Dynamics 365 Roadmap: Dynamics 365 Portals – Why You Need Them (and How to Try Them Out for Free)

Did you know that, right now, you can launch your own customer, support, or prospect portal which is 100% housed, maintained, and integrated with your Dynamics 365 instance?

A Dynamics 365 portal provides your audience an online location to communicate and collaborate. Depending on the audience that the portal is geared toward (such as whether it’s for customers, business partners, or internal team members), a Dynamics 365 portal can allow people to get support for issues, search knowledge guides and how-to guides, collaborate with communities, suggest new ideas, and learn more about your products and services.

There will be no new hardware to procure, certificates to install, or web servers to provision. In a few clicks, your new integrated web presence is ready to go and waiting for you to mold it into the online game-changer we both know it can be.

If you have a Dynamics 365 Enterprise subscription already, then you likely have at least one Dynamics 365 portal license at the ready. What you choose to do with it can help differentiate you from the crowd. Allow me to show you how easy it is to setup and what it can do for you.

Hey there, over-achiever… If you’d like to have your own demo portal available, then go ahead and jump down to the second half of this article to learn how to get that process started. Don’t worry, it only takes a few minutes to get the ball rolling, and a trial is free!

“Our business already has a website… why do we need a Dynamics 365 portal?”

Your website is great as a front to your organization, and as a potential lead generation point of entry. Dynamics 365 portals do not supplant that in any way, but rather extend your web presence beyond the homepage and into a territory of engagement and active communication. Your customers are getting savvier and, if we’re being honest, your customers’ grandparents are too. Meet them on their terms by enabling your business to support a connected world.

There are a few big wins to be had with a properly leveraged portal. Let’s explore some of the pre-packaged templates and opportunities for extensibility.

Customer Engagement

Engaged customers turn into repeat customers, and repeat customers turn into advocates who spread the good word to potential new customers. I’m sure you wouldn’t turn down more repeat customers and new business. A Community portal could help with that effort by encouraging your customers and prospects to discuss your products or share helpful tips in your own moderated forum.

Make it a point to field questions and engage your customers online to keep the dialog going. Encourage product questions on your forum and answer them publically as an outreach to your install base. Monitor for product feedback that you can then leverage in new product offerings.

You can also use the Community portal to draft and host blog articles (hey, just like this one!). You may already host a blog or have someone host it for you. If you don’t or you are considering centralizing that content, you can use the Dynamics 365 portal as a blog platform to share news or answer common product questions.

Customer Self-Help

You have customers… customers need support. Enter the Customer Service portal. If you’re using or planning to use CRM for case management, a fantastic extension to that is the Customer Service portal. Giving your customers the ability to log into their own account to submit and monitor their support cases can add some relief to your front lines of customer support. You’ll get fewer emails and calls from folks just looking for updates, and you can capture better targeted data regarding a case.

Have a customer submit a case online and be able to see which exact products, down to the SKU, that this person has purchased in the past.

One more killer feature of this portal is the ability to show a customer suggested knowledge base articles based on keywords they have entered before they even submit their case. What’s a good way to keep support cases down? Answering questions before they’ve even been submitted is a good start.

Partner Engagement

If you’re engaging a business partner to help you move product (such as a distributor, reseller, supplier, etc.), you can use the Partner Portal to start capturing sales channel data from your partners just as you would from your own captive sales staff.

Let your external partners create, manage, and collaborate on their own opportunities alongside your in-house staff. Start gathering real-time metrics from your partner channels and giving your own partner agents better access to the data you want them to have.

The Partner Portal is all about simultaneously empowering your partners to make better and faster decisions while removing artificial barriers to their success. In addition, you enable yourself to collect richer data that can help in future strategic planning.

Employee Engagement

Similar to your intranet, the Employee Portal can give your internal staff a place to curate and share internal knowledge. You can also give specialized groups very targeted access to CRM features without giving them the entire front-end. This can be helpful for staff that needs to interact with CRM data only in rare cases. Much like the Customer Service Portal, the Employee Portal can be used to submit and resolve internal trouble tickets.

Custom Portal Framework

This is for the dreamers and visionaries… The custom portal framework is completely extensible and customizable. It gives you a fantastic jump-start by minimizing the up-front overhead costs associated with infrastructure and platform development, and lets you get right to the meat of defining “what do we need this thing to do”.

Need to manage franchises? Create a Franchise Portal. Need to manage independent agents? Create an Agent Portal. How about portfolios, investments, service technicians, professional relationships, certificate requests, or just standing up your own storefront? These are all excellent extensions to bridge communication, and offer collaborative functionality to those who otherwise would not have it.

Configure Your Own Dynamics 365 Demo Portal

If, like me, you like to kick the tires a little, let’s go ahead and get a demo of a Dynamics 365 portal set-up. You can do this in your existing instance or, if you’re just a little curious, use a free disposable trial organization (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/free-crm-trial.aspx).

It takes a little time for the portal-bots to get everything up and running, but your actual involvement here should only take a few minutes.

Step 1 – Navigate to your Dynamics 365 Administration Center

From your Office 365 home (https://portal.office.com/) open the Admin center:

Then open the Dynamics 365 Admin center:

Step 2 – Click over to Applications and observe your Portal Add-On just sitting around doing nothing

Step 3 – Click Manage and get ready for the hard part…

  • Provide some starting parameters for your new Portal:
    • A Name
      • Just something to identify your portal instance. Don’t sweat it too much, you can change this later.
    • A Portal URL (don’t worry, you can convert this to a vanity url at a later time)
    • Select your CRM instance
    • Select a Language
    • Select an Administrator (If you’ve made it this far that’s probably you! Congratulations!)
    • Select an Audience
      • Partners – These folks might not be true employees but we want them to have some level of interaction with our CRM data to help deliver services or close deals.
      • Customers – External folks who we can serve better by surfacing some things through an external portal such as customer service or community building.
      • Employees – Support your own internal workforce though tailored portal applications such as Employee Self-Service.
    • Select your portal template
      • Customer Self-Service
      • Community
      • Partner
      • Employee Self-Service
      • Custom Portal

 

If you’re looking for a suggestion, the Customer Self-Service Portal has a good array of pre-configured items to explore.

Step 4 – Wait

You’ll be asked to login to your portal and grant some rights, which after you do that then you can just sit back and enjoy your free time while the portal-bots do all the hard work…

*Sure it says a few hours… they have to say that… mine took about 20 minutes though your mileage may vary.

Note that you can check on the status at any time from your Dynamics 365 Admin center by opening the Solutions link in your instance.

Observe that our custom portal template is in the Installing phase…

In good time you’ll have your new demo portal up and ready to explore. Good work!

Conclusion

The takeaway from this is a thought exercise… Put yourself in the shoes of your employees, partners, prospects, and customers. What would make their lives easier? What are the roadblocks to a better future right now? How can you extend your reach to these external folks to make everyone happier while enjoying the associated benefits? Think big, think small, and put it all together… don’t be surprised if a Dynamics 365 portal looks like it might fit a gap you just realized you had.

This article is part of our Dynamics 365 Roadmap series that helps companies stay up to date on the latest Dynamics 365 releases. To see our previous posts, click here to view our roadmap.

For questions on Dynamics 365 portals and how they can impact your business, contact Hitachi Solutions today.