Microsoft revises enterprise marketing strategy

Microsoft has changed its enterprise partnering model to simplify relationships with corporate customers, moving from an un-coordinated sales and marketing approach to closer customer engagement through its technology partners.

Heading the $1 billion global enterprise partnering strategy, Microsoft's enterprise and partner group vice president, Charles Stevens, said the vendor had focused too heavily on direct marketing and sales efforts among its large corporate accounts, and not enough on building close relationships with them through its implementation partners (ISVs, systems integrators, outsourcers and consultancies).

"We're adopting a more 'one face to the customer' approach. We're aiming for better referenceable customers," said Stevens.

In the past, he noted, Microsoft took a more "silo-based" approach. Corporate users may have had an account manager assigned to them, he said, but those managers didn't have dedicated resources to help them build and review project road maps. They also were mostly focused on Microsoft's desktop business and had to work with five to 10 different customers.

Under the new strategy, Stevens said worldwide his division will focus on three new areas in corporate client engagement.

Microsoft will boost product development work on its high-end server range (including Windows 2000, Exchange, IIA, DNA, SQL and Biztalk) and the security of these offerings.

Secondly, the company will make big investments in partnering with developers to build more robust solutions in all regional markets -- a move driven by heavier US, Japanese and European customer demand for better ROI on software solutions during rough economic times, Stevens said.

Thirdly, the vendor's corporate sales force will sell more integrated solution bundles designed to address the individual needs of large enterprises, as well educate key verticals like the financial services sector on Microsoft's .Net offerings.

Through .Net, Stevens said the vendor offered large businesses the opportunity to leverage the whole Internet as an enterprise-class platform through .Net's XML-based Web services.

He believes senior IT buyers will benefit from the new partnering model because it offers them more "flexibility" when dealing with Microsoft consulting partners. "Working with CIOs and other IT executives will still be the most important part of Microsoft's sales efforts. But the company's sales force will call more on business decision-makers" such as CEOs and chief operating officers, than it has in the past, he said.

Users also indicated that they wanted "someone who cares about my business [and] who's going to be accountable", Stevens said. That was accompanied by a pointed warning, he added: if Microsoft didn't make changes, it was "not going to be a player" at some companies, because other vendors were promising to do the things that the users had requested.

Users also said it was "just too hard to work with Microsoft" because its sales activities weren't coordinated, Stevens added -- a mistake which, if left unaddressed could have had a dire impact on the company, as 20 per cent of its total revenue comes from the enterprise, vendor representatives said.

Key to Microsoft's new partnering approach in Australia is a stable of consulting giants like Accenture, Avenade (a $US300 million Microsoft-Accenture integration joint venture devoted entirely to the Microsoft platform), CSC, EDS and ISVs like SAP and Siebel, Stevens said.

"Our enterprise partners can help individual businesses with the technical skills they need. We've done a lot of technical and sales skilling up front; we're developing deep business plans with clients -- figuring out what sort of solutions they want us to build for projects like data security or supply chain management. Overall, we've created a stronger partner pipeline where we'll manage customer relationships from pre- to post-sales engagement," he said.

Commenting on Microsoft's new corporate sales tack, Gartner Dataquest analyst Daniel McHugh called it a step in the right direction. "CIOs and IT managers want one view of a vendor. If they have a licence for an OS and a productivity suite, they don't want to have to call on two people to renew contracts. IT managers are looking for ROI from their technology budgets. With MS account managers having a more wholistic view of the client's needs -- rather than just a single product sale opportunity -- this new model may allow [them] bargaining leverage across a range of MS products and solutions in the initial sale. The proof will be in the execution of this model." (Carol Sliwa contributed to this article).

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