Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review of the Latest Dynamics CRM Statement of Direction (May 2011)

A week or so ago the latest Dynamics CRM Statement of Direction was released. While there have already been a few reviews of it done I thought I would add my voice to the piece and highlight the parts that jumped out.

If you are interested in reading the full thing, you can access it here:

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/crm/archive/2011/05/12/statement-of-direction-for-microsoft-dynamics-crm-2011.aspx

The first thing that struck me was the style of the document is quite different compared to, say, the September 2010 Statement of Direction (http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2010/11/dynamics-crm-statement-of-direction.html). While the September 2010 document was more of a white paper in its appearance, this one is definitely the product of marketing. This is not to say the content is not technical or specific (some commitments are very specific), but that the look and feel has been more carefully crafted than previous versions.

 

Ecosystems

The first part of the document trumpets the success of Dynamics CRM 2011 (and why not?) and then mentions a key phrase in reference to what Dynamics CRM enables organisations to do, specifically “encourage connections across an entire ecosystem of suppliers, partners and customers”. In this context ‘ecosystem’ is equivalent to the old ‘supply chain’ of operations management. It is a term I have been hearing a lot lately. It is usually mention in the context of mobile phone ‘ecosystems’ referring to the phone OS company, the mobile phone maker, the telco, the app developers and all the pieces that connect them. I am not sure whether this is Microsoft’s market-speak or a general consensus in the industry that the chains of the past are now looking more like chainmail mesh. I believe it is a term that is going to be used a lot more in the future as organisations look to leverage more than just the consumer to sell their products and services.

“Better Together”

This is also mentioned a bit further on in the context of the philosophies driving development. In the old days we would refer to this as ‘the stack’, that is, the use of Microsoft technologies together with a view of having them compliment each other and work together. This, in turn, has led to the situation where customers openly refer to themselves as ‘Microsoft Shops’. Products no longer stack, they are simply better together apparently Winking smile

Power of Choice

Microsoft are clear that they continue to differentiate between the software and where it is housed and will continue to support this differentiation. If you want to implement Dynamics CRM on your own servers (on-premise), Microsoft will continue to support this. Similarly for a third party’s servers (private cloud) or Microsoft’s data centres (cloud/SaaS). This obviously differs to, say, salesforce.com where the software and implementation choice are combined into the concept of the ‘true cloud’ when the software is run on their servers. All other implementation choices being considered the ‘false cloud’ (private cloud) or ‘software’ (on-premise). Given Dynamics CRM can be deployed any way a customer wants, the salesforce.com definition of software is a nonsense, but I digress.

The Disclaimer

Before launching into the trends driving their thinking and the more juicier, technical specifics, the document provides a disclaimer that essentially says, anything that came before it is false and this is the only true reflection of the vision Microsoft has for Dynamics CRM. Given the next Statement of Direction will likely have a similar disclaimer, a cynical person would suggest anything said in this document is only good for the next six months. The more optimistic of us would like to think the strategic thinkers of Microsoft are not so fickle and while elements may be tweaked the broad direction will remain unchanged.

Trend 1: Social Collaboration and Engagement

The document acknowledges the world of business is looking to be more social but is a little confused on how to do it. In terms of Dynamics CRM, the document is very specific. Dynamics CRM will be integrated more tightly with SharePoint, Lync (the new Office Communication Server) and Office to facilitate social collaboration with customers. They cite specific functionality such as micro-blogging (think Twitter or Facebook status updates), business activity feeds (think the Facebook wall) and social intelligence (think socialmention.com). This, again, smells of the OfficeTalk (http://www.officelabs.com/projects/officetalk/Pages/default.asp) skunkworks project I have mentioned before.

I have talked about the collaborative features of ‘the stack’ in the past (http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-this-chatter-about-social.html, http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2011/01/fun-salesforce-becomes-fud-salesforce.html). It seems Microsoft is intent on developing significant enhancements in this area, presumably to develop a product akin in functionality to salesforce.com’s Chatter or Yammer. This is great news. For all the things that can be said about Microsoft it cannot be denied that they know a good idea when they see it.

