Saturday, July 22, 2023

Is Microsoft Trying to Poach Your Clients?

M365 "Business Assist" is the latest attempt to maximize the money Microsoft gets from your clients. But there's good news, too!

I've received a few emails, and been involved in a few online discussions about Microsoft's new service offering. Please note: This is NOT managed services. 

The basic plan is described here: That link is guaranteed to change, so you'll need to Google "Microsoft Business Assist" when the link stops working.

Basically, the program is available to businesses who 

1) Already have a Microsoft 365 account, and 

2) have 25 or fewer users. 

So, it's intended to focus on small business, and that means 95% of all the businesses in the U.S. and a higher percent in the other countries where it's available (Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa).

Note: I bought one license for this service even though our company has five M365 licenses. The commitment is for one year and may be paid $60 up front or $5/month. The one license must be associated with a specific user.

I could not find any written agreement or formal description for the service, so I may actually have purchased nothing but empty promises. I did find a link to the general Microsoft Online Subscription Agreement. See It makes no mention of the service I ordered.

I'm not a genius, and have never had luck finding the details of any offering at Microsoft (or most large corporations). But I have been around the block a few times. So I feel confident that your clients will not be able to find a clear description of what they actually get for their $60 commitment.

On a separate topic: Transparency of agreements with large corporations have not improved during my lifetime. And I'm old enough to remember 8-track tapes.

The Promise . . .

The info page linked above has a video with lots salesy, feel-good promises. It's only ninety seconds, so you can go consume it above.

The video basically says, We [Microsoft] understand your challenges around growing your business, managing your staff, and serving your clients. Microsoft is here to help you with expert advice, dedicated support, and personalized guidance.

The "engagement" begins with a contact where Microsoft will learn all about your business, then help you with

  • Geting devices up and running
  • Setting up branded email
  • Setting up an Online customer booking web site
  • Ensuring your data are protected

Plus lots of great advice on other Microsoft products and services that will help you to give even more of your money to Microsoft.

The Reality . . .

Obviously, Microsoft cannot fulfill any of those promises. They stopped trying to understand small business about fifteen years ago. But O365 has almost 350 million users, so if they can get an extra $60 each out of ten percent of those, that's a cool two billion dollars. Chump change to Microsoft, but every billion counts!

Why do I say that Microsoft can't deliver on these promises? Because even if they outsource the human labor to the lowest qualified, cheapest call centers on earth (which they will), five dollars just doesn't go very far. My guess is that this is their attempt to see how far they can take scripting, large language models, and AI chat bots.

My guess is that the customer experience here will be horrible. And, unfortunately for the customer, it's all good news to you.

This Is a Win For You

First, and foremost, you have - or should have - a real, legitimate relationship with your clients. They should recognize you, your team, your logo, and your way of delivering excellent service. They want to call YOU. They've been able to call on Microsoft (Dell, HP, Intel, Cisco, Viewsonic, Sony, Brother, Logitech, etc.) forever. But they pay you to manage their stuff and they like it that way.

There's an old truth that small businesses need to always remember: Small businesses like doing business with small businesses. Ask any of your customers to list the ten worst customer service experiences of their life. It's almost a guarantee that telephone and cable providers will make up the top four or five. Furthermore, it's likely that all ten are stories about big businesses, national chains, and companies we've all dealt with. 

And it's also a guarantee that your company will not be on that list. Your clients want to do business with YOU. And if you told them that they have to call Microsoft, they will not be happy. (Note: You can't "call" anyone under this plan. More on that below.)

Second, I repeat that Microsoft is not offering managed services. They are not offering to take care of all the client's technology. They're not really going to build a relationship. They're not really going to know the challenges of your clients, or the personalities that are involved in running their business - or managing their IT.

Microsoft will not sit down with your clients to hold regular Roadmap meetings to plan for the next year or two, and discuss a schedule for moving to new technologies as the company changes. You can, and should, do this. Microsoft never will.

And I assure you: Their "advice" will never include investing in technology or services created by anyone other than Microsoft, even if it would be in the client's best interest.

Third, the really good news is: This is a GREAT marketing opportunity for you.

For many, many reasons, I believe the best marketing your SMB IT consulting company can do for the next five years is to highlight the fact that you run a small business. You know what it's like to run a small business. You know the challenges of making a payroll. You know how hard it is to stay secure on a budget. And so forth.

So far, Microsoft hasn't pushed this program much. And it will probably quietly cease to exist after a year or two of losing money. But IF your clients ask about it, you can simply be honest. 

Yes. You can sign up for that. It's only $60 per user. Support is available by web link, email, or inside the Office 365 apps. It will probably be as good as any other company with hundreds of thousands of employees and trillions of dollars in revenue. 

You can even tell clients, "Hey, try it and let me know." I'll be impressed if you have a quick, appropriate response, great customer service, and a fast resolution. 

But also tell them, "If you don't get the fast, friendly help you deserve, remember that we're also here to help."

Bottom Line: Someone's going sign up for this. It may be nothing. I mean, literally. This may just be "Customer service" as usual and they're just trying to not lose as much money as they already do on customer service. If that's the case, then Microsoft won't actually change one single thing. They'll just get an extra $2 Billion to offset the cost of delivering the customer service they already provide.

Oh. On the Poaching Question:

Microsoft is not trying to poach your clients. They literally don't want them. They don't want to do any of the hard things that take time, talent, brain-power, and building a real relationship in the real world. All the human elements that you bring to your business are what makes business worthwhile to you and me.

But those human elements don't show up anywhere on a balance sheet. You can't report them to stockholders. 

You sell a recurring business based on service. Products plus service. Apps plus service. Monitoring plus service. Relationship and service. Microsoft can't do that at scale. And they don't want to.

This is an attempt to collect a little more money. But pretty much any human involvement makes it unprofitable.

So, no. Microsoft doesn't want your clients. They want the small change that falls in the parking lot when your clients are getting out of the car. That times 350 million adds up to "enough" to go after.

We shall see.

Feedback welcome.


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