The journey to a new sales experience with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Business Case Study

June 2015

The processes and tools that the Microsoft sales organization previously used had become overly complex and kept sellers from focusing on their customers. Starting with the principle that Microsoft should use the products that it sells to customers, Microsoft corporate and field groups worked together to simplify sales processes and deliver a new sales platform that has increased seller productivity and satisfaction.


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Products & Technologies

Overly complex sales processes and customer relationship management (CRM) tools bogged down sellers, taking away valuable customer-facing time. The platform was hindered by non-CRM functionalities such as compliance and governance. Modifications to support changes in processes or business direction became complicated and resource-intensive.

Microsoft dramatically simplified its direct sales process and then quickly deployed a new, streamlined platform that is designed around the new sales process. Powered by Microsoft Azure cloud-based services and with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online at the core of the new platform, the direct sales experience program was deployed to over 25,000 users in less than a year.

  • Increased seller productivity
  • Works across computers and mobile devices
  • Reduced time to close
  • Rapid product innovation
  • Increased user satisfaction
  • Faster system performance
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online
  • Microsoft Skype for Business
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Microsoft Yammer
  • Microsoft CRM for Outlook
  • Microsoft Azure


The Microsoft sales organization consistently reported a lack of quality customer interaction time. Sellers were concerned about scorecard metrics moving from red to green, and repeatedly requested improvements to the CRM tool. Over time, both the tool and the sales process that it supported had become increasingly complex, incorporating hundreds of non-standard business rules and large amounts of historical data. The CRM tool was also customized to incorporate non-CRM functionalities, such as compliance and governance. As a result, much of the data that the tool collected did not provide insights into seller behavior. In addition, modifying the platform to support process or business changes had become complex and resource-intensive.

When a seller logged on to the CRM system to create and manage opportunities, the complex application presented many roadblocks, such as duplicate data, multiple web pop-up forms, and an overwhelming product catalog. Sellers reported spending as much as 1.5 days per week just on administrative tasks. The system also did not return meaningful seller insights to support strategic decisions, or even provide a clear path through the process itself. In addition, collaboration between team members was not integrated.

In short, the sales process and supporting CRM system were inefficient, difficult to maintain, and did not represent the role of the primary user—the seller. At best, the CRM system functioned as a pipeline management, forecasting, and general reporting application. It managed day-to-day activity, but did not enable sales. Microsoft wanted to change the platform’s overall focus from collecting business management data to empowering sellers. Microsoft also wanted to remove the latencies that were inherent in the system:

  • Cognitive latency. Users had no way to know what to do next and had many opportunities to make errors along the way.

  • Application latency. The system was slow and bogged down by customized data flows. For example, ten separate pop-up forms were required to search accounts and then create an opportunity.

  • Process latency. Users had to make their way through an overwhelming amount of data that hindered their effectiveness. For example, a catalog of over 3,500 items included products that were irrelevant to a particular seller’s role, such as Xbox hardware accessories.

Live like a customer

Microsoft knew that it had a problem. The annual Speed and Agility survey, which was designed to help measure seller productivity, gives the field community an opportunity to provide feedback and ideas about how to improve the processes and tools that support their organization. Feedback on the survey overwhelmingly pointed to a system that both hampered opportunity management, and made it difficult to discover customer needs and the appropriate products to purchase. In short, the system created significant dissatisfaction. Therefore, the executive team used the survey feedback to prioritize improvements to the sales platform and related processes.

At the same time, Microsoft wanted to demonstrate to its customers that it uses what it sells, and also show them exactly where they fit into the sales process. When customers see themselves in a production CRM tool that is built with Microsoft technologies, they are more likely to perceive Microsoft sellers as trusted advisors. Therefore, Microsoft seized the opportunity to simplify its processes and then create a new sales platform.

Microsoft corporate and field groups formed a strong partnership across the enterprise and committed to delivering a new sales platform that is designed around the user. Field engagement was coordinated across the business, and focused on a natural seller workflow. Where the past emphasis on scorecard metrics caused tension, Microsoft first optimized the new platform for a natural seller workflow and the customer, and then incorporated appropriate executive-level scorecard and insight components.

Before the platform could be changed, Microsoft needed to identify requirements for the sales platform. Field tours were organized across subsidiaries to observe sellers in action and to conduct interviews about opportunity management. Field advisory councils presented role-specific conceptual prototypes for evaluation and feedback.


