Microsoft has a footprint in nearly every established company in the world. The Microsoft Office Suite revolutionized the way we work since nearly the beginning of the internet.
While the company has experienced both successes and challenges in its history, Microsoft has profited as a result of two primary factors: 1) a good product, and (equally as important) 2) a great enterprise sales team.
We’ll spare you a history lesson about Microsoft here but it’s important to recognize and respect the strength of their first mover advantage and subsequent (now legacy) footprint. This history has allowed Microsoft to be a fast follower with adjacent technologies within the marketplace. In other words, Microsoft monitors new concepts and technologies in the marketplace prior to investing their own resources. This strategy has largely worked over the last two decades as Microsoft will simply build or buy a proven technology stack that has proven successful and plug and play into their existing customer base.
Fast forward to present day, Microsoft continues to be a fast follower within the marketplace. Their legacy footprint has allowed for continuous introductions of new technologies to their existing client base. Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions has significantly lowered the barrier to entry for new technologies to be introduced to their client base. This has created a new dynamic for Microsoft as it now employs tactics to eliminate competing technologies within its legacy client base. We will discuss these tactics in further detail within this article.
Up until 2011, Microsoft’s primary revenue stream originated from 1) net new technology sales and 2) maintenance fees. The new technology sales were largely on-premise meaning the software would be installed within a customer’s server environment. For those existing customers, Microsoft earned an 18% maintenance fee (calculated from the original purchase price) simply by pushing technology upgrades to the customer. This maintenance fee was largely recession proof as companies largely paid for upgrades thinking they were required but rarely ever installing the actual upgrade. As the market evolved into a SaaS based consumption model, Microsoft introduced Office 365 to drive predictable monthly revenue from their customers.
This new pricing model has transformed its business and propelled its revenue. This evolution has allowed them to push adjacent SaaS services to their clients such as cloud storage, security services, etc.
Because they are now training their clients to purchase software on a subscription model, it’s easier for Microsoft sales representatives to upsell other products. Knowing how a sales rep is incentivized and how they think will allow you to make the best decisions for your company and negotiate effectively.
What This Looks Like from a Sales Representative
Your Microsoft sales representative’s primary job is to gather as much intelligence as possible from your organization’s stakeholders in the interest of finding new products and services to push into your organization. On the contrary, your goal is often to control and/or reduce expenditures for your company. This means your intentions are automatically at odds.
Based on the new dynamic landscape within the marketplace, Microsoft is now focused on eliminating any competing solutions from their customer’s technology stack. As discussed previously, Microsoft’s acquisition strategy has largely been focused on those technologies which have developed a large footprint within their customers. Your Microsoft sales representative is highly incentivized to eliminate competing software from your environment and will make the case that you are able to achieve cost savings by simply eliminating these competing solutions. At face value this sound nice but in practice it’s rarely ever true without proper negotiation support.
While there are some benefits to centralizing your technology through a single source, rarely is cost-savings one of those benefits. The cost savings presentation sounds well and good, but it often doesn’t lead to any actual value-capture benefits for companies. Instead, Microsoft gains a larger share of your technology stack and, with it, more negotiating power.
We’re seeing this increasingly with the promotion of Azure, their cloud solution, Power BI, their analytics tool, and anything machine learning and/or artificial intelligence related. These priorities will change as new products are developed but the principles are the same.
Within the last 2 years, Microsoft (like Google and their G-Drive) has started to build technologies that are reliant on the Azure platform to work properly. This forces companies that were not originally interested in Microsoft Azure to introduce the capability into their environment. Microsoft is hoping that your storage requirements grows both organically and inorganically.
Based on polling, we find that 87% of Microsoft customers expand their utilization of Azure within 2 years after the technology is introduced into their organization. This is complemented by the fact Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have made purchasing storage so simple and commoditized that anyone with the organization can do it. This is literally the ideal situation for Microsoft.
From an Office 365 perspective, your sales rep will want to push you toward an E5 license. This is their highest tier license for enterprise customers. Naturally, this is also their most expensive product which drives the greatest sales incentive for your sales representative.
