Marketing Automation Produces More Results

Visionary marketers are now identifying successful marketing approaches and campaigns, so the marketing team can scale up their efforts – applying them to a wider base of prospects leverage marketing automation by using demand generation platforms like Eloqua, SalesFusion, SilverPop to produce more results with less effort.  This advanced lead-generation, tracking and reporting tools, enable sales to concentrate its energy and resources to reduce sales cycles and accelerate the revenue generation process.

To successfully automate marketing, companies today are going beyond simple email blasting and integrating their CRM applications with Marketing Automation platform, in a way integrating marketing with sales at a deeper level. This allows the companies to automatically push/pull data between CRM and Marketing Automation platform and directly integrate email marketing, web analytics, lead scoring, pay-per-click and other online/offline marketing channels on a single CRM platform. Today most of the top CRM applications like MS Dynamics, SalesForce, Sugar CRM, Sage CRM etc can be easily integrated with the Marketing automation platforms using CRM Accelerators. In fact, many of the Marketing Automation platforms like Eloqua, SalesFusion etc, comes pre-integrated with MS Dynamics, SalesForce, Oracle, and Sugar CRM.

This innovative integrated platform provides a great many benefits to Sales & Marketing teams:

Optimize Marketing Spends:
Get more leads, Decrease cost per lead, Generate more sales, increase ROI.

Reach the right prospect in the right way and with the right message:
By identifying which customers have recently visited your web page, downloaded a white paper or attended an event that indicates an interest and online behaviors, marketers can identify the right prospects for their campaigns – and the right messages for their prospects.

Lead Nurturing and Lead Scoring:
Lead scoring is a highly constructive method to keep sales teams focused on most positive leads while increasing their conversion and value. Marketers can score leads according to the actions and responses that indicate their “sales readiness.” Lead Nurturing develops buyers’ interest over time.

Measure & Report marketing impact:
The integrated platform provides complete clarity to the marketers and helps them to ongoingly track their progress and results. The dashboards and real-time reporting tools provide clear evidence of marketing impact.

Accelerate sales cycle & revenue generation:
Advanced lead generation, tracking, and reporting enable marketing to generate more quality lead and accelerate the sales cycle and sales team delivers the best results by focusing on increasing revenue generation.

Return On Investment – SharePoint

The return on investment for software platforms is a very popular topic and many research companies have published articles and reports on the topic with varying approaches to measurement. The recent Forrester report evaluates the platform based on its features and benefits. In the Forrester report, a conservative estimate pegged benefits at $3.1 million at a cost of $1.5 million for an organization with 5,000 SharePoint users and a billion in revenue. There are many other tools and calculators that help IT Managers across the world understand the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), like Nucleus Research.

In our engagements we come across many questions from clients about return on Investment, we believe there is no one single correct answer to this question. The benefits and the return on Investment depend on the degree of adoption and the emphasis the Management places on using SharePoint. There are largely three aspects of SharePoint that lead to an improved organization and a high return on Investment which cannot always be quantified using numbers.

1.  Automation of back-end processes using SharePoint – the pre-existing templates in SharePoint reduce the time required in building/automating processes, this helps in reducing costs associated with automation and also helps organizations develop workflows that lead to a reduction in operating costs. We have seen many clients reduce operational expenses by developing and deploying a customer portal that integrates with the resolution cycle.

2.  Tacit knowledge becomes Explicit knowledge – the document management capabilities of the SharePoint server help in liberating important information across the company. The information workers of today need highly relevant information and content that leads to high productivity and quick go to market solutions. The digital assets of the organization are stored with only the appropriate personnel allowed to access the information on the documents using the inherent information rights management capabilities of SharePoint.

3. The collaboration of geographically dispersed employees – today business has no boundaries and hence employees need to collaborate effectively, many organizations have used the collaboration capabilities of the SharePoint Server to bring together geographically separated employees together and contribute effectively.

The tangible benefits over a period of time are evident and make using the SharePoint Server a compelling proposition for organizations of all sizes. We have worked with companies in the US, UK, Australia, and UAE to help them use the harness the power of this great product/platform from Microsoft. We think the SharePoint server provides organizations not only with a platform to build powerful and optimal teams but also a platform to benefit from automation of business processes.