Before Microsoft could roll out a new sales platform, the business process itself had to be redefined and simplified. Microsoft distilled a core sales process, and then developed requirements for the supporting platform.

Microsoft knew that in order to use a product out of the box, it could only be configured, not customized. Any customization puts load on a system and creates potential barriers to the application of updates. The more standardized the product, the more quickly configuration changes can be made or new functionality can be adopted at scale. Therefore, the goal was to adjust business processes, not the CRM solution. By using this approach, Microsoft created a platform that was more responsive to business needs—and reduced its development cycles from 18 months to just a few weeks.

Because of the requirement to configure and not customize Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft removed non-CRM functionality of the old CRM system that was considered mission-critical. Those functions and tools now surface in Windows Apportal for Sales as additional applications.

Simplified process

Microsoft completely rebuilt its sales process from the ground up, scoping it to essential functionality only. Any functionality considered non-essential was moved to Windows Apportal for Sales. Hundreds of business rules were reduced to just a handful.

The Microsoft Selling Process (MSP) replaced the direct selling process that Microsoft had used for over ten years. MSP is the standard, step-by-step process for managing opportunities. It crosses the entire Microsoft enterprise and requires only a few business rules to support selling.

MSP effectively accelerates opportunities and reduces risk while keeping the customer at the center of all selling activities and helping sales teams focus on solving key business issues for customers. MSP guides sellers through all phases of the sales process, prompts them for information at appropriate times, and leads them to next steps. It also facilitates consistent team orchestration.

This new sales process consists of three phases:

  1. Create a lead and qualify it into an opportunity.

  2. Achieve customer buy-off and agreement.

  3. Finalize contracts and plan next steps.

Simplified platform

The goal of the new direct sales experience was to empower teams by simplifying and standardizing the sales tools and processes that they use every day, maximizing the time that sellers work on customer-related activities, and enhancing interaction and collaboration within the sales team. Once the sales process was simplified, the sales platform could be designed around it. Microsoft mapped the process to the native features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, and then enabled Microsoft Office 365 applications and collaboration and communication tools.

By configuring Microsoft Dynamics CRM features instead of customizing the code, Microsoft iterated quickly and could rapidly respond to business needs on a global scale. Even before the product was deployed to production, Microsoft benefited from this flexibility. Over a nine-month period, interactive prototypes were quickly created and repeatedly modified in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Because the prototypes were configured, not customized through code, non-engineers could create them. Working prototypes were used to validate the approach and design, and provided a detailed sense of how the tool would work in production. Most importantly, feedback was repeatedly solicited from users during prototyping. Minor changes were made, prototypes were quickly released again, and feedback was solicited again. In this way, many small but important changes were made before moving to production.

When Microsoft deployed Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online to production, adherence to the configure-only approach significantly simplified the application and simplified processes within the application. To protect its commitment, Microsoft created a structured governance process to consider requests for customized Microsoft Dynamics CRM code, and set the bar very high. Director-level approval was required for any custom code.

Microsoft IT and the sales organization’s leaders designed a system that includes multiple seller personas at its core. They simplified the technology and configured it to help sellers work more efficiently, both in their own interactions with customers and across the larger team. The solution supports the end to end customer experience—from relationship management, to business insights, to strategic forecasting.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online provides the framework.

With Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online serving as the primary customer management framework, sellers work their way through the MSP. A workflow bar walks sellers through all steps of the customer relationship, from creating leads, to developing opportunity strategy, to negotiating terms, and proving value. Sellers always know what stage of the process they are in, and what they need to do to move forward.

Figure 1. Direct sales workflow increases sales productivity with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365**
Figure 1. Direct sales workflow increases sales productivity with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365**

Integrated reporting documents customer engagement details at all points in the process. The Social pane is central to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online user interface. It incorporates Microsoft Yammer (private social networking) to communicate with the sales team and across the larger company.

Microsoft Skype for Business simplifies customer communication. Sellers can click to call a customer’s phone number, send an instant message, or set up an online meeting with a customer. The integration of Skype for Business and Microsoft Office means that collaboration from Office apps is supported. Federation allows users to easily add colleagues, and then quickly send an IM, email, or start a call. Users can also start meetings from apps such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint to present documents to a group. Finally, CRM for Microsoft Outlook relates Outlook data (such as email messages, appointments, and tasks) to CRM records (such as opportunities, contacts, and accounts). As a result, this information is synchronized between Outlook and CRM.

