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Building your business through better relationships starts with MPN

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Building reoccurring business

Founded in 2005, CRM Partners is a CRM and Customer Engagement-focused business consultancy and IP services firm with offices in the Netherlands and Germany. Since its inception, the firm’s technology focus has been on creating Microsoft Dynamics solutions and has since expanded to include Azure and other Microsoft cloud solutions. CRM Partners focuses its practice on managed services and developing IP to solve business challenges for three primary verticals: finance, member organizations, and agriculture.

In 2012, the firm changed its IP focus to make all solutions available online. While many of its finance clients are still using on-premises software because of governance, security, and other legal reasons, CRM Partners’ goal is to eventually move all of its customers to the cloud. This transformation wasn’t an overnight decision. For several years, Partner Rik Dubbink and the CRM Partners leadership team had seen technology advance, enabling the move to the cloud and subscription-based sales, but it took a while to understand how to make it work.

“Last year we got into the Cloud Solution Provider Program which was a catalyst to offering more subscription-based solutions to customers. The first time we discussed it was five or six years ago at eXtremeCRM in Berlin. Everyone was talking about it, but no one had a clue how to do it. The Microsoft Cloud Service Provider program has been a catalyst to actually make it happen. Based on the subscription licenses from Microsoft we hook up our own software subscriptions and our managed services and implementation services.”

While not all businesses are yet able to make the move to the cloud, because of legal, privacy, and security reasons, acceptance of this transformation across the business landscape has been rapid.

“From the larger organizations, specifically in the finance vertical, there is still a lot of pushback, however more and more, customers are accepting the cloud as the new normal. For a lot of people, it just makes sense to skip talking about on-prem and about all the hardware and all the funny stuff that they’d have to take care of, and just take the software as a subscription.”

Dubbink says that when having renewal conversations, 80-90 percent of his customers are open to moving to the cloud. With new customers, he says 99 percent see the cloud as the way forward.

Customer research leads to better insight

Since its founding, CRM Partners have had customers in the agriculture industry. The vertical is now the basis of its international growth, however it wasn’t always clear to CRM Partners’ leadership that they were in the farming business.

“We started working with a number of customers and then we [conducted] an exercise to [better understand] our customers. We knew that we had customers in finance and insurance and we knew that we had membership organizations, but when we started analyzing the rest of our customers it turned out that 25% of all of [them] were doing business with farmers,” said Dubbink.

As the CRM Partners team researched its customers, a reoccurring pattern emerged: one customer, an equipment manufacturer, built sprayers used on farms. It turned out that these sprayers were used to apply crop chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. They found that another customer makes the agricultural chemicals that were applied with those sprayers. On further examination, it turned out that about 25 percent of CRM Partners’ customers were in one way or another in the agriculture business: “It was a community of businesses that spoke with one another, that did business with one another,” Dubbink recalled.

Once they understood how intertwined these customers were, the team looked into how these equipment manufacturers, greenhouse operators, and growers did business. They realized that businesses within this vertical had similar CRM needs. With this realization CRM Partners pivoted and created customized IP providing agriculture-specific resource management tools to manage dealers and customers, track stock development and farmers’ needs, and more. Soon, CRM Partners began marketing directly to customers in this vertical.

The benefit of MPN

MPN has provided CRM Partners with valuable networking support, training resources, and access to partners in other countries. When working with the MPN, Dubbink offers some advice: “It’s not about asking a lot from the network, but about what you can give back.” Above all, he recommends taking a thought leadership approach and being committed to “going all in.”

“You have to go all in to the program. See what you can get out of it. Do the work, get the certifications, and start to engage [with MPN] personally on both the local and international level. We actively network with people in MPN, the CSP program, and the Dynamics group.” Dubbink prefers to take a proactive approach and focus on giving to the network rather than asking a lot. “You get out of MPN what you put into it.”

“[You] can’t wait for Microsoft to give leads—partners need to connect on their own.” Dubbink advises partners to get involved with MPN activities, programs, and to make contacts within the network.

A lot of partners in the partner environment wait for Microsoft to give them leads. It’s not about that. It’s about cooperating, actually working together, and trying to achieve results together. We will invest time. We will invest money into the areas that we think are valuable.

- Rik Dubbink, Partner, CRM Partners

Changes in the relationship with Microsoft

Dubbink sits on a partner advisory council for Microsoft and has seen the changes coming out of Redmond. “It hasn’t reached all the subsidiaries yet, completely, but you see the difference in how the programs are handled, how partnerships are handled, how you work together. How Microsoft is more open to collaboration. There is definitely a difference.” Echoing what other members of MPN have said about working with Microsoft, Dubbink added, “If you do the right thing as a partner, if you deliver both for Microsoft, and specifically for the customer, and you deliver quality products and services, we’re seeing Microsoft opening up and saying ‘OK, we work together and we will position you as the Partner in [a given vertical or business area].’ Partners who are on top are now recognized for that.”

Suggestions from CRM Partners on maximizing your Microsoft Partner Network relationship

The Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) offers its members distinct business advantages. Rik Dubbink from CRM Partners offers some recommendations to MPN members to help them get the most out of their relationship.

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Team up with members of the Microsoft Partner Network. Engage on both the local and international level. The value of the network isn’t just what partners get out of the engagement, but also what they contribute.

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Look objectively at your customers

Find hidden verticals. Be prepared to pivot to take advantage of a previously untapped business opportunity.

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Use all available resources

These include training, advice, marketing, leads, and business opportunities. Invest time and money into the programs that you see as valuable. Actively participate.

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Engage proactively

“You can’t just wait for Microsoft to give leads. Partners need to connect on their own, get involved with MPN activities, programs.”

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Get certified

Microsoft certifications illustrate that your firm has the expertise to deploy the solutions your customers are looking for.

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