Diagnostic leveraging of the Accelerated POC with the CRM Online service

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by Chandru Shankar Nilesh Thakkar Vincent Bellefroid | January 2014 | Enterprise Articles

This article written by Chandru Shankar, Vincent Bellefroid, and Nilesh Thakkar, the authors of the book Customer Success with Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step discusses the activities and covers in detail the Decision Accelerator Offerings that help to accelerate the sales cycles and bring them to a close while also helping the customer with their due diligence process.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

For customers considering Dynamics CRM solutions, online or on-premises, Sure Step introduced a service called Accelerated Proof of Concept with CRM Online. This service was designed to take advantage of free trial licenses that can be afforded to prospective customers, giving them the ability to "test drive" the CRM Online solution on their own before deciding to move forward with solution envisioning and solution acquisition. Microsoft Dynamics is one of the unique solution providers in the world to give customers the same foundational code base for both on-premises and online solutions. Thus, customers may validate the functionality on CRM Online and still choose to deploy the on-premises solution if they so desire. Hence this Sure Step service is titled Accelerated POC with CRM Online as opposed to for CRM Online solutions only.

The activity flow of the Accelerated POC with CRM Online service is shown in the following diagram:

The conceptual design behind this service was to provide some standard scenarios to customers. Customers would then have the ability to upload their own dataset for these scenarios, giving them the ability to quickly validate the corresponding CRM functionality and get a comfort feel for the Dynamics CRM product.

To start with, the Microsoft Services team developed five out-of-box Sales Force Automation (SFA) scenarios that encompassed basic workflows for the following:

  • Lead capture
  • Lead allocation/routing
  • Opportunity management
  • Quote/contract development
  • Contract conversion

The SFA scenarios were made available to the Dynamics partner ecosystem via the CRM Marketplace in the form of a Quick Start package. Besides the solution setup for the scenarios, the package also included a delivery guide, demo scripts, and sample data that could be used as a building block for a customer Proof of Concept for the corresponding scenarios.

Using the previously discussed materials, solution providers could execute high-level requirements and Fit Gap reviews in the first step of this service. If one or more of the scenarios fits with the customer needs, the solution provider can conduct a preliminary business value assessment to get an initial gauge of the solution benefits as well as an architecture assessment to determine how the customer's users would access the system. Following that, the provider's team would set up the system with customer data and turn it over to the customer's assigned users, who could use the remainder of the free trial licenses to test the system. The idea of giving the customer's users a setup with their own data was to make it that much more intuitive to them in testing and evaluating a new system.

The Accelerated POC concept can be leveraged for scenarios besides the five noted if the solution providers develop other predefined scenarios that they commonly encounter in customer engagements and then follow the process previously noted. The Accelerated POC scenarios can also be leveraged as starting points for customer demonstrations of the CRM solution.

It also bears mention that the Accelerated POC was designed to get a quick win for the sales team with a customer by affording them hands-on experience on a limited subset of the CRM functionality. When the customer feels comfortable with that aspect of the solution, the solution provider may avail of the other Decision Accelerator Offering services previously discussed, including Requirements and Process Review, Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint, Architecture Assessment, and Scoping Assessment, to determine the scope of the full solution required for the customer.

The Diagnostic phase for a current Dynamics customer

We covered the Sure Step Diagnostic phase guidance for a new or prospective Dynamics customer. The Diagnostic phase also supports the process for due diligence and solution selling process for an existing Dynamics customer, which is the topic of discussion in this article.

The following diagram shows the flow of activities and services of the Decision Accelerator Offering for an existing customer. The flow is very similar to the one for a prospect, with the only difference being the Upgrade Assessment DA service replacing the Requirements and Process Review DA service.

Much like the flow for a prospect, the flow for the existing customer begins with the Diagnostic preparation. In this case, however, the sales team uses the guidance to explain the capabilities and features of the new version of the corresponding Microsoft Dynamics solution. When the customer expresses interest in moving their existing solution to the current version of the solution, the next step is the Upgrade Assessment DA service.

Assessing the upgrade requirements

The services delivery team has two primary objectives when executing the Upgrade Assessment DA service. First, the delivery team assesses the current solution to determine the impact of the proposed upgrade. Second, they determine the optimal approach to upgrade the solution to the current version.

The Upgrade Assessment DA service begins with the solution delivery team meeting with the customer to understand the requirements for the upgrade. The solution delivery team is usually comprised of solution and/or service sales executives as well as solution architects and senior application consultants to provide real-life perspectives to the customer.

