Honesty Is The Best Policy: What's The Big Secret With Surface?


OPINION


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When Microsoft launched its Surface tablet and decided it was going to be a direct-sale-only product, with no offering it to customers through the channel, it was a point of contention. CRN reported the controversy and throughout the entire lifetime of the story I was scratching my head as to how Microsoft could get the public relations part of the rollout so wrong.

Microsoft historically has had some of the best PR in the industry and got lots of press because of its willingness to put executives on the phone and answer questions. That has all changed and today the PR team, especially the Microsoft-badged PR team, seems to do more blocking of access and less courting of relationships -- which is really the heart of the profession.

When the company rolled out the Surface tablet to the market in 2012 it was playing catch-up, and its Apple envy was probably at its highest level. So Microsoft took the Apple approach and decided it would only make the product available via retail stores.

[Related: Head-To-Head: Dell XPS Touch Vs. Microsoft Surface Book]

The channel wasn't happy, and the stories in CRN reflected a lot of disappointment and misunderstanding among Microsoft partners. As I watched it all unfold, I couldn't help but think the real problem was that Microsoft didn't have a robust hardware channel of its own and probably couldn't execute. But because the PR machine was blocking—rather than opening—access, the story took on a life of its own.

The latest move to sell the Surface Pro through HP and Dell Direct sales teams is pouring salt on the wound. What's even more interesting is how this is showing the power Microsoft has over Dell and HP because they, too, have decided the best PR is a wall blocking access and discussion around the issue with spin that makes you shake your head. Dell's Jim DeFoe, for instance, actually wrote on his "blog" that the Surface Pro deal will help create opportunities for Microsoft Windows migration and partners.

HP was only slightly more forthcoming by getting on the phone and spinning the move to sell Microsoft's tablet direct as anything other than an end run around the channel.

So all this has me wondering what the big secret is. Why won't the three amigos answer these questions?

For HP and Dell, my first question is what is it about the Surface Pro that's so superior to your own tablet that you feel you have to sell a product built by a competitor and which has that competitor's name on it?

Will you be ending your own tablet brand as a result of this? Whose idea was it to prevent the channel from selling the product in enterprise accounts, yours or Microsoft's? Given that they both are not offering it through their channel, I think we know the answer to that one already -- but we need to ask and they need to answer. There are a lot more questions for Microsoft, of course.

Why are you preventing the HP and Dell channel from selling your Surface Pro to enterprise accounts?

How are you measuring success? Is this move a precursor to taking your software sales in this direction by preventing partners from selling your cloud services in the enterprise?

Are you considering building out your own hardware channel beyond the few low-end products you now have?

Why did you not brief the channel and help it understand your strategy before this news broke?

In the end, the entire approach here is just bad PR. Microsoft especially, but HP and Dell as well, should realize they would be better off just coming clean about why they are going this route rather than trying to ignore it. It's business, and if they explain why they are doing this the channel would feel it was dealing with honest partners regardless of whether it agrees with the approach or not.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of The Channel Company. You can contact him via email at rfaletra@thechannelcompany.com.

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