Microsoft Goes Customer-Centric

I’m just kidding, but there were two news items this week that suggested they will be moving faster to that end of the spectrum and away from the Product-Driven end as Harvey Thompson of IBM has dubbed it. That’s not an easy choice since suppliers often feel they know better than their customers what is good for them. You can get away with that Product-Driven approach where customers don’t have too much power. So think big oil or big pharmaceuticals. Even there a customer-centric approach helps

The Internet puts control in the customer’s hands particularly for products involving communications or knowledge. Successful companies in these fields will move more and more to be customer-centric so it’s just a question of the pace at which they will do it. The two news items indicate that the pace will heat up in Microsoft.

The first might seem paradoxical. Robert Scoble, perhaps the most well known blogger of all, is leaving Microsoft. He is a strong proponent of the idea of the blog as a way of opening dialogues with customers. He leaves with only best wishes for his former employer. His departure is being grieved by many in Microsoft. Steve Clayton’s comments are typical:

There is a revolution underway and though some parts of Microsoft get it, some still don’t and perhaps Robert’s departure may help in a small way to drive some of the changes that are still needed.

My theory, and it is just that, is that Robert Scoble saw the writing on the wall. It’s tough bringing messages from customers to an organization when many may not want to hear them. Help is defined by the recipient. Although clearly Robert Scoble is well liked, it’s draining to be a thorn in the side of the organization. On the other hand, in a customer-centric organization, it’s an unnecessary role. Since everyone is focused on understanding customers’ needs, there’s no need for a redundant message channel.

Perhaps Scoble was percipient enough to realize that there would be an equally newsworthy announcement within days of his own. Bill Gates is leaving Microsoft. Normally one person leaving an organization will not cause a massive change in the company’s approach to the market place. However when that person is the richest in the world, who would dream of suggesting there might be a better way. Microsoft has been successful, so who quarrels with success.

Now the buck no longer stops with Bill Gates. Ray Ozzie is presumably the final authority on most strategic questions, even though they must be confirmed by the largest shareholder. Ozzie is much more attuned to the grassroots nature of Internet market places. Perhaps the latest moves on Microsoft brands might have gone slightly differently if done a year from now.

The big battle of course is between Microsoft and Google. At the moment it would be tough to say whether Google is any more customer-centric than Microsoft. With new leadership in Microsoft, the race has taken on a completely different dynamic.

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Tags: customer-centric, Microsoft

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