Sure Step provides product-specific questionnaires that can be leveraged for the Upgrade Assessment exercise, including upgrade questionnaires for Microsoft Dynamics AX, CRM, CRM Online, GP, NAV, and SL. In future releases, the Upgrade questionnaires for AX may be replaced by the Upgrade Analysis tool from the new Microsoft Dynamics R&D Lifecycle Services.

In the next step, the solution architect and/or application consultants review the configurations, customizations, integrations, physical infrastructure, and system architecture of the customer's existing solution. The team then proceeds to highlight those requirements that can be met by the new feature enhancements and determine whether there are any customizations that may no longer be necessary in the new product version.

The team also reviews the customizations that will need to be promoted to the upgraded solution and identifies any associated complexities and risks involved in upgrading the solution. Finally, the team will clearly delineate those requirements that are met by current functionality and those that require implementation of new functionality. For the new functionality, the delivery team can avail of the corresponding product questionnaires from the Requirements and Process Review DA service.

The last step in the Upgrade Assessment DA service is to agree upon the delivery approach for the upgrade. If no new functionality is deemed necessary as part of the upgrade, the solution can use the Technical Upgrade project type guidance, workflow, and templates. On the other hand, if a new functionality is deemed necessary, it is recommended that you use a phased approach, in which the first release is a Technical Upgrade to bring the solution to the current product version, and then the ensuing release or releases implement the new functionality using the other Sure Step project types (Rapid, Standard, Enterprise, or Agile).

Applying the other Decision Accelerator Offerings services to upgrade engagements

If the upgrade is strictly to promote the solution to a current, supported release of the product, the solution delivery team can skip the Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint exercise and go to the Architecture Assessment DA service to determine the new hardware and infrastructure requirements and the Scoping Assessment DA service to estimate the effort for the upgrade. The team may also choose to combine all these services into a single offering and just use the templates and tools from the other offerings to provide the customer with a Statement of Work and Upgrade estimate.

If the upgrade is going to introduce a new functionality, depending on the magnitude of the new requirements, the customer and sales teams may deem it necessary to execute or combine the Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint, Architecture Assessment, and Scoping Assessment DA services. This ensures that a proper blueprint, system architecture, and overall release approach is collectively discussed and agreed upon by both parties.

In both cases, the Proof of Concept DA and Business Case DA services may not be necessary, although depending on the scope of the new functionality being introduced in the upgrade, the customer and sales teams may decide to use the Business Case tools to ensure that project justification is established.

After the completion of the necessary DA services, the sales team can proceed to the Proposal Generation activity to establish the Project Charter and Project Plan. The next step is then to complete the sale in the Final Licensing and Services Agreement activity, including agreeing upon the new terms of the product licenses and the Statement of Work for the solution upgrade. Finally, the delivery team is mobilized in the Project Mobilization activity to ensure that the upgrade engagement is kicked off smoothly.

Supporting the customer's buying cycle

The Sure Step Diagnostic phase is designed to help the seller in the solution provider organizations and the buyer in the customer organizations. We also covered the applicability of the phase to the seller; in this article, we will talk about how the customer's due diligence efforts are enabled with a thorough process for selecting the right solution to meet their vision and requirements.

We discussed the stages that correspond to the customer's buying cycle. The following diagram shows how the same Sure Step Diagnostic phase activities and Decision Accelerator Offerings that we applied to the solution selling process also align with the phases of the customer's buying cycle:

  • Phase I: Need Determination
    • The Solution Overview activity
    • The Requirements and Process Review Decision Accelerator service
  • Phase II: Alternatives Evaluation
    • The Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint Decision Accelerator service
    • The Architecture Assessment Decision Accelerator service
    • The Scoping Assessment Decision Accelerator service
  • Phase III: Risk Evaluation
    • The Proof of Concept Decision Accelerator service
    • The Business Case Decision Accelerator service
    • The Proposal Generation activity

Let's first begin by addressing the application of the Decision Accelerator Offering and its services to a customer's perspective. From a seller's perspective, the term offering can be viewed as a sellable unit. But the term Decision Accelerator on the other hand, extends beyond the seller to the customer, as the intent of these units is to help them get expedient answers to their questions and move their decision making process forward in a logical and structured manner. In that context, the Decision Accelerator Offerings term is very much applicable to the customer as well.

