Microsoft Exec: We're Still In Holding Pattern On Surface Sales In Channel

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Microsoft, after putting out feelers to partners in December about expanding Surface distribution, has apparently discovered that being a full-fledged hardware vendor is a lot more complex than it expected.

So while Microsoft is still bullish on Surface, and intends to increase sales of the PC/tablet hybrid devices through channel partners at some point, it needs more time to figure out how to handle all the different aspects associated with selling the devices, according to Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group.

"As of today, we're still continuing to evaluate the path, the best path, forward, and the timing in which it will make sense for us and our partners to be successful as they join us on that journey [to selling Surface]," Sorgen said in an interview in late February at Microsoft's offices in Bellevue, Wash.

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While Microsoft has sold hardware for many years, such as Xboxes, keyboards and mice, selling Surface is a much different sort of product that presents its own unique set of challenges, Sorgen said.

"We have been a hardware vendor, but we haven't been a hardware vendor in the realm of tablet/laptop-type devices. And we want to be thoughtful, and when we build a commercial ecosystem for that, we want to do it the right way," Sorgen told CRN.

Microsoft currently has around 130 Surface resellers in 29 countries, which represents about .02 percent of its approximately 640,000 partners around the world. In the U.S., Surface sales are limited to a handful of large resellers, and Microsoft hasn't offered much insight into why it's not letting more partners in on the opportunity.

Microsoft sent a questionnaire to select partners in December asking them to estimate how many Surface units they could sell in a year, how many staff they could dedicate to selling and supporting the devices, and whether or not they offer in-house Windows 8/8.1 development expertise. Other questions centered on partners' ability to provide hardware support services.

Since Microsoft is new to selling this type of hardware, it’s trying to gauge its partners' ability to handle the demands of selling a device like Surface.

"We understand what a hardware channel looks like and we're going to be prepared to do it the right way," Sorgen said. "In a sense, you could say at this point in time, we don’t think it makes sense for us to expand [Surface distribution] because we can't do it fully to the degree that we want to."

NEXT: Not Quite Ready 'To Go All In'

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