Microsoft mulls CRM channel expansion

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As it celebrates a sometimes controversial year of selling customer relationship management (CRM) applications in the Australian market, Microsoft is also weighing up the pros and cons of expanding its pool of CRM channel partners.

"We're delighted with our first 12 months," said Ross Dembecki, lead product manager for the local business solutions division of Microsoft. "We've added a lot of customers and we're developing a strong channel. That gives us a platform for continued growth."

Dembecki would not be drawn on specific growth rates or customer numbers, but said that he expected sales to continue growing through the several dozen active local CRM channel partners. "With the size of the market in Australia, we've really just scratched the surface."

But will Microsoft be looking to add more CRM partners to fuel that growth? "That's always a tough question," said Dembecki.

"Obviously our channel model is such that we have an open policy, but it's not just a case of adding numbers. This is a very different and unique channel for us."

In particular, the need for expertise in .NET development meant that channel certification would remain a core element of the program, Dembecki said. "It's really up to each channel partner to determine if the opportunity is there for them."

A planned upgrade release for Microsoft CRM due later this year might spur additional interest from current channel partners not certified for the CRM product, Dembecki predicted.

Microsoft's original entry into the space was heavily driven by the belief that mid-market customers yet to dabble in CRM would welcome the familiar interface provided by Outlook and other Microsoft applications.

However, that integration has sometimes proved a double-edged sword, with problems reported with the core CRM platform after installing the heavily-promoted Service Pack 2 upgrade for Windows XP.

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