Microsoft changing corporate sales strategy

Microsoft Corp.’s sales force is adopting a significantly different approach to working with big corporate users, adding account management teams responsible for coordinating all Microsoft’s products and services and setting plans to target more sales pitches at business managers instead of CIOs and IT managers.

Charles Stevens, vice-president of Microsoft’s enterprise and partner group, said at the company’s Fusion 2001 business partner conference in Anaheim, Calif. over the weekend that it will now focus more on selling combined bundles of software packages and services to enterprise users.

As part of the plan, Stevens said, Microsoft also will concentrate its direct sales efforts on the company’s top 2,000 corporate customers. That group represents the vast majority of the software vendor’s sales and the largest opportunity going forward, he added.

Under the new system, an account manager and an account technical specialist will be put in charge of all the resources that Microsoft offers to a particular enterprise user, giving each customer what Stevens described as “a single point of contact.” Until now, different sales staffs at Microsoft often sold independently into the same enterprise account.

“You’ll see two people totally focused on your business,” Stevens said in an interview following a speech at the conference. “They’ll come to you with an account plan, a business plan. You’ve got to sign off on that … and any problem, which you have with Microsoft or anything you want us to work on, you work with these two people.”

Reporting to the account manager will be technical specialists for Microsoft’s different products and for software licensing and professional services, according to Stevens. The decision to make changes resulted from global executive round-table meetings that took place last fall with CIOs, chief technology officers and other IT managers, he said.

The Microsoft vice-president said he heard a consistent message from those groups – that IT budgets are being cut and companies are focusing more on return on investment, shorter projects and creating business value. Users also said it was “just too hard to work with Microsoft” because its sales activities weren’t coordinated, Stevens added.

In the past, he noted, Microsoft took a more “silo-based” approach. Corporate users may have had an account manager assigned to them, he said, but the account managers didn’t have dedicated resources to help them build and review project road maps. They also were mostly focused on Microsoft’s desktop business and had to work with five to 10 different customers.

Users also indicated that they wanted “someone who cares about my business [and] who’s going to be accountable,” Stevens said. That was accompanied by a pointed warning, he added: If Microsoft didn’t make changes, it was “not going to be a player” at some companies because other vendors were promising to do the things that the users had requested.

In a further change, Microsoft’s enterprise sale force will no longer be compensated by salary and bonuses. Instead, sales workers will be paid based on quotas that can’t be met “by just selling a lot of Office and Windows” licenses, Stevens said. “You’ve got to sell [those products] because that’s where a lot of the revenue comes from,” he said. “But if you don’t get some of these big server projects, you’re not going to … hit the full quota.”

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