Windows Apportal for Sales

The “front door” to the direct sales experience is Windows Apportal for Sales. Whereas Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online supports the primary customer and relationship management workflow, Windows Apportal for Sales supports rich mobile experiences, business intelligence (BI), and tool functionality.

Before Windows Apportal for Sales existed, the features and functionality that it provides might have been hosted in line of business (LOB) applications, or the CRM system could have been customized to support them. Windows Apportal for Sales separates non-CRM functions from the CRM system, but presents them alongside CRM in a cohesive split-screen view. Importantly, Windows Apportal for Sales presents only the apps and tools that are specific to a particular seller’s role. This filtered presentation eliminates unnecessary searches and provides a simplified and comprehensive view.

Figure 2. Windows Apportal for Sales
Figure 2. Windows Apportal for Sales

In addition to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, Windows Apportal for Sales hosts the following key components:

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online mobile app. Microsoft IT took advantage of the default mobile version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online that runs on Windows tablets and Windows phones. The mobile app is available both online and offline, and provides users with all the desktop tools and functionality of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. This is significant for sellers in remote geographic regions who regularly travel through areas that lack Wi-Fi, because they can work from their phone or tablet. For most other sellers, the mobile app enables real-time, team-based selling. For example, a user can photograph a whiteboard, attach it to customer notes, and make the image immediately available for the extended sales team. In this way, time to insight and time to action are reduced.

  • Power BI. Power BI provides rich, standardized operational insights to support workbench activities such as customer pipeline assessment and forecasting.

  • Sales tools and additional information. Additional apps support customer activities such as forecasting, profiling, and the analysis of deployment and usage. Role transformation and reference materials are hosted, and other mobile apps are available.

Powered by Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure cloud-based services scale instantaneously to manage synchronization and high-volume data flow. Effectively, 99.9 percent of data is synchronized immediately at any point. In addition, Azure makes data available to related applications that rely on CRM data, such as Power BI and Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, and an operational data store creates a real-time copy of every CRM transaction. In the earlier platform, by contrast, CRM data queues got backed up, and a four-hour synchronization service level agreement (SLA) across multiple Microsoft Dynamics CRM instances was required.

Change management and adoption

Microsoft successfully rolled out the direct sales experience to over 25,000 users worldwide in less than a year. The goal was to rapidly and fully adopt the new sales platform, and retire the old one. Rapid adoption was necessary to realize total cost of ownership (TCO) savings between the two platforms.

Layered sponsorship, local sponsorship, and local adoption champions helped build support and evangelism. Local support bridged cultural issues, and communicated actionable feedback to development and project management teams. In addition, user-centered design efforts were a critical input, and influential end users were engaged throughout the design phase. This enabled better end-user awareness and credible evangelism.

Layered sponsorship

Microsoft committed itself to understanding user needs at all levels. Feedback from the field had repeatedly made the case that Microsoft needed an improved sales process and platform. Investments in local teams generated a willingness to absorb temporary productivity impacts while the solution was rolled out.

Engaging local user teams was easier, because improving the sales platform was identified as a business-driven effort, not simply an IT or executive mandate. A structured, diverse governance model facilitated direct dialog between users and engineers. User groups were invited to test iterations of the tool so that they could explore its capabilities and provide feedback.

Executive sponsorship reached to the highest levels of Microsoft, driving the organization to create a solution that could strongly compete in the CRM space. Groups worked together to engage users and understand and document their requirements. Adoption was driven by demonstrating the superiority of the tool, rather than by executive mandate.

Local adoption teams

Microsoft used LATs to smoothly transition all users to the new direct sales experience platform. These LATs consisted of users and stakeholders from both the Sales, Marketing, and Services Group, and local IT. LATs were created for all affected countries or regions around the world and were essential to adoption on an enterprise level. They coordinated and centralized adoption efforts and operations, paying specific attention to subsidiary needs.

Each LAT included the following members:

  • Area capability lead (ACL). The ACL partnered closely with local sponsors to ensure their involvement and input in key decisions and activities. The ACL provided a portfolio view of all landing activities, and identified dependencies between initiatives and impact on field roles. The ACL also coordinated the working team about scorecard progress and triaged ongoing barriers in conjunction with the FSM teams.

  • Field solution manager (FSM). The FSM, a dedicated IT resource, coordinated engagement between the global program team and the LAT. They resolved critical issues, elicited input from local super users, and drove adoption in the local user community. FSMs also provided guidance to ensure that local data was clean, validated, and ready for launch. They communicated most directly with deployment project managers, creating a single point of contact for change management. FSMs hosted informal awareness sessions, and established office hours where users could drop in to ask questions about the new solution.