Trend 2: Deriving Rapid Value From Business Applications

This one is a little vague or, at least, I cannot tease out too many nuggets from it. They talk about

  • Sales and marketing insights and the creation of proposals and presentations. These are areas in Dynamics CRM where there is functionality but room for improvement. Perhaps they are looking to develop Zap-like functionality combining BI with proposal generation (http://zaptechnology.com.au/).
  • Improved service management through areas such as better service planning and multi-channel engagement. Again, Dynamics CRM has some functionality in this area but there is always room for improvement. Service planning in Dynamics CRM has not really been touched since it made an appearance back in version 3.0 so perhaps this is getting a makeover. The talk of social collaboration certainly dovetails into the idea of incorporating social media channels into customer service.
  • Enhanced evaluation and provisioning of solutions from the marketplace. Given the marketplace is, at this stage, an advertising platform for the add-on solutions available but not strictly a delivery mechanism for such solutions, I expect this will change in the near future.
  • Reduced effort to deploy. This is an unusual one as they talk about making it easier to tailor Dynamics CRM. Microsoft obviously have something in mind here but I do not know what it is. Perhaps the delivery mechanism for the marketplace will also lend itself to easier configuration of Dynamics CRM
  • Emphasis on business adoption. This one is a bit of marketing but says nothing in terms of what is coming up

Trend 3: Optimizing Business Decision-Making

Here they give a bit more detail on the BI tools they are looking to deliver. Specifically, the ability for users to create business reports and analysis, data visualisation (which is already pretty good in Dynamics CRM 2011) and data analysis capabilities for trend analysis. This, again, sounds similar to the Zap solution.

Trend 4: Consumerization of Business Applications

To translate, in this case, they mean making the software accessible, regardless of the device being used and whether the user is offline or online. Out of the box mobility has always been limited. There is the mobile express component but this does not have the full functionality of the standard clients.

This section is very interesting. Firstly they talk about the devices they want Dynamics CRM to be compatible with:

  • PC
  • Laptop
  • Tablet
  • Phone

They then get into specifics of the functionality they are looking to achieve:

  • functions of the product will adjust based on where the product is being accessed (in the office, on the road etc.)
  • cross device compatibility e.g. iPad, Android slates, PC tablets etc.
  • MULTI-BROWSER SUPPORT!!! By using HTML5, Microsoft are planning to create a rich client that will work practically anywhere. This is great. For those of you that follow my tweets (http://www.twitter.com/leontribe) you may remember I promised to harass Microsoft to the ends of the Earth until they had a Safari-compatible browser if I made the top 100 Most Influential Dynamics People list. I made #97 (http://www.dynamicsworld.co.uk/top-100/) and it looks like our Apple-shop friends will soon be able to easily access the product. Nice work Microsoft.

Trend 5: Extended Solution Opportunities and Ecosystems

This section talks about how Microsoft are looking to streamline the supply chain (ecosystem). Other than improving the Marketplace experience, specifics are limited. What was interesting was their statement that they are looking to enable enterprise organisations to get CRM Online. Microsoft are clearly stating they consider this a product appropriate for larger organisations (which they have done for a while but not always as directly as this). Using their tried and true strategy they are stretching up; starting with a product for the small to medium market and now playing with large companies in the cloud.

Moving to a Rapid Release Model

This is a big deal. On premise releases used to come out every two or three years. Now that CRM Online and CRM 2011 have the same code base, this is no longer practical. Therefore CRM 2011 has shortened their cycle to ONCE EVERY SIX MONTHS. The upshot of this is we will no longer see the ‘big bang’ of additional functionality we saw, for example, going from CRM 4.0 to CRM 2011. However, it will mean a constant stream of additional capabilities coming into the product.

