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The Power of the Microsoft Dynamics Partner Community

Launching the Microsoft Software Blogs

Anya: So I have shockingly been working in the Microsoft Dynamics channel since 1999. That was the year or two before Microsoft purchased a little company called Great Plane, which is what I’ve spent most of my career marketing, now known as Microsoft Dynamics GP. And so I’ve worked for several Microsoft Dynamic bars or reselling partners since 1999, really focusing on how we can attract Microsoft Dynamic prospects and make the message to them clear and we have seen a lot of changes in Microsoft and the community throughout those decades.

However, I think what people know about me most for now is that back in 2009 I started a project called the ERP Software Blog. At the time, it was something very new. Blogging was relatively new. I came back from a Microsoft event and told my search engine optimization consultant, I said, Microsoft says we have to have a blog, I don’t even really know what that is. And he said, well, it might be good for your ego, but as a small company, it’s not going to give you any leads. But if you knew a lot of partners that could contribute content and links, that could be a powerful blog.

He and I started this idea just never realizing how large it would get, but wonderfully now in 2022 we’ve been doing these group blogs for all those years, we have three now, the ERP Software Blog for Microsoft Dynamics ERP partners, VA’s and ISV’s, the CRM Software Blog, which is again only Microsoft Dynamics 365, their CRM product, and then the ERP Cloud Blog, which opens that group blogging platform to other ERP products like Acumatica, Oracle, NetSuite, Sage, people like that. So, we’ve been amazed at how much it’s grown and it’s a kind of a cool community that we’ve been able to build over the last many years. 

Barry: Yeah, absolutely. I’m part of that community for listeners’ disclosure and we’re a big fan of it. And it’s an amazing story. I love the stories where, oh we just started this as a side project, and then it grew and grew and it continues to grow, that’s amazing.

The Value of Microsoft Dynamics 365

Barry: For our listeners, there are a few things I want to cover just based on that. Could you talk to us about Microsoft CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM because for example, I think this is relevant for anyone listening that is maybe interested in Microsoft Dynamics and also enjoys tech history.

But today if you Google Microsoft Dynamic CRM, it doesn’t seem like it’s a product, but then people still call it Microsoft Dynamics CRM. I’m not sure how long the CRM blog was up for, but maybe you could tell our listeners some history behind the branding, if you will, the marketing behind Microsoft Dynamic CRM?

Anya: You know, I will say it has been a marketer’s nightmare with the number of times that Microsoft has changed the name, especially of that product. Most of their products have gone through a lot of rebranding in the last, at least five or six years or more, but the CRM suite specifically, so Microsoft Dynamics CRM may even have had a different name way back in the beginning, but it evolved and then they took away that CRM designation, which is too bad because for most people like you said, they still use it, that’s what most of the search rankings and search engines keywords are that us marketers use.

But instead what they did is they made Microsoft Dynamics 365, like this suite. And then within Microsoft Dynamics 365, you can get the sales application, marketing application, and customer service application, and each of those is a different price. So I think the idea is that you can mix and match within that Dynamic 365 platform for exactly what you need.

On the financial side, it gets complicated as well because they have two very different ERP products that are both called Microsoft Dynamics 365. So Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance, what’s called finance and operations. I think it’s just called Finance now. So that’s finance, supply chain, that used to be Microsoft Dynamics AX, which is the largest of the ERP product that Microsoft Dynamics has, really meant for large multinational multi currency type companies.

And then Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is what used to be the old Microsoft Dynamics Nav or Navision. And that is a very highly customizable mid-market solid financial package. And there is a CRM piece included in that Business Central, but it’s meant for the kind of basic contact management keeping track of your tasks.

But if somebody wanted the full-blown CRM capabilities, they would move up to Microsoft Dynamics 365 sales marketing, customer service, and professional services as well. I think there are a few other apps in there. There are some integration points between the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central and Finance and that CRM piece, but it really would require customization and tweaking if you wanted to integrate and connect those, although they all have the same name, they’re not just one product, so I can see how it would get very confusing for the prospect.

But that’s why it’s so important to be in touch with a partner that you trust that can give you the full picture of what this Microsoft Dynamic 365 is and what the options are, and what the different costs are. Things like that.

Some companies are doing some cool things even with power platforms. So they have taken Microsoft Power Platform and almost recreated Microsoft Dynamic CRM if you want to call it that. And it’s kind of a scaled-down version of that full-blown CRM. So that’s a cool option as well. It looks and feels just like Dynamics 365 CRM applications, but it’s a built-in power platform, which is what the other full CRM is built-in as well. So people are very creative these days with power platforms, which is fun to see.

