How to differentiate your partner business in the crowded world of Microsoft Dynamics 365/CRM VARs

By:  Mohamed Mostafa

I have been focusing on the Microsoft Dynamics 365/CRM platform and its market since 2005 and it has always amazed me how some partners do not differentiate themselves when pitching to prospects. I currently help a number of Dynamics clients and end users with their programmes and solutions, and part of my role includes advising them about choosing the best Dynamics partner to work with. For small and medium size business (SMBs), choosing the wrong partner could result in wasted time and money that takes months or years to recover from.

Microsoft Dynamics partners that have not bothered to specialize their services or solutions will approach all their opportunities in a similar way. These firms bid for projects across all industries without deep subject matter knowledge in any prospect’s industry. They typically start by asking: “What would you like to have?”. While perhaps what I call the “Blank Canvas Approach” may be acceptable for some large enterprise customer, it certainly does not help SMB customers. (Even further, I argue against this approach for all types of customers including enterprise ones, but let us start first by focusing on the SMBs.)

To ask an SMB or start-up to explain in detail how their sales process or customer service operations work is an unrealistic expectation. While some SMBs could have a very well-defined process, the majority will be considering Microsoft Dynamics 365 for exactly this reason: To get a streamlined, pre-defined, and mostly system-automated set of processes for their sales or customer service operation. Approaching such customers and prospects with a blank canvas and asking them to come up with their process would normally drive these customers towards other partners or, most likely, towards different pre-packaged off-the-shelf CRM solutions.

I would also argue that you should equally avoid the “blank canvas” approach for large enterprises. You should always approach customers with a team that has industry knowledge and with an industry solution, even if this pre-built solution is only 60% of your customer’s required end-state solution.

As many of our readers know, Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a flexible platform that can be configured and tailored to the exact requirements of every organisation, department, and team. When out of the box configuration is not enough, you can extend the platform using custom development to do most, if not all, of what a business may require including integration with third party and legacy applications. However, this flexibility has the unintended effect of encouraging some Dynamics partners to avoid the upfront investment of differentiating themselves and instead approaching customers without knowledge in their sector or a targeted pre-configured solution.

My advice is to avoid approaching customers with a “vanilla” Dynamics 365 application without any pre-defined structured processes. I’ll back this argument with some meaningful and realistic scenarios.

I invite you to put yourself in the position of your own prospects and customers. There are a few ways a Dynamics partner can try to differentiate itself from others such as references and case studies, the strength of its team, and the partner’s organisation scale and reputation. However, it is fair to say that without any proprietary IP to buy into, clients are mainly getting the team offered by the partner, i.e., the skills and knowledge of the consultants who will be delivering the solution and not much more.

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A Microsoft partner organisation might have delivered some very successful projects three years ago, but they probably did not retain the majority of their strong team that delivered these solutions. This is a fairly common situation as the Dynamics recruitment and job market is one of the strongest around, at least in North America and Europe. Experienced professionals move between jobs when the Dynamics partner organisation employing them fails to keep them interested. In such cases, a Dynamics partner can continue to claim a previously successful customer implementation as a reference, but in reality they can no longer offer the team, the knowledge, or the experiences gained from delivering such a successful programme. The “blank canvas” approach means that experiences and knowledge are mostly kept within the individuals who made up that successful team of the past, not within the organisation. The pre-built vertical industry solution, on the other hand, is an organisation’s unique selling point and its differentiator.

So going back to the question this article is trying to answer: How can you as a Dynamics partner differentiate your business and gain more clients? And how can you compete in the SMB space with packaged, pre-defined CRM and ERP software products?

The answer, in my view, is to approach customers, of all sizes, with a pre-built, pre-configured vertical business solution that specifically targets their industry and business sector. This solution can be further enhanced and configured to suit exact business requirements with varying levels of configuration and customisation depending customers’ requirements, size (enterprise vs SMB) and, of course, budget.

If you operate on the blank canvas approach today, the idea of building a packaged, pre-defined vertical business solution for each and every industry and market probably seems unrealistic. And it is. You are much better off focusing on one or more specific business verticals where you have, or can have, business domain expertise represented in a strong solution that delivers deep and relevant functionality. This focus and expertise can then be backed by a number of knowledgeable and experienced Dynamics 365 architects and consultants who understand this business domain and have delivered Dynamics 365 solutions to other customers in this industry.

For Dynamics partners who are focusing on start-ups and SMBs, it is vital to build solutions that deliver up to 90% of the functionality typically required by customers in a business sector or domain. Companies shopping for CRM solutions expect this level of expertise, and independent advisors like me will always guide clients toward proven capabilities rather than customization.

Getting vertical knowledge and functional capabilities out of the team’s heads and into repeatable, pre-packaged IP will not only differentiate a Dynamics partner, it will ensure they get repeatable business from their customers either in the form of a license for their IP or by becoming the “go to” partner in this business domain. But just how to do that would be the focus of another future article.

Image copyright: ssilver / 123RF Stock Photo

About Mohamed Mostafa

Mohamed Mostafa is a Microsoft Dynamics 365 MVP who focuses on Architecting, Leading and Delivering Dynamics 365 Technology enabled Business Solutions and Digital Transformation programs. He writes in more detail about GDPR issues on his GDPR-themed blog. He has been focusing on Microsoft Dynamics CRM for more than 12 years. He has led and delivered Dynamics programs across various Industries and geographical locations. He has also implemented some of the most complex Dynamics 365 CRM implementations in the US, UK and Europe.