On top of the twice-yearly updates, Microsoft will also be providing optional add-ons via the Marketplace. My guess is this is the new version of the old accelerators but, hopefully, more complete. The accelerators were great but they were, almost without exception, ‘a good start’. These add-ons sound more like complete solutions. An example might be CRM-Online fax service integration. Useful, but not for everyone.

I have my concerns about this massive shift in the release cycle given it is such a significant change. I am also concerned the ‘fixed-costs’ of putting out a release will mean time for actual innovation will be compromised, limiting the value delivered with each release. Time will tell.

Conclusions

Despite the polished veneer of the paper, this is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and specific Statement of Direction to date. While some of the things in the paper were mentioned at the recent MVP summit, many were not and you, in reading it, are hearing a lot of this at the same time as us NDA-covered MVPs. I think it is fair to say that everything we learned at Summit, you now know via this Statement of Direction. These really are exciting times, especially for consumers.

The parts I am personally excited about are the social collaboration tools, the multi-form factor support and the multi-browser support. If you want to make a Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner shuffle nervously, ask them about running Dynamics CRM on an Apple computer. This will soon be a thing of the past.

If Microsoft get all of this right, it will be huge. If they get it wrong it will be disastrous. Given there is not much choice being otherwise, I am optimistic Winking smile

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dealing With Two Surnames

Quieres este articulo en Castellano? Aqui lo es:
http://www.elblogdedynamicscrm.com/post/2011/05/10/Trabajando-con-dos-apellidos.aspx

While uncommon in English-speaking countries, people from Spanish-speaking countries often have two surnames; one from each parent. As my wife is Peruvian in heritage, we have followed this tradition and therefore the surname of my children is ‘Tribe Aviles’. Both children will hand ‘Tribe’ down to their children.

On casual occasions the father’s surname is used but for more formal situations, both are used. For example, in an e-mail my son would sign ‘Bob Tribe’ but on his passport it reads ‘Bob Tribe Aviles’.

One obvious consequence of this is the usual security question of ‘mother’s maiden name’ is useless in Spanish-speaking countries as it is in their full name. A more subtle consequence comes from trying to store this in Dynamics CRM.

What We Have To Work With

This is the default appearance of the Contact form in Dynamics CRM.

image

We have a ‘First Name’ field, a ‘Middle Name’ field and a ‘Last Name’ field. We have no additional ‘Mother’s Maiden Name’ field.

Method 1: Using The Last Name For Both Names

In this case, as shown in the above screenshot, I have populated the Last Name field with both names. The Contact’s name populates correctly at the top of the form and if we set the full name convention to be ‘Last Name, First Name’, it will appear as “Tribe Aviles, Bob” which makes sense. The problem with this approach is if I need to send an informal e-mail or message to Bob, I cannot address him as ‘Bob Tribe’ but must use the formal version.

Method 2: Using The Middle Name Field To Store The First Surname

image

After a bit of internet research, it appears this is common practice in the USA but causes a number of problems. The first one is the full name will not populate correctly and needs to be adjusted (Settings-Administration-System Settings). However, in a database where there are people with ‘true’ middle names it becomes confusing which are surnames and which are middle names. This will become impractical if we need to send out informal letters where we would need to use <First Name> <Middle Name> for people with a Spanish name and <First Name> <Last Name> for those with an English Name. We have similar problems if we need to send out a formal letter.

Method 3: Adding a New Field For The Mother’s Last Name

image

This one is not a bad compromise. We can send out formal and informal communication without too much difficulty. The only downside is the Full Name shows the informal format, not the formal one. also, you will need to add the Mother’s Last Name field to the searchable fields for Contact.

