Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

When it comes to CRM software platform selection: Features are (almost) worthless

One mistake we see our customers make over and over again is comparing, and ultimately selecting, a CRM platform based on a list of features.

DartsOften advertised as “new and improved”, CRM system feature lists include items such as: ease of integration, remote access, mobile access, integrated analytics, multi-channel support, and campaign management. If you’ve ever run a search for ‘CRM Features Checklist’ you could compile a list of dozens of “must-have” capabilities your CRM should include.

When it comes to selecting CRM software, basing the decision off of a list like this can be disastrous as features are updated at a rapid pace, and become outdated quickly.

Just how quickly are features updated?

Once an organization commits to a specific CRM platform, they typically will stick with that platform for AT LEAST 3 to 4 years before considering any type of switch. Every year, pushes 3 major updates and Microsoft Dynamics offers multiple new releases as well. Let’s assume each new update includes several hundred new features. Doing some simple math:

- 4 year CRM platform lifespan

- 3 new releases per year

- 500 new features per release

- 6,000 NEW FEATURES!!

When you consider the CRM system you’re evaluating will have 6,000 new features over its lifespan, doesn’t it seem insane to perform a feature-by-feature comparison? The results of the shootout could be drastically different in just 3 or 6 months based on the product roadmap. Consequently, we think it’s futile (and potentially dangerous), to compare two CRM platforms on features as they exist today.

Here’s a not-so-little secret. At their core, ALL CRM platforms inherently share the essential features you need to get the results you want:

  • Giving your sales and marketing teams the ability to target your best customers? Check.

  • Optimizing information shared across departments? Check.

  • Accessing analytics to segment, analyze, and run reports on your business? Check.

  • Offering better customer service to build customer loyalty? Check.

So if we don’t recommend selecting your CRM platform based on today’s system features, you might be wondering “well then how should I select my CRM platform?” Glad you asked, we tackled this topic in a free eBook named the “The Ten Most Important CRM Evaluation Criteria”. You can learn more about the eBook and download it here.

The good news? As long as you pick one of the market leaders like or Microsoft Dynamics CRM...either platform is flexible enough to be customized to meet your individual needs, regardless of how complex or unique you might think your business is. The real trick? Building a CRM platform that your sales team will use.


Topics: CRM Platform Selection

Best Time of Year to Purchase CRM software

Determining if it’s time for your organization to invest in CRM software can be a challenge. However once you’ve come to the conclusion that yes, you need CRM software for your business, do you know the best time of the year to buy? Knowing the fiscal calendar information for both and Microsoft Dynamics CRM might help you save a few bucks! Just like buying a car at the end of the month, quarter-end and year-end time periods mean that CRM salespeople are aggressively trying to close as many deals as possible to hit their own goals.

If you case you didn’t already know,’s fiscal year starts on February 1st, and Microsoft’s fiscal year starts on July 1st.

End of the Quarter
Clock-and-Calendar-1024If you’re ready to sign a contract but the end of the fiscal quarter is within arm’s reach, practice patience. As CRM vendors scramble to close out quarterly goals, recognize and take advantage of the opportunity you have to get a better deal on licensing and contract fees.

  • quarter-end dates: April 30, July 31, October 31
  • Microsoft quarter-end dates: September 30, December 31, March 31

End of the Year
Similar to the end of the quarter mentality, waiting to sign your CRM software contract at the end of the year could land you in the sweet spot for cost. Year end is the absolute BEST time to negotiate yourself a great deal on your CRM software licenses.

  • year-end date: January 31
  • Microsoft year-end date: June 30

Take Advantage of Offered Discounts
If you are working with a sales rep at Salesforce or Microsoft, please make sure to take advantage of the discounts they offer you when they offer them. We’ve seen situations where potential customers sit on a discount thinking they can get the same deal later. Unfortunately the quarter-end and year-end deals really do expire and some customers lose their discounts because they took too much time to make a decision. If you are ready to purchase, try to recognize a good deal when it’s handed to you!

When you’re planning your project, remember that the average project timeline with a CRM vendor takes 3-4 months from discovery to deployment. If you have an end date for when you would like your CRM to be up and running count backwards. Do your best to align your kick-off date with calendar to get the best rate for your CRM software and implementation.