MSCRM 5.0 Features

As many (MSCRM Developers, users, and Analysts) await the release the next version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM (coded as MSCRM 5.0 temporarily) with much intrigue, we at IOTAP, Mumbai, have come across certain articles and screenshots. We would like to point out a few references from them so as to bring a consolidated idea about the exciting upcoming offerings.
The following 2 articles which give interesting as well as important aspects of the enhancements:
1. A sneak peeks into the offerings for the End Users, Administrators and Developers has been described in the link given below. Being either the end users or the developers, often we tend to overlook the viewpoint of the other. Going through this document could help comprehend a 360-degree idea of the upcoming version.
2. To view conversations at different levels of conceptualization, we recommend you to click the following link. It not only aligns the reader’s sporadic thoughts about MSCRM 5.0 but also attached are video chats between architects and program managers.
These links apart, there are certain screenshots which have drawn our attention.  Looking at these screenshots one is able to envisage the kind of functionalities they would bring about as well as the new look-and-feel of the new release.
1. UI
Looking at the start page ribbon content, there’s a button called “Add connection”, which mostly is about the creation of ad-hoc relationships between entities. Something interesting was the “Get started with accounts” instructions pane. That might be just a feature of CRM Online, which was used for the demo, but mostly it would be a better way to provide customized instruction links to user’s right within the CRM UI.
2. Data Visualization
Dashboards will finally be an OOB feature of all CRM editions, so there’s a dedicated menu for them, in addition to the reports list. The Silverlight controls in the charts allow dynamic filtering and other nice user interaction with the data, but we didn’t get to see how you actually modify or build a dashboard. The message seemed to be that these are more intended for getting the CRM users started on looking at their data, but any complex analysis should be done elsewhere. They could, therefore, be just another way to present the charting feature that appears on all of the entity ribbons in CRM5.
3. Customization and Settings
Moving to the sysadmin side of the UI, the customizations menu now presents us with some interesting options:
  • Find Customizations. Probably some link to an MS marketplace, aimed at bringing the ISV solution ecosystem closer to the CRM users. Didn’t see this one.
  • Customize the System. The traditional customize menu, with a new UI (see below for more)
  • Publishers. Didn’t quite catch the full concept behind this one, probably used for subscribing to cloud-based services from within your on-premises CRM5.
  • Solutions. The big new concept in CRM5.
  • Download Web Service Description Files. Why the WSDL download is a separate menu option, remains to be seen.

MSCRM Mobile Express Accelerator

The benefit of accessing an application through a mobile phone has always been alluring for companies who have feet-on-street Sales Executives. Non-availability of an application due to extensive mobility in job profiles, generally, can give rise to employees not feeding in right data at the right time.
Mobile Express for Microsoft Dynamics CRM enables access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM data in a Web browser on a mobile device. Mobile Express for Microsoft Dynamics CRM is installed on the server, not on the mobile device, and is configured in the Settings area of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Mobile Express for Microsoft Dynamics CRM is available only for Microsoft Dynamics CRM On-Premise and Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Service Provider Editions. It is not available for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.
The current release of Mobile Express for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is available in English only.
CRM Mobile Express lets your mobile teamwork with up-to-the-minute Sales, Marketing and Customer Service information, whether team members are on the road, in client meetings or on service calls.
CRM Mobile Express is an easy-to-use extension of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This thin-client application, capable of supporting multiple languages, benefits users by allowing them to capture, track and store critical aspects of their sales, marketing, and customer service activities while away from the office.
Standard and custom entities are supported, including Account, Case, Campaign, Competitor, Marketing List and Opportunity
CRM Mobile Express provides users the ability to view, create and modify CRM data on any Internet-capable device¹. It can be used with any mobile Web browser, including Microsoft Windows Mobile Pocket PCs and Smartphones, Palm-powered handheld devices and RIM Blackberry devices.

CRM – Return on Investment of CRM

There is nothing fresh in saying that for a business of any kind, its return is the focal factor that measures its success. However, certain times the established definition of Return on Investment requires amendments.
Conventionally, it is measured as the ratio of money gained or lost (whether realized or unrealized) on an investment relative to the amount of money invested. To expand the boundaries of this definition in the context of Customer Relationship Management systems, business owners also consider the following profits:
  • Cost reductions or efficiencies created by the CRM implementation
  • Customer retention or customer loyalty
  • Possible customer value in the future that has been created due to CRM implementation
Several documents have already been put up by CRM analysts, users, and vendors. Our CRM team based in Mumbai, India expertise on Implementing MSCRM and here we would like to bring together 2 such write-ups which cumulatively should let the reader get an idea of ROI on CRM systems from more than one angle.
1. An article on ROI of CRM by Oracle talks about how one of the leading companies in Business Intelligence used CRM in place of referring to a traditional contacts database.
However, what drew our attention here was the manner in which some of the overwhelming returns that CRM-using companies could enjoy were analyzed by Denis Pombriant, the managing principal of Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research and analysis firm and consultancy.
As opposed to the observable benefits of a CRM system, he explains, how attributes of larger business impact like Customer Centricity, conversion of data into useful information and be ready in advance with identified requirements of clients could be the output of CRM systems if used efficiently.
2. Given below is a report on the ROI of MSCRM Implementation, a subject we specialize in. Whereas the first article refers to implied ROIs of CRM, this document liberally explains the basic areas of business improvement that can be brought to an organization through CRM, especially Dynamics CRM.
Increase in staff productivity and profit, decrease in personnel, marketing, integration, consulting and training costs being the factors spoken in detail, this article serves as a guide to those who are contemplating an investment in Dynamics MSCRM.

