Microsoft’s winning ingredients in Unified Communications

Whichever way you look at it, Microsoft’s ascent to the top of the Unified Communications technology landscape with its Skype for Business product is staggering. From not even being on analyst radars less than 10 years ago, to now being the leader in terms of new UC endpoint shipments is quite remarkable. The cynics would no doubt argue that is precisely what a stockpile of cash buys you. Let’s face it though, it takes a lot more than just cash to get to the position Microsoft is in the UC market.

So whilst working closely with Microsoft as a Skype for Business (formerly Lync) partner over the last couple of years, I have been taking stock of their resounding success. What is it that makes Microsoft so successful in a market that is already very crowded with so many really powerful products that have been around for many years?

Whilst I haven’t really discovered their secret sauce, I have noticed 4 things that in my opinion Microsoft is doing better than its competition. My observations are based solely on experience as opposed to theory. Experience of partnering with Microsoft and 4 of their biggest competitors.

  1. It’s about more than just telephony – Microsoft knows the battles it’s going to win. The battle for pure telephony endpoints against established telephony vendors definitely isn’t one of them. So it pretty quickly decided to create its own battle field, one where it has taken strategic positions to outgun the competition. The conversation has been shifted from telephony to productivity. And it makes sense. Telephony is just one part of productivity equation in the modern workplace. Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft would dearly love to sell SfB as a pure PBX/telephony replacement to an existing legacy system. But is a long way from doing that just yet, so it has cleverly moved the customer focus.
  2. Prepared to put money where its mouth is – If anyone’s got money to splash on marketing, we know it’s the Tech giants. But its one thing to shout out from the roof tops that you’re the best, and something completely different to be able to prove it. We’ve all become cynical of marketing claims from ‘Big Software’ around superiority so mere talk is hardly going to convince us. But what better than to be told by the software provider, “We understand your pain points and concerns Mr Customer and are prepared to invest our time and money into helping you overcome them”. That’s exactly what Microsoft has done by shifting marketing funds into customer success funds. Instead of just discounting software Microsoft is investing in its customers’ success. By providing access to a range of targeted services that help overcome deployment obstacles and FastTrack customer deployments it has been able to share some of the pain with its customer.
  3. It’s all about the users loving Skype for Business – Microsoft finds itself in an interesting situation compared to other UC vendors. Whilst its competitors are fighting for net new software orders for UC end-points, Microsoft is fighting an entirely battle – for user adoption. There must be millions (ok, perhaps I exaggerate, but you get my point) of end user software entitlements to Skype for Business that are sitting on the customer shelves waiting to be switched on. If you think about it, that’s easily a couple of percentage points in market share that can be gained simply through a focussed services effort from its partners. As a partner it’s a breath of fresh air to not get hounded by a typical “Where’s the PO from the customer?” type phone call that you might get from other vendors. Instead, every conversation with a Microsoft exec you have, every presentation you listen to around Skype for Business hinges around this key question – “How can we help you drive up user adoption?” They have built a comprehensive range of customer immersion, migration and user adoption tools aimed at helping end users and partners increase the buy-in and uptake of Skype for Business within organisations. The outcome? User adoption rates that are unheard of in the industry.
  4. A well drilled partner ecosystem – History teaches us that the most successful armies are not the ones with the most foot soldiers, but the ones who are best trained and prepared. Ones with a clear battle plan where every single person in the unit knows their role. That’s exactly what Microsoft has created. Recognising that the traditional Skype for Business partner doesn’t necessarily have the background in voice, it has gone about addressing it by supporting these legacy partners and recruiting a new breed of partners with the voice pedigree. It has created its own “drumbeat” aimed at getting partners battle ready. Consequently every Partner is equipped with the Skype for Business messages, competitive positioning, a clear understanding of how to address customer objections and a set of tools and methodologies to take the customer through a positive buying experience. But most importantly every Skype for Business partner is clear of the role it plays in winning new business and how it will go about it.

So there it is folks. I seriously doubt that I have given away the secret sauce here. Some of the above points are business basics which I suspect Microsoft’s competition might also be doing. However, I’m surprised that their efforts aren’t necessarily translating into market share growth.

Mind you, the ominous predicament for the competition is the fact that Microsoft, in my opinion, still has a long way to go before it hits 5th gear in its quest to become the clear leader in the Unified Communications technology vendor battle. But let’s leave that discussion to another day.

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