The following sections will discuss the alignment of the activities and Decision Accelerator Offering services to the customer's buying cycle. If the reader has not already done so, they are encouraged to review the previous sections to understand the constructs of the Decision Accelerator Offering services as that is not repeated in this article.

Defining organizational needs

The buyer starts their Need Determination phase by understanding the organizational pain points and gathering information on solutions available in the marketplace. The guidance links to additional websites and other information sources in the Diagnostic preparation activity can help address the solution information gathering effort. If the customer's organization operates in an industry covered by Sure Step, they can also gain additional information on how the solution relates to their specific needs in the industry sections.

While the guidance in the Diagnostic preparation activity provides the customer with the external awareness of available solutions, the Sure Step Requirements and Process Review Decision Accelerator service facilitates the customer's understanding of their own internal needs. Using the role-tailored questionnaire templates in this offering, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from the customer team can work through "a-day-in-the-life-of" scenarios for each of the roles so that they can quantify the departmental and organizational needs from a user perspective, rather than from only a product perspective.

Customers can also use detailed process maps as a starting point, especially the new BPM tool to begin visualizing the organization's workflow with the new solution. Again, this helps the customer describe their needs from a user's perspective. Ultimately, the success or failure of a solution is determined by how applicable or pertinent it is to the user, so this point cannot be overemphasized.

The documentation of the requirements and to-be processes forms the basis for the future solution vision. Depending on how they are developed, the customer organization can leverage these documents to conduct a thorough evaluation of the solution alternatives and select the best solution to meet their needs.

Determining the right solution

After the needs are determined, the buyer begins evaluations of the solution alternatives. This is where the Sure Step Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint, Architecture Assessment, and Scoping Assessment Decision Accelerator services can help the customer determine whether the Microsoft Dynamics solution is the right one for them.

As discussed in the earlier section, the Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint DA exercise begins by determining the Degree of Fit of the solution to each of the requirements. Some customers may desire a higher value of the Degree of Fit so as to minimize customizations, while others may be operating in a specialized environment that necessitates a fairly customized solution, and as such, they may be comfortable with a lower value of the Degree of Fit. However, in both the scenarios, the customer will want to ensure that their TCO for the solution is acceptable.

Following the determination of the solution fit, the customer SMEs will work with the solution provider to develop the blueprint for the future solution. The solution blueprint is typically presented to the customer's executive or business sponsor. As such, the document should be written in business language and should clearly explain how the business needs or pains will be met or resolved by the proposed solution.

Armed with the solution blueprint, the buyer then obtains other key information to evaluate whether the solution meets their cost criteria. The Architecture Assessment DA service will provide the customer with the proposed hardware and architecture, with which the customer's procurement department can determine the physical infrastructure costs. Should the customer have any concerns regarding performance, scalability, and reliability of the solution, they can also request more technical validation from the service provider by requesting more detailed analysis in the corresponding areas.

Finally, the Scoping Assessment DA service provides the customer business sponsor with the effort estimate and the associated costs for solution delivery. This exercise also provides the customer with the understanding of the overall approach to delivering the solution, including timelines and projected resources, roles, and responsibilities.

Understanding and mitigating risks

In the last phase of their buying cycle, the customer will want assurances that the projected solution benefits far outweigh the associated risks. The Sure Step Proof of Concept Decision Accelerator service can help allay any specific concerns for the customer's SMEs or departmental leads around a certain area of the solution. The solution delivery team will set up, configure, and customize the solution and will use customer data where possible to show that the application of the solution matches the customer's requirements. Any solution efforts executed in this offering are then carried over to the implementation and become the starting point for solution delivery.

The Sure Step Business Case Decision Accelerator service also helps the customer in this phase of their buying cycle, but more from the perspective of managing the executive and organizational buy-in for the solution. Using an independent analyst-developed ROI tool, this service can help the customer team justify the acquisition of the solution to other key stakeholders in the organization such as the CEO, CFO, or the board of directors. This can be a key step to counter organizational politics, and it can also be very important during the inevitable ebbs and flows of a solution delivery cycle.

Finally, the Sure Step Proposal Generation activity provides the customer sponsor and customer project manager with the overall project charter and project plan, ensuring that they have clear documentation of what has been agreed upon between the buyer and the seller to avoid any assumptions or misunderstandings down the line. The project charter will also identify the risks associated with solution delivery and should outline a mitigation strategy for each of them. The project charter developed by the solution provider may also note any dependencies or assumptions owned by the customer; the customer should ensure that they have the necessary resources in place so that these dependencies do not become impediments to the delivery team.

