to let you join their buying process.
Why This is Important to Microsoft Partners Now
The reason all of this is so important and timely if you are a Microsoft partner with a focus on traditional CRM (and of course, nowadays, Power Apps and the rest of the Power Platform), is because salesforce.com announced earlier this year that they would be jumping with both feet into the CDP space. After talking CDP down in previous years, they announced at Dreamforce that they would launch a pilot of their Customer 360 CDP application in November 2019, and plan to make it generally available in the beginning of 2020. But there is another “but” to this story: Salesforce’s CEO for marketing, Bob Stutz, departed the company to head back to SAP. (Yes, the very same Bob Stutz who had previously been at Microsoft running Business Applications and buying up a number of not-so-memorable applications like Marketing Pilot.) Salesforce.com announced a new head of their marketing group just last week, and he will be coming into the role at the very same time they are supposed to be launching their CDP pilot.
I see that as an opening for Microsoft and its partners to gain even more ground with Customer Insights before salesforce’s new marketing CEO has a chance to get his feet under him. And marketers are exactly who you should be selling to if you are a Dynamics/Power Platform partner who cut their teeth on CRM.
So where to start?
Start on Microsoft’s site to watch the many videos and read the blogs they’ve posted. Set up a trial and kick the tires. Look for a “Customer Insights in a Day” workshop that is likely taking place near you soon (check the team blog for the latest). If you missed Microsoft Ignite, you can watch a lot of the sessions on-demand now. Make this your top priority!