Un. Be. Liev. Able.

This story — about a Microsoft salesperson trolling for a consulting contract by threatening a big customer, making the scary but bogus suggestion that their software licenses were "out of compliance" — left me speechless. 

Here's how the most recent story (from Computerworld) starts.  You should also jump to the link embodied in this quote:

It's sleazier than we thought. In last week's Computerworld, Don Tennant spent his editorial going ballistic about an attempt by Microsoft to intimidate its customers. Tennant recounted how a Microsoft manager named Janet Lawless sent a series of increasingly threatening letters to Dale Frantz, CIO at Auto Warehousing Co., about how Frantz's company appeared to be using unlicensed software and how Microsoft wanted the issue resolved (see Rotten Effort ).

Frantz figured this was about his Microsoft software licenses, so he kept offering evidence that he was in compliance. Tennant concluded that Lawless was trying to intimidate Frantz to land a software deal.

They were both wrong. It's sleazier than they imagined.

See, Janet Lawless doesn't work for a part of Microsoft that enforces licenses. Frantz thought she did. You'd think so too if you got a letter saying "a preliminary review … indicates that your company may not be licensed properly," then a follow-up saying "since this is a compliance issue, I am obligated to notify an officer of Auto Warehousing of the situation and the significant risk your organization may be subject to by not resolving this situation in a timely manner."

Lawless kept insisting that Microsoft should send a consultant to Auto Warehousing to inventory its software.

But Lawless doesn't enforce licenses. The clue is her title: She's an engagement manager. That's right — Lawless's job is to drum up business for Microsoft's consulting operation. In this case, that's Microsoft's software asset management consulting business.

This wasn't about confirming license compliance or about a software deal. It was about securing Microsoft a paid consulting gig.

Yikes!  And the amazing thing is, given two opportunities to make some kind of public move toward remedying this appalling situation, Microsoft demurred.  Nothing wrong here — and expect nothing to change.  From the "Rotten Effort" editorial on May 8th:

So why was someone in a sales position leaning so hard on AWC about a supposed licensing compliance concern?

When I phoned Lawless to find out, she referred me to Microsoft's PR machine. The responses I got through that channel stressed that Microsoft's aim is to help customers navigate the complexities of software licensing and that one of the roles of engagement managers is to assist in that effort by informing customers of a potential licensing risk. I was told to attribute the responses to Lawless.

And then, in the May 15th story, it gets even worse!

According to Robert Deshaies, a Microsoft vice president for the software asset management program, the goal truly is to help customers get the most out of their Microsoft software licenses. And he insists that four out of five customers are happy with the results.

But here's what happens if you're a big Microsoft customer: Your customer history and purchase cycles are reviewed on a monthly basis by an engagement manager like Lawless. (That's right — your Microsoft purchasing history is handed off to the consulting side for making sales pitches.)

Then the engagement manager makes the initial pitch — that's the "preliminary review indicates your company may not be licensed properly" letter Frantz got. Deshaies says most customers take up the opportunity at that point.

And if, like Frantz, the customer says no? Then the pressure is ratcheted up with a higher-level effort to make the sale, Deshaies says.

If there's still no sale, if the engagement manager still believes there's a problem with the customer's licenses, the final decision is whether or not to pursue it, Deshaies says — presumably by kicking the issue over to the software sales side.

Incidentally, engagement managers like Lawless are working from a "designed process." Frantz wasn't facing some loose cannon. Lawless was following the script.

"This isn't about license compliance," Deshaies says. Yes, it is. It shouldn't be, but it is. Right now, Microsoft's software asset management consulting services are pitched from the start as being about license compliance. And if the customer keeps saying no, the last stop is a threat to sic the license police on the customer.

I mean, wow.  This takes arrogance to a new level.  Don't the PR people at Microsoft see what's wrong with this?  Doesn't anybody over there? 

(Thanks to Instapundit for pointing me in the direction of this story, by way of Evan Coyne Maloney.)

2 thoughts on “Un. Be. Liev. Able.

  1. In a way, I’m not surprised by this at all. It seems that businesses have adopted a new ethic – con the consumer. This Microsoft license thingee is a new one on me, and it smacks of the new breed of business owners who have one goal in mind – the almighty dollar. Forget about excellent customer service and the like. For an example, when I have a problem with my email and internet service and put in a call for remedy, I’m funneled through to an overseas operator whom I can’t understand because the operator can’t pronounce the letters “l”, “r”, and “y”. It gets ugly when you are given a new password and the operator can’t say the necessary letters. If I choose to use their “chat” service, I assume I’m chatting with a live person. But noooooo! It would appear I’m actually chatting with a software program. I learned this after submitting a number of questions and answers. You write something, it repeats what you write and says “I’m still here” and working on the problem. Or how about the mail solicitations that you normally throw into the trash without opening? Now, the clever business scrawls “personal”, “confidential”, “respond by deadline” and the like.

    If only businesses would use their energy and cleverness to ask for our business in an honest and forthright manner? Who knows, they may even get the consumer merely on their honest business practices.

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