To summarize, your sales representative’s top 2 priorities are:
Don’t Forget About the ‘Business Desk’
While your sales rep (i.e. “Account Executive”) and their management (i.e. “Vice President of xyz”) will be your primary point of contact, they have very little decision authority once it comes to rate adjustments..
That’s where the “business desk’ comes in. Microsoft has been testing, validating, and refining this concept for years and they’ve got it down to a science.
The ‘business desk’ is the Bad Cop to your seemingly accommodating sales rep’s role of Good Cop. The sales rep portrays a helpful, eager personality but they can’t finalize any decisions that actually affect your rates. The business desk contemplates their options, makes decisions, develops the basic communication plan, and informs the sales reps next actions with you, the client.
If you want to get the best rates possible for your company, you need to train your sales rep on how to interact with and communicate with the business desk on your behalf. With the right combination of messages and timing you can meet or exceed your negotiation goals.
They Will Try to Divide and Conquer
The Divide and Conquer tactic is widely known as one of the oldest plays in every enterprise sales playbook. The tactic has been used for years across all industries as it continually proves to be successful in driving more revenue.
Your Microsoft sales team will build relationships at multiple levels of your organization to learn more about the potential needs of your organization than you do. They will use this information to introduce products and services to different levels of the organization to create buy-in and acceptance prior to any negotiation officially starting.
If you are a sizable account with Microsoft ($1M+ per year) you will also have some executive attention within Microsoft. This team will naturally want to engage with your (the customer) executive team to “gain alignment.” While executive relationships between your two organizations is not always a bad thing, it’s important expectations are carefully managed so that your executive team doesn’t agree to products or services you may not actually need. It’s best to create a negotiation plan that includes how and when your executives will communicate with Microsoft (if at all).
We have found that the large majority of our executive clients have an interest in participating in the negotiation. It’s important you include them in your communication planning so that they too can be empowered to participate within the guidelines you establish for them.
As for the rest of the organization, drive alignment across all your stakeholders within your organization early and often. Make sure everyone is on the same page about your needs, your budget, and your forward-looking initiatives and business plans.
You need to get clear on what you need and when you need it. If Microsoft is successful in their Divide and Conquer technique, they’ll tell you the answers to these questions and their answers will be an over-inflated version of what you would develop internally.
Microsoft Contract Language Risk Mitigation
Like Salesforce, Microsoft does not follow the typical calendar year in the interest of accessing two corporate budgets. Microsoft’s fiscal year ends on June 30th of each year.
They do this in order to split their software expense across two corporate budget years to capture 1) end of year funds and 2) new budgets from their clients before they spend it.
Often we find clients have negotiated a price cap on specific products rather than on the total spend of the contract.
While price caps are well intended by the client, the problem is that Microsoft literally invented the concept of price caps in the early days of enterprise agreements to overcome buyer reservations. Microsoft subsequently defeats these protections by simply changing product names and SKU numbers on a frequent basis. In other words, if you put a price cap on a specific product during your negotiation, that product will almost certainly have changed at the time of your renewal in 1, 3, or 5 years which effectively negates any protection intended by the customer.
Instead of placing a price cap directly on defined products, we recommend you establish protection based on the total spend of your contract.
Ensure that you have proper affiliate language in your contract. This means that multiple different subsidiaries of a company can use the same license versus having to have their own separate contracts. We’ve seen this trap laid in a few different M&A situations, specifically.
In the world of business, it’s common for companies to acquire or divest business units on a regular basis. Especially with our private equity clients, adding or removing thousands of employees each month is not uncommon.
Frequently, the contract will state that a certain amount of licenses allows for specific price reductions. With companies changing size and needing different licenses so frequently, this can be a problem. It’s important to create the lowest floor possible so that you aren’t hit with any penalties and avoid renegotiation triggers.