  • Subsidiary sponsor. The subsidiary sponsor approved subsidiary participation and success criteria, sent key local communications, sponsored local deployment events, and provided the final commitment to launch the platform.

  • Business integration lead. The business integration lead worked on behalf of the subsidiary sponsor and the local leadership team to ensure project success. The business integration lead provided direction to the FSM and segment representatives, ensured that the appropriate local resources were engaged, and were the primary local point of contact for the corporate sales excellence team.

  • Segment representatives. Segment representatives stood for the perspective of specific business groups, such as Partner, Services, or EPG, during local business environment analysis. They identified and engaged appropriate super users, took steps to help consolidate local data impacts, and planned data migration mitigations and data maintenance processes.

  • Super users. Super users participated in early previews and provided input before launch. They evangelized the platform within the sales team and subsidiary, and included a mix of seller and sales manager roles across segments.

Phased rollout

Microsoft began its production rollout in the Austrian subsidiary. Austria was chosen because it had some complexities of the major subsidiaries, but its business operations were clearly understandable. The Austrian team was eager to participate as a sponsor, committed to the mission of having Microsoft be the first and best customer of its own products, and willing to take on some risk to productivity.

After the Austrian rollout, the technical development and execution teams partnered to rapidly drive the deployment forward. With each deployment phase, the teams iterated faster, tested on a daily basis, and deployed across progressively larger populations. An agile sprint development model was used to deploy production releases approximately once a month. This methodology delivered more releases, each of which had fewer features, instead one monolithic release that had an overwhelming number of features. Frequent releases resulted in closer interaction between the deployment teams and user groups, and feedback could be applied to discrete functions. In addition, training was manageable, because each release was narrower and progressive in scope. Lessons that were learned in the smaller geographic regions were applied to later rollouts, which covered larger populations.


Four sets of user messages were sent throughout the deployment process. The messaging began with initial awareness and anticipation in the field, followed by specific preparedness communications in advance of the launch. Users were fully informed and prepared before they received the formal launch communications that were sent at the time of deployment. The final stage of communication was to recognize and reward the efforts and results of the people who were responsible for a successful deployment.


Microsoft wanted to deliver flexible and self-directed readiness offerings that, like the sales platform itself, could quickly iterate and update with the business. In addition, Microsoft wanted to support different learning preferences. To meet these goals, Microsoft delivered self-directed productivity guides, videos, and a Microsoft OneNote notebook. It also provided instructor-led training for managers.

Microsoft also wanted to deliver comprehensive self-service readiness offerings that would be easy to use and navigate. Productivity guidance topics included “Getting started,” “Navigating in Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online,” “Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Outlook,” “Navigating the Microsoft Dynamics CRM for tablets app,” and “Creating personal views.” The Austrian subsidiary suggested using Microsoft OneNote as a readiness vehicle, because its users were familiar with the program and used it regularly. OneNote has several advantages as a content delivery platform: it is easy to search, it can be made available on any device, and content is easy to update. The “Microsoft Sales Experience” OneNote notebook compiled the productivity guides, so that users could either browse through the topics or search for particular content.

Figure 3. OneNote readiness notebook
Figure 3. OneNote readiness notebook

In previous deployments, a traditional classroom training model meant that sellers had to be away from their business for two hours. For the direct sales experience program, a shift was made toward a more flexible delivery model. Focused five-minute videos were bundled into a core fundamentals offering, and provided the bulk of the readiness content that sellers needed to get up and running. The video content was hosted through a corporate readiness portal, and sellers could watch the videos whenever they wanted, at their own desk. FSMs, who previously would have been classroom trainers now served as direct problem solvers and coaches. FSMs were made available in a variety of ways—onsite in conference rooms, over Yammer, or via virtual question and answer calls. The focus was personal and on-demand, and concentrated on what users needed.

Self-service content was staged two weeks before each subsidiary rollout. Communications were sent to inform people that the system change was approaching. Users were prompted to complete 25 minutes of training, and were informed that FSMs would be on site and available to help. After those communications, content use metrics would help determine the intensity of follow-up email messaging. In some cases, FSMs went from desk to desk, encouraging people to prepare.