Approach to upgrade existing solutions

Similar to the evaluation process for a new solution, the Sure Step Diagnostic phase also supports the due diligence process for a current customer looking to upgrade their solution. The following diagram shows a very similar flow to the new solution evaluation, with the only difference being that the Upgrade Assessment DA service now replaces the Requirements and Process Review DA service:

As discussed in the earlier section, the Sure Step Upgrade Assessment Decision Accelerator service captures the business needs for the customer to change or enhance their current solution and determines the best approach to upgrade to the latest version of the solution. If the current solution includes customizations that may no longer be deemed necessary because of new features, the delivery team will identify this. They will also evaluate the complexity for the overall upgrade as well as the release process for the upgrade.

The Upgrade Assessment DA exercise findings will also dictate the degree to which the customer should undertake the Fit Gap and Solution Blueprint, Architecture Assessment, Scoping Assessment, Proof of Concept, and Business Case Decision Accelerator services. Depending upon the magnitude of the new functionality desired, the customer sponsor and SMEs can decide to skip or combine the services as necessary. Regardless of how the DA Offering services are utilized, the project charter and project plan should be developed for the customer in the Proposal Generation activity.


This article discussed the activities and covered in detail the Decision Accelerator Offerings. It also spoke about the ways in which the Diagnostic phase sets the stage for quality implementation by outlining the risks involved. We discuss the selection of the right approach for the deployment as well as the parts that will be played by both the partner and the customer teams.

Resources for Article:

Further resources on this subject:

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About the Author :

Chandru Shankar

Chandru Shankar is the Manufacturing Industry Director, EMEA, MBS. He is responsible for Microsoft Dynamics AX and CRM solutions sales to manufacturing businesses as well as the ongoing success of these customers. Prior to his current role, Chandru was the Dynamics Solutions Director for Microsoft Services, responsible for AX and CRM Dynamics solutions and offerings for WW MCS. Chandru is also the architect of the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step methodology for solution envisioning and delivery. He has previously co-authored the book, Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step 2010,  Packt Publishing , January 2011.

Chandru has several years of consulting experience in Supply Chain and business solutions, as well as manufacturing industry experience. Chandru has also functioned as adjunct faculty for a major university in the U.S., where he has covered topics including supply chain/e-business design and strategy and architecture for MBA students and company executives. He has spoken at multiple internal and external conferences over the years as well as conducted training programs around the world.

Chandru has a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical-Production Engineering, a Master's degree in Industrial Management, and a Master's in Business Administration (MBA).

Nilesh Thakkar

Nilesh Thakkar has over 15 years of ERP and CRM knowledge with expertise across Dynamics GP, NAV, AX, and CRM. He has successfully implemented Dynamics products in many countries in a variety of industries, including supply chain, healthcare, media and publishing, hospitality/restaurants, and non profit.

Nilesh is a Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Dynamics. He is currently responsible for the release management of Dynamics Sure Step and Dynamics GP, most recently orchestrating the launch of Sure Step Online, moving Sure Step to a cloud-based solution.

Vincent Bellefroid

Vincent Bellefroid is the founder and co-owner of Plataan, an independent training and consultancy bureau specialized in Microsoft Dynamics and Project Management, and a Certified Partner of Microsoft. Vincent is an experienced implementation consultant and an expert in the project management domain. Vincent has worked with numerous customer and partner organizations, including global SI's while working for global consulting organizations such as Deloitte. Building upon his distinguished ERP implementation and project management career, Vincent is now responsible for Project Management and Quality Control at Plataan.

Vincent was one of the early adopters of Sure Step in Europe and has been evangelizing the true value of Sure Step ever since. He has conducted multiple Sure Step training sessions, while helping the Microsoft Sure Step team develop the training materials and courseware. Vincent also guides Microsoft Dynamics partners through the certification and adoption process of Sure Step.

Vincent collaborated with Microsoft for the certification exams and delivered EMEA, APAC, and US Sure Step train the trainer  sessions for Microsoft.

Vincent is an author on the book Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step 2010 by  Packt Publishing, and teaches Project Management at Leuven University College in Belgium. Vincent is also a public speaker having delivered sessions at Convergence EMEA, Directions, and various community events.

You can find Vincent and Plataan at:

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