Thursday, July 19, 2012

SMB Community Survey Results - Part 2

Microsoft Silence is Deafening

In the first report on the SMB Community Survey, I basically reported on the stats and frequencies of the survey results.

In this article, I'm going to talk about some of the topics brought up in the open-ended question at the end. As I mentioned last time, 204 people entered comments totalling more than 10,000 words. You can download a Word document with all of the comments here. (27 pages - Free, of course.)

Note: There are SO MANY topics here that I cannot possible address them all in two blog post. So rest assured we'll be looking at them in more detail as time goes by. Here I'm going to give some thoughts on:
- Microsoft's Relationship with the SMB Community
- The Passing of SBS
- Alternatives to Microsoft Products
- The Atmosphere of Uncertainty

In the next blog post on this topic, I'll look at
- The Passing of the Small Business Specialist Certification and the Introduction of The Small Biz Competency
- The Cloud: How Ready Are We, Really?
- Office 365
- and Misc. Comments on Specific Products Related to All of These Topics

My Biases

One person mentioned that my questions were biased in an obvious way. He didn't say what that bias was. All I can say is that all surveys, no matter how "professional" have bias. I don't worry too much about my bias since I don't pretend to be a reporter (and I think all reporters are more biased than the rest of the population anyway).

If I wasn't an opinionated jerk, would you ever read my blog? lol

Another person asked why I didn't ask about Office 365. Well, my bias is that I didn't see how related O365 is to all of this. But YOU sure did! There were lots of comments about Office 365, including some strong confusion about how it's related to Server Essentials. We'll talk more about that next time.

In hindsight, I should have asked about O365 in the "Will you deploy . . .?" section. Hindsight is always 20/20.

On a totally unrelated thread, I am going to be looking at O365 very closely next week in light of the announcement of the next generation and related licensing. My bias has been against O365. But if it's the only real option available, then I need to figure out what the new product looks like and what our deployment strategy will be. Stay tuned.

Community, Microsoft, and Change

The most obvious result you'll see in the comments is frustration - and a fair bit of anger. It's fair to say that these will fade once the confusion has died down. Right now there are more questions than answers.

I think a great deal of the negative reaction is related to the perceived change taking place between Microsoft and the SMB Community. Part of this is based on the real changes made over the last five years. Part is based on recent changes with the SBSC/Small Biz Competency/SBS product line. And a huge part is based on the way these announcements were handled.

I am sorry for the folks who were truly blind-sided by the End of Life announcement for SBS. But this has been coming for years. It really is the next logical progression. But there are two elements in this announcement that really pissed off a lot of people.

First, people were angry about the timing and combination of announcements regarding end of life for the Small Business Specialist program and the EOL announcement for SBS. I watched the EOL announcement for the SBSC program. After the EOL announcement for SBS, I listened to it again. It is very clear that the presenter knew about the EOL of SBS but gave no hints. Obviously, he couldn't make an announcement before the announcement, but people who attended really felt sucker-punched when the SBS EOL announcement was posted on the SBS Blog a few days later.

Second, it is very obvious that the Microsoft MVPs and PALs were left out of the decision regarding EOL of SBS, as well as the announcement. My guess is that Microsoft "took their advice," but gave them no advance notice about decisions. That left Microsoft's strongest advocates within the community confused and telling everyone, "I had no idea this was coming. We were not consulted or involved."

Now, those programs were created to serve Microsoft's marketing purposes. So Microsoft can do whatever they want. But they've spent years training the community to look to these people for leadership. When these leaders openly admit on boards and lists all over the Internet that they were not consulted, and that they were blind-sided by the announcement, the community gets a very clear message that their opinion doesn't matter. (That might not be the intended message, but it's the message that was received.)

Many people feel betrayed by the way this was handled. Community members and MVPs. In particular, many MVPs had a very strong (negative) reaction when folks from Microsoft said that these decisions were "based on feedback from MVPs and other partners." Several MVPs were very loud in their insistence that they were not involved in these decisions.

With so many changes coming all together, it would have been good to make a major broadcast from Microsoft that announced these all at once - with a super-positive spin and a clear vision of where Microsoft wants to take the small business community. What's the plan for SBS? What's the plan for transitions to Server 2012? What's the plan for the Small Biz Competency? Where do we find more information.

Partners feel squeezed out by Microsoft. Part of that is the disintermediation created by Office 365. And part of it is created by suddenly dis-engaging from a community that has been heavily engaged for almost ten years.

Having admitted that my hindsight is much better than my foresight, I can't complain too loudly about Microsoft not foreseeing this reaction. Still, it seems hard to believe that you wouldn't expect people to have a strong emotional reaction when you discontinue a product line on which they've built their entire business . . . to Microsoft's benefit.

The strangest part of this is the silence from Microsoft in the last week. I've been contacted by MVPs, user group leaders, and lots of consultants - all wondering what's going on and what's next. I'm sure (I hope) Microsoft folks are preparing a response. But the longer silence goes on, the more people will fill in the blanks themselves.

The Passing of SBS

I've addressed the element of surprise elsewhere, so I won't rehash that.