Some direct instructor-led training was delivered to the sales manager community. This training provided the context behind the migration, and prepared sales managers to coach their teams through the process change and its impact. More importantly, the training conveyed how the new tools would empower process changes and helped the sales managers feel more confident about the system. The training included only a limited number of demonstrations to illustrate how sellers would work in the new tool; instead, the overall message conveyed by the content was one of impact and empowerment.

Microsoft provided feedback loops for users to share both positive and negative reactions to the direct sales experience program. The team was able to accomplish this at global scale by using enterprise social platforms, including Yammer and a third-party tool. When users reported bugs or suggested improvements, the project team could easily review and consider them for future solution improvements.

Deployment toolkit and user impact assessment

Two additional key aspects of the change management program were the use of a deployment toolkit and execution of a user impact assessment before rollout. The toolkit provided details for every deployment milestone, a collection of best practices, documents to help FSMs complete milestones, and an easy mechanism to provide feedback to the deployment team. The user impact assessment collected all feedback from each deployment and was designed for follow-up action plans to address negative impacts.


  • Cost avoidance. By transitioning six on-premises CRM tenants to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft avoids costs of $834K per year. When the shutdown of the old CRM system is factored in, the cumulative realized cost avoidance is $1.9M per year.

  • Seller productivity. More selling hours are available to sellers, with less administrative time and tool time required.

  • Seamless team-based selling. The integration of collaboration functionality means that different parts of the business can more easily work together to cross-sell and up-sell. For example, the Services business can now collaborate with Technology Sales, or Specialist teams can now work with Customer Sales teams.

  • Reduced time to close. By delivering a simple, role-specific platform that integrates team collaboration, Microsoft has shortened decision cycles and engagement cycles, and increased close rates. Sellers can now focus on their most important opportunities and maximize the dollar value of their opportunities.

  • Rapid product innovation. The decision to configure changes instead of coding them speeds innovation. New features can be implemented and used rapidly. Feedback about the new features can then be quickly digested and integrated into the system before the next monthly sprint. Change is responsive and ongoing.

  • Increased user satisfaction. Since the release of the direct sales experience program, user satisfaction in US and Canadian subsidiaries increased by 85 percent.

Lessons learned

Over the course of the project, Microsoft learned the following lessons:

  • Move quickly to complete the project in one fiscal year, if possible. Enforceable deadlines make change management easier, and because projects are funded on a fiscal-year basis, momentum and continuity are put at risk if a project crosses over into the next year. Also, staff turnover is inevitable, as people move between projects or teams. Therefore, by managing the project duration and keeping it to a single year, people are more likely to see the project through to completion.

  • By focusing on simplifying and standardizing the process, the team quickly delivered a new sales platform that maximizes the time that can be dedicated to customers and enhances interaction and collaboration within the sales team.

  • Focus on change management instead of business continuity. During the rollout, Microsoft accepted a reasonable amount of business disruption, provided that mitigation plans were in place. This allowed the business to keep moving forward even if there were temporary disruptions in service.

  • Take advantage of native functionality wherever possible, and limit customization. For example, because Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online was largely used out of the box, multi-device mobile apps were automatically available. Configuration-only changes allowed the business to rapidly deliver working prototypes to users, implement changes on those prototypes, and iterate again. The decision to configure instead of customize reduced overall complexity and sped up deployment.

  • Empower a small team to prototype and design. Microsoft created a base platform and then engaged business stakeholders who were invested in the outcome.

  • A phased rollout approach enabled the team to learn and apply lessons learned along the way, undertake successively larger deployments, and eventually deploy worldwide.

  • Obtain sponsorship at the most senior executive level in the organization. Senior sponsorship cascaded through the organization and fostered a willingness to accept service interruptions in the course of deployment.

  • Consider a local impact analysis. Microsoft dedicated time to talk through the changes with local teams, and found this approach productive. Microsoft also found it valuable to invest in local adoption teams for evangelization and support.

  • Focus on user-centered design. Adoption was easier, because users had already bought into the design.

  • Focus on the role-based experience. It is impossible to make one size fit all. Windows Apportal for Sales enables specific seller roles.

  • Strong governance is required to keep everyone committed to the design principles.


Microsoft partnered across the enterprise and invested heavily in user analysis to reinvent its direct sales process and platform. The result is a streamlined and fast CRM system that can quickly be modified to adopt new functionalities, and adapted to meet business needs. The platform scales with demand and focuses above all on the role of the seller. The direct sales experience program has helped avoid costs, and increased seller productivity and satisfaction.

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For more information

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