Businesses today face a greater than ever need to differentiate themselves, often on a global scale. So how can they harness the acceleration of technology innovation instead of focusing solely on productivity tools for their employee’s desktops? One of the most common approaches is to seek out tailored business solutions capable of addressing complex business challenges. Today, Microsoft is focusing on those customer needs by addressing the way it serves its largest customers and delivers the value they need and expect.
As former head of Fujitsu Transaction Solutions, Austen Mulinder is bringing CEO leadership experience to his role as Microsoft’s vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Sales. His goal: Increase the velocity of the transition from the traditional product sales approach to one delivering increased business value built on deep customer relationships.
The foundation of this strategy includes three sales programs designed to counsel and support Microsoft’s largest customers as they solve real-world business challenges through IT. Microsoft’s PP recently met with Mulinder to learn how the Worldwide Enterprise Sales team is building its programs and talent to enable new opportunities for customers, partners and Microsoft.
- You have the unique distinction of having been a CEO, as well as a customer and partner of Microsoft. How are those experiences influencing your strategy?
From my previous experience outside the company, I’ve been able to observe the journey Microsoft has taken over the past several years. Microsoft has gone from being primarily a desktop company to being a serious player in the enterprise. I’ve seen the company move away from a product focus and become more solution centric. I’ve watched the good advancements and the stumbles along the way. Microsoft has come a long way, and we now have the opportunity to provide deep strategic counsel to the world’s biggest global companies.
We aspire to be the industry benchmark for sales excellence and to attain “trusted advisor” status with all of our customers, but we recognize this is a journey. We have some of the smartest sales people I’ve ever come across, and a lot of strong tools supporting them. Now our focus is increasingly around building relationships that encourage deeper customer dialogues and greater transparency and sharing of information. This enables us to partner with our customers to jointly explore how to leverage technology for differentiated business value.
Our best (customer) account leaders, and we are fortunate to have many role models, have achieved trusted advisor status with their customers. We’re working hard to achieve that status with all of our customers.
- Who sets the sales priorities, and how do those priorities translate to the sales resources you deploy?
A huge element of our effectiveness is being close enough to our major customers at the right levels to really understand their priorities and respond effectively. If we’re getting it right, customers will set the priorities.
Having said that, we have the Sales, Marketing and Services Group (SMSG) led by Kevin Turner, and he is ultimately responsible for driving the organization to be effective for customers, while at the same time delivering business results for our shareholders. In the enterprise space, part of Kevin’s team is Simon Witts, who runs the Worldwide Enterprise and Partner Group. We also have two verticals, Public Sector led by Gerri Elliott and the Communications Sector led by Martha Bejar. They all have a tremendous influence on our sales priorities.
To carry out the broad strategies set by the leadership team, we want as many of our sales assets to be as close to the customer as possible, and so the vast majority of our customer-facing people report to the field, not to headquarters. We also have some major sales groups that make sense to lead from Redmond on behalf of Microsoft globally-the Incubation, Category and Specialist Sales team, the Global and Multinational Account Sales team, and the Sales Escalation team, with the vast majority of their team members based in the field.
- Let’s talk about global accounts and multi-national companies. How does Microsoft engage with these customers?
The Global and Multinational Accounts program is currently focused on 50 of the largest corporations in the world, and we plan to double that over the next couple of years. The 50 global accounts are headquartered in 12 countries, and they have subsidiaries in another 90. We manage them globally, and each has a dedicated global business manager. The 50 accounts actually include support for some 850 companies, including downstream subsidiaries.
We give these accounts a heightened level of support because we see them as the ultimate proving ground for solutions that deliver real business value on a global scale. Within these accounts we are working to build a stronger strategic business relationship. We also increase their access to our product teams and senior executives at Microsoft.
Since I joined Microsoft in June of last year, I have talked extensively with many of the leaders of these global customers. What they want from Microsoft is to partner successfully to deliver solutions that drive real business value, whether that’s helping them innovate to differentiate themselves in the market, or reducing the total cost of ownership for IT
- How do you incorporate newly acquired technologies, or those that haven’t reached the critical mass of flagship Microsoft solutions?
That is the job of our Incubation, Category and Specialist sales teams. The incubation program exists because our business groups are making huge investments in both new and acquired products. In the early lifecycle of these products, we typically don’t have enough resources for the field to deploy them on day one.
Incubation is a dedicated set of sales resources that we manage centrally in partnership with the field. Their focus is to develop the sales strategy and drive the adoption of these products so that we can achieve real critical mass and develop our expertise in servicing these customers.
When we’ve grown an incubation product to a large enough volume and level of capability, it moves under the Category sales team for strategic and operational leadership. We then move those resources directly into the field, where they are managed locally. We continue to work closely with the business groups and the field to take those products into the mainstream.
A great example of this process would be our acquisition of Softricity and their SoftGrid product – which we now call MDOP, the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack. Before the acquisition, Softricity, in several years of existence, had sold about 250,000 seats of Softgrid. Within 13 months using the Microsoft incubation sales capability model we sold more than five million seats.
- How are you working with customers to sell, integrate and deploy specific solutions or products?
Historically the sales approach has been about selling and licensing products to customers, and enabling them to work out the deployment via the partner ecosystem. Now we are aligning our sales priorities with solutions, and bringing real expertise to bear against that goal. We have Specialist Team Units in the Incubation, Category and Specialist Sales team, who are sales resources with deep technical knowledge. We also have a Sales Escalation team, which is a group of highly technical consultants who can dive deeply into specific customer scenarios. We also partner closely with Microsoft’s product groups and business units to drive solutions that create real business value.