Topics: CRM Best Practices CRM Platform Selection

A Day in the Life of the Mobile Sales User

Enterprise mobility is your sales teams’ lifeblood.

Being connected even when lacking a connection, is essential for productivity and getting the job done. The best way to ensure that your team has the tools they need at their disposal is to build them a CRM app with enterprise mobility.

To demonstrate how important mobility is, we’ve outlined a typical day in the life of a sales person on the move and mobile dependent. I want you to meet Phil.

PhilPhil has 6 years of in-the-field sales experience working with a global manufacturing company. Let’s walk through a day in the life of Phil to grasp how essential CRM mobility is for him to successfully complete his day-to-day tasks. 

It really begins the night before.

These days, the day begins at midnight. 95% of people (and I’m going to guess that a majority of  your team doesn’t fall into the other 5%) bring their gadgets to bed; tapping, swiping, and browsing the web before they begin their slumber. It’s likely that the last thing they see before they go to bed is the glowing screen in their palm. It should be effortless to transition between their CRM and the apps they need to plan their day.

In Phil’s case, he starts preparing for the next morning’s meetings the night before. He confirms appointment times in his CRM and quickly takes a look at his weather app to see if he needs to plan for a longer commute.

Good morning, Phil.

A few hours later, the alarm goes off and the screen is glowing again. Phil takes another quick pass at his emails that have arrived overnight and checks his favorite websites, both professional and personal. He opens his CRM system and confirms his meetings for the day. It looks like he has 3 appointments and everything is set to run as planned. He rolls out of bed and starts prepping for his first meeting over breakfast.

The first meeting includes a new product demo with a potential customer. He checks the client’s profile in the CRM and notes that this account is hot- they are so close to closing the deal! Phil does a run-through of the demo to make sure everything is running smoothly and that he has the notes on the new features that came out last week. He also runs a report on the product’s inventory to make sure that the model the prospect is looking at is in stock.

Phil sees the afternoon is booked with current customers. He pulls up their existing profiles and orders and checks to see if any of their product lines have been updated. He also sees that it’s one of his client’s birthdays so he makes a mental note to ask about their plans to celebrate the big day. 

The mid-day check-in.

The morning meeting went better than expected. The prospect was blown away by the product demo and they gave Phil a verbal approval for a purchase order! Phil makes notes directly into the CRM during the meeting. He takes notes about the questions they have in order to update his FAQ page. The entire sales team is responsible for recording customer’s concerns, questions, and insights after their meetings. Because his CRM includes a field for client’s notes he can easily tap in the responses without disturbing the natural flow of the meeting.

Because the customer wants to get products in stock right away, Phil is able to place the order from the conference table. He confirms which items are in stock and which ones have a longer turn-around time. The ordering process moved quickly because of the smart fields built into the order form. Phil simply keys in the company’s name and the rest of the contact, billing, and shipping information fills automatically. Another benefit of using the CRM to prepare and manage an appointment.

Phil heads to the second appointment of the day.

He knows that he is meeting his contact at a lab in a basement and service is non-existent. Because his CRM saves all information he enters offline and syncs it back up when he reconnects he doesn’t need to switch to pen and paper to take notes.

The customer gives Phil her opinion on a new product she tested and he takes notes in real-time. Before using a mobile app, he was required to take these notes on paper and then had to rewrite them in the CRM on his desktop. Phil admits that the quality of his data before he got his hands on the mobile app were sub-par and the relationship with his clients sometimes suffered because of it.

Being unprepared for a sales meeting is unacceptable. With the current technology landscape, clients expect to be able to see the product you’re trying to sell as you’re trying to sell it. Because Phil has all of the tools in the palm of his hands, he is never concerned about being underprepared for a meeting.

The late afternoon.

Phil’s third appointment had to cancel because of a conflict. He checks tomorrow’s schedule before reaching out and notices he has an appointment with another prospect 3 miles away. He sends a follow up email, requesting to meet the following afternoon and the client obliges.

Because of geo-coding capabilities built into the CRM, Phil can organize his schedule based on locations. With the afternoon wide open, he decides to stop by another client’s office and drop off some free product samples. Because Phil can easily access his records via his mobile CRM application, he doesn’t waste any time adjusting his schedule and completing a task off his to-do list.