Barry: Wow, okay. So this is a great podcast for everyone who wants to understand anything about Microsoft because the changes are confusing. Let me do a few follow-ups on that piece. One, if a sales team needs a CRM, then they would do 365 for sales or could they use the 365 for marketing, and would there be a CRM there? Or that would be unrelated like it wouldn’t be usable for a sales team?

Anya: They would want to get the sales piece, that’s from what I understand. It’s kind of the core, the base CRM. Then the marketing would be more advanced as well as the customer services if you have a call center or things like that. However, the core sales team would use Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales.

Barry: Got it. It kind of reminded me of HubSpot. I don’t know how familiar you are with HubSpot, Anya, but they have a HubSpot platform and they give the CRM for free. That’s kind of like their product-led growth motion or their business model. They get people in for free, then they expand and they have the marketing and sales platform, and I think custom success also. But the CRM is separate, it’s like their free product and then there are things over it. Whereas Microsoft, it sounds like for the CRM, you’d either have to have Business Central or pay for 365 for Sales. Is that a correct assessment?

Anya: I think the reason people like to go with Microsoft Dynamics, the CRM tools, is because they have that familiar look and feel with Microsoft products, the close integration with Office, being able to work in Outlook is huge for salespeople. And there’s that kind of native Outlook integration because it’s a Microsoft product. That would probably be one difference versus using something like HubSpot with a built-in CRM.

There are also of course so many add-ons and they call them ISV, Integrated Software Vendor, or third-party tools that you can add on to any of the Microsoft Dynamics products. For example, on our group blog, we’ll list out separately, reselling partners and partners that have add-on products that enhance all of the Dynamics tools.

And on the CRM side, there are quite a few for say, marketing automation, you might choose, hey, I want to use another company for marketing automation that is integrated with Microsoft Dynamics 365, maybe even versus going for the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing app. It just depends on your team’s requirements. And I think that’s why it’s a great idea, again, to research and work with a partner that’s going to give you the right advice because you don’t want to go out and buy Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing if it ends up that an add-on tool with the core sales app is going to work better for you, perhaps be a lower total ownership cost and things like that.

That’s one reason why, of course, I’m biased towards blog posts. But educating yourself by seeing, “What is a company writing about? Does it sound like they know what they’re talking about? Have they published articles and content around this marketing piece?” That’s the most important thing to me so that I can tell that they’re not just going to be reading off a script or looking at the price list to try to sell me something, but I can tell they’ve done this before. Do they have case studies? Things like that help piece together the right CRM system for you.

Working with a Microsoft Partner

Barry: I heard an interesting stat recently. I don’t know if it’s a true stat, but they said that 90% of companies that use Dynamics are with a partner, which in Salesforce a lot of companies have a CRM partner but I wouldn’t say it’s close. Maybe it’s more than 50, but I would say it’s closer to 60 than 90, would you agree with that assessment?

Anya: That’s interesting. I haven’t heard that stat, but I’ve always worked for Microsoft, so I’m always in that world where Microsoft’s the best. But I have heard people say that Salesforce tends to push the idea that it’s so easy, you can just press a button, set it up yourself, give us your credit card, sign up, boom, you have a CRM system.

Whereas I think on the Microsoft side, the message is more of these are the right tools but you should work with a partner to help you to configure them, to use them the right way if you want them to be customized to your company, if you want to have the right training, and the right user adoption. I’ve read stats that say upwards over 70% of all CRM implementations fail. A lot of times that is because companies think that if I have this product it’ll make me a good salesperson, a good sales team, right.

Part of it is having a partner that also helps you with your process. Do you have a sales process that’s consistent, that can be automated, that can be put in a system? Because otherwise your Salesforce or any CRM is just going to end up being a shelfware they used to call it, but at a giant paperweight, right? It’s not going to give you the value that you want. There’s more there than just the technology. And I think Microsoft does a good job of giving that message that the partner relationship is important for the setup, training, and support, and that’ll help the user adoption, which will then help the whole project be more successful.