Customer Portal Accelerator Installation and Customization

Given that we have hands-on experience with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Accelerator installation and customization like e-service accelerator and mobile express, we took that of the Customer Portal Accelerator with the least anticipation of too many show-stoppers. This was for a client based in Sydney, Australia whose requirement was to install the Accelerator along with certain primary customizations explained further.
Feature-wise, this one, like every other MS Dynamics CRM Accelerator, is also aimed at bringing certain benefits to the MS CRM users over and above those available in the base application. To read more about its functionality, visit http://customerportal.codeplex.com/. However, on a high level, it provides organizations a way of giving portal faculties to customers and at the same time tracking and managing these interactions in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
This accelerator combines all the functionality previously released in the individual eService, Event Management and Portal Integration Accelerators. Customers can turn on or off this functionality depending on their specific requirements.
If one installs the current release of this accelerator, then he would have to log in through a Windows Live authentication. This feature was required to be customized in a way that
–          The username and password of the customers could be maintained within the CRM application.
o   And therefore, the customers would not have to log in using windows live ID.
o   Instead, with the help of a registration link, the customers would be able to create their usernames and passwords, which would get stored in CRM server.
Apart from this, a general customization of the UI to suit the client website was also a requirement.
Having spoken about the benefits and required customizations, I would like to bring forth certain issues that we faced during the process and how we resolved them.
When the CRM team at IOTAP, Mumbai attempted to install the vanilla accelerator as available in the download, we found the instructions provided in the video extremely helpful until we reached the terminal stage where we had to run the WebCopy command. We realized that the command provided in the video was meant to point to CRM Liver Server hosted by Microsoft, whereas we needed one which could point to an On-premise sever. Because this was a command new to us, we could put forth a solution only after a certain amount of research.
Once we got WebCopy to run successfully to point to On-premise CRM server, the installation was complete and it was ready to be used through Windows Live ID. Next, it was time to code for the customizations. We removed windows live authentication and instead coded to store the customer login credentials within the CRM server. The layout of the portal being configurable, achieving the desired skin was a job of a few hours.

Should you want to know about the WebCopy Command and the customization to remove Windows Live authentication, you can contact[email protected]

Installing Office 2010 Web Apps on SharePoint server 2010

You will need to download Office Web Apps from the Microsoft Download Site.  This download is available to Volume licensing customers or those with TechNet and MSDN subscriptions.  Let’s begin by launching the setup.exe and entering our product key;

MS Office Enter Product Key

Accept the licensing terms.

MS Office License Terms

Click Continue

Choose a file location for installation.  Ensure you select a drive with adequate free space for your Data partition which stores the Office Web Apps search index files.

MS Office File Location

Click Install Now

Upon successful installation, you will be greeted with the “Run Configuration Wizard” window.  We will immediately run the configuration wizard by leaving the checkbox ticked and clicking close.  You can also achieve the same by running PSConfig.  Both methods will register the Office Web Apps services.

MS Office Run Config Wizard

Click Close to Run the SharePoint Configuration Wizard.

MS Office Upgrading Sharepoint Products

Click Next and click Yes to acknowledging the restart of the IIS, SharePoint Administration, and Timer Services.

Click Next

MS Office Config Sharepoint Products

Click Finish to acknowledge the successful configuration.

You will then receive the below Central Administration screen regarding configuring your SharePoint farm.  Because we have been configuring each service application one by one as needed (best practice) we will click cancel and proceed to activate the Office Web Apps services individually.

MS Office Central Admin

Provisioning the Office Web Apps Service Applications

Let’s begin by starting the relevant Office Web Apps services located under Central Administration / System Settings / Manage services on a server.

