(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
As a Microsoft partner that focuses on small and medium sized companies my firm has had little to offer our clients when they ask about CRM options other than to direct them elsewhere. Their flagship Dynamics products are excellent, but they’re pricey for a small company and clearly built to compete against the likes of Salesforce and Oracle.
There used to be (shudder) the Outlook Business Contact Manager but that application was thankfully discontinued after a few years of hair-pulling performance and other issues. Office 365 comes with something called the Outlook Customer Manager which is a shadow of what a good CRM system should provide and frankly has not received much attention from Redmond.
So when Microsoft announced last year that it was partnering with Nimble– a powerful CRM application that’s targeted (and priced) more for SMBs – my antenna went up. Why is Microsoft doing this? Could this be a CRM answer for small businesses in Microsoft world?
I think it is.
Nimble is already a great stand-alone CRM. But with its Outlook add-in – released in 2017 – users can live inside of Office, rather than having to navigate to an external application. Leveraging this capability, Nimble provides Office users the features you would expect from a good CRM application – contact, lead, and pipeline management – while using information from both Office and its own database. It’s a multi-user, collaborative system that will let a team share emails and contact data from just about any device and provides insights about contacts with just a social handle.
Yes, it’s an add-in to Office 365. No, it’s not made by Microsoft. But it’s a product that, like other third-party applications, Microsoft is getting behind. It’s making Nimble available within its global channel partner network so that its resellers, distributors, consulting firms, and systems integrators can sell and implement it.
So is Microsoft giving up on the small business CRM market? Yes and no. The strategy hinges on letting solutions like Nimble nurture the really small customers and hopefully help them grow into a bona fide candidate for Microsoft’s more robust CRM offerings.
“We do have a small business Dynamics CRM package,” said Gretchen O’Hara, a vice-President at the company who is working to help grow an ecosystem of solutions like Nimble for its partner channel. “But sometimes when a business is at the very small end, one to seven, one to ten employees, they need to walk and grow really learning how to use CRM at the beginning level. As they need additional capabilities, it (Nimble) is a nice on-ramp into Dynamics.”
There has been some progress since the two companies entered into a partnership last summer, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Nimble’s President Jon Ferrara said that his company has entered into agreements with thirty of Microsoft’s top fifty distribution partners and is in the process of onboarding a thousand resellers. “With Microsoft as a reseller, Nimble CRM adoption among resellers has accelerated, since there’s no need to negotiate individual contracts, address specific integration requirements, or manage billing (it’s all handled by Microsoft),” he said in an email exchange.
The biggest challenge for both companies will be educating Microsoft’s partners like me. Many of us still aren’t aware of the relationship and O’Hara is committed to changing that over the next few years. “We’re in the middle of the rollout right now,” she told me. “The next step is educating our CSP channel to help them understand what Nimble provides, and helping them with hands-on training and enablement.”
If you’re a small business owner researching CRMs you’ve probably found that many of the good ones already have integration with Office 365. You can debate whether Nimble’s integration is any better or worse than its competitors. But one thing’s for sure: Microsoft has chosen this application as its go-to CRM solution for small businesses and is banking on it to ensure that its small business customers not only stay loyal to Office 365 but also have a way to grow into good Dynamics customers too.