MS WPC - Microsoft VP explains sales force revamp

Von Carol Sliwa

Microsoft Corp. is restructuring its enterprise sales force under a new initiative called Tailwind. Under the plan, the company will align account teams by industry, increase the size of its sales force and improve the way it partners with third parties, aligning its own partner teams by industry, technology and sourcing solutions.

In the past, the company managed sales primarily through district offices with local account managers. And while it built up vertical-industry expertise, that expertise was limited to a subset of accounts. Simon Witts, corporate vice president of Microsoft"s enterprise and partner group, spoke with Computerworld last weekend at the company"s Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis about the ways in which customers may notice changes that are related to Tailwind.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

How did this initiative get started? The catalyst was the end of the fiscal year [on June 30, when we] said, "OK, let"s look at the almost 4,000 enterprise accounts in the U.S." ...We"ve been evolving our sales model for two years now, and the evolution of our sales model has us building stronger account teams in the enterprise but also wanting to make sure that we have access to deep technical skills. [It also involves] the evolution of our partner engagement.

Many subsidiaries were just able to move to that.... The U.S. was always a tougher one because we"d taken some decisions historically to separate how we managed large industry customers from broader customers that may well have been in that same industry. We"d [also] continued to keep our technical resources under all of our districts in each of our industries, so we had very fragmented technical teams.

Did customer feedback play a part in the decision? The enterprise customer feedback would be clear. It says, "Help my accounting understand my business more. Bring the right people when we need them, and especially the accountability on services." Ultimately, that"s what"s behind the technical account management everywhere. Make sure you bring the right solutions.

Can you contrast how the Microsoft account team for an enterprise customer looks today with how it will look in the future? The account team consists of an account manager, an account technology specialist, a solutions specialist for the information worker, a solutions specialist for the application platform, a services executive, an engagement manager, a technical account manager, an enterprise strategy consultant and a sponsor. There are up to nine roles, and they could be dedicated or they could be multiple. I know one account team has got 30 people across those nine roles. So it just depends on the size of the account. Some account team units may have 20 people..., but they"re serving 10 accounts.

The new roles in there are moving the service executive, the engagement manager, the technical account manager and the enterprise strategy consultant into the same account team and being part of just one account plan. [By assigning] the application platform specialist and the information worker specialist to be part of that, we"ve really narrowed the goals of the account technology specialist just to core infrastructure and working with IT on the core things that IT provisions now.

Will there be any change in the way Microsoft interacts with partners? Yes. Anyone that goes to market through industry or thinking about the customer"s business process first, they"ll probably get more involved in account planning than they would have done in the past. Because those account plans are really based on that customer knowledge rather than just the technology knowledge. Once opportunities get well qualified and are really well understood, more and more of our specialist teams will be engaging partners in the more traditional way, which is at the opportunity level by sharing pipeline.

Can you contrast how a customer would have engaged with you before vs. how that will change in the future? No change. The core is the account management relationship.

How will the account management relationship differ for customers? Even within the account team, we have a degree of specialization around the infrastructure, around information work, around the application platform and so on. We obviously have different roles. [For example,] the technical account manager is always looking at the productive use of the software. They may have an enterprise strategy consultant that"s more on-site architectural.

So all of the relationship services roles as well as the presales roles will be more aligned as one team. In that sense, [customers] might feel they have a more coordinated account team. They might feel like we"re able to understand their business more, and hopefully, the core of it is that they"ll feel like we can bring the right solutions.

At the account level, there should be more intimacy, more understanding of their business and ultimately clearer roles and responsibilities inside the Microsoft account team. I think it"s clear that for those partners that go to market by trying to understand an industry or a customer"s business process first, there will be more integration of how we work with Accenture or how we work with whoever it is. We"re really looking at taking that planning down to the account level with those partners from now on.

When it comes to really getting involved in something ... they"ll see that the account teams have access to many more in-depth specialists that typically now will fly and won"t just be from the local branch. We really are going very, very in-depth. If they need to bring in storage specialists or management specialists, whatever it is, we"re really getting a lot clearer about very, very in-depth specialization in the technical sales.

Will those specialists be Microsoft employees? They"re Microsoft employees.

How many will Microsoft be adding? About 1,000 this [fiscal] year.... We"ve added about 60 percent to our sales force over the last five years, and this time, in one go, we"re adding about 15 percent.

Is this being driven by customers or competitive factors? It"s the opportunity to grow. We"ve been spending more on R&D than sales and marketing for the last year. We now realize that we"ve got a lot of propositions. You hear it from the partners at this conference. There"s a lot of excitement about the strength of the product road map. You could say we have mutually been underinvested in making those propositions clear.... We"ve been growing this business more than 10 percent a year for the last five years. We think we can do at least that.

What was behind the decision to bring services into the sales force? Customers want to see one Microsoft. Frankly, partners do as well. It drives [partners] nuts if Microsoft Consulting Service and Microsoft sales have two account plans or they"re running two pipelines, and ultimately, we are making two sets of commitments to partners and they don"t know how it works. The customer can see that as well. So, really, it is important to be one Microsoft in front of the customers.... Really, until we get predictable with our partners, our customers don"t think our partner model works. And that"s the bottom line. I mean, if you can"t be superclear with your partners -- how it works, who does what, how we can align -- then IBM would look better.

When will customers start to note the effects? They"ll start seeing it over the next three years.... You can"t change things all the time. We tend to change things every three to five years and hope people notice in one or two.

Do you think Microsoft"s partner-based model is still the right approach for enterprise sales? We continue to think of it as a competitive advantage.