Scroll down until you locate all of the Office Web Apps specific services, namely Excel Calculation Services, PowerPoint Service and Word Viewing Service.  Click Start for each respective service.

MS Office Web Apps Service App

Let’s now navigate to Central Administration / Application Management / Manage service applications.

Click on New / Word View Service

Enter the following details to complete the creation of the Word Viewing Service Application.  Ensure that you select “SharePoint Web Services System” from the Use existing application pool option.

Click OK

Your service application will then proceed with the creation process and will be listed with our previously provisioned service applications.

MS Office Service Application Proceed

You can now further provision the “Excel Services Application” and “PowerPoint Service Application” in the same manner following the above steps.  Please note that there isn’t a separate service application for OneNote.

Activating Office Web Apps

Depending on where you want the feature activated, you will venture to your Site Collection(s) and activate each one individually or you can utilize PowerShell to activate multiple site collections at once within a single script.

From within your SharePoint Site, click on Site Actions / Site Settings.

Under Site Collection Administration, click on Site Collection Features.

Navigate down the page until you find Office Web Apps and click on Activate.

MS Office Apps Activation

Dynamics MS CRM Customized to Hotel Portal

Last week our technical team of CRM based in Mumbai, India completed implementing the first phase of another project of configuring and customizing Dynamics Microsoft CRM for Dynamics CRM partner in Boston, USA. This time the agenda was to mould MS CRM into an application which could be used by an Event Management company.  Read more about IOTAP’s Dynamics MSCRM case studies.

This Event Management Company provides services to companies which host various events that run over days, like seminars. Their high-level process is that when a corporate body plans to host a seminar requiring accommodating attendees in hotels, they approach such Event Management Companies. On receiving a request, the latter arranges for hotel rooms from amongst the hotels present in their list of hotel masters. This process includes communicating with designated people of one or more hotels with details like number and type of rooms and number of days required etc from each.

Responses from the contacted hotels could be varied. For example, some hotels might not be able to accommodate anyone at all during the time period requested for, whereas some might be able to provide service for a few guests for a certain number of days. The dialogue between the hotels and the Event Management Company could be exchanged multiple times for the latter to conclude on the best possible option to accommodate the guests. Finally, the Event Management Company confirms the availability of rooms to the hosting company or further contacts other Hotels.

So, to automate this, we understood that the resulting software would be largely goal to be the core application for storing the details of events and hotels and also storing the communications done with hotel contacts.
An entity called Hotel was created, the access to the details of which was provided only to the Administrator. Primary information like address details, on-site contacts, leads etc was stored for each hotel and a provision to maintain the history of the activities done against each hotel was also maintained.

Also, we needed to have an entity which could hold the details of an Event for which we customized the Opportunity entity. The creation and pursuance of events were kept identical to that of standard opportunities. Attributes like Primary Proposed Arrival Date, Primary Proposed Departure Date, Event Contact, Event Type, Room Details and many more were attached to this entity. Additionally, the user was also allowed to select one or multiple contacts associated with one or multiple hotels present in the hotel master as explained further.

On successfully saving the details of an event, the hotel contacts selected for the same required a way to respond to the request. The usual email communication would not suffice this requirement because the responses from the hotel contacts needed to be further tracked for decision making and thus they had to be placed in one repository.

To do this, a separate interface, Hotel Portal, was built using which the hotel contacts would be able to view the requests sent by the Event Management Company and respond to them with their interests. From the security point of view, the login credentials of the hotel contacts were maintained in MS CRM by its Administrator.

Once all the responses would be accumulated in Dynamics MS CRM from the Hotel Contacts, they were visible to the Event Management Company employees for further pursuance.

Usability features have been taken into consideration in various instances. For example, for the hotel portal users to get a hold of significant data in one glance, a summary page has been provided. Event Status, Peak Room Nights, Total Room Nights, Important Dates (like arrival and departure) shown at one go accumulated on one page, helps users quickly take a call on which records require urgent attention.
Additionally, Response History and Summary are displayed to the users for referring to related past data.

Though online applications like EventPro and EventSoft are popular amongst event managers, for people who are already friendly with MS CRM, configuring and customizing the system to serve these requirements could prove to be a much easier approach. Also, when data is stored in one repository, managing and manipulating it any day can be done with better proficiency.

