Selling Against Microsoft

By Geoffrey James

Microsoft has expanded beyond its traditional product set to include operating systems and personal productivity applications and now sells a wide range of software applications, many of them catering to small- and medium-size businesses. Because of this, Microsoft today competes with many more software vendors than in the past.

Microsoft has substantial advantages in a competitive situation, including a strong brand name and a historical willingness to spend big bucks on sales and marketing. Just because Microsoft enters your market space, however, doesn’t mean you can’t make sales and grow your business. Here’s what you can do if your firm ends up in Microsoft’s crosshairs.

1. Don’t despair. Microsoft products often are less attractive and functional than their competitors’ products. Furthermore. Microsoft doesn’t always execute its marketing and sales efforts flawlessly, opening opportunities to the company’s competitors. Remember that Intuit, which sells the Quicken finance software suite, has successfully competed against Microsoft for more than a decade.

2. Plan for the worst. If a product category is strategic, Microsoft typically will offer it to customers at cost or even below cost to grow market share and drive competitors out of the business. To overcome these low license fees you’ll need to be able to clearly articulate why your product is superior and why, over time, it will end up costing the customer less than the comparable Microsoft solution.

3. Focus on vertical markets. Microsoft’s products tend to be horizontal and generic so they can be applied inside a wide range of industries and environments. Many firms, however, prefer to buy software that’s already been customized to solve unique problems inside their own specific industry. Emphasizing those aspects of your company’s offerings that are vertical and specific to a particular industry can increase the perceived value of your firm and products to your target customers.

4. Emphasize your brand’s strengths. Most customers intuitively respect expertise and specialization. If your firm has worked hard to establish itself as a leader in a certain technology, constantly emphasize to customers that your firm is focused on real-world solutions and has a track record of success. Show how your brand is more reliable and cost effective in your target market than comparable products from Microsoft – or anyone else for that matter.