Next Normal notes on CRM/CX/CE: Microsoft Ignite? It's really all about Doom

Ignite 2020 provided a look at what's in store for Microsoft's business products and services in the next few months. More important than Ignite, however, is Microsoft acquisition of gaming industry giant ZeniMax Media. Here's why it matters.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor on

This is the beginning of what will probably be my "next normal" -- a cross between a newsletter and an opinion piece -- though not as long as I usually do them. 

Why am I changing? Partly, because I just don't want to write 5,000-word posts at the moment, though, knowing me, that will change, and I will be doing that again, knowing how much you must miss reading my interminably long writing. Second, a lot is going on, and I'm going to have to be a bit more topical than normal. So, the idea is to do an ongoing newsletter-like format with one bigger (though not by my normal standards) section and then a few very short observations -- pithy or otherwise. This series will work in conjunction with the "building a home studio for your business" series I'm doing.

I will be writing the longer pieces when my heart is back in it, so gird your loins. (Do you even know what that means?)

In the meantime, let's get on with it.

Short Stuff

  1. SAP is not leaving the CX business despite some public tweets, articles, and posts to the contrary. While I don't think I would have said, "Wait til CX Live," I understand why they said that. But despite the speculation it is, and despite me getting mad at SAP for not mentioning CX at the Sapphire Reimagined CEO keynote, it's still fully in. In addition to rather pervasive evidence to the point, You can trust its VP of CX strategy, former analyst and member of the Four Horsemen of CRM, Esteban Kolsky. He, like his buddy, President of CX Bob Stutz, is brutally honest and ethically so. He said on LinkedIn in a comment (and you can always trust what he says): "How much do you know about the work we have done over the last nine months to recast the strategy for SAP CX? I bet it is not that much, since we have not shared it that much (gotcha!) You can change all that -- sign up for, and attend our flagship event and you will learn all you need to know about how SAP will turn CX on its head. (What you heard about us abandoning CRM? please -- seriously????)."Just abandon the idea that it is retiring from CX, please. Silly.
  2. Adobe, due to the most recent IDC CRM market report, is now the fifth-largest CRM provider -- and very close to the No.4. So it earned the .2 needed to get to 1.0, and thus it is no longer the Big 4.5 or Big 4.8, but the Big 5.0. Congrats to Adobe. I do declare. 
  3. A company to watch is MetaCXScott McCorkle's (founder of Exact Target) latest venture is something worth paying close attention to right now. Technology designed to enable a partnership between the company and the customer and to align the company to support the outcomes that the customer is looking for -- and measuring its success (or failure).  There is nothing like this in the market; collaborate with the customer to identify the outcomes the customer is looking for, once determined, align departments at the company to help the customer succeed in achieving the outcomes, and then measuring the success or failure or progress of that support for the customer's outcomes. It's called customer lifecycle management, but while you could say it is doing that, that isn't the market it is in now. That's a different market. The task for MetaCX is defining a new market or finding a better fit for their product in a market. But this is really worth watching. I expected to be pretty impressed, and I was impressed way more than I expected. Pay attention here.

Days of Future… Posts

OK maybe not so cool as the future only, but do you get the reference? (Click here to get the reference.) Anyway, here's what you will see me writing about soon.

  1. Moving from Theatrical to Cinematic in the Digital Normal.
  2. The rise of the citizen celebrity and the celebrity meets the citizen. Humanization takes center stage in CX and customer engagement.
  3. The evolution of ecommerce as a crucial centerpiece in CX and customer engagement as well as the economy. The transaction as a subset of interactions
  4. The transformation of loyalty. It's no longer based on purchases but based on behavior. What does that mean and what programs can frame and measure that? What technology is there to enable it? Stay tuned.
  5. Vertical industries as the not green fields -- but at least turquoise fields. Blue-green? What are tech companies doing to cover verticals?
  6. Philanthropy and social good to not be profitable even if they are to do -- gasp -- good.
  7. Twitch, the next business platform? Hmm.

Do you have any preferences on which you want me to write about first? Let me know at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com

OK, on to the big(ger) story…

Microsoft Ignite? Sure, but really, it's all about Doom.

