CRM and the Customer Portal


How associations as well as any organization can leverage an online self-service portal with their Microsoft Dynamics CRM

In recent years, organizations (in particular associations), have discovered the power of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Most associations now want an association management solution (AMS) built on an industry leading CRM platform. Robust platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics® CRM enable associations to make smarter decisions and improve member management. But, associations shouldn’t have all the fun. AllowMembersEngageThe association’s members want access to the very same data so they can update their own profiles, sign up for meetings online and pay for dues online—all on their own.

Allowing members to dictate their own engagement with the association greatly improves the overall member experience.

But, how can you enable your members to engage online? The answer is a feature-rich member self-service portal.

Read the rest of the article on will.i.crm:  How can an association use CRM with a self-service portal?

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Top 3 Ways to Avoid a Stinky CRM

Stinky CRM“Our CRM Stinks” or “Our CRM sucks”,…. have you ever heard those words from a CRM user?

This post is about stinky CRM – the kind of CRM (customer relationship management) that users find offensive and therefore avoid using and leveraging into their daily work activities.

This post also includes the top 3 ways to avoid a stinky CRM (stinky crm is worse than ring around the collar).

Here is an example of a stinky (CRM that is).  In a recent casual conversation with a family member, he said to me “you know CRM right?  Well get this – the CRM I have to use at my company really stinks”.  He went on to say, “corporate is making us now use a new CRM to track our sales activities but the CRM is impossible to use.  It is from the same company out of Germany that does our operations software and our corporate thought that adding this CRM was a good idea.  Well it is not set up right, it is so hard to use, the data in there isn’t right, and nobody on my team knows how to use it.”  So there you have it folks – a good example of a stinky CRM.

Modern features help but really are not the cause of the stinky.  In the above example, there was no mention of any particular feature or lack of features.   Although modern CRM features help, the CRM in this case was stinky mostly because of basic implementation issues such as:

  • Inadequate training on the way the CRM is supposed to support user processes.
  • Poor data quality in the CRM make users not trust the data/reports. It is the bad data in-bad data out mantra (data quality could be a whole separate blog post).
  • Not being set up in a way that the user understands.  Not intuitive. Not purpose driven.
  • The team was not bought in on the solution and has since turned against it.
  • Provided by a company that considers CRM an extra module or after thought.

The best CRM can still be stinky.  Even the best CRM solutions on the market can turn stinky.  There is however a nice advantage starting off with a modern CRM application like Microsoft Dynamics CRM because it has a basic intuitive user experience across your device of choice.  Built in sales, marketing, social, and customer care features that easily help users perform their high value activities more effectively.  Yes these features help tremendously, but don’t let these features blind you into thinking that simply turning on a CRM in the cloud will immediately solve all CRM needs.  If your CRM isn’t tailored to your unique processes, then it could become a stinky crm.

Top 3 Ways to Avoid a Stinky CRM

1. Don’t over complicate your most important user tasks.  If you want your users to use CRM, keep things as simple as possible and included within an organized and logical flow.  Work to understand how your users do their work now and how CRM (with the minimum of screens and clicks) can support/enhance that process – even enlighten with new information and analytics right on the same screen.  Sometimes there is the desire to add every conceivable field to the screen that any department and any user might need.  After all, this is an important process, right?  Actually, this tends to crowd the screen with lots of fields that seem to have little or no purpose.  Work to keep screens clean and purpose driven.  If you have teams/departments that have different needs, consider using role based forms per department.  Each department (role) would see just the fields they need included within a clean logical screen by screen flow.  This makes the CRM easier to use for the most important tasks.

2. Sweat the small stuff.  As powerful and easy as most CRM solutions are, don’t just turn on a cloud subscription to a CRM and expect your users to fend for themselves.  I realize that there is the thinking that “we will do minimal upfront definition because we will just adapt our process to the way the CRM works”.   This thinking may work on some areas of CRM but more than likely, this “just turn it on as is” type thinking is setting up CRM to fail.  Take enough time upfront to sweat the small details – the unique processes, the data, the reporting needs, etc.  This will leverage CRM within the organization and allow CRM to become the focal point to the entire enterprise. For users, it will make CRM meaningful and hence easier to use (and no stinky CRM complaints).

3. Start with a modern CRM.  Starting with a modern CRM like Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides so many powerful features and advantages.  Microsoft provides built-in integration to Outlook, Office, Skype, InsideView, Yammer, and more.  Compared with custom-made CRM solutions or CRM add-on’s from software companies that don’t focus on CRM, the modern CRM leverages the latest technology. It can help reduce costs and increase profitability by organizing and automating your unique business processes that nurture customer/member satisfaction and loyalty.

