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Is Microsoft giving up on small business?

Whether or not small companies want to pay for that work is a matter of debate. But for Microsoft, this is not the abandonment of small businesses, it’s enablement.’ Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

Instead of dealing face-to-face with a small, difficult customer, Microsoft politely offers obligations to its partners – and that doesn’t matter.

Microsoft’s history with small business is not good. Over the years, the company has tried many applications aimed specifically at small companies. They have a “small business” version of Microsoft Office. There was once an “small business” accounting package and Outlook-based contact manager. The company, for a long time, had a set of “small business server” applications for email, security, network and data management that were valued and designed for that market. Until last year, there were all small business divisions at Microsoft, complete with their own sales, marketing, communication and support teams.
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All of this has been lost. So has the software giant given up on small businesses? Not really. The company just tried another tactic. It’s punting for a better field position.

Microsoft Office 365 is still the leading suite of collaboration and communication tools that are used (or in the case of many of my clients, underutilized) by millions of small businesses around the world. And the company continues to add new features and automation tools to keep customers productive and happy. But for core applications specifically designed for SMEs? That did not happen. In fact, the opposite happened.

The most recent example occurred last week. According to the ZDNet technology site, Microsoft announced that they no longer support simple invoicing and Outlook-based contact management applications, which are mostly aimed at small companies.

No, this software giant doesn’t let some customers of this application get cold. This reached an agreement with the Invoice2Go invoicing service and Nimble’s customer relationship management provider to bring these companies. Both Invoice2Go and Nimble are not only cheap, but – like their accounting competitors that include QuickBooks, Xero and FreshBooks or CRM offerings from Zoho, Copper and SugarCRM – are very powerful and more tailored for small businesses that require simple accounting or CRM applications.

Of course, Microsoft has financial and CRM tools as part of its Dynamics product suite. But this is given a higher price, requires a different level of implementation, and thus is more geared towards mature companies. Unlike small businesses, companies that use this application have the budget and resources to pay for this application.

Microsoft is moving away from direct sales and serving small businesses revealing clear but little-talked about facts in the technology community: we are very annoying. We have demands that are very similar to larger organizations but we have less resources, less knowledge and, let’s face it: less patience. We need more pampering, more holding hands, and a higher level of support because we cannot do everything internally. However, we are reluctant to pay for all of it. Therefore, we are less profitable.

Of course, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, will never say this publicly. But I’m sure he considered these facts when reorganizing his company in 2018 to focus more on cloud services. Instead of dealing directly with these difficult little customers, Nadella politely offered obligations to her partners – like mine – and invested in tools for those companies to help their SMB clients.

Whether small companies want to pay for the work is a matter of debate. But for Microsoft, this is not a neglect of small businesses, but rather empowerment. “We want every company out there to be a technology company with its own rights, and you are the community that will make it happen,” he said at a recent conference of partners and developers. “And our mission is to empower you to do that.”

Empowerment? Enablement? For me, it was just a kick for a better pitch position.

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