Optimize IT, Optimize Sales

Microsoft's Infrastructure Optimization strategies makes for better IT, and the practices can be applied to better sales.

Most observers religiously monitor what Microsoft's software engineers are up to, but ignore what its sales engineers (my term) are doing. That's a shortsighted way of looking at a company that racks up solid sales and revenue gains with great reliability in spite of its product shortcomings.

Microsoft is constantly reinventing its sales methods. Currently, one of its smartest tools is Infrastructure Optimization (IO). IO is something all partners should learn about because they can use it to sell not only Microsoft's software, but their own and anyone else's -- if they understand how it works.

IO isn't easy to grasp. In my case, it took a couple years of head-scratching and finally a moment of epiphany helped along with a couple of beers, a margarita, a pounding band and Microsoft's Steve Guggenheimer (currently the corporate VP for Microsoft's OEM Division) yelling through the chaos: "Infrastructure Optimization helps our salespeople have an IT conversation with our customers."

I'll try to make the process less painful for you.

The IO model is based on IT "capabilities" and their "maturity." Take something like provisioning a new employee's workstation. That's a capability that every IT department must have. But there are different ways to do it. A hard way is jamming CDs into the box while the new employee looks on. An easy way is building the desktop in real time when the user logs on to the network, based on the person's department, job and seniority or skill level. Behind "easy" is, of course, a lot of prep work, but the end result is a fast, flexible system that saves a lot of costs and creates a lot of value in the long run.

IO takes hundreds of IT capabilities and looks at how they can be done better. The minimal effort constitutes basic maturity, which means IT is always fighting fires. Beyond that, you have the standardized level (meaning "we've got IT under control"), followed by rationalized (meaning "we're more productive because of IT"), topped by dynamic. That last level means that IT, working almost invisibly to deliver what the company needs when it needs it, is a major factor in the company's success.

How does this approach help sales?

Armed with a questionnaire, a salesperson walks into a customer's office and starts a conversation with the IT manager about what the IT department does and how it does it. The answers build a picture of the customer's IT capabilities and maturity. Do you have a directory service that authenticates your users? If a field rep loses a portable computer, do you know what data is on it? Can you guarantee that a thief can't access the information?

Survey results are crunched to reveal just how mature the customer's IT systems are. The survey typically uncovers gaps that the customer isn't even aware of, and the model can offer a roadmap for improvement. Not all improvements require spending money -- sometimes simply fixing a process will do the trick.

Although IO aims to sell Microsoft products and services, the analysis is generally generic and vendor-agnostic. That's why the IT person will talk to your salesperson -- it's not a conversation about products, not a pitch for money. Instead, it's a discussion about the customer's IT and often about the customer's business itself.

You can easily use Microsoft's IO model in your own sales calls. Begin at the IO Partner Kit (, where you can start by filling out a questionnaire to see how your own company stacks up. Once you're familiar with the process, imagine adapting it to your business. Think narrowly, if necessary. For example, if your expertise is HR, develop a list of best-practice questions (which you probably always ask anyway) designed to reveal what you need to know about a customer's HR systems, including how suitable they are for that client's requirements and where the gaps are. Better yet, train others to visit customers and ask the questions so that they can qualify leads while your experts focus on delivering the services that your analyses suggest are necessary.

About the Author

Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.