At the end of the day, CRM is a just a business application.  It is a tool.  Even with all the advanced technology and features and built-in integration and ready to go examples and data import templates, CRM still has the potential to stink if it is not implemented properly.

Think you might have a stinky CRM?  Not happy with how it was implemented?  Feel free to contact me for guidance and suggestions.

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Math Gone Social

Many seem to enjoy an occasional online brain teaser and there seems to be an increasing number of these little math challenges being shared across social platforms.  With all the sharing and engagement going on, the next logical step is to get the marketing folks involved – and add a little message.

With that said, I thought I would create a puzzle that includes a message.


The above puzzle is displayed as an image so it is easy to share.  If you don’t have the time to figure it out, click here for this answer key.

And here is another exponentially fun puzzle,…


The answer key to this 3 letter message is here.

Those that enjoy solving brain teasers might lead to new and innovative ways to market a message using social tools.


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CRM Confusion: The Double Definition of CRM

DoubleCRMThe acronym “CRM” is increasingly becoming a household name or at the very least a common business term.

But what exactly is CRM these days?

To most, CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management – the ability to track leads, prospects, customers, opportunities, sales, marketing, and customer service. This is a fairly straight-forward definition of CRM.

CRM really has a double definition.

There is the common sales oriented definition and then there is a newer additional definition for CRM referring to CRM “as a platform” or “xRM“. In the past few years, this alternative definition of CRM has gained so much momentum; it often overshadows the traditional CRM definition.

Hence, there tends to be some confusion when trying to compare a wide variety of solutions that include the term “CRM”.

Some businesses simply want the sales features of a CRM while other organizations don’t want any sales features at all – they want CRM to meet a unique need like tracking meeting registrations. Both refer to their system as “CRM”.

In addition, there are CRM systems that can only provide the traditional CRM sales features. But most modern commercial CRM solutions (such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM), provide both – the traditional CRM features and the increasingly popular and powerful platform features that help extend CRM as well as leverage the latest technology such as:

  • Outlook integration
  • Skype integration
  • Mobility
  • Social media monitoring
  • Easy analytics and dashboards
  • Intuitive user experiences
  • Collaboration
  • Automated workflows

There are also industry specific applications (ex: accounting software) that may include CRM as part of a cloud package or as a “CRM add-on”. This type of “CRM” which is added to an existing application may only provide basic sales features and not have the latest technology/platform capabilities that an organization is looking to leverage. Nonetheless, the general term “CRM” is thrown around so businesses selecting a new CRM need to be careful.

Here is an example from the association industry. There are specific solutions to help associations called AMS systems (association management software). These solutions manage membership, meetings, certifications, committees, and a lot more.

Some of these AMS systems are built upon modern commercial CRM systems (like Microsoft CRM) so an association can leverage the latest technology, extend the platform to meet specific needs, as well as utilize the inherent traditional CRM sales features if needed.

Older traditional AMS solutions have to compete with these modern CRM-based AMS solutions. These vendors have started to offer a “CRM add-on” which will handle sales and service (the traditional CRM definition). I guess in an effort to say, “Hey, we have CRM too”.

It is not the same “CRM”. If an association executive is looking for modern commercial CRM features, they should take care when selecting a new AMS system with a “CRM”.

In conclusion, CRM has become a rather common (dare I say trendy) business term for many businesses and organizations. Just remember the double definition of the modern CRM.


Feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions.


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Breaking down CRM options for Associations

The Pros and Cons of moving to CRM at your Association

Modern CRMLots of talk about CRM these days – more so than ever it seems. How can associations leverage CRM? Where does an association start? What are the options out there for associations? This article will attempt to review the 4 most common ways that a commercial CRM application (i.e. Microsoft CRM, is utilized at associations and the advantages, risks, costs, and benefits of each.

CRM 101 – Before we jump in, let’s first review what CRM is to provide some context. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. In the most traditional sense, CRM helps track the entire customer relationship including sales, marketing, and customer service. Most modern commercial CRM applications have the ability to be easily extended to meet unique needs. Extending CRM is often referred to as “using CRM as a platform”. In the case of associations, this means that they can use CRM to manage membership, committees, chapters, events, speakers, expos, transactions, and more.

The Modern CRM – Better, Faster, Cheaper Unlike traditional Association Management Software (AMS), most industry leading CRM systems are provided by major software companies like Microsoft,, Oracle, and SAP. Microsoft for example spends $9 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) on product research and development.