Sound familiar?

Enterprise mobility is your sales teams’ lifeblood. Are you 100% sure that your CRM system supports your sales team's needs? If not, please contact us. We can help you get them the mobile tools they need!


Topics: Enterprise Mobility

Salesforce1 Mobile – Global Publisher Actions

In part 1 (Branding your mobile application) of this series we talked about how to brand the Salesforce1 mobile application to fit your company’s standards, and in part 2 (Becoming mobile ready) we met Bob the sailorman salesman and customized the Salesforce organization to make it more mobile friendly. Today, we’re going to look at how to extend the organization beyond what comes out of the box by looking at the primary way you introduce new functionality to your mobile users: publisher actions.

Publisher Actions – Extending your reach

Publisher actions are ways of adding additional actions that your users can take to the Salesforce1 mobile (and full) application. They can be context sensitive (called object-specific) that work with specific records, such as an action that logs a call related to the current Account, or they can be context insensitive (called global) that do not deal with any record in particular, such as an overview page or global map. Both types of actions have their places and are useful in different circumstances and we’ll cover both in turn. Today, we’ll focus on global publisher actions, how they work, and how to create a new action of your very own.

The Return of Bob

Bob has been using the customizations we made for him for a few weeks now and is happy with the changes. However, he has now started thinking about a new way to prioritize some of his customers. Bob would like to be able to track his Accounts that are very important to him and to be able to access them from quickly on his mobile device. To do this, we’re going to build a VIP list page for Bob and push the update to his mobile device so he can start using it right away.

For the time being, the checkbox to make an Account a VIP will be on the Account form itself.

Here’s the basics of how we’re going to approach this:

  1. We will add a custom field to Accounts called VIP that is a checkbox. If the checkbox is checked, then the Account is a VIP and should show up on the page that we will build.
  2. We will build a custom page that retrieves all VIP Accounts owned by the current user and displays them in a list. Clicking on a record will take you to the details of that record.
  3. We will expose this page in such a way that Bob can quickly access it the mobile application.

Step 1 – Add Custom Fields

This part should be pretty straightforward, so I won’t spend a lot of time going over it. We’ll add the checkbox to the Account object, add the field to the forms and update a few records to have the VIP status set.



Step 2 – The VIP Page

Now that we have the fields in place, and some data set up, we can create the custom page that Bob will use to access his VIP list. The resulting page will look something like:


To create this page, a developer will need to write some simple Visualforce and Apex code and upload it to the organization. The code will consist of two parts: the Apex controller which controls what data will be displayed, and the Visualforce page which controls how the data is displayed. I won’t go over the code line by line, but if you’re interested you can see the source code in this Github repository.

Step 3 – Exposing it to the mobile application

Once the code has been uploaded to the organization, we need to give Bob’s profile access to use the new code. We do this by navigating to the Standard User profile (Bob’s profile) and adding access to the appropriate pages:


Next, we need to tell Salesforce that this Visualforce page is ready to be used in the Salesforce1 mobile application. We can do this by going to Setup > Develop > Pages > Edit 


On the following page, check the box to enable Available for Salesforce mobile apps:


Now that our Visualforce page is Salesforce1 mobile ready, we need to create a global publisher action that will use it. To do that, we go to Setup > Create > Global Actions


After clicking New Action, we select the Action Type to be a Custom Visualforce page, Select our VIP List Visualforce page, and give it a label (the Height isn’t really needed since we’re using a Visualforce page). 


Click Save.

Next, we need to edit the global publisher layout to include the new publisher action we created. In our case, we’ll create a new layout from the native one, edit it, and assign it to Bob’s profile. This will leave all other users’ global layouts intact, while giving Bob the functionality he needs. To do this, we go to Setup > Customize > Chatter > Publisher Layouts


On the next page, click New and select the Global Layout to copy from:


I chose to name this new layout Standard User Global Layout. Click Save. The resulting page shows you what actions have been included by default:


Bob doesn’t actually need all of these actions, so we’ll modify his global layout to only include the actions he needs, including the new one we just built:


Click Save.

Finally, we need to assign the layout we just created to Bob’s profile. Click Publisher Layout Assignment and edit the assignments so that Standard User uses the Standard User Global Layout:


Click Save.

