Dynamics CRM 2013 “Hello World” (Almost Literally)

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Introduction

With the rare opportunity of a few days to simply “play” with the new CRM 2013 I thought I’d use it to implement my own particular version of “Hello World” by converting over all my personal contacts and running a campaign to catch up with them.  Here’s a short light-hearted account of the process and the value of staying connected.

You can also read the follow up to this post in which I create an Azure portal to connect to my CRM instance.

Samuel Johnson

As the 18th century literary giant and dictionary dude Samuel Johnson once said “A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in a constant repair.” I know what he means, as halfway through my adult life I moved abroad and without that constant attention things certainly slowly cool and you find yourself out of step with people that were once really valued friends.  There’s nothing worse than guiltily picking up the phone after far too long and realizing that you can’t remember his kid’s names or whether he got divorced.  The simple fact is that we are social creatures and friendships need time and energy invested to keep them in tip top condition.

It’s a sound philosophy and we have even less excuse in today’s ultra-connected world to let old friends and acquaintances slip off our radar when the plethora of social networking tools and “people you may know” suggestions are doing half the work for us – to ensure that we all remain just five hops away from Kevin Bacon…

Address Book Roulette

I used to practice “address book roulette” as an antidote to this friendship malaise – every Sunday I would pick two or three random names out of my contact list and give them a call to stay in touch.  Johnson had his literary salons, inviting his nearest and dearest to sink fortified wines and improve their chances of catching gout – I have my random phone calls.

The calls were good, there’s no substitute for real human contact, but I realized that over time my address books was getting further and further out of date and all I had was perhaps a single active email address per name.  If I wasn’t careful all that would remain of once great friendships would be a few rapidly-exchanged, but essentially empty, pleasantries in my in-box and a bare-looking Outlook contact card.

I decided it was time for a serious data quality update – a marketing campaign to let all my old friends know that I still valued them and wanted to stay in touch.  I wanted postal addresses to send them the odd surprise letter, their kid’s birthdays so I could fire off a congratulatory email at least a few times a year, wedding dates for special anniversary reminders and alternative phone numbers and emails so I preserved multiple ways of ensuring we didn’t lose touch.  And I wanted this straight away to work on during the rare window when I boss had tasked me to look at Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.

Hammer and Walnut

So in the great eccentric English spirit of using a hammer to crack a walnut, I decided to import all of my personal address data from the only half-reliable source I had (and this will give you an indication of the scale of the problem) – an old MS Access database from 2001 into a professional CRM system.

I chose to do this import into Microsoft’s latest Dynamics CRM 2013 offering, using one of their free 30 day online trial instances.  I cannot resist anything free and perhaps half the motivation in staying in touch with so many people is so that I can go and sleep on sofas when I visit their parts of the world.

As far as possible the other aim was for this noble friendship repair exercise to cost nothing in terms of money and nothing in terms of effort – zero code for migrating or manipulating the data – as I am also, by nature an incredibly lazy person (but then Samuel Johnson himself rarely got out of bed before midday and look at what he achieved!)

Here’s a little walkthrough then of essentially running a data import and clean and a mini campaign using as many free tools as possible – CRM Dynamics, my local Outlook client and Hotmail!

Customisation

The first challenge was to make the small necessary tweaks to CRM 2013 to support the data that I wanted to store about my friends.  I was going to use one contact record per friend with their spouse and children’s names.  All of that is there out of the box but I also wanted to store a list of birthdays with the contact so all the dates would be centralized with the contact record.

The functionality hasn’t changed here since CRM 2011; I created a publisher and then set up a new Birthday entity in a solution which has an N:1 relationship with the Contact.  I set up the forms, views and reports for this entity and also the quick create and view forms, new for CRM 2013.

Finally I configured two business rules (new for CRM 2013) to ensure that depending on the state of the “Has Children” field, the “Children’s Names” field would be displayed or hidden, something that I would’ve needed to do with JavaScript before.

Data Transfer

With the CRM changes published, I exported my data out of MS Access in to two Excel worksheets – one for contacts and one for birthdays with the original MS Access ID imported into an “Archive ID” field so that I could tie the two together on import.

Visualisation

After a few attempts to iron out initial import issues the data was in and I was then free to build some very quick fun reports to see how my circle of friends breaks down in terms of gender, country of residence and contact type (chum, colleague, family etc.)  With the birthday data I also produced a nice graph showing birthdays per year with a nice binomial peak indicating that the majority of my friends had their children around the 28 year old mark!

ImageIt was also great to have Bing maps integrated directly for instant maps of where my friends live.

Business Process

To test drive the new CRM 2013 business process designer, I created a “data quality” business process which walked me through (per contact) verifying the main details and confirming that I would create an email Activity to contact that person.

The business process is a nice way to visualize a linear process and is a valuable addition to CRM but I did note two key restrictions for my scenario: –

1)      It is always a manual operation to move to the next stage and if you want to automate this you need to rely on plug in code.

2)      You can’t reset a business process once it is completed without using code.  Ideally I wanted to run my “data quality” check each year with all complete business processes reopened at stage 1 in January.  I would need code to do this.

Campaigns and Quick Campaigns

I ran these in much the same way I would have done in CRM 2011, building marketing lists and distributing activities to send out an email based on a template that was stored in my solution.  Working through this process in the new user interface felt a lot slicker and simpler than it did in previous CRM versions.

To distribute my emails I configured my local Outlook client to connect to my Hotmail account and to synchronise with CRM.  I noted that CRM seemed to push out about 20 emails every 10 minutes rather than attempting to send the whole campaign mail shot the next time it synchronized.  I also noticed that you can add an unsubscribe link which I don’t believe I saw before which is a simple mailto: URL.

I also noted that for a proper professional set up you’d consider doing this via the new Email Synchronisation option which replaces the CRM 2011 Email Router and allows CRM to communicate directly with Exchange.

Responses

From this point on I was back on familiar CRM 2011 territory, tracking emails from Outlook and building up a history of communications with each friend.  It had been a simple yet informative exercise to essentially redo a familiar set of steps with the new CRM 2013 interface and I finished it a few hours ahead of the CRM 2013 Global Launch at Convergence Barcelona where I was able to get a tweet out on the live broadcast.

Make Happy

Since the whole purpose of the exercise had been to stay in touch with friends, some almost long-lost it seemed to chime in well with the Microsoft launch spiel that CRM is all about “People to People” and “Making Happy”.

And, also rather timely, just a few weeks before I had seen a great bit of graffiti in Geneva which stated in bold white letters “Happiness is only real when shared”.  I liked this so much I set up a “positive graffiti” group on Facebook to collect other examples and it struck me that this is essentially at the heart of what you try to do with a CRM and certainly what I wanted to achieve with my little friend-to-friend play with the tool as I said “Hello World”.

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Posted on November 5, 2013, in CRM General. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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