Timesheet Tracking and Billing System

A Microsoft Partner in Oslo, Norway approached us when they felt that Dynamics MS CRM could be customized to behave like a Timesheet Tracking and Billing System. Principally, they wanted their team members to enter the time (and other details) they would have spent on various activities/tasks/projects. Once entered, these entries were to be approved by the supervisors, following which orders could be generated directly, ready to be billed to his company’s customers.

The process of employees entering details of the tasks done by them has been common across organizations and industries. The process of implementation varies depending upon factors like organization size, culture, revenue management etc. The purpose of this process might also differ amongst industries or companies. For example, some might execute it to evaluate employee performance, generate project profitability reports or for billing reports for clients. With time, like how metamorphosis of every other corporate process has happened, even this has been automated/semi-automated by some or left manual by others.

While implementing this requirement, the first thought amongst us was to use the Activity entity to cater to these requirements. However, because the base Activity entity wasn’t customizable, we created a custom entity called Timesheet. Primarily, the attributes which this entity was formed of were Subject, Description, Duration Hours, Completion Date, Owner, Case, Product, Customer, and Status.
For IOTAP’s CRM Consultants based in Mumbai, India, though creating Timesheet was not a wholesome solution to the requirements, it definitely was the beginning. Here is how.

It often happens that employees belonging to the same teamwork for the same client/projects/products over days together. Assume that person A has spent 3 hours on Project  P belonging to client C, whose details he entered into a timesheet – TS1. Again, being on the same team, person B has spent 5 hours on Project P belonging to client C, whose details he entered into another timesheet – TS2. Once these timesheets were approved by the supervisor of A and B, orders – O1 and O2 – could be created out of TS1 and TS2 respectively. But sending 2  separate invoices for the tasks performed for the same project and client could be confusing to the client and more so with an increase in the team size.
Therefore, at that point, if client C were to be billed, then ONE invoice which combined the entries of TS1 and TS2 (3+5=8 hours) was required to be created for him. The logic to combine or group TS1 and TS2 could not be left to be performed manually because team size could range from 2 employees to any number.

Now, a requirement of a criteria-set for grouping timesheets was identified so that the number of orders being invoiced against a client could be logically reduced. An obvious point to be noted was that criteria-sets would keep changing based on various factors related to the client, which required us to leave it customizable by the users. To achieve this, we created 2 supporting custom entities – Timesheet Grouping (TG) and Timesheet Grouping Details (TGD) which would define these conditions.

The relationship between these 3 custom entities was-

Timesheet: Timesheet Grouping: Timesheet Grouping Detail = 1:1: M

While associating a TG to a Timesheet would ensure the desired Timesheet grouping, which would be further used while creating orders, the TGD entity (or entities) attached to the TG  would define the details of the TG associated with the timesheet. Simply put, Timesheet  Grouping is just one name given to a bunch conditions whose definition are provided in one or more Timesheet Grouping Details associated with the Timesheet Grouping.
While the primary attributes of a TG were its Name and one or more associated TGD, those of TDG were mainly Group-by-Attribute-Name and Rank. Group-by-Attribute-Name is one using which the user would be able to select the field based on which grouping of timesheets would happen. An example here could be Project, Client etc. Rank is one which would define the priority which should be considered while evaluating the grouping condition. For example, the requirement might be that first the Clients (Rank =1) of 2 timesheets should be checked for equality, satisfying which the application would proceed to check the equality of the Projects (Rank =2). Here Client and Project are values of the field Group-by-Attribute-Name.
Whereas this application can be of utmost use in the lives of people generating multiple easy invoices and reports for their companies, it will surely help managers to generate reports on their team performance and project profitability.

Several Timesheet Tracking Applications like acti-Time, Time-Aid, Labor Time Tracker, Pacific Timesheet 6.74 are available which provide facilities like Overtime Tracking, Staff Output Reports, Profit/Loss Reports and many more.

However, the area where MS CRM could have an edge over these applications would be the fact that orders can be directly generated for customers from within the same application. Most of the external applications’ functionalities terminate at the generation of various reports in various formats. But the process of implicit grouping several timesheet records based on user-defined criteria set is a benefit that any manager would value.

Error Publishing Workflows with ‘Send Email’ Step (CRM 4.0)

You might encounter an error while trying to publish workflows with an ‘Email Step’ added
Error: “An error occurred when the workflow was being created. Try to save the workflow again.”

The CRM logs show the error as
“Type System.Globalization.CultureInfo is not marked as safe … in web.config”

Here is the resolution

Add the below entry into the web.config file available in the CRM installation directory
Eg : c:\program files\microsoft dynamics crm\crmweb

Try publishing the workflow again. That should work 🙂 !!