Even though Microsoft, via CEO Satya Nadella, is announcing impressive new developments and the evolution of its business technology, the biggest news had little or nothing to do with Ignite. Microsoft on Monday acquired ZeniMax Media, the gaming giant that owns, among others, Bethesda Game Studios, the iconic id Software, and Arkane, which, for those of you who are gamers like me, means that Microsoft now will own Doom, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, and a significant number of other iconic game titles.  All you business mavens may be asking, "So what? What does this really mean?

Well, if you remember, in 2016, I wrote a piece on Satya Nadella's vision, which I defined as Microsoft wanting to become the mission-critical part of all 21st-century business infrastructure." What I meant by that was defined by this part of the post.

So, what would this look like?

  1. At the device-level, including the Internet of Things (IoT), Microsoft Windows 10, and other operating layer systems are embedded in devices ranging from medical devices to operating systems in mobile smart devices.
  2. At the operational level, Microsoft Dynamics is running the front (CRM) and back (AX) ends of businesses, day to day.
  3. At the level of communications, Office 365 is the unified communications hub for about 14-related products including Skype and fosters productivity.
  4. At the level of infrastructure, Azure is the development and delivery framework and system.
  5. At the engagement level, CRM and the partner network (e.g. Lithium, Coveo, Thunderhead) are delivering the systems of engagement, and record and Power BI and Cortana Intelligence, etc., are providing the "systems of intelligence." (Not my construct; I don't like that name for analytics.)
  6. At the consumer level, Xbox and its adjuncts are providing the customer experience and the media hubs for everyone's living rooms. Plus, of course, Office 365 carries over into the B2C world as well as the business world. Also integrated as a unified communications system. Not as much the platform.
  7. Industrialize OneDrive to handle storage in the cloud for whoever they want.
  8. HoloLens provides augmented reality to enhance engagement and also help solve problems.

Take all of this, weave it into the whole cloth, and you have something that can cover the infrastructure of 21st-century business --and I think it's Microsoft's ambition to do just that.

Note that I am now, for my purposes here, highlighting what I said in section six. This also goes back to something I said in 2012 about Microsoft when it was still being run by Steve Ballmer. That is not only still the case but is becoming more and more interestingly a distinct possibility as time goes on -- as indicated by the ZeniMax acquisition: 

"Microsoft is literally the only company in the world (including Apple and any enterprise software vendor too) that can make the claim that they can be the end to end enabler to help you run your life."

Do not underestimate this acquisition (cash only $7.5 billion and due to complete in mid- to late-2021). This is Microsoft making a bet that I think is pretty safe that the world isn't going back to the norms that pre-dated the coronavirus pandemic, but is more likely, at least when it comes to digital communication and interactions (i.e., engagement), to remain in most ways similar to where it is right now. And, when it comes to the PC and video gaming industry, that is the perfect place to place that bet.

Even though I think that Microsoft is, in the larger scheme of things, making this a strategic acquisition that goes beyond competing with Sony for a portfolio of games to get market share -- even that alone makes this a great move. Take a look at some of the pc/video gaming market activity during this crisis:

  1. "According to data from BuyShares, the market capitalization of the six leading video games companies in the world jumped by $354.5 billion between January and June."
  2. "NPD Group reported . . . that consumer spending on video gaming in the US reached a record $10.86 billion in the first quarter of 2020, an increase of 9% from a year ago."
  3. NewZoo, which is one of the leading gaming industry market analyst firms, sees the 2020 numbers for the PC/video gaming industry globally as $159 billion, up from the initial 2020 projection of $148 billion due to the pandemic-related increased engagement.

I could keep going. This is one of those instances where the data is so overwhelmingly the same thing -- major increases in gaming-related activity due to the pandemic creating increased time for digital engagement, including all types of diversion and new forms of or at least new levels of socialization. All this reinforces the immense value of this acquisition for Microsoft is irrefutable -- even if you work with just what you see on the Surface. (Get it?) The numbers. But I think it goes further.

