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Partners Feel ‘Betrayed,’ ‘Taken Aback’ By Microsoft’s Direct Calls To Customers

‘I want to be wrong. I want to make it clear, I like Microsoft. I like their stack. I am not a Microsoft hater. I am just feeling betrayed by all of this,’ says an MSP whose customer contact was called by a Microsoft sales rep.

A California MSP learned a lesson years ago when a software vendor tried to go direct with his end users. So when Microsoft demanded contact information for his customers, he gave them an email address that went directly to him instead.

Earlier this week that email account, which was set up about 18 months ago in the hopes that it would not be used, received a message from a Microsoft business development specialist offering his customer “free training.”

“That’s exactly what I would do if I was trying to steal someone else’s business,” said the MSP, who asked not to be named because he fears retribution from Microsoft for speaking out. “It’s just wrong. It’s just wrong. Plain and simple.”

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Meanwhile, another reseller, who describes herself as a Microsoft MVP, posted a blog on her company’s site with screen shots of emails from three other Microsoft business development representatives sent directly to various MSPs’ customers. She said resellers have been raging about these encroachments in online forums.

“There’s been a lot of false claims in the past that Microsoft was coming for your clients. But in this new round of intrusion into the trusted CSP-Client relationship, Microsoft really is coming for your clients,” she wrote. “All around forums, user groups and social media the emails are being circulated and they are scary. … If those email copies don’t make you angry, as they do this Microsoft fan, then perhaps re-read them. I’m not the alarmist type but this intrusion into the relationship with my client has really taken me aback.”

Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster did not respond to LinkedIn messages and an email seeking comment. This sales program was set up by Microsoft amid the pandemic to take employees from brick-and-mortar retail stores and transition them to software sales, the MSP was told.

A Microsoft sales manger got on the phone with the West Coast reseller and told him his customers “are all Microsoft customers.”

“These accounts were pre-vetted from our corporate offices,” the Microsoft sales manager told him in the recorded Teams call, which CRN listened to. “We re-engage with customers, really by leading with support, so offering the free services. I mean, at the end of the day, we are a sales organization. We’re in the business to make a profit, just like you are. These are all Microsoft customers.”

“No,” the reseller—who estimates he has sent millions in business to the company over 25 years of business—interrupted. “These are not Microsoft customers. Now we’re getting real sideways. This is my customer. I drove them to Microsoft. You had no relationship with this customer until I brought them to you. You are treating them like they are your customer, you own the relationship and that’s not going to fly. Am I sideways or did you misspeak?”

“I definitely did not misspeak,” said the sales manager, who was a retail floor manager for Bloomingdales selling cosmetics prior to joining Microsoft in March. “So these customers have at one point in time worked with Microsoft. Regardless, if that relationship came about from a quote-unquote ‘partner,’ or if it came from a referral, or whatever it is, we have at one point worked with them.”

The MSP fired back, asking if that meant Microsoft was now going to handle integration and support if the customer wanted new products?

“Even though the Microsoft partner program is designed for us as partners to leverage Microsoft software, with us leading as the integrator, you are now going to now do the integration-slash-support for them,” the MSP said. “Someone wants to buy some Microsoft service. Power BI. … So you’re telling me that you are going to approach that customer and say, ‘Yeah. I’d love to help you with Power BI integration and I can get you the licensing.’ Is that how that conversation would go?”

“I mean, in a nutshell it could go that way,” the sales manager said.

The MSP, who is a Pax8 partner, reached out to his born-in-the-cloud wingman for help. Nick Heddy, chief revenue officer at Pax8, said he too was looking for answers and has not yet heard from Microsoft. He added, “I’m going to assume positive intent.”

“Any time a vendor is reaching out to the customer of a partner, it is a misstep if they are unaware,” Heddy told CRN. “I am on the partners’ side here. They should not be doing that. … I think any time Microsoft as a vendor reaches out to an end-user customer without the knowledge of the partner begs the question, ‘Can we be more coordinated and work together better to drive the results you’re after?’”

Heddy said Microsoft has publicly stated it plans to reach out to SMB users to drive deeper and wider adoption, but the sales motion should still belong to the partner, not the vendor’s direct seller.

“The reach-out effort isn’t to try and take things direct,” Heddy said. “It is to educate end-user customers based on the adoption metrics that they have visibility into, and to drive the usage and perhaps upsell, cross-sell but there are MPN IDs tied to each tenant or end user, and so they are able to identify that partner and steer them back in that direction.”

The MSP said he is expecting to hear more from Microsoft Thursday.

“I want to be wrong. I want to make it clear, I like Microsoft,” he said. “I like their stack. I am not a Microsoft hater. I am just feeling betrayed by all of this. I’m not out to burn Microsoft to the ground. That is not the case. I’ve been die-hard Microsoft my whole life.”

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