Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

CRM Platform Selection in a SaaS World

Today's post was written by Scott Zelinski, Salesforce Practice Director at Sonoma Partners.

Imagine buying your next car when criteria like styling, available accessories, engine size, or even performance were less important because the automaker would provide at home upgrades (while you sleep) 2-3 times a year, constantly making your vehicle better.

If you didn’t care for a particular upgrade you could reject it, or postpone it until later. The accessories that come with the car would also independently continuously improve. At appropriate times, new color and styling options would become available to stay in-tune with current trends. Even the aerodynamics of the car would evolve with state of the art science and technology research.

If this were reality, we would choose our vehicles much differently. We would disregard the smaller details and focus on the automaker’s “vision” for our vehicle. We would focus on the transitions it had undergone historically and where it was trending in the future. Our criteria would change as would our decision process.

In our current SaaS (Software as a Service) world, this is our reality.  Selecting a platform to enable your CRM strategy has also changed – definitely for the better.

The old school software selection process identified/documented all relevant user stories, prioritized and weighted them, and communicated them to potential vendors on the short list. We asked software vendors to provide detailed (= long) demos with all decision makers and core users in the room rating seemingly each and every mouse click. The result was typically a mind numbing exercise that took way too much time, wore out the project team before the project even started, and annoyed the vendors. In those days we would typically prohibit the software vendors from previewing functionality that was not yet generally available because we never knew when, if ever, upgrades would be made.

Thankfully, those days are behind us. CRM Platform selections today are much different. While core functionality is certainly important, knowing where/how platform vendors are extending that functionality becomes critical. The core features that are truly differentiators to your company should still be explored, but the base functionality can be reviewed at a high level, and new functionality on their release schedule becomes extremely relevant.

Core selection criteria includes much more of a business exercise:

  • The vendor’s business model and track record in your industry
  • Their ability to address your differentiating business needs (historically and in the future)
  • Your total cost of ownership and a real ROI model to get you there
  • Their ability to drive adoption across all impacted stakeholder groups (not just core users)
  • Their culture fit with your organization as more than ever, this is a true partnership

Focusing on the right business criteria will shorten your selection, keep your team fresh, keep the vendors engaged at the right level, and get you moving faster towards putting the right solution in your stakeholder’s hands.

If you need assistance with these types of challenges in your firm, we welcome the discussion:

How to get executives to pay attention to CRM


Topics: CRM Platform Selection

Changing Themes in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Today's post was written by Neil Erickson, Development Principal at Sonoma Partners.

Themes in Microsoft Dynamics CRM are a great way to brand your Company’s application, allowing you to choose a logo and color scheme that differs from what CRM provides when first installed. 

Themes were released in CRM Online 2015 Update 1 and in CRM 2016 for On-Premise environments.

Themes iconAfter rolling this out at Sonoma Partners, we had one user report that upon logging into our CRM system, they continued to see the out-of-the-box experience and not our logo and colors.  

A quick search found us the resolution. It required that we go into the affected User’s Personal Options and verify that high contrast settings were not enabled. It turns out that although it looked similar to the out-of-the-box theme, there were subtle differences.  For example, the background color of some clickable items was now black instead of dark blue and hovering over items behaved differently.


While this did solve the issue, we were now curious if the theme that was being used for High Contrast settings could be customized as well.  We decided to compare the requests from this user’s browser to another request that loaded properly using Fiddler, one of our favorite Tools by Telerik.  Here we could see that two different Theme ID’s were actually being requested from the server.

The organization’s database also showed that the problematic theme was the one that came with CRM, when the organization was first provisioned.  Unfortunately, none of the columns pointed to being related to high contrast settings.  Even swapping the Theme IDs yielded no change in the high contrast appearance. 

For this reason, we do not believe that the High Contrast theme can be changed.

Having trouble? Feel free to contact us.

Topics: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016

Day in the Life: Meet Anthony



Morning Time
No client meetings today, so I pick something casual and comfortable to wear while I’m running around coordinating projects all day. I kiss my wife goodbye, drop my son off at daycare, and catch the Green Line train to the office. I know there will be plenty of emails to respond to when I get there, but I use my morning commute time to relax a bit and read, WSJ…etc. It’s my time to clear my mind before a busy day of work.

Next, I’m off the train and making my routine stop at the French Market en route to the office. This is where I grab some pineapple for a 10:00 am snack (a habit from who knows where) before heading to the office. I always accompany this with an iced tea brewed at the office from our super-stocked office fridge.



1:1 Meeting with Coach
Once a week, I have my 1:1 check-in with my coach, Scott. Sonoma is very much anti-corporate hierarchy and does not use the “manager” title. Sometimes my check-in is bouncing ideas back and forth, discussing the client meetings up-and-coming, or just talking personal stuff. It is a great relationship, and I always look forward to our meetings.

For lunch, there are an insane amount of options around here. Today, it’s a salad from one of the healthier options on the block.

