In a perfect world, the initial evaluation should not be influenced by cost and deployment. There are many ways on both platforms to control the costs and balance the budget while maximizing return on investment. The ROI is, of course, the key. A poorly implemented CRM or implementation of the wrong CRM can cost you dearly.

Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world, so cost and deployment will indeed be hot topics of conversation.

Question One: How Much Will It Cost?

If you have had any experience managing projects, you know that this question is almost impossible to answer. The best possible scenario is an implementation that went so well, and so greatly exceeded expectations, that it only makes sense to increase the budget and take it to the next level. On the other hand, a poor implementation will likely require exceeding the budget to work out the kinks and end up with a usable system.

Let’s talk about the relative costs instead. Microsoft Dynamics has a fairly straightforward licensing structure. The per user license includes everything that you expect for that tier and for the most part there are no hidden costs.

Salesforce licensing is an entirely different experience. Even without considering the additional “cloud” offerings such as the Marketing Cloud, the basic license structure I find to be quite confusing and frustrating. Since Salesforce is a multi-tenant environment, you are essentially sharing one huge database with everyone else. This means that there are restrictions on data usage and transactions, and you will pay extra if you exceed your allotment.

Before panic sets in, don’t assume that Microsoft Dynamics will always be more affordable or will yield a more favorable ROI. It is critical to do extensive research, preferably with the help of a consultant, and look at the return on investment as well as the long-term maintenance costs.

Sales Force Automation

Most of our clients intend to use the standard sales force automation features. This includes lead management, migrating leads into accounts, customers and opportunities, and hopefully closing the deal. Each platform provides a rich SFA experience and, not surprisingly, very similar nomenclature is used.

A critical decision at this point is whether or not your company’s sales structure is aligned with the traditional SFA approach. Why is this important? These capabilities represent the highest user license tier. If you do not plan to use these features, or only a subset of your users will be assigned this license type, your ultimate monthly licensing costs will vary dramatically.

I have seen instances where a customer simply assumes these features will be used and it turns out that only a subset is actually implemented. In such a case it would have been less expensive in the long-run to duplicate the few SFA functions as customizations and not pay the premium for the SFA licensing!

Question Two: On-Premise or Cloud

In my opinion, this can be the subject of much heated debate, particularly in a company that either has a robust Microsoft infrastructure or is hypersensitive to placing data in the cloud. If an on premise implementation is an absolute requirement that is non-negotiable, your choice is made: Microsoft Dynamics. Salesforce is completely in the cloud.

Fortunately, everything is negotiable. Even if you are certain that on premise is mandatory, let me give you some reasons why it may not be the best long-term solution.

First, let’s discuss the most common reasons for choosing an on premise implementation.

  • Licensing: paying up-front once and only dealing with maintenance, support and upgrades is very appealing. In one sense, it sure beats eternal monthly license fees.
  • Local data: there’s nothing better than having CRM data on your servers in a SQL Server database. There is no need to download to a staging area in order to populate a data warehouse.
  • Security: this is a very controversial area. Is the cloud safe, or not? How well does Microsoft and Salesforce protect your data? Wouldn’t it make you sleep better at night to know that you have control over your security?
  • Upgrading: speaking of control, what if you are happy with your current version and don’t want to upgrade? Perhaps you have written significant custom code that may break with a newer version – you shouldn’t be forced to upgrade, right?

I admit, on the surface these appear to be compelling arguments. Now let me present the other side.

  • Licensing: The monthly licensing costs may seem outrageous. Until, that is, you consider that these costs include infrastructure maintenance. Let’s break that down. An on premise installation requires a database server, one or more front-end servers, an ADFS server, routine backups and snapshots, disaster recovery plans, patches, upgrades, downtime, and all of the personnel costs that go along with configuring and maintaining the infrastructure. Can you match the 99.99% uptime of a cloud-based solution? And, if you can, what is the price tag?
  • Local data: this argument is quickly becoming a “feel good” argument at best. I have considerable experience with large on premise implementations, and there are just as many headaches with on-site data as with data in the cloud. In many instances data is being pulled from CRM into a data warehouse and pushed into CRM from other applications. These integrations are complex and rarely is information instantaneously updated. Solid third-party tools exist that sync both Dynamics and Salesforce with the local data warehouse. Another consideration is separation of concerns. Having the “live” data so readily accessible encourages unnecessary access to the database, taxing resources and impacting performance. Finally, there is the chance that a DBA, either intentionally or unintentionally, may write directly to the CRM database causing damage to the data relationships that may surface at a later date.
  • Security: this boils down to one simple question: how good is your security now? Most businesses admit that while security is a critical issue, it is often substandard in even the best companies. If your company is one of the few that works closely with cutting-edge security consultants, you may have a point. Otherwise, be realistic. Your data may actually be safer in the cloud.
  • Upgrading: this is my pet peeve. Years ago I had my own software company, and I became very frustrated with my clients’ resistance to upgrades. Back then, it was understandable to a point. These upgrades were manual, required downtime, were not always backwards compatible. The end result is that these clients failed to take advantage of some fantastic new features that would have favorably impacted their businesses.

Both CRM cloud offerings are rapidly advancing and, particularly with Salesforce, provide excellent backwards compatibility. These updates occur seamlessly with almost no interruption in business. It also forces you to refrain from implementing “unsupported” coding and configuration changes that later can come back to bite you. Again, with these platforms progressing so rapidly, why wouldn’t you want to have the latest?