What we can learn from Microsoft

Boss, IT Business, Microsoft
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LuigiBlogs and media alike have been on fire about opinions regarding Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia – everything from the largest trojan horse operation in corporate history to the typical armchair quarterbacking of what else Microsoft should have done. While entertaining, the true value here is the business lesson:

If you lack focus, you’ll always find something else you’re missing.

For the most successful software company.. ever.. Microsoft is at the same the worlds most insecure one. Not in a sense of IT security, in a sense of confidence in it’s people, solutions and market leadership. And it makes no sense – but it’s projected by the loud CEO Ballmer leadership to COO Turner’s frequent keynote digs at it’s competitors.

Microsoft, for as big as they are, makes the same mistakes us small business owners make all the time – lack of focus and preoccupation with the trends instead of core customer demands. When you don’t focus on delivering consistent, predictable, reliable services to your client base you end up losing their loyalty and losing their business entirely while you’re seemingly just one missing piece away from having everything figured out.

So Microsoft bought Nokia. They also bought Skype, Navision/Great Plains, aQuantive and while all generate cash for Microsoft none are projecting much of Microsoft’s core value to it’s existing client base to drive loyalty or additional business. If anything, these distractions are leading Microsoft to continue losing in all the key evolving areas to more nimble and focused competitors while Microsoft tries to be (poorly) everything to everyone.

Small business IT providers need to pay attention to these moves, to the communications and the vibe surrounding the customer perception of what is going on. Outside of Microsoft offices the company appears in peril with a lame duck CEO that is on a spending spree to save itself from a future of legacy computing while it’s competitors are building exciting products in a consumer friendly way. Microsoft says they are “transitioning” while so many of us bought their great solutions in the first place because they were incredible in the first place. Microsoft is seemingly abandoning those while telling many we just don’t know what we want from Office Ribbons to the Start bar the company is losing perspective of who it’s customers actually are for the customers it wishes it could have.

Business survival is dependent on serving the customer you have, not the one you wish you had. Subway doesn’t stop serving turkey subs because it thinks it could be selling burgers, it doesn’t put BBQ pulled chicken into a veggie sub because research shows you need more protein in your diet, it doesn’t lose it’s focus.

While every business should always work on it’s next great product/service it cannot do so at the expense of abandoning the products/services it currently provides. Microsoft has in the recent history been all-in about search, cloud, phones, tablets and is seemingly further from leading any category as it constantly loses focus over which competitor they can be better than. While consumer technology trends change as often as fashion trends, those of us in the small business IT need to remember that one of the greatest and most valuable pieces of the puzzle we bring to the solution is reliability and a sense of continuity. It is what made Windows and Office great and are to this day, while not sexy, cornerstones of the Microsoft business. We often wish Microsoft could stop losing sight of those but the lesson to be learned from Microsoft’s constant marketplace distraction is that we all seem to be chasing an uncertain future – but are we doing it at the expense of ignoring the customers that actually make up our business?

I may not be a billionaire (yet) but I will always take cash from the client that wants to do business with me today over an imaginary customer that may want to give me imaginary money tomorrow. Sure, I’ll market to them and pursue them with all my spare time, but winning in business is reflected in the bank statements.

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