Ford Sync is an example where that broad partnership paid off for the customer. The account team who orchestrated the dialogue, together with the business groups, partnered with Ford to look at how they could differentiate themselves in the market for cars. Ford Sync took advantage of Microsoft’s mobile technology and voice recognition technology to create a unique offering. Today cars that are Sync-enabled far outsell those without that capability. So that’s a tremendous example of a solution we built with a customer, to help them serve their customers’ needs, and that delivered true business value.
- How does your team address competing technologies?
To be effective advisors, considering the breadth of products that Microsoft sells and the number of markets we’re in, we need people with deep expertise in myriad technologies. This is where the Sales Escalation team comes in.
The Sales Escalation team contains many of the strongest technical resources in the company. Typically they’ve been hired from outside as experts in technologies that we interoperate with and compete with.
We manage over 3,000 escalations for our field each year, supporting them in competitive situations. Our subject matter experts help customers make the right buying decision based on factual comparisons of technical capability, total cost, and risk. These experts play a strong role in helping customers understand the full value of existing and new solutions. As part of these field engagements we also gather important customer feedback which we use to report back to Business Groups and product engineering teams to ensure that our products and partners constantly improve and become more compelling in the market.
This group is also highly sought after in our Executive Briefing Centers (EBCs), which are facilities we manage around the world to host enterprise customer meetings. Executive Briefings help Microsoft to go more deeply into a customer’s business needs and examine how technology can solve the challenges they face.
- How does the enterprise sales group work with industry partners to enhance the overall value delivered to customers?
One of Microsoft’s biggest strengths in the marketplace over the past 25 years has been its broad and vibrant partner ecosystem. We have one of the largest partner channels in the industry, with thousands of partners worldwide deploying millions of IT, marketing, and sales professionals that carry Microsoft’s products to market.
The only way we can realize the full potential of the R&D we spend across industries is to ensure we have a healthy partner ecosystem that understands our product set and is skilled in deploying it. This has always been a cornerstone of our business.
Our account teams orchestrate the combination of service delivery by Microsoft and partners from the ecosystem. Many times the partner will take the lead, and we’ll support that. It’s key to understand that we drive a high percentage of our sales through and with our partner community, and that is not going to change.
As we move forward to evolve the software plus services model, Microsoft is defining new opportunities for the partner community to deliver value to customers. There will still be opportunities to resell, refer, add value through professional services, package with customized capabilities, and realize business growth through annuities and subscriptions, but there will also be abundant new opportunities for innovative, value-added services and customization as these hosted products roll out.
- How does Redmond’s involvement in enterprise sales impact the enterprise customer experience?
In an ideal world, the field has major competency in all of our products and solutions, and doesn’t require support from Redmond. But in the real world , we’re forever evolving the overall value proposition and the product elements that make up that value proposition. Having key technical resources and key leadership from Redmond engaged in important customer opportunities brings benefits all around. The customers appreciate the access, the insight they gain from it, and the opportunity to influence our direction. The Redmond resources benefit from the connection to the real world of our customers and their experience with, and leverage of our products.
One of the ways we embed this connection into our way of doing business is through the Executive Sponsorship program that connects our most strategic customers and their Microsoft Account teams with Microsoft Executives. I am fortunate to be Executive Sponsor to a number of our Accounts and it is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my role. I know many of my peers feel the same way.
Our team works to provide that bridge. If we’re getting the sales model right, we will get a good mix of field leadership and Redmond involvement for the biggest accounts, so they feel they’re getting the best of all worlds from Microsoft. To that end there are a number of strategies, like those outlined here, that are being driven to create a more customer and sales centric environment in Redmond, and thus create a better platform to enable success in the field.
- How else does Microsoft connect with customers at the enterprise level?
One of the things that impressed me the most as a partner and customer of Microsoft is the investment the company makes in connecting with customer executive teams. I knew that if I came to Microsoft seeking insight and information, the facilities would be first class, the content would be excellent, the quality of the people would be very high, and my team would leave with a better view of our overall technology and business strategy. Microsoft does an amazing job of that.
We had 20,000 visitors come to our eight EBCs globally last year, nearly half of them to the EBC in Redmond. Recently we expanded our Redmond capability with a 50 percent increase in capacity. This year we expect to host some 15,000 visitors in Redmond, representing about 2,000 discrete customers. That is a tremendous advantage in that it gives us the opportunity to deploy our A-team across many more customers than we could if they had to visit customer sites. If you look at the utilization and the feedback we get for our EBCs, we really leverage them to the hilt. The EBCs are one of our most strategic sales tools.
Additionally, we have 16 Microsoft Technology Centers around the world – which provide facilities, technology experts and a virtual deployment site for customer solutions – and we manage nearly 3,500 engagements annually in those centers. The success rate of when we prove out a customer solution in one of the MTCs is extremely high.
Microsoft is also known for running tremendous executive events. Every year we run the CEO Summit, the Global CIO Summit and the Global Account Summit, to name a few. These exclusive events bring together top business leaders with Microsoft executives and external thought leaders for unique business and technology discussions.
Through all of these venues, we create value for the customer, both now and in the future, with how we evolve our relationship and our understanding – by listening and engaging in deep discussions with them on a range of topics.
There are a huge number of assets that Microsoft Account teams can leverage to add value to our customers and build deeper relationships in the process. I have been very impressed with how fully utilized these capabilities are. It is a good indicator of the ever increasing level of customer centricity in how we do business, and as someone who enjoys customer connection more than any other aspect of my role; it is great to be part of this team.
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