Barry: Yeah. No, that’s interesting. I think we talked about it internally, by the way, for our listeners DealHub is a Microsoft ISV, so we work with partners and we work with also with the 10% of Microsoft users that come directly to us and we have an alliance partner, so we are expanding our relationship with Microsoft because we just see the value. Another one that you mentioned not needing marketing, someone that will soon be on the podcast is ClickDimensions. They’re like marketing software that’s not Microsoft 365 for marketing, so that’s also interesting.

Learn more: How to Extend the Value of Microsoft Dynamics for Sales with CPQ

But we are discussing internally that the digital transformation, sometimes we see that language a little bit more often with Microsoft, and that goes to exactly what you’re talking about like if once someone’s getting their CRM for the first time, that’s almost already a transformation because that means that you’re taking someone either that has in Excel or paper and making it more digitized, which is a transformation because it’s not just about the tech, it’s about the processes and the people, something that is harder to talk about because every person’s different but that’s, I would say the three pieces of digital transformation.

And that’s what we were discussing before, like activate digital selling, like that’s Microsoft’s language. How can you make sure your workflows are streamlined? 

The Microsoft Power Platform

Barry: Can you elaborate a bit more on the Power Platform? If our users aren’t familiar with the Microsoft community, they might not know what that is.

Anya: So I’ll preface this by saying I am not a very technical person. All that I know I’ve known from reading other people’s blog posts and working with different companies. But the Power Platform as I understand it is a set of technology tools that makes it very easy for even non-technical people to build their apps, build their reports, business intelligence, and things like that.

Specifically what I was saying before is that there are companies that have built a mini Dynamics 365 CRM, just using this Power Platform. And so you and I, Barry, wouldn’t necessarily know what the differences or what is built in, but it’s that underlying foundation. And there are a lot of different things within Power Platform that are all just kind of along that, automation, streamlining, things that you can build within your systems that are going to make your life easier.

And the cost of Power Platform, as I understand, is quite low. And of course, some of it needs to be done by developers but others I believe can be done by kind of Power users. They can be building their reports and pulling information from different places, different systems, even to see the data that they want to see. There are tools like Virtual Agents, and chatbot kinds of things that you can add to your systems and I think it’s like a fun toolbox that’s just going to open up this big world of things that you can do within your Microsoft kind of bigger system.

Barry: Anya’s way too humble on this podcast, but Anya knows a lot about everything Microsoft. So thank you for that. One of our customers, I think some people use the terminology like low code, so it’s not no code, but it’s like low code because they help you, even if you’re a developer, it’s still quicker to do the coding. And one of our customers builds a partner relationship management system actually with Power Platforms. So I started learning a little bit more about it. Super interesting. I loved the low code movement because it allows people to innovate and be customized for themselves much quicker than the all code movement and I think it’s great.

Barry: We didn’t talk about this before, but I’m curious, are there any blog posts in the past 10 years that went viral? Again, a lot of what Anya does is that she manages this amazing, very large blog community of Microsoft Partners and users. Are there any topics that you think people like to read more about, or that people are really curious about? 

Anya: You know, it surprises me, one that we still get a ton of traffic even on old keywords, like we were talking about all these name changes, right? And so Navision hasn’t been a product name for a very long time in the Microsoft world, yet we still see that keyword as being very, very popular, which I think is interesting.

I also think it’s kind of funny that some of the most popular posts that we get include the word ‘scandal’ or ‘failure’, so any kind of ERP system failures, I remember I wrote one a while back about kind of a famous ERP failure at Hershey’s, and that still gets a ton of traffic. There are a few posts on our blog that like the outliers just get thousands and thousands of hits. There’s one right now about the customer buyer journey from a company called Influence on the CRM software blog and it just gets amazing clicks and views on that particular topic. So they did a great job with that.

I think also anything that has to do with comparisons, versus, compare, comparison, blog posts with that in the title do very, very well, people love to compare Microsoft Dynamics 365 with Salesforce, for example, that’s extremely popular. Sometimes those are the ones that generate the most energetic comments as well because there are people that agree or disagree with the author.

I would also say that anything to do with pricing gets nice traffic because Microsoft I think makes their pricing pretty transparent on their website nowadays, which is nice but it’s typically hard to find out what are the really hard costs? What is this going to cost me for implementation? For training? On some of the financial pieces like Microsoft Dynamics and GP, the price list wasn’t always as commonly shown.

And so anyone that could say, you know what if you’re this type of a company, a small manufacturer that needs this, this, this, and this, this is actually what you might expect to pay, these dollar amounts, not just a broad range because I think readers out there, they want to be able to see, am I even in the right ballpark when I’m looking at these solutions? Is this a 10 million solution, a $10,000 solution? That’s going to help me know who to talk to.