Method 4: Adding Fields For The Two Surnames And Combining Into The Last Name

Given I am in Australia and not South America or Spain I thought I would ask someone who is affected by this every day, fellow CRM MVP Jimmy Larrauri. He has a solution which works well for him; he adds two additional fields to CRM for the two surnames and then uses jscript to combine these into the Last Name field.

image

This provides all the advantages of the first method with the benefit of being able to use either of the two surnames, as desired. If jscript seems like too much hard work, you could also relax the Last Name from being compulsory and then use a workflow to populate the Last Name field, after saving the Contact record.

Conclusions

If you are working with Spanish speaking customers you may need to accommodate their needs when storing names, such as the capture of two last names. As with all design considerations, there are a number of different ways to achieve a similar outcome. The key is in understanding what information is to be stored and how it is going to be used. When this is understood, the best method can be chosen to meet the needs of the customer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Salesforce Financials Revisited

It has been over two years since I looked at the financials of salesforce.com so I thought is was well overdue. To recap on previous analysis here are the links:

http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2008/09/valuing-salesforcecom-and-its.html

http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2009/02/salesforcecom-revisited-still.html

In September 2008 the price of salesforce (CRM) was $58.00 and the price of Microsoft (MSFT) was $27.34

In February 2009 the price of salesforce was $28.00 and the price of Microsoft was $16.15

As of today (4 May 2011) salesforce is $133.66 and the price of Microsoft is $25.81

I make no bones about the fact that my opinion is that the share price of salesforce is expensive for what it is. However, as can be seen, the market disagrees with me and that is why I am in IT and not retired on a luxury yacht sailing around the Bahamas. This is also why you should get financial advice from a licensed professional and not necessarily listen to the opinions of a CRM consultant. To be fair I am not the only one who is pessimistic on the prosperity of salesforce’ share price (http://seekingalpha.com/article/264023-how-salesforce-com-could-get-crushed-this-quarter, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704150604576166280156761902.html#articleTabs%3Darticle)

That being said, how are the fundamentals of the business going?

Subscription Numbers

I recently came across a little treasure known as the detailed salesforce financials (http://bit.ly/fJyolc). The last page has all the subscription numbers ever released by salesforce, including confirmation that the number of users (subscribers) has not been released since the end of 2007 (at least not to an accuracy greater than to the nearest million).

After a bit of digging, the conclusion I have come up with is this is no longer released because it covers all of salesforce’s products e.g. Chatter, force.com, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud etc. Therefore a strict comparison of numbers against, say, the subscriber numbers of Dynamics CRM is not valid as it is one Microsoft product versus the entire suite of salesforce products. To make the comparison meaningful, we need to assume that the majority of the subscriptions salesforce has is with the sales product, which may not be true.

One interesting note to be made is that if we look at the subscription and support revenue per subscriber and customer a clear trend emerges. That is, while the number of people at a customer site using salesforce products is increasing, the revenue from each one is, on average, decreasing and the overall result is the revenue from each customer is relatively flat.

Quarter Customers Subscribers Average Customer Size Revenue Revenue Per Subscriber Revenue Per Customer
Q2 FY08 35,300 800,000 22.7 $159,998 $200 $4,500
Q4 FY08 41,000 1,100,000 26.8 $196,517 $179 $4,800
Q4 FY09 55,400 1,500,000 27.1 $266,110 $177 $4,800
Q3 FY10 67,900 2,000,000 29.5 $306,870 $153 $4,500
Q4 FY11 92,300 3,000,000 32.5 $428,534 $143 $4,600

This would support the hypothesis that salesforce customers are bringing additional staff on to salesforce products but onto products with a smaller monthly price tag e.g. Chatter. If salesforce ever release subscription numbers for individual products we will have a better idea if this hypothesis is valid. The alternative hypothesis is that customers are downgrading their services i.e. moving from Sales Cloud Professional down to Sales Cloud Group, which I think would be unlikely.

