Dreamforce starts today… and it feels like Groundhog Day. Not the groundhog that tells the weather, but groundhog in the way things keep repeating themselves. The repetition this time is in the shape of Microsoft’s offer of rebates of US$ 150-per-seat for customers who subscribe to Dynamics CRM online.

And the repetition? You might recall that the day before Salesforce opened its Dreamforce conference before Christmas, it made exactly the same offer, except that in December it was offering US $200 for those who made the jump from Salesforce.com CRM or Oracle's Seibel (CRM) to Dynamics CRM.

There are a couple of interesting differences this time around, maybe just to break up the repetition thing -- this time SAP is included in the offer, and it's US$ 50 less per seat.

Could it be that Microsoft is so confident of its Dynamics CRM product that it can cut back on the cash incentives, or could it be that, after the last offer, it had to spend more money than it bargained for as enterprises piled across to Dynamics?

Microsoft, CRM, the Cloud

The offer is part of a wider cloud initiative, as outlined by corporate vice presidents Brad Anderson and Michael Park, from the Management and Security Division and Business Solutions Division respectively, in an interview on Microsoft News Center about Microsoft’s cloud computing strategy.

That in itself is interesting, but because Dreamforce is starting today, let’s stick with that for the moment.

Park, outlining part of Microsoft’s vision of CRM in the cloud explained why it is making this offer now:

…we also see a lot of hype in the market that is creating confusion for customers --that’s true in the CRM space as well. We also realize there are some hard costs associated for customers that decide to move vendors.

As customers are evaluating their options, we want to make it easier for them to make a move should they choose to do so. So we are offering Oracle, Salesforce.com or SAP customers $150 per user that can be used for services such as migration of data if they switch to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This offer is valid for up to 500 users per company.”

Dynamics CRM Online

Putting this in perspective though, it is likely that, with the launch of Dynamics CRM Online globally in January, Microsoft has had to push Dynamics CRM Online as it jockeys with Salesforce to find its place in the CRM world.

And Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff is not beyond taking a poke at Microsoft either. It would be surprising if he didn’t mention something about it in his keynote speech on Wednesday. After all, it only stands to reason that, if Benioff can use the conference to have a go at Microsoft, then it can use Benioff’s conference to try to poach customers.

Dynamic CRM Online Incentives?

And it’s a pretty good deal, too, given that, at the launch of Dynamics CRM Online in January, Microsoft said that, as of June, once the special offers ran out, it would be charging US$ 44 per user/month for Dynamics CRM Online.

Compare that to the US $65 and US$ 125 per user/month for Salesforce.com's Professional and Enterprise editions, and US$ 75 per user/month for Oracle’s CRM On-Demand.

And the offer applies to more companies than the December offer, too. That was only open to organizations with between 15 and 250 users -- effectively the SMB market or departments within larger enterprises -- with no incentives offered outside of that relatively small group.

But whether companies will be willing, even at US$ 150 per seat, remains to be seen, as the difficulty of moving from one CRM system to another, including the deployment, retraining involved and convincing workers to make the switch is considerable.

It is probably because of these considerations that Microsoft is offering participating companies the possibility of putting money against the cost of migrating data or customizing the system to meet enterprise needs. Companies will also have to tie themselves into it for two years.

Let’s see what Benioff says. Looks like an interesting Dreamforce on the way.