Microsoft, to achieve that mission-critical part of 21st-century business infrastructure in combination with the ability to "be an end to end enabler to help you run your life" is figuring how the two of them work -- consciously or not. Consciously means that some brilliant people at Microsoft are thinking about this literally in this way. "Hey, we can be a mission-critical or at least super important enabler not just for business infrastructure but for how people run their lives." Or, given there is still some bureaucratic separation at Microsoft between the consumer divisions and the business divisions, it's an organic evolution that is just kind of happening without the fully conscious planning. There are some indicators, aside from this game company acquisition, put into place over the past few years that imply some conscious thought in all this:

  1. The reorganization of the company and its divisions, like the move to put Dynamics under the aegis of the Cloud, which, of course, is the Azure-focused unit. Azure is the key to the game plan.
  2. The move to turn Microsoft 365 formerly known as Office 365 from merely a productivity suite to a unified communications hub.
  3. Entertainment and Media. Interesting one in particular. The COVID-19 crisis led to the use of Teams for the virtual crowds at NBA games was so successful that not only did Microsoft ink an agreement (at least I think its more than a public pronouncement) with the NFL to do the same, but the virtual crowd model has been adopted by the entertainment industry as a whole, even if not using Teams all the time. Look at America's Got Talent. (Congrats to winner (my personal choice), poet Brandon Leake). That might be Zoom, that might be Teams. I have no idea what drives it. I do know that the NBA's experiment with Teams was very successful and is a good model to carry forward. Thank you, Microsoft.
  4. The drive to solidify, stabilize, and then extend Power Platform into a legitimate contender for the best platform on the market.
  5. The provision of Power Apps as a free (with "in-app purchases," so to speak, of data sources) offering with Microsoft 365. The incredibly strong usability of Power Apps is in line with the drive to produce technologies for "citizen developers" -- business people who aren't coders who can develop applications in a brief period but are valuable to their line of business (aka citizen apps).
  6. The incredible range of partnerships that Microsoft is developing with companies that it never competed with (Adobe), to companies that it always competed with (Oracle) that are all overtly or covertly built around Azure as the cloud backbone. Some of these partnerships aside from the aforementioned Adobe and Oracle are BP, Workday, SAS, Coca Cola, Swiss Re. ServiceNow, and even in 2018, Walmart. I can go on forever. So that there are no blinders on, Microsoft's fundamental business purpose for these Go-to-Market partnerships is to get either the business (e.g. Walmart) or the tech company's customers (e.g. SAS or Workday) on Azure. Interesting, in many of the cases, the GTM part of the deal is related to vertical industries. ServiceNow and SAS both are partnering around specific vertical strategies. Walmart and Coca Cola are partnered around increasing digital engagement in their specific verticals for their company. But what makes this germane is that Microsoft sees the strategic partnerships in terms of ecosystems that fulfill customer needs/expectations. That's why it's not the usual go-to-market (GTM) of only tech-to-tech but more than that. And even when it is tech and tech, such as the GARP (the "Get a Room Partnership") with Adobe, it can see extended possibilities, beyond the original intent of the relationship.

There is still a lot to be unpacked about Microsoft's grand strategy -- and over the next few months, I will be doing just that. This is just the start. But if I'm right (and I hope I am, but who knows? I'm an analyst, not a seer), this marks a very interesting expansion of Microsoft's grand strategy and a really good turn toward the vision I at least saw for it in 2012. If it isn't aware that this is happening, I'm now making them aware.

Coming in Issue No. 2:

Ecommerce is the centerpiece for the next normal (as well as the current one) customer experience and centerpiece for customer engagement. To understand why -- beyond the very obvious -- is to see that it's time to put to rest the idea that there are transactions and there are interactions. Transactions are a subset of interactions, and that changes the way that you should be seeing ecommerce.


The CRM Playaz are thrilled to announce our first (annual, quarterly, never again?) Executive Round Table for Oct, 8, at 1:30pm ET. The lineup is stellar:

To add to it, Brent Leary and I have several after the main event things for your viewing pleasure:

First, our intrepid Playaz-in-Residence, Constellation research VP rockstar analyst and influencer L. Nicole France, and longtime journalist, editor, and thought leader Ginger Conlon, will be commenting on the commentary -- following up the ideas that the industry leaders have thrown out there.

Then we have rotating panels of key industry analysts:

Unlike anything we have done via LinkedIn Live in the past, you need to register for this event. Here is the registration link I hope that you'll come and listen to this epic exchange. You will also be able to watch on Periscope/Twitter, Facebook Live, and YouTube. Stay tuned for more.

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