And that’s it. Bob should now be able to see and use the new action we just created for him. Back on Bob’s device, when Bob is on the feed (the default page when the mobile app starts up) and he clicks the publisher icon, he will see the new action available to him:




If Bob clicks on one of the records, he’ll be taken to the record’s details page:


The great thing about building actions like this is that we’re not constrained to putting them on the feed page. By editing the forms, we can also add the action to the various record forms, or we can create a Visualforce tab and use the Visualforce page we built to expose this page to the users through the left-hand navigation on the mobile device. All without changing any code in the page itself!


Obviously the page we built today is very simple and just a demonstration of what can be done. The pages can become as complex as needed to fit your use case, and can be embedded in multiple locations to provide convenient access to the functionality as needed.

Are you looking to expand your Salesforce mobile functionality, and need help getting started? Don’t have developers to write the code? Have questions about mobility in general? Contact us and we can help.

Topics: Salesforce

Running Multiple CRM Apps: Good Crazy or Bad Crazy?

Today's guest blogger is Jacob Cynamon-Murphy, a Sales Engineer at Sonoma Partners.

Let’s say you found yourself in a situation where you have two different CRM platforms running within your company. One group is using and an entirely different group runs Microsoft Dynamics CRM. How did you get here? Maybe you had a renegade in the sales office or you're handling the result of a recent merger. Regardless of how you got here, what do you do now?


Good news - you have choices. Whether you choose to consolidate to one system, create an integration bridge between the two, or "live and let live" with two disparate systems, we can help you make the best of a tenuous situation. From a high level, we see primarily three different options on how to handle these multiple CRM system scenarios:

  • Consolidation

  • Integration

  • Segregation

Where do you start? We believe that consolidation is the best approach if there is substantial overlap between:

  • the data in the two systems

  • the majority of functionality is duplicated between the two systems

  • the users of the two systems collaborate very closely or frequently

Integration makes sense if the two systems represent distinct phases of a business process, and there is limited overlap between the records in the two systems, but each system shares key data (such as accounts or contacts).

Example: You use for lead acquisition and qualification and Dynamics CRM for opportunity management or product/service delivery. In this case, you may not need each member of your organization to be licensed in both systems and could instead create differentiated roles. This solution will keep licensing costs and maintenance efforts down.

Lastly, segregation might be the right option for you. If there is little to no overlap of users or data, there may be no impetus to have the systems talk to one another or, even more drastic, consolidated into a single platform.

One example of this is when one system is used for a completely custom capability, like learning management or HR, while the other system is used for the more conventional CRM scenarios of marketing, sales, and service. Although you end up with two different systems to support and maintain, you don't have to navigate the paths of integration or consolidation.

Now that you understand the basics of each of the three approaches, we want to share some additional thoughts for managing each path.


Let’s assume that you've decided that consolidation is the best approach to address your multiple CRM systems – this means consolidating multiple CRM systems into a single system, and the prior systems cease to exist.

At Sonoma Partners, we find most client choose this approach. Let's talk about what you need to keep in mind when electing consolidation.

#1: Merging Data - Odds are that you have a lot of overlapping or conflicting data, so your first step will be to complete a thorough analysis of your data. You need to identify duplicate records and the best approach to de-duplicate. Often that approach is a merge, but you may have reason to default to the records in one system or the other as "better data."

In any case, it is often best to extract your data from the CRM systems and use staging tables to store the data as you merge, manipulate, and cleanse your records. Without diving into detail, you should know that there are a handful of third-party tools you can use to avoid having to manage this manually.

#2: Reducing User Licenses - One potential benefit of consolidating CRM systems is that you might be able to reduce the number of CRM user licenses you need to pay for! However, when going through a consolidation, identify if the subordinate (i.e. "going away") system has a license expiration date that is prior to the cutover date. You want to avoid falling out of licensing compliance. Since most CRM contracts have annual or multi-year commitments, don’t expect any CRM vendor to offer short-term contracts so you need to plan accordingly.

#3: Integrating with Other Systems - Each of your CRM systems may already be integrated with other line-of-business applications. It is best to review each system and determine where other critical systems are integrated. Before you decommission the subordinate system, you'll want to reproduce any critical integrations into the new master CRM (i.e. "sticking around").

