Friday, April 18, 2008

Many to Many Relationships

With the ability to create Many to Many (MtoM as I will reference them in this post) in CRM 4.0 people are so excited to use it they sometimes use it just to use it, even when it's not necessary or it's the wrong type of MtoM. Let me clarify.

Out of the box MtoM relationship just link one record to another. Nothing more. There is no additional data that gets tracked, only a link. This type of relationship is fantastic for things like seeing Associations that a Contact is affiliated with. You don't need to know when the affiliation started or anything else, just that the Contact is affiliated with that Association. NOTE: Association would be a custom object in a given CRM system.

However, the moment someone says that data needs to be tracked in that relationship you should NOT use the out of the box MtoM relationship. For example, Seminars, Events or Tradeshows are a great example of this. A Seminar (custom object) would contain data about the date and location of the event. However, the most important thing to track from a Seminar is who attended. This typically links to the Contact object. With the out of the box relationship you won't know if the person actually attended or not. If you enter the attendees after the fact, then sure that would work. But most of the implementations that I've done want to track who has registered and who actually attended. This way they can see how effective their registration process is and how effective they are at winning a deal when someone actually attends. This scenario requires what is typically referred to as a "linker" table. Seminar links to Seminar Attendee, which links to Contact. The Seminar Attendee is the link to both and it has a look up to both Seminar and Contact. It's actually a Mto1 relationship with a 1toM...if that makes any sense to anyone else. A Seminar will have many attendees, but a given attendee can only attend one seminar. An attendee can only be one person (Contact) but a Contact can attend multiple events.

Both options are great solutions to any given situation just be wary to use something new just because it's there. Just because the other method is older doesn't mean it's not as functional. The capabilities are there, let's just make sure our users get the systems setup correctly.

Good luck out there,

David Fronk
Dynamic Methods Inc.


Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Although the Many-to-Many capability was one of the most sought-after functions in 3.0, we still find that the overall concept of Relationships is underutilized within the CRM solutions of the world.

The problem isn't as much in what's doable in terms of linking, but more on the limitation of usability when we begin dealing with N connected entities and N(N-1) possible links.

Although the end result, "Wouldn't it be great to get a report on the link of A to B to C", is extremely desirable, the way there is complex and not very inviting to the daily CRM user (read: Sales or Service) who doesn't have time to visit several screens to create the links needed. The real end result is, as I said above, underutilization or even unutilization of relationships. How tragic is that for a Customer RELATIONSHIP Management solution..?

The key to resolving this is manifold, I believe.

First, we have to begin acknowledging that yesterday's CRM is really about XRM. Fine, there's a connection from me the Vendor to you the Customer, but there's so much more. There's the link from you to your customers, your suppliers, your competitors. There's the inherent relationship between my products, services and activities to your organization and your employees, my contact points. One need only lift the gaze a tiny bit to realize that relationships exist between inert objects as well. A truck belongs either at a repair shop or at a field office and a driver can be assigned to both a truck and the field office at the same time. Campaigns are linked to products and targets. And endless other combinations, whether for people, companies, or other entities. Getting to terms with this reality, and then beginning to plan for how we should leverage this data turned intelligence is the challenge with a potential quite incredible.

Second, the historical user adoption and productivity issues for CRM will not be improved by the paragraph above. Just because we acknowledge that we are immersed in an ecosystem, a fabric of business (and social) connections, doesn't make Dynamics CRM or any other product easier to use, rather the opposite. Without proper user adoption, you will have a hard time getting basic utilization (and return on investment) from the CRM soltuion. But, without proper user adoption, you will certainly not get the XRM data and connections that you seek.

Finally, the simplified conclusion to this seems to me that while we need to harness the power of XRM, we won't get there without stimulating user adoption and increasing productivity overall, but for relationhip management in particular. If you can combine the two, or the three, maybe even adding another few dimensions of value generation, then who knows where it will take us...


Eivind (
See. Move. Win.
Relationship Charts for Dynamics CRM

Dynamic Methods said...


Thanks for your comments I really appreciate them. And you are very right about how relationships typically are underutilized due to user adoption, system complexity and poor visibility. And that was mostly the point I was trying to drive home in my post, so thank you for helping me to expand on that thought and clarify just how important relationship management and architecture is. The desire to track more than just relationships between people and companies is definitely growing and the CRM world is definitely going to the XRM world as you described. Which again gives all the more reason for those system designers out there to know relationships, how to build them and how to view the data from them. If build correctly the end user experience is seamless and intuitive, if not then user adoption takes a large hit.

There are numerous third party apps out there that help to manage those relationships and views into those relationships, as I'm sure you are aware with own niche in that market with SalesCentric Relationship Charts. Those kinds of tools can help users better understand the realtionships that their company (or they themselves) need to see and understand to do their job better.

Even with those tools however, the base structure and architecture needs to be put in place correctly. And seeing how much you deal with complex relationships on a regular basis I appreciate your comments and insight into this subject.

David Fronk
Dynamic Methods Inc.

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