One of my favorite things about working as a developer who builds solutions for Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the sense of camaraderie found within the Dynamics community. The beauty of the software is that it has near infinite use cases, and so its millions of users often congregate, both online and off, to share tips, troubleshoot problems, and even commiserate over their frustrations with the product.
I’ve particularly enjoyed interacting with this community after releasing software add-ons. Working for Cobalt, a CRM consulting company, my team has produced two important add-on solutions for Dynamics. The first, called CRM Snapshot, allows you to create regular onsite backups of your data, recover deleted records, and create copies of existing records. The second, called CRM Intelligent Query, allows you to create “does not have” or “does not exist” queries using the standard Advanced Find interface. Both have proved popular, generating thousands of downloads.
They’ve also given me new insights into the benefits of developing these types of add-ons. Given that both applications are free to use, one might wonder why a skilled developer would spend countless hours building them with no immediate return. But I’ve found the benefits to be substantial, both for me as a developer and for Cobalt. Here are five observations I made during the process:
Microsoft Dynamics needs a central repository for add-ons
Salesforce, the main CRM competitor to Microsoft Dynamics, has for years hosted its Appexchange, a central repository through which developers can distribute and promote apps they’ve built for the Salesforce platform. Microsoft tried its hand at creating its own platform for add-ons, but it never took off and lies mostly dormant.
Because of this, searching for and promoting add-ons for Dynamics is an inefficient process, with most add-on seekers having to try multiple searches in Google before they stumble across the correct one. By making this process so difficult, Microsoft may be hurting its reputation within the developer community and giving its competitors an edge.
Add-ons should be integrated within the CRM
One of the things I’ve noticed is that many of the add-ons for Dynamics are designed as Windows applications that each individual must download to their desktop; the functionality they provide doesn’t actually live within the CRM itself. This, I believe, is the wrong approach, the drawback being that you’re downloading an app that can’t be shared with others in the CRM. Instead, I recommend an integrated approach to add-ons, building them so they operate for all CRM users, regardless of what device they’re logging in through.
Add-ons are a form of marketing
As I mentioned, our two add-ons have been downloaded thousands of times, and because we required that a user supply an email address to download the add-on, this allowed us to generate a highly-targeted list to which we can market ourselves. Not only did we see a lot of Twitter activity around our releases, but our brand recognition has been elevated, as evidenced by people coming up to us at conferences and thanking us for our contribution to CRM.
They differentiate us from our competitors
In addition to serving as a marketing vehicle, add-ons allow you to establish your expertise and familiarity with the Dynamics platform. We face hundreds of competitors in the CRM space, so it’s helpful that we can show a potential client that we have the knowledge and creativity to produce meaningful solutions that go well beyond the out-of-the-box software.
They allow us to “give back” to the community
Dynamics CRM wouldn’t be as robust a product as it is without a community that’s willing to collaborate and experiment in devising increasingly innovative solutions to everyday business problems. As a developer, I’ve benefited immensely from others’ work and so it gives me a sense of fulfillment that I can give back. Whether it’s creating add-ons, contributing to discussions in user forums, or presenting at conferences, nothing gives me more pleasure than knowing that a comment or piece of software I’ve created will fundamentally change the way someone does business for the better.