Better Faster Cheaper

It might be difficult for an AMS vendor to keep up with what the major software companies are doing with CRM. Most modern commercial CRM systems are better, faster, cheaper. An article on written a couple of years ago helps explain the better, faster, cheaper mantra. Association executives are also looking to properly leverage better faster cheaper technology to stay competitive and further their mission. Hence the interest in the modern commercial CRM.

The 4 most common ways associations utilize CRM – CRM has been making its way into associations for many years. Here are 4 ways CRM applications have worked their way into associations:

Standalone CRM1. Stand-alone CRM – separate from AMS: Whether an association has an AMS or not, in this scenario, the CRM is used as a stand-alone database separate from any AMS database. It is typically used as a traditional CRM. For example, tracking advertising sales for the magazine or tracking sponsorships to the annual meeting. Companies and people in CRM are not shared with the AMS which can create separate silos of data.

Still, the cost and risk can be fairly low if used for a specific task that is outside the AMS. The cost and risk might also be low at the beginning because you can simply abandon the CRM in a short period of time if it no longer meets your needs. In general though, the stand-alone CRM can be risky. What may start out as a few people at the association signing-up online for a CRM to tackle a specific sales oriented task, often ends up becoming much more as additional people gain access to the CRM and more critical data is stored in CRM.

Adding CRM users and premium features can start to add up, but the bigger costs are when the CRM stores and manages key association data outside the main AMS. When an association has some key data in CRM and some in the AMS, it often creates lots of extra manual work – especially for data error corrections and reporting. With data corrections, it is difficult to know which duplicate record is the right one. Which email address is the one we should use? From which database? On the reporting side, things get complicated quickly. What often ends up happening is the creation of an advanced data warehouse or the creation of a grand Excel file to bring in the two data sets. Then there is lots of manual manipulation and Excel file tweaking. It can be difficult to trust the data in these reports.

Because the modern CRM systems are so easy and provide so many benefits, they quickly start to take over many data management needs at an association. What starts as an innocent online CRM trial can quickly get out of control. Be careful with a stand-alone CRM. Use it for the powerful new functionality but keep it limited to a specific purpose – maybe something that the AMS just can’t do.

CRM connected to AMS2. CRM Connected to AMS: In this case, an association has CRM and they have an AMS and the two systems are integrated together to share and synchronize key data. It is sometimes a “fix” for the above mentioned stand-alone CRM situation. This scenario also may arise when an association wants to leverage a modern CRM but they still have the AMS connected to their website for the member experience online. For example, association staff enjoy using CRM because it seems easier to use and it is right inside Outlook, but the IT department is stuck with how to get CRM connected to the association’s website for online event registration. Hence, the blend of CRM and AMS.

The reality is that this situation can have several challenges. Usually not all the data is shared. For example, the company name and address might be shared between the CRM and AMS but not every note, activity, phone call, email and transaction. For some data, you still have to go back and forth between two separate systems.

The technical integration and synchronization between the CRM and AMS can sometimes be difficult to create and touchy to maintain. In addition, a growing majority of CRM systems are in the public cloud such as or Microsoft CRM Online. Most public cloud CRM systems do not provide direct access to the SQL database – only access via web services (and sometimes at an extra cost).

Connecting your CRM to your AMS can provide the powerful new benefits of a modern CRM while still utilizing the association specific features of the AMS. Be careful though. Plan for all potential costs such as the cost of integration, the ongoing support, and the annual software maintenance fees for both systems.

3. CRM as an AMS – with no 3rd party product add-on. In this scenario, an association has decided to retire the AMS and move all the data and business processes to CRM. The CRM is used as a platform and the association’s needs are fulfilled without a 3rd party add-on or any custom code. An association can innovate using CRM whether on their own or with the help of an experienced consultant.

With the right strategic planning and consulting, an association can build just the right amount of AMS functionality they need right within their modern CRM. The association pays just for the modern CRM without the additional cost and annual fees of add-on products. Most importantly, an association can have a better, faster, cheaper way to manage members. It is a good option for some associations; however, there are some major drawbacks. There is the lack of a web portal for online member self-service connected to CRM. There is also the lack of AMS specific accounting features.

Portal – As powerful as CRM can be, there is no easy way to extend CRM for an online member self-service portal without advanced configuration using the platform SDK (software development kit). That means, if you want to have event registration online with the transaction and payment going automatically into CRM from the web, it will require either a custom solution or an add-on product from an independent software vendor (ISV).

