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INSIGHT: How will Microsoft sell Windows 10?

“As Windows 10 comes to fruition in the next few months watching how Microsoft prepares its sales channels for the challenges of selling works better together will be a key story to watch.”

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event was chock full of surprises and insight into the direction of tech giant and its next operating system.

One thing that wasn’t a surprise, according to Stephen Baker, Vice President Industry Analysis, NPD Research, was the focus on cross-platform integration for Windows 10.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft revealed that multiple devices such as phones, tablets, 2 in 1 PCs, clamshells, and all the way up to 84” Surface Hub devices will all run the same basic OS.

“Continuity between devices is now a core function of the operating system,” Baker comments. “Certainly both Apple and Google have been moving in this direction and now Microsoft has joined the trend.

“It is a clearly a great accomplishment to build something that runs well on multiple types of hardware platforms and supports apps that cross all those platforms – and the talent it takes to build something like that should never cease to amaze us.”

But it is not just a software story according to Baker, because creating an integrated platform really means a platform.

“It requires integrated hardware, services, apps, and a sales channel that can absorb the complexities of integration and explain it to the customer,” he explains.

“So while most of the analysis is likely to surround the hardware, or apps, or services that are required to make this all work seamlessly I am going to focus on how to get this into the hands of the consumer.”

Baker says selling a solution to consumers, a “works better together” story is an extraordinarily difficult task, one that has been mastered among corporate channels but not to consumers.

In today’s consumer environment, where choices in some ways seem to be multiplying and in other ways seem to be shrinking, Baker believes finding the right sales channel along with the right message is paramount to be able to deliver a complicated message like that in an environment that normally look for simple.

“Of course Apple has been the leader in this by virtue of its ability to be both a quality software developer and a hardware manufacturer, but also because it has become a great retailer,” he adds.

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“The Apple stores, which never receive enough credit in the resurgence of Apple, provide a solid and secure place for consumers to experience their ecosystem, and see the value of the integration between different hardware platforms.”

While the increased level of integration coming on the market these days is taxing even Apple’s capabilities, Baker thinks it is clear that they have a strong selling platform to merchandise their vision to the consumer.

But does Microsoft?

“We might argue that many of the investments and activities that Microsoft has engaged in over the last five years have been headed towards transforming a sales channel focused on point solutions to one that can sell an integrated vision of the future across all Microsoft-powered devices,” Baker adds.

“The launch of Surface devices and the Nokia phone purchase should be seen in this light, but so too should be the growth of the Microsoft stores and the large investment Microsoft made in Best Buy in 2014 to create a store within a store platform for their products.”

With all of these activities, Baker accepts that Microsoft has made “considerable inroads” in its ability to sell solutions and while the job clearly isn’t done yet, even a cursory glance at the Windows Store at Best Buy shows the enormous potential for how well this might work.

“There is always the challenge of training and managing a retail partner’s execution and this is no exception, so Microsoft has built its own store network where they have complete control of the experience (much like the Apple Stores),” he adds.

“Again, just like their attempts at building a higher value partner experience the stores are an unfinished process as well.”

As a result, Baker believes that with the cross platform capabilities of Windows 10 comes the need to re-imagine the sales channel as well and build one that can add the additional value required to sell the customer a solution, and not just a product.

“It is fair to say that Microsoft hasn’t finished that task but that it is clearly headed down that road,” he adds.

“As Windows 10 comes to fruition in the next few months watching how Microsoft prepares its sales channels for the challenges of selling works better together will be a key story to watch.”