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Microsoft Dynamics Partners Can't Wait To Add LinkedIn To Arsenal Against Salesforce

The social network could prove to be 'a secret sauce Salesforce won't be able to easily replicate.'

Microsoft may have failed to acquire Salesforce, but for roughly half the bid it reportedly offered last year, the software giant bought itself a social network that could prove a potent weapon in battling the customer relationship management leader.

Some partners reselling Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM were palpably giddy after hearing Monday of the $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, hoping the world's leading business-to-business social network will prove a major differentiator as they go up against Salesforce in the enterprise market.

"Microsoft CRM partners are going to be incredibly eager to see where this [acquisition] takes them," said Reed Wiedower, chief technology officer at New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C. "Salesforce partners won't be excited."

[Related: What Could A LinkedIn Integration With Microsoft’s Cloud Portfolio Actually Look Like?]

Dynamics resellers believe an eventual integration of LinkedIn's capabilities and vast store of professional data will distinguish Microsoft's CRM with rich personal context, available in a seamless user experience, to enhance sales, marketing and customer service efforts.

"LinkedIn really takes that CRM story to a different level, because Salesforce doesn't have an equivalent business-focused social play that has the same reach," Wiedower told CRN.

"If you can combine Microsoft Dynamics with the data from LinkedIn, that's a pretty powerful combination to take on Salesforce.com," said Chris Pyle, president and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Champion Solutions Group. "I'm glad that Microsoft bought LinkedIn and not Salesforce or somebody else. There is a lot of upside here."

Champion Solutions is already seeing double-digit annual growth in its Dynamics CRM practice, and Pyle expects the LinkedIn deal to fuel more sales.

Most important, Champion's customers -- some of which the solution provider migrated from Salesforce -- are pleased, according to Pyle.

"The customers that have made the move to Dynamics CRM are happy today that Microsoft made this acquisition," he said. "There is no buyer's remorse. And I bet the customers that chose Saleforce.com are second guessing themselves right now."

Salesforce is the 800-pound gorilla in the arena, with just under 20 percent market share last year, according to market research firm Gartner's latest report on the $26.3 billion CRM market.


Trailing Salesforce in 2015 were SAP and Oracle, then Microsoft in a distant fourth place, with a paltry 4 percent share for Dynamics.

Over the past year, Microsoft has been investing in bolstering its CRM with capabilities targeting types of customers it once ignored, Weidower said.

Those efforts to upgrade Dynamics were crucial to remaining competitive with Salesforce, which made a number of strategic acquisitions over the years to shore up weaknesses "in the out-of-box experience of its platform," Weidower said.

But the world's largest software company was largely playing catch-up when it acquired Adxstudio, FieldOne and Parature to add to its CRM a web portal, field service management and customer service capabilities, respectively.

Those technologies, integrated into the core product in recent months, evened the playing field, giving Microsoft a feature matrix comparable to the industry leader, he said.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft went further with big data, analytics and Internet of Things capabilities introduced in the latest Dynamics release, complementing the technologies it acquired.

But LinkedIn, as the default site used by most business professionals looking to switch jobs, hire new staff or get training (through Lynda.com), will add another dimension to Microsoft's platform that CRM competitors will find difficult to match, Weidower told CRN.

Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a Microsoft partner based in Los Angeles that has been investing heavily in its Dynamics practice, said the LinkedIn data "is a gold mine."

That data will bolster his company's efforts to compete head-to-head against Salesforce in the market, Safoian told CRN.

"Every potential buyer and decision maker of technology in the world exists in LinkedIn, and so Microsoft has opened up the world of possibilities in terms of how they can gain some sort of priority or exclusive access for their own platforms, like Dynamics CRM, to this data," Safoian said.


Pyle of Champion Solutions said he sees huge implications for partners like Champion competing with Microsoft Dynamics against Salesforce and other CRM vendors.

"The whole ability to start searching the massive LinkedIn database from Microsoft Dynamics CRM is powerful, powerful stuff," he said.

It's likely that Dynamics users will eventually be able to click on a customer name and immediately have access to that person's work history, education and outside relationships. Or they'll be able to place a Skype call to a LinkedIn user directly from their desktop, Pyle said.

"Who knows what this deal will turn into," he told CRN. "I think the channel is going to have some really good ideas on how to integrate LinkedIn into some of the offerings that the channel partners are developing."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is showing customers and Microsoft's channel he's willing to make big bets on the cloud, Pyle told CRN.

"This is all about the future," Pyle said. "I think the channel partners should feel good that Nadella is making big strategic bets that could turn out to be money makers for the channel down the road."

In the longer term, the CRM market looks to be headed toward solutions that leverage machine learning to implement predictive selling, Wiedower told CRN.

Microsoft's vision is to turn its CRM platform into one that can predict what customers want to buy, and then make those suggestions to them, he said.

Microsoft already has the machine learning technology in place. And LinkedIn provides unique data that can drive the efficacy of the predictive selling motion, Wiedower said.

"It's a secret sauce Salesforce won't be able to easily replicate," Wiedower told CRN.

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