Playing to Win on Microsoft's Turf
Understanding Microsoft's core goal is key to making your relationship work.
- By Paul DeGroot
- July 01, 2005
I never quite get used to the stunned look on clients' faces when
I tell them what Microsoft's core business goal is. It's so simple
and painfully obvious that I (almost) feel guilty being paid to
point it out.
So hold your face straight while I tell you what Microsoft wants
to do, above all else: Sell software. More specifically, sell Microsoft
software. Or, as Steve Ballmer would put it (imagine a large, sweaty
man screaming and bouncing around on stage): "Software, Software,
Many Microsoft Partners overlook this fundamental idea, probably
due to wishful thinking. In their dreams, Microsoft is backing their
product. After approaching Microsoft, the partner envisions a response
like, "What a cool idea. How can Microsoft help you?"
I have bad news for the dreamers: Microsoft is not a bank, a venture
capitalist, a marketer or a distributor. Microsoft sells software.
The good news: Microsoft does have enviable financial, marketing
and distribution resources that are available to partners. If anything,
its willingness to share these resources with partners is increasing.
But make no mistake: It's all about Microsoft, not you.
So here's how you turn the bad news into good. When you make a
pitch to Microsoft, toss a nice, slow lob that it can hit out of
the park. Focus your pitch on how your product or service will enhance
Microsoft's strategic importance, how it will strengthen Microsoft's
competitive position, and, most of all, how it will sell more Microsoft
Here are some ways to fatten your pitch:
Target a vertical industry. This is currently Microsoft's
favorite partner strategy: piggybacking on your market penetration
and expertise. Don't build high-volume, horizontal solutions like
Microsoft does. Find new ways for Microsoft to win in markets it
doesn't already own.
Good areas of concentration include embedded platforms; vertical
solutions that are tightly integrated with SQL Server, Exchange,
or SharePoint; anything that makes good use of BizTalk Server; and
solutions that make Microsoft rookie players—such as Live
Meeting or Live Communications Server—look seasoned. In every case
you're giving Microsoft reason to push your product.
Be kind to old players. Microsoft still makes most
of its money from the desktop OS and the Office productivity suite.
Unfortunately, these stalwarts are getting old. The desktop OS no
longer outpaces the PC run-rate—if PC sales slow down, so do desktop
OS sales. Office sales have reached market saturation and now rely
heavily on renewal of volume licensing agreements or on consumer
sales of the less profitable Student and Teacher Edition.
You can win if you give customers new reasons to upgrade to Office
2003 (better yet, Office 12) or to Longhorn. For example, take a
hard look at Longhorn technologies like Avalon and Indigo, figure
out how you can take advantage of their unique features, and you
might have Microsoft begging to showcase your product.
Check out Visual Studio Tools for Office, which brings .NET development
to Office, or the Information Bridge Framework, to integrate your
app with Office 2003. Microsoft is begging for demos of these development
tools in action, particularly if they introduce features that get
customers to upgrade Office.
Another big opportunity is the upcoming Small Business Accounting
application: Customize it for some specialty retail segment, and
you'll be on the ground floor of a major Microsoft marketing effort.
Finally, here's a strategy for those who want to live dangerously:
Solve a problem for Microsoft. Wouldn't it be nice
to have simple, reliable, clustering or backup solutions for all
Microsoft products? If you solve this or some other problem for
Microsoft, you may have a hit on your hands, and Microsoft will
be very interested.
The fact is, Microsoft's farm team is already working on most fundamental
problems. But great minds don't always think alike. Come up with
a ground-breaking solution to a vexing problem, and Microsoft might
consider an acquisition or trade—and you'll be doing a victory
trot all the way home.
Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.