#4: Decommissioning Legacy Apps or Integrations - As part of this process, it's beneficial to review all of the legacy enhancements, add-ons, extensions, and integrations with both the subordinate CRM and the master CRM. Especially if two different groups were developing these solutions in a vacuum, your business may have invested resources in building duplicate features or producing/purchasing an enhancement that the master CRM can do natively. Alternatively, it's possible that the subordinate system could do something natively that you will need to configure or purchase for the master CRM to address the need going forward.

As you can imagine, it's best to know where you are headed before you start down the path of consolidation. The tips above should help you find your way.


Now let’s assume you've selected integration as the best approach to address your multiple CRM systems. Taking this path means you’ve agreed to maintaining more than one CRM system.  In addition to managing the licenses, your CRM administrator(s) will also need to manage multiple platforms and user bases.  If you go this route, here is what you need to keep in mind.

MultiCRMblog-small#1: Choosing an Integration Tool - There are a variety of integration platforms that can talk to multiple CRM systems - Scribe, Informatica, SQL Server Integration Services (with the appropriate connector), and Dell Boomi, to name a few. If you already have a preferred integration tool, and it supports your CRM systems, you really don't need to make a decision. However, if you don't currently have an integration tool in use, take some time to evaluate the options. Some key decision-making criteria you can use are: price, platforms supported, deployment model (is the tool an on-premise installation or is it SaaS), and does your team have existing skills to support the platform or would training be necessary.

#2: Determining System of Record - Since you have made the decision to maintain more than one platform, you need to determine which system, if either, will serve as the system of record (i.e. master data). Occasionally, you will already have another system, ERP perhaps, that serves in this role; in that case, both other systems may be subordinate to that system of record. If you do not already have a de facto system of record, think about which system is used more frequently or is more likely to have higher quality data. It is even possible that you will choose one system to be the master for some data (e.g. companies and contacts) and the other system master for other records (sales data or customer care records, for instance).

#3: Mapping the Data - A DBA or data architect will be indispensable at this stage. When mapping the data, you need a thorough understanding of the data schemes in both systems, which records or record types are 1-to-1 between the systems, and which fields (data columns) correspond between the records. The map defined here will ultimately feed into the integration setup stage, below.

#4: Setting Up the Integration - This is where the rubber meets the road. The best advice I can give you here is to define the integration mappings in your selected integration platform and run them against test instances of both platforms. and Dynamics CRM Online both offer sandbox and test instances you can leverage and Dynamics CRM 2013 (on-premise deployment) offers the ability to export the full SQL database for import into a DEV or TEST server; for other CRM platforms your mileage may vary.


This scenario offers less opportunity for strategic planning or tactical decision-making as the integration and consolidation approaches probably will. Customers who want a global view of accounts might not like this situation at all. Likewise, running multiple CRM systems means IT needs to duplicate some effort to manage multiple vendors. This includes keeping the right skills on staff, managing multiple roadmaps, negotiating licenses, renewals,etc.

On the plus side, CRM system segregation does offer some benefits that might appeal to certain companies:

  • You can designate different system administrators for each system so you don’t have to worry about “too many cooks in the kitchen”.

  • Related to this, IT can probably be more responsive to the business needs since they only need to worry about their own system. They don’t need to discuss system changes or customizations with other departments or groups.

  • Administrators have more opportunity to really tweak each CRM system to meet the user’s individual needs. Changing forms for different users is easy enough, but having entirely different systems allows administrators to get more aggressive with other things such as field names, currency, languages, etc.

  • Very little to zero change management to worry about, users keep running their existing CRM systems as-is. No interruption to the business.

Having multiple CRM systems in your organization might work for some companies, but definitely not everyone.  

Another variation of segregation is to consolidate some parts of the data from both systems into a reporting system or data warehouse. This approach allows organizations to have true global reporting across multiple systems, but obviously it requires additional work to setup the reporting infrastructure.

In summary, organizations have lots of different options on how they want to handle the multiple CRM platform decision. The “right answer” for your organization, might not be the same answer for a different organization because you should consider many different factors before deciding whether to consolidate, integrate or segregate. Our hope is that this post will give you some food for thought and peace of mind as you work through this situation.  As always, feel free to contact us if you need additional advice – we’re happy to help.



Topics: CRM Best Practices