Microsoft CRM update to focus on marketing, mobility and usability

Dynamics CRM 2013 will be available in the fourth quarter and will feature integration with Skype and Yammer

Microsoft is preparing to launch a new version of its Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) software that will include improved mobile applications and integrations with Yammer, Skype and the company's MarketingPilot marketing automation software.

The Dynamics CRM 2013 release, which encompasses both on-premises and cloud-based deployments, is set for the fourth quarter, according to a Microsoft representative.

MarketingPilot is used to develop and manage advertising campaigns on multiple channels, as well as keep track of spending. Microsoft purchased the company in response to industry trends, said Fred Studer, general manager of Dynamics product marketing. "We think marketing and sales have both evolved and become more blurred with regard to how they work together," he said.

Salesforce.com, Oracle and other CRM vendors have also made acquisitions in the marketing automation arena.

Meanwhile, the core CRM application is also set to get some improvements, including a more flexible user framework that allows business processes to be tweaked on the fly depending on what a customer needs.

For example, a transportation company representative may receive a call from an individual who they initially believed wanted spot pricing, said Jujhar Singh, general manager for CRM program management. But the representative may realize that the customer actually wants a "much more involved" arrangement, and can take steps within the CRM application to accommodate them, Singh said.

Microsoft also plans to deliver new CRM mobile applications for the iPad and Windows 8 tablets. Windows 8, iPhone and Android phone applications will also be released this calendar year.

In addition, Microsoft is promising "seamless" integration of its Lync and Skype communications software with Dynamics CRM.

While Microsoft is not planning to announce the full details until next week, the company has "completely rethought" licensing and pricing for Dynamics, with changes to include "soft bundles with things like Yammer and Office 365," Studer said.

Meanwhile, along with the Dynamics CRM launch later this year, Microsoft will also start a limited beta program for its Netbreeze social monitoring software, which is also the result of a recent acquisition.

Microsoft is hoping to set itself apart from the likes of Salesforce.com's Radian6 social monitoring software, which customers much purchase separately. "We will democratize social," Studer said. Any customer with a Dynamics CRM license will get access to Netbreeze at no additional charge, according to Studer.

Overall, Microsoft is hoping the new features will keep existing Dynamics CRM customers happy and attract new ones in an increasingly competitive market.

Gartner recently reported that Salesforce.com overtook SAP as the industry's largest CRM vendor, with Microsoft coming in fourth after Oracle.

As of Microsoft's third fiscal quarter ended March 31, it had 39,000 Dynamics CRM customers, spanning 3 million users, Studer said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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