A Comparison of Salesforce Lightning and Microsoft Dynamics based on User Experience

Salesforce Lightning and Microsoft Dynamics are perhaps the most popular CRM software on the marketplace today, and they take fairly different design approaches, stemming from different guiding philosophies. Design approaches have dramatically changed every decade. At first, the command line was a big step up over feeding tape into a machine the size of a small apartment. Then, any GUI at all was something to celebrate. What was brand new 10 years ago looks old today, and CRM is no different. These days, companies are pushing themselves to deliver more usability and more engaging interfaces.
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Salesforce Lightning is a streamlined, graphics-heavy program with a modern, appealing interface that resonates with a web savvy audience. Microsoft Dynamics makes several concessions to recent trends in CRM while at the same time remaining grounded in Microsoft’s traditional approach to CRM. But which one is right for your company? Both programs have distinct advantages. What are you looking for?  

The Next Generation of Intuitive Navigation

Salesforce Lightning gets high marks for its simple, engaging interface. Its screens are focused, displaying more relevant information on each page, and the resizable components make it easy to access what you want, when you want, with fewer clicks than were required in earlier CRM programs. With new features like the “Sales Path” which allows the use of customized Sales Process information, and a summary page that automatically displays during startup, showing sale reps where they are relative to their daily/monthly/yearly metrics, the Salesforce Lightning interface is simple and easy to navigate.   ux 1   ux 2 Its use of graphics and animations to display data provides a welcome change from walls of text and numbers. And the mobile version is equally extensive and delightful.   Dynamics, on the other hand, is a big step forward for Microsoft in terms of navigability. It is now touch enabled, allowing for rapid, direct access to the program without the intermediary of a mouse or keyboard. Its flattened interface is a cognitive load for the user. Its mobile version lacks many of the full program’s features and, considering that users expect to take their toolset to go, an incomplete mobile program is a handicap. I expect that Microsoft will soon invest more in its mobile software.  

The New Frontier of Usability

  ux 3 In some ways, Microsoft has drastically improved the usability of Dynamics. They’ve ditched the ribbon bar, which users found overwhelming and distracting, replacing it with a more intuitive command bar that displays more focused formulation. With the command bar, the most common tasks (new, delete, deactive, email link, etc) are right at the top of the screen, in a clean, minimalist format. The ribbon bar is still available in “Classic User Experience” mode, and when using the outlook client and communicating with entities that don’t support the latest program, it’s the standard. The ribbon bar puts a great deal of information within just two or three clicks.   Salesforce Lightning is also a mixed bag when it comes to usability. It does allow for more than three columns on a dashboard, a feature Salesforce users have requested for a long time, and its fairly flexible and customizable dashboard do make the interface more dynamic than in the past. New features like a social-media like “activity feed” that displays live information on accounts, and an opportunity board that gives a comprehensive overview of ongoing and potential deals provide additional utility. That being said, some features that were present in Salesforce Classic have been jettisoned for Lightning.

The Aesthetic Battleground                                                                        

Salesforce has clearly spent a lot of time on the look and feel of Salesforce Lightning. And it’s paid off. Salesforce Lightning is an unequivocally delightful experience, chock-full of animated graphic, eye-pleasing charts, drag and drop features, and instant feedback. Using Salesforce Lightning is pleasant and engaging. It feels significantly far ahead of other CRM software, including Dynamics. Salesforce’ investment in the look and feel of Lightning has led to a unique, remarkable experience. ux 4 The Race is to the SwiftMicrosoft has made more conservative choices with Dynamics. Although users can now add custom images and logos to their various customer accounts, and although its use of Bing Maps does provide some visual variety, it still feels very in line with older versions of the program. Microsoft has chosen to not provide a heavily ‘gamified’ interface, instead utilizing a fairly stoic and minimalist look that hearkens back to Microsoft Excel. If your company has a long history with Microsoft applications, they’ll feel very comfortable with this version of Dynamics. Salesforce and Microsoft have both made significant investments to improve the speed of their software. However, Lightning’s lack of support for Javascript buttons means that users lose access to various homemade shortcuts they’ve made over the years. Still, Lightning feels like a fast program.   Dynamics, likewise, now updates saved changes in a cascading manner across databases and records. And the search functions helpfully show recently used records, and allow for custom searches with keywords. However, Dynamics suffers from some latency issues. While this can create a ‘slow’ feel, Dynamics arguably makes up for it with its greater degree of customization— a user is more able to tailor Dynamics to their own specifications and create their own time-saving shortcuts. This is a significant benefit for the hardcore user.  

Balancing the Scales

In the end, both Lightning and Dynamics are steps forward in the CRM world. Dynamics is a very functional program that represents a substantial improvement over previous versions. Salesforce Lightning’s slick feel, overall delightful experience and speed make it an enjoyable program to use. Dynamics’ support for Javascript and other customization let power users to tailor the program to their own tastes. Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste.   What’s more important to you, a slick, delightful interface like Lightning’s, or a legacy program that fits in well with years of Microsoft software?  
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com