Financials – Having solid association specific financial features can sometimes be challenging to extend in CRM. There is no out of the box credit card integration for CRM. There are a handful of 3rd party add-on products for credit card integration, but those may or may not fit into how you have built your transactions/invoices. Also, it can be difficult to extend CRM to be a complete Accounts Receivable sub-ledger to your accounting system. This includes having the same General Ledger account numbers and tracking general ledger detail for each transaction, payment, and refund.

The advantage to a CRM with no 3rd party add-on is that you are not contractually tied to any one particular vendor, you just have a modern CRM – most likely from a major software company (i.e. Microsoft, that has a channel of partners. This option works especially well when an association just wants to roll out CRM as an AMS for the internal association staff.

Word of warning – good planning is essential. If an association knows they will eventually need member online self-service functionality or credit card integration, it is strongly recommended to plan that out in advance. If an association moves forward with this option on their own and configures their own meetings module in their new modern CRM and then later wants to add an ISV product for event registration online, all the work they did with CRM might not be compatible. Not only do they have to start all over again with the ISV’s event management module, the association has to move all the event data. If an association knows they will need the ISV product, it is better to start with the ISV company in the first place and use their product that is most likely pre-configured for the functionality needed.

Other than the ISV solutions, the only other realistic option is to go custom. Find a consulting firm that can customize what you need directly on your own modern CRM – however it may be set up. You can go down this path, create the AMS features you need in CRM, and have a firm then build a custom portal for you. Again, planning is vital to keep cost and risk in check.

4. CRM as an AMS – with a 3rd party product add-on. With this option, an association gets all the full features of CRM with all the typical AMS functionality. This includes the all-important member self-service portal, credit card integration, and accounting functionality. These solutions are from firms and ISV’s that serve the association market. They have created an all-in-one AMS system built on a commercial CRM platform.

An association buys the modern CRM and also buys the add-on product. It is usually sold as one complete package or product or hosted service. These add-on products vary in functionality from light AMS features to full AMS systems in CRM. Doing a little homework and planning on vendors and their products can help.

Cost – This option can be more expensive than rolling out just CRM, but in the long run, if it has the features you need, it can be more cost effective. It may even have additional features that can be leveraged that the association didn’t initially consider.

Vendors – This option can lock you into a relationship with one vendor and their 3rd party add-on for CRM. This is only an issue if the vendor doesn’t meet your expectations – so do your homework to compare user design, features, vendor reliability, deployment options (hosted or on-premise), and all related costs.

Conclusions – First off, if an association has a traditional AMS system they like and it is working for them, don’t change anything – stick with what you have. A good time to start to look at CRM options is when the traditional AMS becomes outdated, hard to use, or forces the association to stay on older technology like older versions of Outlook, Office or Windows. Forced to stay on older technology makes it difficult to remain competitive for your members and effects to development of your core mission.

Annual Costs vs. Benefits – Associations can look at their current AMS from a cost/value point of view. Are they getting the value and benefit from all the money invested annually? You can also look at it from a competitive point of view. Do my competitors have a technological advantage? When evaluating a change, an association should not only consider the actual dollars for a new CRM but also the related benefits and return on investment.

Skype setting in CRMBenefits such as a more efficient staff, happier staff, happier members, easier and better analytics, enhanced member insight, no new hardware costs if hosted, social media monitoring (such as Netbreeze) for deeper member engagement, automated workflow, built-in disaster recovery if hosted, integrated products (such as Skype, Office, Outlook, SharePoint, Yammer), data aggregators (like InsideView), newer technology, and on and on,..

Basically leveraging better, faster, cheaper technology.


Not sure where or how to start? Contact me for guidance and suggestions.


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Top 3 Design Considerations in CRM for Trickle Up Benefits

How Design Influences User Adoption

When it comes to design, people tend to use what works well for them. The key word there being “well”. An easy to use CRM with good clean design not only increases user adoption and productivity, it has a “trickle up” effect for the entire organization.

What is the trickle up effect in CRM?

crmBright for Associations

Since a well-designed CRM provides numerous user benefits, the organization realizes “trickle up” benefits.  User adoption drives an increase in data.  Lots of good quality data drives compelling analytics on an organization’s key performance indicators thus delivering insight on past and recent performance. This helps drive comparative and historical data to deliver predictive indicators to maximize growth opportunities and thus provide insight to future performance. Good design also helps bring greater user satisfaction. Happy users are more productive and deliver better service which makes customers happy.  Happy customers provide repeat business and referrals.

