How Microsoft is rethinking the way it sells

The 'new' Microsoft mission statement and focus on 'growth mindset' are having impacts on how the company is looking at selling products and services.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

We Microsoft watchers have heard lots of talk about CEO Satya Nadella's "cultural transformation" at the company.

Credit: Microsoft

Sure, it all sounds nice. But I didn't think changes in the company's latest mission statement ("to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more") and the focus on "growth mindset" had any measurable implications in terms of products and sales strategies. And, after all, that's what really matters to Microsoft customers outside the company.

But Judson Althoff, President of Microsoft North America and head of sales and marketing here since 2013, recently made me think more about what the "new" Microsoft is doing differently on the sales front.

Althoff was one of the key Microsoft speaker's at the company's recent Envision 2016 conference -- the business-decision-maker-focused makeover of the company's Dynamics-focused Convergence show that took place in New Orleans earlier this month.

"How do you take a sales force that was used to selling silos of technology, from a Windows franchise to an Office franchise to a SQL franchise, and say, hey, we're no longer about selling those software licenses, we're about this mission," Althoff asked aloud during his remarks on Day 1 of Envision.

The answer, Althoff said, includes a number of components, including changing the way Microsoft engages with its customers via social channels and in-person communications, to changing the way it teaches its sales force to learn from sales losses and mistakes via an internally cultivated "network of coaches."

The company has been learning not just how to eliminate silos between its product groups, but also to "eliminate the separations between how we traditionally marketed, sold and serviced" Microsoft's products, Althoff told Envision attendees. And it's moving the focus off the technology alone, toward how customers can and should use the technology, he said.

"Your focus needs to be on who's actually figured out how to attach more Xbox controllers and games to every console sale? Who's actually figured out how to sell their customers machine learning and data science projects running on Azure? Who's actually figured out how to get customers to see value out of the increase utilization of Skype for Business and greater connectedness and collaboration on your environments," Althoff said.

These changes aren't altruistic, Althoff conceded. Now that Microsoft is selling more and more of its products as subscription services, the sales team needs to go beyond just selling a customer on something one time. Consumption and utilization are now "viral," he said.

Related to this sales-support-subscribe circle, Microsoft also is doubling down on the idea of "fan creation," Althoff said. Happy product advocates trump indifferent users. Sales needs to make sure that customers aren't just using their products, but they're actually happy about doing so because they're getting value out of it," Althoff emphasized.

"Your customers aren't just your customers," Althoff said. "They are the future of how you'll market your products. Your customers are you best sales force, in fact, advocating and creating a greater fan base, creating the social ethos on how people recognize your brand."

Cultivating fans means more than simply offering products designed specifically for fans (like Microsoft officials claimed the Lumia 950 and 950 XL were/are). It also means inviting Surface fans to be part of the audience when Microsoft launches a new product, like the company did when it unveiled the Surface Book last year, and holding special events for Windows Insider testers who've been helping find bugs early in Windows 10.

While a lot of Althoff's comments were a little too rah-rah for me, I did find it interesting to hear there may be some near and longer-term product and strategy impacts that are attributable (to at least some degree) from lofty-sounding statements coming from the CEO suite....

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