Foley on Microsoft

Microsoft Wants To Make You a Fan

The company's customer-first shift aims to build its cloud offerings through positive public sentiment.

Microsoft wants more fans. Not just plain, old users or customers, but true fans. In Microsoft's definition, a fan is "an engaged advocate who loves the product," in the words of Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela, who -- with other senior leaders at the company -- has made fan-centric marketing Redmond's rallying cry, and is making a number of strategy decisions based around that concept.

Here's Microsoft's challenge: It's easy to be a fan of a gadget, a phone or a PC. You can hug your Windows Phone (and given Microsoft's dwindling phone market share, Windows Phones definitely could use a group hug), but it's a lot harder to hug Microsoft Azure. Or System Center. Or Sway.

It appears Microsoft's management team is slowly but surely setting its sights on growing Microsoft's business beyond its consumer footprint. But the idea of building a vibrant fan base seems challenging. It's true that business products can have their fans, too, but in the business world, fandom is more likely the result of "this helps me do my job better" versus "my rose gold is better than your gray magnesium."

Whether Microsoft execs are talking about building the company's consumer or business fan bases (or both), a key element of that effort is understanding customers better.

At recent events, Capossela and other Microsoft sales and marketing execs have extolled the virtues of telemetry data. By understanding how, when and if customers are using Microsoft's products and services and getting more value out of them, Microsoft can better iterate on and improve its wares.

Data also allows Microsoft to better tune its combination of online, TV, physical events and other marketing channels to increase its chances of growing its customer, and ultimately, fan bases. By understanding where in a product's lifecycle a customer is, Microsoft has a better chance of reaching and connecting with them, execs say.

Usage/engagement "is first part of building a fan," Capossela said during a recent Microsoft conference. "We need to make sure people aren't just buying, but are using and deploying. That allows our sales force and marketing teams to move beyond the short-term focus on license sales. We can nurture usage of our products after purchase."

Capossela isn't the only key Microsoft exec fanning the fandom flames. Judson Althoff, president of Microsoft North America and head of sales and market­ing, made some related observations during the Microsoft Envision conference earlier this year when talking about why fans matter. "Your customers aren't just your customers," Althoff said. "They are the future of how you'll market your products. Your customers are your best sales force, in fact, advocating and creating a greater fan base, creating the social ethos on how people recognize your brand."

The new Microsoft is focused not just on eliminating silos between its product groups, but also "the separations between how we traditionally marketed, sold and serviced" Microsoft's products, Althoff told Envision attendees. And it's moving the focus off the technology alone, toward how customers can and should use the technology, he said -- ­in part, at least, in the name of growing its fan base.

The changes in Microsoft's corporate culture under CEO Satya Nadella that are leading the company to focus more on customers than products aren't altruistic. Because Microsoft is selling more and more of its products as subscription services, the sales team and Microsoft partners, its de facto sales force, need to go beyond just selling a customer on something one time. And the way that happens is by making customers fans of your products and services. (I'm betting we'll hear quite a bit on this topic at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this month in Toronto.)

With Microsoft's board leaning on Microsoft's sales teams to get customers to go cloud more quickly, strategies for keeping cloud customers happy will be top of mind for the ‘Softies. Rolling out new features faster is impor­tant, but so are things like listening to user needs and letting those needs trump corporate politics in order to turn users into loyal fans.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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