I've been eating tapas in Barcelona at Microsoft Convergence.

One area I was keen to discuss with Microsoft was retail, an industry the tech giant is doing more in, not just with vanilla CRM but also POS, end-to-end solutions and web.

I spoke to Seth Patton, senior director of marketing for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Here's what he had to say about change in this sector.

I.T. leaders and business leaders are working together more. CMOs have more of an influence on technology purchasing. How are you seeing that play out and has it altered how you go to market?

The macro trend is that purchases for IT are becoming more distributed and more influenced by the business, versus IT.

And that’s true when you look at corporate IT. but also business unit IT (department level), so a big part of that has been SaaS coming in.

It’s very easy for someone in operations or somebody in marketing or sales, to whip out a credit card and not have a conversation with IT.

There are some of our competitors who take more of an approach of avoiding IT, but we think there’s still a very important role for IT and CIOs to have an overall strategy and to think about how these different tools work together or with existing investments.

So, we have specific communications that are more tailored for business, a CMO series for example, we target specific VP Sales for example, but almost always we’ll say ‘here’s the value for IT as well’. We try to make everyone happy.

The CMO is a great example though [of this trend] and not just in retail. It starts out, maybe they own the website, then they own data and analytics around that, and the budgets they have are pretty big around campaign spend but before you know it that starts to encompass technology and you see it merging with ops and IT.

Is it easier to work with new retail businesses, compared to people with a tech stack already in place?

Retail is in huge transformation right now. I would say omnichannel is all about delivering better customer service and experience.

It’s amazing how many retailers, even though they may have different channels today, aren’t making them work together for even simple things, like purchasing online and collecting in-store.

It’s amazing how for a lot of established retailers those are two different channels. So we look at providing single inventory, single catalogue, you can have a wish list on your website and then there’s a clientelling app that a store associate can use and see where you have browsed and say ‘let me show you that item in store’.

Or if it’s not available in store, is it available online? Are you able to do that transaction, whether it’s self-service ecommerce, point of sale or on a clientelling application.

So we’re doing that for large retailers like Carrefour, also a number of US and UK retailers - a lot of fashion retailers, actually, in the UK - some of which are new companies and some have been around for a long time and are trying to modernise their operations on the backend and their supply chains, warehousing, distribution, through to store operations with associates.

It's about connecting with customers in a way that’s seamless across channels.

microsoft industry focus 

And are these existing customers in other areas that are now looking to you for retail solutions?

Almost always customers like to know we have a vision that encompasses everything.

So they’ll start in one place with us and often get involved with another technology, too. Like Jean Coutu, a huge pharmaceutical company in Canada, where we competed and won against SAP for order management and financials, but now they’re rolling out a POS with us.

Sometimes they start on the POS side, sometimes they start on the backend.

But we’ll always try to tie it back to productivity, so in retail it might be about making the store associates more productive.

jean coutu

The scope for CRM, automation, end-to-end retail etc. is obvious. To what extent do your customers have to train or indeed change their staff to use this new technology?

Our goal is to make that learning curve as easy as possible with things like lifecycle services - one of our tools that allows partners to rapidly deploy our solutions. It preconfigures or automates deployment.

So we’re focused on tools and then the user experience in a way we believe over time means you shouldn’t need a training manual. We’re continuing to engineer the processes so they naturally direct a user.

What’s next for Microsoft CRM?

We’re constantly evaluating both the industry solutions we have and the individual products.

We don’t have health up here [on my slide of verticals], but health we’re looking at strongly as the potential next one.

Often times, it’s down to inflections in a market, technology changes and innovation. Health, if you look at the spend and the sensor driven technology [creating more data] and the extent of patient doctor relationships.

So will you end up marketing more by industry, rather than technology?

I think you’ll see a trend towards more relevant business marketing [of CRM and associated solutions], whether that’s industry or function.

The goal is to make sure we’re talking about our products in the most relevant way. You have to use terminology that resonates with business leaders.

Ben Davis

Published 5 November, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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