Microsoft CRM Options for Small Businesses

There are three options available for small business that want a customer relationship management (CRM) solution from Microsoft: Business Contact Manager for Outlook, Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.

Business Contact Manager for Outlook

Business Contact Manager (BCM) is a free add-on for Outlook that enables users to manage leads, contacts, and accounts, and track activities from within Outlook. While it doesn’t offer the power of a dedicated CRM solution like Microsoft
Dynamics, BCM offers three primary benefits: it’s free; it’s easy-to-use; and, it works within Outlook where many small businesses owners spend much of their business day anyway.

BCM has a few limitations, however. It is not a good choice for business with multiple employees that need access to the database, although a SQL Server Express database can be setup up to enable multiple user access. It is also not well suited to companies with traveling sales people because it does not allow remote access to the database, although Contacts can be accessed through Outlook Web Access. Finally, it is not a particularly good choice for businesses that will outgrow the capabilities of BCM. If you think that you will be upgrading from BCM to CRM in the near future, you may wish to consider skipping BCM altogether as it can be difficult to import all of your data from the BCM database to the Dynamics CRM database. The data export function of BCM allows you to export data in .bcm files or in .csv files, but you can only export data associated with one record type at a time using .csv files, which do not include your communication history files. Meanwhile, the .bcm file type, which includes all your data, is not compatible with the Data Importation Wizard of Dynamics CRM.

Business Contact Manager is compatible with Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2010.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM vs. Business Contact Manager

Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a cloud-based CRM solution from xRM, a Microsoft partner that specializes in CRM and private cloud solutions. Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM delivers the full power of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 in an easily-consumable monthly subscription.

Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM is an excellent choice for small businesses for several reasons. First, the minimum user requirement is one Professional license, offering an extremely affordable entry point for small businesses with fewer than five users. Subsequent users can be added at the Basic ($30 per month) or Professional ($65 per month) license levels. Second, there is no long-term commitment, and therefore, no early cancellation fees. Third, Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM subscribers get access to all the sales, service, and marketing automation features that Dynamics CRM 2013 offers. Your business will never outgrow Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and if you decide later to move to CRM Online (or another CRM platform entirely), your data is easily exportable.

The minimum cost of Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM is $65 (1 user * $65) per month, plus a one-time setup fee of $50 per user. Learn more about Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM pricing.

Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM subscribers also get free access to the Success Portal, an online video training library dedicated to Dynamics CRM.

Sign up for a Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM subscription.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is the best option for most companies that need five or more Professional users. It also delivers the power of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 through a convenient cloud model, providing many of the same benefits of Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The primary difference between CRM Online and Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM is that CRM Online is provided by Microsoft from its global network of datacenters, while Hosted Microsoft Dynamics CRM is provided by xRM from its datacenters.

The minimum cost of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is $330 (5 users * $65) per month. Microsoft requires subscribers to sign a one-year contract (early cancellation fees apply) and there is no set up fee.

CRM Online subscribers who name xRM as their partner-of-record (POR) can also request free access to the Success Portal.

Start your free trial of Dynamics CRM Online and discover how Microsoft is revolutionizing CRM.

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The Heartbleed Bug

We have received a number of inquiries regarding the vulnerability of our services to the Heartbleed bug. Fortunately, xRM services are not affected by Heartbleed. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365 services are also not affected.

What is Heartbleed?

Heartbleed refers to a security vulnerability in OpenSSL 1.01 and 1.02 beta. OpenSSL is used by various web, mail, and VPN systems, including some of the most popular websites and email services in the world.

The technical description of the Heartbleed vulnerability states the following:

“The (1) TLS and (2) DTLS implementations in OpenSSL 1.0.1 before 1.0.1g do not properly handle Heartbeat Extension packets, which allows remote attackers to obtain sensitive information from process memory via crafted packets that trigger a buffer over-read, as demonstrated by reading private keys, related to d1_both.c and t1_lib.c, aka the Heartbleed bug.”

In plain English, the Heartbleed bug allows hackers and other malicious types to bypass the encryption used by many servers and obtain sensitive information such as passwords, emails, usernames, and account information from vulnerable servers that make use of the popular OpenSSL library and Transport Layer Security protocol (TSL).

Why are xRM services not affected?

xRM servers do not make use of the affected OpenSSL Library and TSL. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Microsoft Office 365 do not make use of OpenSSL either. All SSL connections to our environment make use of an F5 external load balancer running BIG-IP LTM version 10.2.2. F5 has declared that this version of its load balancer is known not to be vulnerable. Our own investigation has also confirmed that our services are not vulnerable. We will continue to monitor the situation for any additional developments that may place our customers at increased risk of attack.

What about Microsoft Services?

Here is what Microsoft has said about the vulnerability of its own services:

“After a thorough investigation, Microsoft determined that Microsoft Account, Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Yammer and Skype, along with most Microsoft Services, are not impacted by the OpenSSL “Heartbleed” vulnerability. Windows’ implementation of SSL/TLS is also not impacted. A few Services continue to be reviewed and updated with further protections.”

What should I do now?

Since xRM and Microsoft services are currently unaffected, you do not need to do anything beyond taking standard security steps, such as creating strong passwords and keeping them secure.

However, since the Heartbleed bug affects approximately 2/3s of websites, we recommend that you take the following precautions:

  1. Check with the provider of all of your web-based services and accounts. Find out if they are or were vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug.
  2. If your service providers indicate that they were vulnerable but have since fixed the vulnerability, immediately change your passwords.
  3. Consider implementing two-factor authentication as an additional security measure.
  4. Continue to watch your accounts for suspicious activity.

Further Reading

Here is a list of the 100 most popular sites in the US that updates their status courtesy of CNET.

Here is an extensive review of the Heartbleed bug, courtesy of CODENOMICON.

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