Areas of Opportunity
As with our Salesforce initiatives, we help our clients determine both the Right Size and Right Price approach for their specific needs. While companies like Gartner provide a wealth of information with tactics and general rate benchmarking, we recommend narrowing down the data to determine which companies are your closest peers in terms of industry, size, AND annual spend.
Obtain Net New Products at Very Reasonable (or Free) Prices
Showing interest in the incentivized products we mentioned earlier can reap huge rewards for your company. Use these products to drive cost savings within your core product baseline costs as well as to add new digital capabilities for little to no cost.
In order to know what license type you require, you need to have a clear understanding of how different stakeholders within your company are going to use your various Microsoft products. Develop no more than five personas for your organization based on how you’re going to use the platform. These personas will inform your license strategy.
Within our Right Size process we start by isolating the core functionality utilized by each persona and then matching that to the capabilities available within the various products. Using the Microsoft Office 365 Suite as an example, your Microsoft sales team will almost always recommend purchasing the E5 license for your organization as it offers the greatest capability, protection, etc (blah, blah, blah).
Rarely do our clients ever need the E5 license (only 5% to be exact). In fact, most organizations don’t even use the full capability offered within E3. This is why it’s so important to develop specific personas based on utilization within your organization. In a perfect world, you would be able to assign different license types based on the unique demands from each of your personas. In other words, it’s very common for the output of our Right Size assessment to suggest E3, E1, and K1 (yes, there is such a thing) within a client’s environment in the interest of driving the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) with the greatest digital capability.
The simple act of selecting a lower license than the E5 (if appropriate) can save your company 60% or more.
Another example of successful Right Sizing is the isolation of shared computers. Within the manufacturing and healthcare industries, there are often shared computers that are available and used by multiple employees. Microsoft’s standard approach is to license each individual person in the company with an individual license. If you have shared computers, instead of licensing each individual you simply need to license each shared device. You can purchase a restricted use license with a desktop version for Windows and Office. For example, Instead of five employees being assigned five individual E5 licenses, you now have a single low priced license that meets their needs.
Another restricted-use license includes having an “email only” license for those that don’t need a computer but just want access to work email from their own devices.
In other cases, we’ve helped some clients realize they don’t need Office 365 at all and they can simply stay with their perpetual license. License types truly depend on the client and their individual needs.
Get an MPSA
During your renewal you should take an inventory of your multiple agreements (servers, office products, etc.) and explore the benefits and risks of combining under one agreement called the Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA). The MPSA acts as a parent to the child agreements for your individual products and services and makes for an easier and more streamlined contracting experience down the road for all involved.
Historically, your Office products are on an Enterprise Agreement while the infrastructure products are on a Server & Cloud Enrollment (SCE) Agreement.
The more you can consolidate and co-term your agreements, the more leverage you’ll have. You’ll be able to negotiate the entire consolidated contract with the “business desk” versus two or more separate, and distinct contracts.
Important Note for Those Companies Converting from a Perpetual License
If you’re converting from a perpetual license to an Office 365 contract, you have a huge opportunity to capture the lowest price point you’re ever going to get from Microsoft.
This conversion is its own license - it has its own SKU. The reason for this is that you’ve already paid for a part of that license through your original perpetual license purchase. If properly negotiated, the cost for this conversion license should only be the difference between the upgrade cost (current version to new) and your original cost.
Most Microsoft customers don’t know about this opportunity and let this massive cost avoidance opportunity slip through the cracks never to be seen again.
For context, the price difference is about 50% and it will be realized year-over-year. If properly negotiated, you'll reap continuous benefits from this opportunity.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft has a deliberately designed sales process and most companies are so entwined in their products that they readily accept new subscription charges and upgrades without digging deeper into their specific needs.
Important things to note when it comes to negotiating your Microsoft contracts:
Our goal here is to help educate you on the best practices for negotiating with Microsoft. If you have additional questions or want to see more articles like this - whether for Microsoft or other SaaS companies - let us know so we know where to prioritize our focus for future articles.
Want more help negotiating your Microsoft contracts? Contact us today for a consultation.
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