One thing that we have on our blog sites that have been very popular throughout the years is something called a quick quote tool where we ask someone to fill in a few questions about their industry and number of users and things like that. And then the system automatically generates the PDF with the licensing costs, which again is pretty easy to find other places, but it also gives an estimated implementation cost, just so that people can see am I in the right ballpark or not? And of course, implementation costs vary, especially on the CRM side, they vary hugely, but at least it gives a guide for that person to know.

Growth of the ERP and CRM Software Blogs

Barry: That’s super informative and interesting. Thank you. So I promised to talk about the community. You created it in 2009 without really knowing what a blog was. Tell me about just giving me some stories over the years because it’s 2022 and it’s obviously a reputable blog. And I would love to hear some stories that were interesting about growth and failures. 

Anya: When my business partner and I started, I mentioned earlier, he said, if you knew other partners that all wanted to contribute content and links that could be powerful. And I thought, well, I’ve been in the channel a long time, I know a lot of partners, and so we started with 10 pretty visionary I’d say Microsoft Dynamics GP partners in the very beginning because this was such a new idea.

There wasn’t any other group blog out there, definitely not in our industry. And you know at the time we didn’t even really find others to model it after. So we started with just these 10 companies and what’s nice is most of them, I think about eight of them are still members of the blog today, so all these years later. And we set it up in the beginning so that partners could represent one per state.

And I remember thinking, man, if we ever got one per state, 50 members, can you imagine, that would be huge. And then now up to 150 companies and some of them have multiple memberships so it’s grown much bigger than I ever would have imagined. For the longest time my business partner and I did this on the side, so to speak, we had our real jobs and this was our moonlighting thing. And in the last year, I transitioned to just doing the blogs full time because it does take a lot of work to always stay on top of all the member questions, give people tips on how to blog better, of course, sign up new members and things like that. So there are a few other group blogs out there now which in the beginning it was like, ah, this is our idea but of course, if something successful, you know there are a few more out there now.

But what I will say is that because we started so early, it’s like we got grandfathered in somehow with Google. So our traffic and our ranking are just out of the park in terms of what a new site can do now. So the ERP software blog, that’s our biggest one, gets about 50 to 60,000 visitors a month and continues to grow. And news sites that start now, it’s just very, very hard, Google limits that traffic, they’ve caught onto the concept, and the domain authority and things like that. So I’m extremely happy that the blog has that track record, that longevity in there, and for me, it was just really important to help partners to see the value of using the power of the group.

The Power of the Microsoft Dynamics Partner Community

Anya: We have to use the power of the group – when we all contribute, we’re helping each other. In every channel probably, but in our Microsoft channel as well, there’s a lot of competition. I don’t want to tell my secrets, I don’t want to put my secret sauce out online because someone’s going to copy it, take my customers. And especially in the years past, I think partners were more locally focused.

If you were in Chicago, you worked with businesses in Chicago, but nowadays you work with businesses everywhere. So in a way, everyone’s your competitor for those same prospects. So I think helping partners to see that if we all can help each other, it’s going to make a better community, it’s going to make a better blog site. It’s going to raise the rankings for everybody, which helps them and it helps you and you just need to find your way to stand out through your messaging and things like that.

But it’s that idea of a high tide raises all ships. So we’ve done things like group white paper projects, we’re running right now a group webinar project with Microsoft Dynamics World, which is another great site in our industry. And just the relationships that I’ve built with the companies have been so much fun to be able to go to events, to see people I know, to talk with them, and to help them make the most of their content marketing.

So it’s a great community. We have a members only LinkedIn group where people can kind of connect and I recently even started just again, on the side, I started something called the Channel Marketing Academy, which is for marketing people like me that want someone to talk to, bounce ideas off of, so we do these monthly group chats. So I’m a big proponent of the use of the power of the group mentality and running several different groups in different areas to connect people.

Barry: Love it. I’m also a big fan of the power of the community. That’s one of the reasons we have this podcast, is to gather people that are interested in different and similar topics. And yeah, so I love that. Well, Anya, I wanted to thank you for your time. This was a really informative and really interesting podcast. I know our listeners also will think that and for all of our listeners out there, if you’re interested in joining as a guest to our podcast, please reach out via LinkedIn or email. And thanks again, Anya.

Anya: Wonderful. Thank you, Barry.