Microsoft Corp. is confused why there’s so much negative coverage of the company following the retirement announcement by CEO Steve Ballmer. Since last Friday, article after article, commentary after commentary, analysis after analysis all come to the same conclusion: Microsoft has a lost decade under Ballmer and needs an innovation leader.
From Microsoft’s perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Microsoft admits it made mistakes — mobility, search, Windows Vista, Zune, etc. But, during Ballmer’s tenure, Microsoft sales have doubled, profits remain strong and the now has 16 billion-dollar business units. Moreover, Microsoft says it’s positioned for a robust and prosperous future in which consumers and commercial customers leverage its products for the integrated world.
Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of communications, vents about the negative coverage in his blog: “The reason we have big ambitions is because we see big potential for us, our partners, the industry and most of all, our customers, the people who use our tools and toys to do more, go further and keep pushing us to do better. So when people see the ‘worst of times’ while we see the best still ahead of us, we know it’s simply because we’re not looking through the same frame or the same time horizon.”
Microsoft’s frustration and perspective isn’t unwarranted. The company is successful by many conventional measures, despite some of its misses and missteps. But if only that were the core issue.
The problem Microsoft is overlooking, particularly when it comes to its channel partner community, is that it needs to listen more and talk less. For the past several years, Microsoft has been trying to dictate terms to the channel community and, by default, the end-user market. As it tries to catch up to rivals, it’s force-feeding positioning, strategy and value to partners and customers rather than listening to needs.
When partners told Microsoft that Windows Vista had to be ready for prime time, Microsoft released the operating system without enough drivers to make upgrade an imperative.
When partners and customers said Apple Inc.’s iPhone was a threat, Microsoft balked.
When partners said they couldn’t figure out how to make money on the nascent “software plus services,” Microsoft told them to try harder.
When ISVs told Microsoft they needed more information about Windows Phone, Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded strategies and product development, Microsoft told them not to worry. The result was a mass migration of Android development.
When OEM partners said they needed an operating system for touch-driven devices, Microsoft allowed Apple to take the lead.
When partners clamored to sell its Surface tablet, Microsoft decided to go direct while telling the channel to buy devices to show their customers.
And the list goes on.
Microsoft doesn’t like the negative coverage because it perceives partners and customers are dissing its efforts and future prospects. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Microsoft partners and customers are as devoted and loyal as Apple’s throngs of iPhone and iPad users are. They want Microsoft to succeed. They want Microsoft to create market-leading products and services. They want to support Microsoft and help deliver value to the market.
The negativity, transmitted through the media and analysts, is a reflection of their exhaustion. They’ve tried to communicating and working with Microsoft, only to have their suggestions and critiques fall on deaf ears.
Microsoft can cite Dickens all it wants, but it should perhaps go back and read Galatians, as all the negative digital ink is really a case of “you reap what you sow.”
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