Microsoft's Latest Anti-Google Strategy: Training Partners To Sniff Out Unhappy Google Apps Customers

Microsoft is running a channel-focused sales and marketing campaign with advice on how partners can get customers who've switched from Office 365 to Google Apps to come back.

In Microsoft document viewed by CRN, the software giant describes the effort as "the first Google compete campaign launched officially for use by Microsoft partners" and says it's aimed at organizations with between 10 and 100 users.

In the document, Microsoft offers advice on how a partner could talk a potential Google Apps customer into signing up for Office 365 instead:

Imagine this scenario: You’re on a plane back home after a week away for work. The person sitting next to you notices that you’re using Windows 8 and strikes up a conversation about working while on the road. In this conversation, you learn that your seatmate is considering Google Apps for Business but is concerned about being able to access the same information on the road as in the office -- this person is apparently on the road quite a bit. As you close your budget forecast and save to your SkyDrive folder, you think, "THIS is a great opportunity to suggest a deeper conversation about choosing Microsoft Office 365."

Sponsored post

There is also advice on how to identify the telltale signs that a Google Apps customer might be dissatisfied with what they're getting from the product:

Imagine this scenario: You’re attending a monthly meeting of other entrepreneurs and small business owners, and you begin talking to someone who, about three months ago, signed up for Google Apps. That person opens up a bit about some of their dissatisfaction around the support and service they’re getting since they’ve signed up for Google Apps for Business. THIS is a great opportunity to suggest a deeper conversation about switching to Microsoft Office 365.

The campaign appears to have debuted last September and is slated to run until the end of Microsoft's fiscal year on June 30, though Microsoft wasn't available to confirm this. Google didn't respond to a request for comment.

While Microsoft's share of the cloud productivity software market dwarfs Google's, the fact that Microsoft has created a channel program for competing with Google Apps shows it's concerned about the direction things are heading in the small business market, where software decisions often come down to pricing.

Google Apps For Business costs $50 per user annually, while Microsoft's cheapest Office 365 plan for businesses is $60 per user annually for up to 25 users, and $180 per user annually for organizations with 26 to 300 users.

NEXT: Bringing Google Customers Back To The Microsoft Side

Delcie Bean, CEO of Paragus IT, a Microsoft partner based in Hadley, Mass., said the campaign is "interesting" because Microsoft partners won't have to develop competitive talking points against Google on their own.

Bean told CRN he won't be using the campaign, though, because Paragus IT has stopped using Microsoft SkyDrive, the cloud storage service soon to be re-christened as OneDrive, because its performance wasn’t up to snuff. Instead, Paragus IT is using cloud storage from Soonr, a Campbell, Calif.-based vendor.

"I would suspect that Microsoft's canned marketing materials wouldn’t apply to our custom approach of substituting SkyDrive with another paid product," Bean told CRN.

Chris Hertz, CEO, New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN he hasn't had many opportunities lately to put Microsoft's competitive advice to the test. Instead, Hertz has been seeing an uptick in companies that went Google Apps a couple of years ago approaching New Signature about migrating back to Office 365.

"In the last six months, I've seen a shift in the market where most customers don't seem to be considering Google as a legitimate option," Hertz said.

While the threat Google Apps poses to Microsoft's enterprise business is still largely theoretical, it's been attracting more mainstream interest lately.

Earlier this week, CDW said it would start selling Google Apps For Business and providing migration services for the cloud software suite. The deal was likely in the works before Microsoft's Office 365 incentive cuts came to light in early January, and CDW says the Google partnership won't impact its other vendor partnerships. But when one of Microsoft's largest partners starts selling Google Apps, that's a significant development with lots of potential ramifications.

Some partners have told CRN the Office 365 incentive cuts would motivate them to focus more on selling Google Apps than Office 365. In a recent survey of solution providers by CRN's Channel Intelligence Council, 34 percent said they're planning to add Google Apps For Business to their product portfolio, and 70 percent said they're going to be recommending Google's cloud apps more than in the past.

Microsoft claims Office 365 is its fastest-growing product ever, and that the number of partners selling Office 365 has doubled in the past year. That said, Google has an opportunity here to capitalize on the frustration in the Microsoft channel, which stems from incentive cuts and other issues.

If Google succeeds on this front, we might see Microsoft stepping up the competitive rhetoric it provides to partners.