In the big picture, I think this move was inevitable. I think the future is very bright. I think we have lots of options.

Sometimes stuff happens and you can't do anything about it. This is, in the end, a business decision. It's not personal (Let's be honest, Microsoft doesn't know who I am or who you are.). There's nothing going on here except business. So I think anger is probably misplaced with regard to the EOL announcement. In terms of P.R., the announcement could have been handled a lot better. But the actual end of life is just a thing.

There's s lot of worry about what to sell next, should you sell and EOL product, and what replaces the SBS we've been selling?

First, you now have 17 months before SBS is gone. I have to say, that's plenty of time to figure out what's next. Many people are worried about this. But I think far more people will have figured out a plan than originally believed they would.

Second, in this case there's no problem selling SBS as an EOL product. In fact, you can use it as a sales incentive! Every product bundled into SBS is a Microsoft product. So when the client is ready to move on (in 2015 or 2016), there will be a clear upgrade path to Microsoft products. Or you could migrate away from Microsoft to alternative products. This is not like Response Point, where there was no path at all except to throw the system on eBay.

Some people clearly intend to sell SBS Standard as long as they can and then keep the old servers around as long as they can. This has the potential to create another XP experience for Microsoft: SBS - the server that never dies.

And to be honest, there are plenty of people who are totally okay with the change in product line-up. If you're not totally wedded to the way things used to be, the future looks pretty good. It will be much more expensive for end users, but there will be no shortage of things to sell.

One very positive reaction from the survey: "Been working with SBS since v4 so sorry to see it go. But given cheap hardware [and] easy virtualisation there is little reason to have 1 server. I'm pretty excited about Office365 and implementing more. As long as there is a good migration story I don't think I'll have too much to grumble over."

And one respondent put things in perspective about the realities of the world we live in: "I'm more worried about the guy who posts a yard sign I Can Fix Your Computer in 24 Hours devaluing my worth than the loss of SBS."

Non-Microsoft Alternatives
(Party Like it's 1999)

Probably the biggest thing Microsoft should be paying attention to is the very high number of responses that mentioned moving away from Microsoft products and onto alternatives. Time and time again, people talked about moving away from Microsoft. As I've said many times, once Microsoft opens the door about whether I should sell a specific product, that door gets opened all the way!

Alternatives specifically mentioned include Linux (Unix, Ubuntu, Red Hat), Kerio, Google Apps, Open Office, Dropbox, Zimbra, and Freeware.

There's great irony in breaking apart the SBS product back into its component servers. Way back when, we hobbled together storage, logon, email, backup, and remote access. As consultants, we had to pick a group of products that worked well together and didn't break the client's budget. When SBS is gone, we'll be doing that again, just like we did in 1999 (SBS didn't really have much traction until the 2000 version).

Time and again, partners have said that, if Microsoft doesn't have a right-priced upgrade path, the competition will. And if the competition doesn't, then we'll each be back to building our own.

There is no scenario in which Microsoft will continue to own as much of the technology in client offices as they own today. Again, once the door is open, it's open all the way.

FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

Right now there's a lot of confusion over the product line. There's confusion over certification (which I'll discuss next time). Microsoft's complete blackout of communication with the community doesn't help.

As for clients, relationships, and Microsoft: Some partners feel very strongly that Microsoft is pushing us away. I just talked to a reporter who asked me, "Do you think Microsoft just decided they don't need all those small businesses and small business partners?"

If reporters are asking that question, you can be sure partners are as well.

If we stick with Microsoft products that are too expensive for small businesses, will we make any money? And if we push them to cloud-based products with paper-thin margins, will we be forced to have ten times as many clients just to stay in business?

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Some have said that we all need to become mass-marketers focused totally on quantity sales. Well, there can only be a limited number of people in that space. We can't all be mid-sized partners for Microsoft! But there's a very bright future here: As on respondent said, the mid- and large-size integrators can never take our jobs because they cannot provide personal, dedicated service or true consulting (advice). They must become commoditized box-pushers. They cannot provide the patience, flexibility, and hand-holding required by the small business client.

Microsoft has never really understood small businesses. That's why they engaged the community.

One of the primary reactions to uncertainty in any market is paralysis. Look at buying habits since the economic collapse in 2008. Many, many clients have simply stopped spending. Or put off spending until something broke. In times of great uncertainty, they simply retract and keep doing what they were doing until some clarity emerges. Microsoft may have unwittingly created a new level of uncertainty that will simply stall decision-making for some time to come.

Eventually, Microsoft will release white papers, go to market campaigns, and hands on labs for all this stuff.

Right now we don't know enough about Windows 8, Server 2012, Server 2012 Essentials, Office 2013 /365, or the process of moving from EOL SBS that we'll need to have in place by 2015.

But we'll learn. We'll come up to speed. We'll figure out how to make money - as we always have.

The future will have a lot less Microsoft in it.

But if you're a true consultant - a technology adviser to your clients - then you've got years of work and massive opportunity ahead of you. Remember, FUD=$.

. . . To Be Continued.


Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

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