Looking at the last two lines is interesting. In Q3 FY10, the average customer had 30 staff each spending $153 per user per quarter. In Q4 FY11, they added 3 subscribers but the average went down to $143 per user per quarter. This is consistent with simply adding three paying Chatter subscribers to the average customer and the same mix being true for new customers. To put it another way: the growth in the last twelve months can be explained simply by the upsell of Chatter subscriptions and the signing up of new customers. The model suggests that there has been minimal upsell of additional Sales/Service Cloud subscriptions to existing clients. It also suggests around 25% of the million additional subscribers between Q3 FY10 and Q4 FY11 are Chatter subscribers.

For a comparison of how these numbers compare to Dynamics CRM, check out my upcoming presentation at  Decisions Spring 2011. click here to register:

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P/E Ratio

The P/E Ratio, at a given point in time indicates the number of years a share will earn back its price. Historically, if you held salesforce shares it would be your children, grandchildren or their descendants that would see the doubling or your investment. In 2008 the P/E ratio was 200 according to MSN Money. In 2009 this improved to 100. Today, according to MSN money, the P/E ration is 280.

So if nothing changes, it will take 280 years for a share buyer to get back the price in dividends or asset accumulation. Something has to change i.e. the ‘P’ or the ‘E’. ‘P’ is the price. for the ratio to come down to a ‘normal’ level, this would have to crash to about 1/20 of its current value i.e. $6-7 . The other option is a dramatic increase in ‘E’, the earnings (or profits). For comparison, the P/E of Microsoft is 10.

Revenue Growth

From 2005-2009, there was a clear pattern in the revenue growth of salesforce. This pattern being a deceleration in the growth (84%, 76%, 60%, 51%, 44% revenue growth respectively) of around 10% reduction in growth per year. In 2010, the revenue growth dropped more sharply to 21% but recovered to maintain the pattern in 2011 with a growth rate of 27%. It will be interesting to see if the growth rate drops below 20% in January next year.

Not surprisingly Microsoft’s revenue growth rate is much smaller than salesforce’s and in fact was negative in FY2010.

Margins

Salesforce has been dogged by small profit margins for years. Between 2005-2009 the profit margins were 4%, 5%, 9%, 3%, 6%, 8%. Salesforce managed to break into double-digits in 2010 with a margin of 11% but has dropped back again to 6% in 2011.

As a comparison, margins at Microsoft have sat around the 30-40% range for over five years.

Sustainable Growth Rate

This is the rate at which a company can grow its revenues without borrowing or issuing shares. This currently sits at 9%, well below their revenue growth rate of 27% meaning more borrowing or share issuing is on the cards.

Microsoft’s sustainable growth rate is, according to my calculations, around 23%, well below their current revenue growth rate of 7%.

Conclusions

Salesforce still has strong customer growth and subscriber growth but it is maintained through the collection of new customers and the upsell of low-value products. Obtaining new customers is an expensive exercise, compared to upselling existing customers and, with margins as low as they are, it may be time for salesforce to shift gears in this regard. It is true they appear to be upselling products like Chatter but really they should be looking to transition customers to the high-end Sales and Service cloud products. The numbers suggest this is not yet happening.

It terms of the P/E ratio it is the same old story. Conventional wisdom would suggest the P/E ratio is very high, meaning the market is very optimistic for the future of the product. It is not clear to me how the earnings are going to grow to such a level as to justify this optimism.

Revenue growth is, and always has been strong but is slowing. However, the growth is still larger than what the business can support meaning it will continue to raise debt and shares for at least a couple of years or until the banks and investors politely decline the opportunity.

My prediction is, with the strong push from Dynamics CRM in terms of pricing and incentive deals, the next quarter’s announcement on May 20 will show an impact on growth. This will frighten the market and we will again see the shares dip below $100. However, do not see this as advice. Benjamin Graham, the man that taught Warren Buffett everything he knows famously said “"In the short run the market is a voting machine. In the long run it's a weighing machine." What Benjamin did not tell us is how long a short run is. Based on the last four years, longer than I expected.