Microsoft’s “Relationship” Marketing

(via Scoble) It seems our friendly competitors to the north are doing some marketing homework up there. Pretty interesting article in CMO Magazine talking about all this — The Ultimate Bug Fix. At one point in the piece, Steve Ballmer talks about the engineering-marketing-PR-launch sequence:

During Microsoft’s climb to the top of the software industry, rapid-fire product cycles often
happened without much front-end input from the folks in marketing. Engineers would develop
new software, pack it with bells and whistles, decide on an acceptable number of bugs and
toss it over to marketing for a press release and a launch event.

“The old Microsoft marketing style was that you did an event, and then you waited for the next
product release, and then you did another event,” Ballmer said to the marketing recruits. Facetious,
perhaps, but the message was clear. Microsoft was not using its marketing function strategically.

Sound familiar? It does to me. Anyway, the article talks about how Microsoft’s marketing and engineering teams are now working more closely together and how the company is improving its customer research tools and focusing on something called “relationship marketing.” Ok, I get that collaboration part. But I’m not sure what relationship marketing is, and the two links in the story don’t offer much more than traditional marketing buzzwords. However, in a Q&A Mich Mathews, Microsoft’s SVP corporate marketing, is very specific:

The area that we are investing in like crazy is around relationship marketing: the systems,
tools and processes that allow us to have an ongoing conversation with our customers.

Ah, ok. The conversation word, again. I get it. But it seemed buried in the article. And no mention of all those Microsoft engineers talking to all those developers via all those blogs? I bet that’s where the real action is. On the edge. With the developers. That’s the way it seems here, anyway.

Next Mathews, like Ballmer, takes a poke at launches (good):

Marketing was largely a marcom function. Marketing was always out launching something
or doing an event when it should have been back under the hood with the engineers figuring
out the next version [of a product] that’s not going to be on the market for another two years.

This bit about marketing and engineering collaboration is a very good point. Our marketing and engineering teams could stand a little more collaborating, too. But because of how much of our software is open source, we have the opportunity to go much further than Microsoft. As our marketing and engineering teams collaborate more closely internally, we need to also consider crossing the firewall and including community developers externally more frequently as if they were in the office right next door. I don’t see any hint of that in this article, which is good, but I do see it emerging on OpenSolaris — engineering is leading and getting closer to the community and marketing is beginning to directly engage in the community conversation as well. When OpenSolaris goes live, marketing at Sun will never be the same.


4 thoughts on “Microsoft’s “Relationship” Marketing

  1. Jim,
    Blogs, open source projects, etc. are relationship marketing for one customer type: developers. But not all developers are into that level of participation or have the time/energy to mine the net for what they need. Some need what MSDN or SDN deliver – prepackaged info and help for developers. And thats just the developer world.
    Relationship marketing is about establishing a continuous, ongoing connection with customers through products and services that help drive loyalty. So in Sun’s case, stuff like Sun Grid, Sun Connection services (, the Java ES subscriptions, Inner Circle newletter, etc. In Microsoft’s case it includes things like MSN, XBox Live, Live Meeting, and even Windows Update. Anything that creates loyalty through ongoing communications.
    Sun also has been training marketeers in customer value optimization – we have a whole training architecture called “Product Marketing Excellence” that puts some powerful science behind this whole concept. There’s a course available internally called “Building Customers for Life” that I highly recommend – certainly the best training class I’ve ever taken at Sun. It is appropriate for everyone, not just marketing folks, and you might find that it can put some framework around the whole idea of relationship marketing and give you some new ways to look at things like blogging and the network conversation. I can’t recommend this course highly enough! It revolutionized my thinking – a huge “a-ha!”


  2. Yep, I agree – good post. This stuff really started making sense to me a few years ago, when Simon Phipps came to our site to talk about the work he does. Along the way, a book he recommended we read was <a href =””>The Cluetrain Manifesto (the website for it is : I bought it, read it, and totally got the value of this stuff – from a customer’s point of view, I want <em>every</em> company I deal with to be like this, and the fact that Sun is heading that direction already makes me extremely happy, both as an employee (I get to talk about the cool work I’m doing) and as a stock holder. Let’s have more conversations ! If you haven’t read the book, it’s well worthwhile getting your hands on it.


  3. Jim, nice post. I more than agree. I’m trying to do the same with NetBeans. I think this is the way to go – direct communication with community, without obstacles.


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