Whenever I’m able, I try to sit in the kitchen with my fellow, awesome Sonomans for lunch. At a growing company, there are constantly new people to meet. Lunchtime is a great way to introduce myself and get to know the people I work with better. As a seller, a large part of what you want to do is build the trust of your own team. Sitting at the same table as my colleagues allows me to do that in a casual, effortless environment.

I’m back online, taking the time to check-in with any of the partners I haven’t reached out to this week, respond to a few client questions, and answer internal questions to help move a few of my projects closer to a close. Sometimes, I’m preparing a deck to present to a client, gathering input from Delivery, or writing out a document with the help of my internal team to answer anticipated questions from clients before a pitch.

Deal1“No two deals are the same. Each of our solutions is customized for the client. And that’s what makes it fun to sell – it’s different work every time to close a deal.”

5 O’clock
I am typically able to get out of the office right around 5 pm. Whether it’s my turn or my wife’s, one of us picks up our son from daycare and then returns home. We try to spend time with our son as much as possible between the moment we get home to when he goes to bed. Once he’s fed and in bed, it’s our turn to eat, maybe get a workout in, then TV is on and laptops are out to respond to anything pressing before bed. Then, it’s over and out!


Are you looking for your next opportunity? Take a look at our current openings and contact us if you're interested!

Topics: Careers at Sonoma

How to Use Microsoft Dynamics CRM Business Process Flows: The Checklist Strategy

Today's post was written by Trent Bell, Principal Consultant at Sonoma Partners.

Usability is “king” when it comes to CRM because the biggest killer of CRM is lack of user adoption. 

It is a self-perpetuating reality.  If it becomes difficult to enter data, then data will not be entered properly, if at all.  If good data does not exist or is incomplete, then your CRM can no longer be trusted, thus having no value.  It is vitally important to take “ease of use” seriously as you design your CRM solution.

Looking to enter activity related information on-the-go in Dynamics CRM? Explore Activity Buddy, a custom app built by Sonoma Partners.

So, how does this relate to Microsoft Dynamics CRM's business process flows?  There are a few usability concepts I would like to call out that are potentially affected by BPFs.

Concept #1 - User-guided Process

One might argue that the BPF concept’s main goal was to assist/guide users through the input or absorption of data as part of a business process for a particular record.  If the business has a defined process, then this can be a big benefit.  The use of BPFs breaks down in the case where an organization does NOT have a well-defined process around the particular data.  This one is somewhat obvious.

Concept #2 - Good Form Design

Most of us know the importance of “good” form design, where we try to strike the right balance between having an ample amount of fields on a form to be valuable while not over-cluttering it or creating a data-entry chore.  The BPF concept can be a great tool to assist with this idea by allowing you to get creative with the placement/usage of fields either in the BPF bar or in the body of the form…or both.

Strategy – The Checklist

While this is not the “end all, be all” answer, one strategy to consider that incorporates the concepts listed above is to simplify the user experience by only placing “checklist” type fields in the BPF bar.  This means all fields with real data values would be placed in the body of the form.  For example, instead of having a “Key Strategy” long description field in the BPF bar, place that field in the body of the form and create a new “Yes/No” field called “Key Strategy Determined?” that will go into the BPF bar.  The basic idea is to create “checklist” type fields for the key milestones or key data captures relevant to the ideal process you want your users to follow.  While it requires the creation of extra fields in the entity, the consistency and predictability that this approach provides to the BPF bar and body of the form can create clarity for the end user.

One strategy for how to use Microsoft Dynamics CRM Business Process Flows

A few pros and cons that come to mind with this strategy include the following:


  • BPF bar has consistent and predictable entry/feedback
  • “Data completion” status within a record is easily determined
  • Reporting is more simple (advanced finds can be done eliminating left outer-join issue)
  • Form body for data entry is more traditional


  • Creation of extra fields (checklist fields) to be managed
  • Need space to place all data entry fields in the form body (could be an issue if many fields exist)

I want to make it clear that I am NOT advocating for this to be the one and only approach to configure BPFs, but I do believe it can be an effective strategy for some situations.  Some key factors that may make your organization a candidate for this approach are:

  1. You have defined processes
  2. You need to report on your users’ data entry practices
  3. You want to highlight key data milestones

When business process flows were first introduced, I loved the idea of bringing certain fields up from the body of the form into the process bar, allowing attention to be focused on key fields.  The BPF feature also provided the opportunity to decrease form length.  With that said, I've seen users get confused or reluctant to embrace the BPF concept like I expected.  My hunch as to why this is has to do with mixing data entry and checklist type fields within the BPF bar and form body.  While it seems intuitive enough, I have found that this specific inconsistency can throw off some users.  While this “checklist” strategy may not work for everyone, I do believe it to be an effective and viable approach.


How to get executives to pay attention to CRM


Topics: Microsoft Dynamics CRM