MS to boost sales force, focus on customers

Microsoft Corp. is expanding its U.S. sales force and increasing technical and sales training in an effort to ensure that customers get the products and answers they need to run their businesses more efficiently.

In an announcement earlier this week, Microsoft said it will add 450 people to its U.S. sales team of some 6,000 employees. It said it plans to expand the number of specialized vertical industries the sales force covers from five to 12 during the next fiscal year.

Kevin Johnson, senior vice president of Microsoft's Americas division, said the changes will help the company better understand and serve its markets.

"We're not just adding people, but adding people in a very specialized way," Johnson said. "The more knowledgeable those people are in their verticals, the more Microsoft can provide solutions to customers."

To do this, the company will change its sales force to provide deeper industry and technology expertise and a better focus on small and midsize businesses, he said.

The 12 vertical markets to be represented by the sales force are financial services, telecommunications, state and local government, federal government, education, retail, health care, automotive manufacturing, high-tech manufacturing, oil and gas, media and entertainment, and professional services.

Johnson said customers should see the effects within six to nine months. "They'll see the value in increased interaction with Microsoft and increased specialization in the sales force," he said. The company will also redeploy another 115 workers nationwide into the sales organization's enhanced structure.

The company has been making moves to improve its sales relationships with customers for the past two years.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass., said Microsoft's strategy of improving relations with customers follows lessons the company has learned from its "named accounts group" of its 40 best customers.

With those largest customers, Enderle said, Microsoft has found that closer ties, with more direct interaction and help, have meant higher satisfaction levels when compared with Microsoft's other customers."So they've taken the position that more 'touch' with customers is beneficial," Enderle said.

"The historical satisfaction level has been aggravating to me and my clients," he said. "This is a sincere effort to [improve] that."

Such customercentric moves have worked in the past for other companies, including IBM, he said. But the new strategy won't work if Microsoft just "throws bodies" into the effort without making sure that the larger sales staff is trained, qualified and has the right demeanor to solve problems, answer inquiries and provide the highest level of service to customers, he said.

"If they do it right, it can work," he said.