Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review: Teach Yourself Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4 in 24 Hours


This is the second book SAMS asked me to review, authored by Anne ‘The CRM Lady’ Stanton. Again, the only compensation for the review is the book itself. In terms of knowing Anne, she is someone most of the CRM MVPs know given she used to be one, although I’ve only met her once at Convergence where she presented, at Microsoft’s invitation, on the benefits of the xRM platform for business.

I did indirectly assist Guy Riddle with the chapter on security (Chapter 5), bouncing ideas for subject matter (the writing was all his though). Also, I just discovered, I was quoted at the end of Chapter 1 from my What is CRM? post. We at least know Anne uses great references and has excellent tastes in blogs ;)

Overview of the Book

Anne Stanton and other well known figures in the CRM community (Irene Pasternack, Darren Liu, Curt Spanburgh, Guy Riddle and Scott Head) have compiled a book to give a foundation on what Dynamics CRM is about and what can be done with it. The book is broken down into 24 chapters (or ‘hours’ as they’re called). The thinking being that reading each chapter and doing the exercises and quizzes should take about an hour.

I have not road-tested the claim but each ‘hour’ is about 20 pages long so if you’re looking for something to read ‘in the gaps’, this should work well. To get the most benefit from the book, I’d recommend having a demo version of CRM to play with as you read. This probably means you’ll spend more than an hour on each chapter but you always learn the quirks from doing rather than being told. Also, as Anne admits herself, the screenshots are not the greatest. You have small font, small book form-factor and greyscale all conspiring to make you lean in about 2 inches from the page so you can see what is happening. Having a demo system in full colour on a monitor eliminates this issue.

If you have access to PartnerSource, you can download the demo VPC, or you can sign up for a trial of CRM Online.

Book Structure

The book is grouped into six parts:

  • Business Use of Dynamics CRM
  • Structure of Dynamics CRM
  • Getting Started
  • Using Dynamics CRM for Support
  • Reporting
  • Expanding the Application

This is good if you want to focus on one particular area e.g. ‘how does reporting work?’ or ‘when the IT department tell me they can’t expand the product, are they lying to me'?’. However, as explained below, some areas do overlap so look at the specific hours before writing off a whole section.

Part 1: Business Use of Dynamics CRM

Comprising of:

  • What is Dynamics CRM?
  • The Vocabulary of CRM
  • Matching Business Process to CRM
  • Infrastructure of CRM

Rather than leap straight into the technology, Anne starts with the business process. So many technology projects fail to consider the alignment to business and it is essential for CRM projects which are as much about change management as they are about technology. CRM is simply a tactic to meet a strategy. To put it in the language of the book, Anne talks about the importance of considering people, process and technology for the success of a CRM project.

She then moves on to describe how CRM describes elements of business process and how this process can be captured for the purposes of managing it with CRM. She even puts in a sample business case at the end of hour 3 to get the reader used to putting on the consultant’s hat. All very practical.

She ends the chapter talking about the infrastructure needed to support CRM. While this is very high level (no direct mention of the requirement of Active Directory for authentication) it does give a good overview of the deployment options for CRM, what Microsoft call ‘The Power of Choice’.

Parts 2-3: Sales and Marketing Plus Some Other Bits

Part 2 comprises of:

  • Security
  • Capturing, Importing and Converting Leads
  • How Accounts Work
  • The Sales Funnel (pipeline)
  • Marketing Campaigns

Part 3 comprises of:

  • Capturing and Converting Leads
  • Configuring the system (Changing forms and views)
  • Capturing Contacts and Activities
  • Emailing from CRM
  • Doing Word Mail Merges From CRM
  • Outlook Integration
  • How to Set up Workflows

While Part 2 is labelled as ‘The Structure of Microsoft Dynamics CRM’ and Part 3 as ‘Getting Started Using the Software’, there is obviously some crossover and overlap here. Both sections have an area describing lead conversion and configuring workflows. One has a section on accounts, while the other has a section on contacts and activities. There is also information in these chapters on importing data into CRM and Mobile Express, although it is not clear where from the part descriptions or hour descriptions.

Despite the taxonomy being a bit confused, the information is excellent and covers the essentials. The only exception I can think of in the entire two parts is a section in the Outlook Integration specifically talking about tracking is missing. The tracking feature of the Outlook client is one of its key value propositions, and while Outlook-CRM synchronisation is discussed, how to track and the ‘regarding’ property of tracking is not. 

Part 4: Support

Part 4 covers all aspects of the support module in CRM and is well contained. If you need to know about how CRM handles tickets/cases, contracts for services and service scheduling, this is three hours well spent.

Part 5: Reporting

This comprises of:

  • Using Excel (including how to use Advanced Find)
  • Using SRS Reports

Very nicely put together and even covers some of the ‘gotchas’ such as dynamic exports not working for online without the use of the Outlook client. You could spend an entire hour (or day!) just on Advanced Find but this definitely gets you on the right track for your own learning and discovery. Similarly the SRS section covers the essentials. It even mentions the little-known features of using the reports mechanism for displaying files and web sites and creating report snapshots.

Part 6: Expanding the Application

This comprises of:

  • Integration to Other Applications (including CRM’s importing tools)
  • Useful Add-ons
  • CRM as a Development Framework

If you wanted to boil down ‘CRM 4 Integration Unleashed’ into one hour, the first chapter in this section would be it. It talks at things to consider in an integration rather than specifics, although vendors for general integration and, more specifically, integration to Dynamics GP are listed.

The add-ons section covers areas of CRM which are generally considered ‘lightweight’ out of the box and it discusses third party add-ons to ‘beef up’ the functionality. Overall it does a pretty good job of covering the gaps. The only criticism I can lay at its feet is not calling out codeplex in its own section (although it is mentioned in passing) and not listing solutions for product and price list configuration, which can be difficult for businesses which have anything but the most basic of pricing schemes.

The last hour is spent on customisation. Configuration of forms and views was covered earlier in Part 3. This section is all about scripting on the client and server sides. There is no depth here but if you want to know what can be changed, in what way and how, this gives you the high-level concepts. It also mentions the accelerators but does not say where to go (hint: the missing section on codeplex would have covered it).

What I really liked about this section was the section on considering the aspects of CRM which make it a good fit for a development project and when CRM needs additional elements to make it practical. Calling out the key questions to ask makes it easy for a business to decide to go with the ‘CRM team’ or the ‘.NET team’.


Despite my odd complaint, overall this is an excellent book of high quality. If you are looking for ‘deep dive’ this is not the book, and that is hardly surprising given the approach the book takes.

However, if you are new to CRM and want to get an understanding of CRM’s approach, the book does the job. If you are a new user looking to understand the basics of operation, you will not be disappointed. If you are considering using CRM as a development platform and want to know its capabilities and limitations, this is also a great place to start.

Definitely worth the price of entry and if you want a copy here is the link.

1 comment:

astanton said...

Wow - This is great timing as I am just looking into updating. I will definitely be replacing the screen shots and will beef up a few other areas as well. Thanks for taking the time to really write up what you thought Leon!