My Top 3 Design Considerations

When deploying or upgrading your CRM, take into account these top 3 design considerations.

1. Business Process Driven – These days you can turn on most CRM systems and start using them right away. So why bother with gathering your unique business processes? I mean, can’t you just change your process to match the way the CRM works out of the box? Yes and no. Yes, an organization can and should utilize the rich features that come with the CRM system out of the box. No, not all organizations have the exact same processes. Take the time to gather your unique business and data processes as well as reporting needs and then document how CRM and xRM (eXtended CRM) will support each process.

Bing2. Think Clean – Most search providers these days are a simple web page with only a text box – an example of clean purpose driven design. It might help to keep this type thinking in mind. If the system looks cluttered or busy, it is usually more difficult to use and there is a higher risk of user error. Try to include only the items that support an efficient business process. Remove all the extra fields, items, charts, parts, buttons, grids, toolbars, menus, and clutter that do not support the business process. If your CRM supports JScript, JavaScript or multiple role-based forms, then strategically hide fields based on user role or based on other data elements on the form.

CRM Contact Example with Last Touch Field Green3. Sweat the Small Stuff – Attention to detail is key. To maximize user adoption and productivity, make sure you drill into and properly address all the important details – before and after user testing. It is these design details that often make the difference. Visual enhancements tend to work best. For example, changing the color of a particular field on a form.  I often add a “Last Touch” date field to the contact form (click on image to right) which automatically tracks the date of the last activity such as an email, phone call, transaction, note, etc.  If the touch is within 45 days, the field is green. After 45 days, it turns yellow and after 90 days it turns red.  This is immediate visual information on a customer.

Design will influence how users will interact with CRM. Just remember that people tend to use what works well for them.


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Innovation and xRM

New business solution innovation from unlikely sources by extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM – often called xRM

This post focuses on the following questions related to small and large business solution innovation through the use of xRM (eXtended Relationship Management):

  • First, why is innovation important to your organization?
  • Next, who in your organization is responsible for innovation?
  • Lastly, how is xRM used for business solution innovation within Microsoft Dynamics CRM?

Why is innovation important to your organization? – In today’s economy and competitive landscape, innovation and constant improvement are critical for businesses, but don’t take my word for it.

“The enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present…the decline will be fast.”Peter Drucker (father of modern management)

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament”Steve Jobs (founder of Apple and Pixar).

“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.”Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft)

Who in your organization is responsible for innovation? – Obviously Peter Drucker, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates know all about innovation, but who in your organization is responsible for innovation or even thinks about improvements via innovation? Does innovation require a laboratory? Do you need to wear a lab coat? Do you need an advanced degree in science or engineering? All of that certainly helps, but in my personal opinion, the first step to making significant business improvements and innovation, is to start with people who have vision. That vision can come from the CEO or anyone else in the organization.

“Throughout the centuries there were (those) who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.” Ayn Rand (author)

How do you identify a person with vision or an innovator in your organization? “Innovators are learners, not knowers” according to an article by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón. Below is a paragraph from their article.

“The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures, either through intuition or experience, know that in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. They must fail fearlessly and quickly and then learn and share their lessons with the team. When they behave this way, they empower others around them to follow suit—and presto, a culture of discovery is born and nurtured.”

How is xRM used for business solution innovation within Microsoft Dynamics CRM? – Now let’s relate all of this to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and how everyday users can either solely or collaboratively make small to rather significant contributions and innovations with easy to use tools.

In the past, if you had a good business application idea and wanted to create a new custom software solution based on that idea, you needed to hire software developers to write code and create that solution from specific requirements. This was a long and costly undertaking, and sometimes the vision of the exact solution never quite came to be. It was better if the person that had the vision could also code the solution (i.e. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg). But not everyone is Mark Zuckerberg.

What if people in the non-developer community could create solutions on their own based on their own ideas and vision? They would then be able to create the specific solution that is in their head or their team’s collaborative heads. This is what Microsoft can help provide with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Microsoft provides an easy to use tool for users to create, customize, and extend an already rich foundation to allow for something wholly new and original.

Innovations can be large or small. The results could be cost savings, operational efficiency, or even new revenue streams. Small innovations and improvements could include consolidating outside databases into your CRM or replacing third-party solutions. Big innovations could include creating completely new business solutions based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” – Peter Drucker

There are many other software tools available to innovate and Microsoft Dynamics CRM is but one of them. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is here – available now – for the unlikely innovators out there. Start innovating today.


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