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PROS Looks for Opportunities with Microsoft Dynamics CRM as Software Platform

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August 7, 2012-

PROS Inc. wants to use Microsoft Dynamics CRM to fulfill a dream – delivering a system that gives sales teams an edge to increase their odds of winning business and increasing profits.

“We’re really looking at the dream,” said John Salch, vice president of technology and platforms at PROS, a provider of profitability management and optimization software solutions. “The dream is you have a disconnected sales force on site with the customer. They’re able to build the quote. They’re able to do it quickly and easily, they’re able to wow their customers with what they can do and win the deal. We know we can help them win with the big data applications.”

PROS was one of several enterprise-focused ISVs that Microsoft announced at WPC 2012 would be adopting Microsoft Dynamics as the basis of their upcoming solutions. The publicly traded company had 2011 revenues of $96.4 million and earnings growth of 429%.

Salch said that PROS is looking to the Microsoft application and platform to make it easy to give the company the software that’s going to enable it to deliver what it can do on the tablet or platform the salespeople on. “We’ve taken as part of our strategy to take the optimization tools that we’ve developed, and look for ways to help salespeople outperform their peers and competitors using the transactional data, and analytics from the CRM system,” said Salch. “Salespeople like to work with CRM. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to go out and do things in the CRM system and make it easy for the salesperson to use the software.”

PROS expects to have a preview of its product to show to customers at the end of the first quarter next year.

Better alignment with the Microsoft product line
One of the key reasons PROS decided to build on top of Dynamics CRM is its integration with Microsoft Office.

“The native way that the typical desktop tools that the sales force uses just fit together with Dynamics,” Salch said. “We see predominately in our customer base that Microsoft Office is the main desktop platform that the salespeople use. Excel and Outlook are really ubiquitous tools. The other area is the direction the platform is moving – toward the cloud. So the customer can choose to run in the cloud or it can run on premise. I think that differentiates the product and our customers like to have that flexibility.”

Salch said PROS also liked the tablet capabilities of Dynamics CRM and the fact that planned releases of Dynamics CRM will support Windows 8 and the Metro UI. “That is very interesting to us,” he said. “The salespeople are in the field, we’re seeing tablets are growing more prominently in the mobile workplace. Salespeople don’t want to carry more luggage than they need to when there traveling all over the place. The tablet, in both in its form factor as well as the Metro User Interface as part of Windows 8, is very compelling. It can really help the salespeople get to what they need to quickly, rather than having to wade through tabs and screens and applications.”

Additionally, Salch said with the Windows 8 capabilities as well with the new Surface tablets there will be some interesting offline scenarios.

“Being able to run a native app on the tablet rather than having to use a web browser [is key],” he said. “Some of the CRMs force you to use a web browser to get the rich functionality. The ability to have a native app that can work in a kind of semi-connected [way] or the sales person is moving around, maybe they have 3G, 4G, or WiFi, maybe they don’t. But they don’t want to have an app that isn’t able to do what they need depending on how good their mobile phone, or Internet connection is.”

Learning to work with Dynamics CRM
But there’s somewhat of a learning curve to building on top of the Dynamics CRM platform, he said.

“We’ve traditionally been a Java shop and Dynamics is a .NET platform – very Microsoft-stack orientated,” he said. “We do have a lot of experience with SQL Server. And there are some additional aspects of Dynamics like the way it’s been architected in the platform that’s new to us. We’re having to gain some expertise that we previously didn’t have. We do have some .Net developers, so some of those individuals have expressed interest in this. We’re looking at using our internal team, and were also going to acquire some outside talent.”

Additionally because PROS is a Microsoft ISV, the software giant will provide a “significant” portion of the expertise to help the company develop its product using best practices, Salch said.

“[That way] we don’t architect ourselves into a corner, and then have major refactoring to do when the new version comes out,” he said.

Salch said PROS was getting feedback from its enterprise customers in the manufacturing, distribution, services, and travel industries – typically companies that have done pricing in an ad hoc fashion – that Dynamics was making headway in the enterprise market.

“We’re looking for companies that want to systematize the process, centralize it, put some governance in place, and have software in place to help them with that,” Salch said. “The challenge is a lot of the old technology, they don’t give the sales teams the information that they need to really be successful. They’ll give them a tool, but it doesn’t tell them who their best customers are, how the customers will respond to a suggested price change, or a negotiation. We would like to move to a company with a systematic process, where decisions are made based on information, based on real data.”

Expanding opportunities
The opportunities for a PROS solution built on Dynamics CRM exist, Salch said.

“We also are seeing opportunities for PROS,” he said. “Dynamics is really strong in the mid-market. We’ve got a whole new part of our business that’s driven based on the mid-market, and were hoping to leverage the already-vibrant ecosystem of customers in the mid-market on Dynamics and go selling on that market.”

Customers who come to PROs are typically companies that have done pricing in an ad hoc fashion. They have somebody in a corner who has a spreadsheet, he pulls formulas, talks with somebody, then calculates , and comes up with a price list. These companies hope, but are never sure, that they have the up-to-date price lists. These companies are ready to make smoother decisions and to use business intelligence principals, with the software guiding the process, says Salch.

Looking to the future
At some point, Salch said PROS plans to work with reseller partners. But since this is a new platform for the company, it isn’t currently working with any resellers.

“We don’t have any partners that we’re working with right now,” he said. “We’re in the development stage. We’re not in the selling it stage. We have worked with some mid-market companies to sell on other parts of our businesses. So we do have some experience there. I anticipate very strongly that we will be doing this.”

PROS also has applications that work with other enterprise platforms like Salesforce.com and SAP’s CRM software.

“We do see the SAP software in our customer base, and Salesforce as well as Dynamics,” he said. “We have gained experience in understanding sales, in how CRM is utilized in sales from just looking at a variety of platforms. In addition, it’s useful to look across platforms to see where the market’s going, where the trends are and understand the difference between the CRM platforms. It’s very helpful, when a company comes to us and asks our advice, we like to know the differences so we can help them make the decisions, or look into research in the areas that are best for them.”

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