Microsoft: Embrace Clients with BI

IT Trends

What is going to carry the IT community through this recession? Will it be better and more innovative products? Will it be managed and hosted services? Or will it be something more intangible, such as customer relationships and satisfaction?

The answer is a little of all three. The one that stands out, though, is customer satisfaction. Ensuring your customer has the best experience with the solutions and services you deliver is paramount to ensuring that the next time your client decides to part with his pounds, the notes will land in your pocket.

Microsoft started talking about customer satisfaction last summer at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston. It’s in the process of revamping parts of its partner program to base solution provider ratings on customers’ satisfaction. The idea is simple: a happy customer will not only spend more money with a solution provider but is less likely to spend it on other vendors’ products.

Understanding customer needs and ensuring higher satisfaction levels is the stuff of Business Intelligence – taking bits and bytes of unstructured and often subjective data and turning it into actionable directives.

“Never has there been a more important time for business intelligence,” says Allison Watson, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group in a recent interview with Channel Insider. “How do we help customers make a choice on cutting costs or making investments is what makes business intelligence extremely important.”

Watson knows what she’s talking about. For more than two years, she’s been out on her soapbox, preaching to solution providers about the need to adopt an analytical approach to their businesses, examining the numbers that flow through their businesses and converting raw data into new business.

Business intelligence isn’t reserved for the Fortune 500, Watson says, and she’s right. Every business from ExxonMobil to the corner drycleaner uses IT systems that produce copious data about customer activity, revenue flows and profitability. Businesses on every level can measure their efficiencies (or inefficiencies), divine corrective action or determine best bets for strategic investment.

For solution providers, business intelligence – the mining of data from your customer records and CRM applications – will uncover sales opportunities. Solution providers delivering managed services, for instance, have deep hooks into their customers’ operations and have the ability to see with tremendous transparency failing infrastructure, unused capacity or gross inefficiencies that can lead to sales opportunities. Business intelligence, says Watson, offers the tools to attack the marketplace with a laser focus and win more often than losing.

“Winners in a recession focus on great salesmanship,” says Watson. “Winners have an extreme focus on the numbers they need to hit and they leverage assets to make sales better.”

And business intelligence isn’t just an externally focused exercise; Watson says solution providers need to understand their own business operations and have a deep understanding of their efficiencies. “It’s important to be modeling, so you know the cost and profit and the numbers you need to hit.”

All this sounds good in theory; putting this into practice is much more difficult. Microsoft has invested heavily in devising metrics templates and key performance indicators that help solution providers run their businesses better. The company is one of the few vendors that has taken the time and invested the money into the business operations of their partners because they recognise that not every solution provider has a team of MBAs plotting their business’ course. Solution providers that have adopted these metrics and methodologies swear by the benefits.

Metrics are only good if there’s sales activity around them. Microsoft is stepping up its services and support for solution providers, ensuring that they and their customers understand the benefits of their technologies and integrated solutions – from the new hosted services to improved versions of Dynamics CRM applications and the ForeFront security suite to the recent release of Windows Server 2008.

Helping to connect end users to the Microsoft partner community is PinPoint, a partner locator that enables solution providers to publish their offerings. Watson says Microsoft delivered more than 82,000 leads from PinPoint to its partner community this year.

Why invest in these services and support? Watson says that Microsoft is practicing what it preaches. By giving solution providers the tools and support they need – especially in a downwards-spinning economy – the higher their satisfaction. And that makes them more likely to push more Microsoft product and less likely to defect to another vendor.

Watson is correct when she says that this recession is going to reshape the entire marketplace and recast how we do business. What won’t change is the need to listen to customers’ needs and desire, and deliver on them. She says Microsoft is doing that with its customers – you the solution provider – and hopes the channel community will do the same with its customers.