Last week I setup web-to-lead for one of our clients using CRM Online for the first time.  Compared to working with CRM On Premise, I must say that it was a bit of rude awakening.  Fortunately I was assisted by a couple of co-workers who are more familiar with the process.  One of the things I discovered during the process of doing this work was that there is really not much good information available about how to setup and use web-to-lead with CRM Online.  So hopefully this blog entry will at least provide some more information that others can use to help make the most out of web-to-lead.

First of all, if you’re not using CRM Online, then the variety of web-to-lead that I will be describing in here doesn’t relate to you.  You can use a different approach for Dynamics CRM On Premise (be grateful for this – the Online approach includes many frustrating limitations).  One potential approach is described in this blog: http://askdynamicscrm.com/Home/tabid/40/entryid/31/Web-to-Lead-with-Microsoft-CRM.aspx

About Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Web-to-Lead

Now, let’s talk about exactly how web-to-lead works with CRM Online – you’ll want to know a bit about this before beginning as there are some limitations that may surprise you.

  1. Where do the leads go?  Using web-to-lead in CRM Online, your web lead’s don’t go directly into CRM as leads.  Instead, they actually go into a different place called Internet Lead Capture.  They’re not directly available in CRM and cannot be manipulated by workflows and they’re not visible in your normal list of leads.  So, in effect, they’re not REALLY in CRM at all.  They are in “lead purgatory”.
  2. You’re probably asking yourself … How do I get my leads into CRM?  Well, you go to Internet Lead Capture in CRM (displayed in the Sales area and in some other areas depending upon how you configured CRM).  Then you need to click on the link to show all of your leads.  Then you check off the leads you want to assign and either assign them to yourself or to someone else.
  3. How will I know I have new leads? Simply put … you won’t!  Internet Lead Capture doesn’t provide any mechanism for alerting you when new leads come in from your website.  Unfortunately, because leads don’t go directly into the Leads entity, you also don’t have the option to create a workflow to send an alert.  If this is critical to you, then invest some time in checking out some other options (described below).

Hopefully we’ll see Microsoft make some revisions to address some of the above shortcomings.  The simplest approach would be to have leads go directly into the lead entity.  Getting a little fancier, the setup process could include an automated method for creating a lead alert and assignment workflow (for those who are uncomfortable creating workflows).  If they wanted to get really fancy, they could set it up to allow data from web forms to flow into any entity in CRM (so you can use it for web-to-case for example).  Hopefully someone from Microsoft is listening!

Options for Web-to-Lead

There are two ways you can setup web-to-lead using CRM Online.  Each has its own set of pros and cons.

  1. Lead Capture Page: This approach allows you to create a page, hosted by Microsoft, that is used to capture leads.  This is very easy to setup and is almost impossible to mess up.  No coding experience is necessary at all.  On the downside: it probably won’t look much like your existing website, and there is no way (that I can think of) to setup alerts to let people know when new leads are in the queue. 
  2. Lead Capture Form: This approach allows you to build a form directly into your existing website to capture leads.  Depending on how your website is setup, this can be easy or it can be fairly difficult.  If you know how, you MIGHT be able to setup lead alerts by having your website send you an email whenever a new lead is created. 


Setting it Up

Okay, enough with the descriptions – let’s talk about exactly how to get this done.

  1. Activate Internet Marketing: Go to Settings | Business Management | Internet Marketing.  From here, you will be walked through the process of setting up Internet Marketing.
  2. Create Your Web Page: Navigate to Sales | Internet Lead Capture and click on the “Create a new landing page” link.  From here you’ll have two options (see “Options for Web-to-Lead,” above to help you choose).  For the rest of this process, I’ll talk about using the Lead Capture Form.  If you want to use the Lead Capture Page, then that approach is pretty self-explanatory.
    • You’ll also need to create a “thank you page” that you send people to after they fill out your web form.  Exactly where this page sits will depend upon how your content management system works.  For our client, we had to create a separate landing page "message" that is displayed in an iframe on their website (I'll explain why a bit further down).
  3. Clean it Up: You’ll want to clean up the HTML for your page a bit.  That probably includes putting the form into a table to get everything nicely aligned and setting some fonts to make it fit into the rest of your site.
  4. Add JavaScript: Here comes the hard part – if you want to receive an alert whenever a new lead comes in, you’ll need to doctor up the JavaScript that CRM has generated in order to produce this alert email.  But here's the rub - the code from Microsoft uses client-side scripting to push the lead into CRM; the code required to generate an email alert would be server-side.  As a "hack" when it comes to development, I tried a few things, but could never get this to work.  One of our developers confirmed that this would be a difficult challenge.  In any event, it's not a simple bit of code to write - even for an experienced webmaster.  At some point, we'll invest the time to solve this issue (but if you've solved it already, then please post a response to this blog to share your solution!) 
  5. Add the Page to Your Website: So now you need to take the lead capture form you created using CRM and integrate that into your website.  You have a bunch of options here – ranging from very simple to pretty complex:
    1. Add the page as a standalone HTML page: If you have a flat HTML website, you can just drop the HTML page that CRM created for you into your site.  You may have a template that you use and you can drop the page into that template.
    2. Add a page to a website that uses a content management system (CMS): Hardly anyone uses flat HTML sites anymore these days – most businesses use some type of CMS or other.  CMS systems frequently include a lot of other functionality that make it a little more difficult to insert the HTML from CRM directly into the site.  Your options:
      1. First of all, let me apologize.  I’ve been told that you should never indent three layers deep.  But here we are, so let’s continue.
      2. You can rewrite the JavaScript portions of the HTML to work directly within your CMS.  This may include updating the JavaScript in the header of the individual page.  This can be a complex undertaking, so let’s look at another option …
      3. You can also upload the page to your website as a separate HTML only file, and then display it inside of an iframe (if you’ve ever designed a form in CRM you probably know what an iframe is – if not, you may want to get some help from your webmaster).  This is the approach that I took.
        • If you take this approach, you’ll want to also load your landing page as another flat HTML file that will also display in the iframe.  When you setup the web-to-lead in Dynamics CRM, you'll enter the address for this page.  The reason you'll need to set this up is that linking directly to another page in your site from within the iframe will actually load the full page into the iframe - not exactly a friendly experience for the visitor to your site. 

That’s it – you’re all setup to start receiving leads from your website now.  Make sure to spend a little bit of time getting your sales and/or marketing people trained up on converting those “internet leads” into “CRM leads!”

Other Options

There are some other options available for web-to-lead.  Some industrious third parties have created customizations that will simplify this process for you if you’re interested.  http://www.crminnovation.com/web2crm.asp  I've not had the opportunity to try this tool out yet, but I will post a review when I get the chance to - it certainly looks appealing and inexpensive for the time it will save  you.