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25 Articles
John Coulthard

This short essay is to introduce you to twenty-five elements of account management

in Microsoft. It is certainly not everything you need to know, I have assumed that
you have the basics under your belt. It is aimed squarely at Microsoft Business
managers new and perhaps more experienced.

Beckford Bath UK
Twenty-Five Articles of Account Management


John Coulthard1

This paper reflects the author’s personal judgements and does not represent the views of any part of Microsoft.


This short essay is to introduce you to twenty-five elements of account management in

Microsoft. It is certainly not everything you need to know, I have assumed that you have
the basics under your belt. It is aimed squarely at Microsoft Business managers new and
perhaps more experienced.

Knowing that you are going to be a business manager you may have read Michael
Treacey, Porter, and a couple of Motorway sales books. You have read Microsoft Product
User Rights, T-36, the Product Guides and you have found “Gear Up”. You have even had
a chance to read The Road Ahead and Business at the Speed of Light, and you know that,
being the “Microsoft person” is going to be a tough job. Above all you know you need to
create the Conditions of Satisfaction for your customer.

What does all this theory mean, you will have a steep target to meet, split into Product
Groups 1 and 2, the Customer has a unique view of what they do and they are likely to
look at the Microsoft bank balance and believe that you can do everything for free. So
there are some principles that you can hold to that will keep your Sales Manager happy,
the revenue coming in and most important of all; doing what the customer needs you to do
in support of their business.

There are no universal answers here, markets are fickle, things can change at great
speed, they require you to be well read in the matters of business especially Microsoft
business. Keeping up will take every element of your wit and energy. The good news is
that there are fundamentals that you can apply; you are not the only one to go down this
road. If you believe that if you make your customer rich then you will be successful for
Microsoft then you are on the right track and it’s called sales.

John Coulthard is Microsoft’s sales director for the NHS in the UK,
© John Coulthard

You may not have studied sales theory, but in essence sales is a set of activities involved
in selling products or services in return for money or other compensation. It is an act of
completion of a commercial activity. Note it is a set of activities, not just one, that of taking
the order.

Academically, Sales is considered by many to be a sort of persuading "art”. Contrary to

popular belief, the methodological approach of selling refers to a systematic process of
repetitive and measurable milestones, by which a salesperson relates his offering of a
product or service in return enabling the buyer to achieve his goal in an economic way.2

Don’t be fooled by the different approaches, in the end it often comes down to the buyer
“buying” you. It is not always about them liking you; it is about them respecting you. It is
quite possible during the early weeks with the customer to lose their respect. For you to
win, that must not happen.

In the end it is down to one thing, did you ask them if they wanted to buy? Your mission is
to get to ask the closing question.

Within this context; what follows are observations from collective experience, a distillation
of what those that went before you have learned. At best they are gut feelings; you
should treat them with some scepticism and do not mistake my enthusiasm for certainty.


You may not have much time, but whatever you are able to do now will stand you in very
good stead:

1. Know your Stuff. Know the political, economic, social and technical issues of
your industry; don’t just rely on the technical elements. Your task is to become a
real expert on the business environment of your customer. Don’t just read this
stuff, write it down in a smart little notebook that is always in your pocket, note who
works for whom, who are the industry experts, what do they say about Microsoft

© John Coulthard
and the business. Study handover notes, ask others what it was like in their day,
who were their contacts, best mates or whatever. The key to preparation is
personal mastery. If you don’t know this stuff you might as well not start, because
you will fail.

2. What are the issues? Once you have done the outline preparation you can begin
to diagnose the problem. Why do they do the business this way? What drives
them? What makes the stake holders do what they do? Selling is never just about
buyers and sellers; there are influencers, followers, acolytes, haters, the
unconcerned and the leaders. Some will tell you the key to selling is the tracking of
these people; it is one of the keys but they are wrong if they focus on just this one
thing. Business is about people and your real focus needs to be on the talented
leaders in your account who can both lead you to success and lead others to
compete with you.

3. Organise for Intelligence. Selling stuff to the right person, i.e. the person with the
issue to be solved and the budget to do it, is easy, finding that person, is nearly
impossible. Make sure you have the time and processes to reach out to find these
people, keep your ear to the ground and find new ways to listen. By all means
read the company reports, strategic papers and plans, newspapers and specialist
magazines and reports about your customer and industry. Make a summary of your
insights and see what others think of them. But above all listen to what you are
being told.

4. Work with others. If you are to leverage the great strength of Microsoft you need
to work with other groups. Some of this will be worthwhile and sometimes a
complete waste of time. There is no way of telling in advance which is which. To
avoid wasting everyone’s time you need to be very good at briefing people and
making sure you understand their issues and they understand yours, call it;
enlightened self interest. If you can achieve their goals and yours they will work
with you.

5. Travel Light. There is nothing worse that the salesperson with the huge briefcase
full of paper, pulling brochure after brochure, some call it “the scatter gun effect”
and it does not work. Make sure you tailor your approach to the customer, go as far
to pick up their look and feel in what you do, dress like them, they will find it less
© John Coulthard
threatening and you will fit in more. When you are good at this they will mistake
you for one of their own, you will be surprised what you learn and what you are
invited to.

6. Find an advisor. You are looking for someone that will give you cultural insights in
to the customer, watch out for the consultants, they are more often than not, not
what you need. The right advisor will help you make sense of the communications
you receive and need to send.

7. Talent is everything. Sadly, just because someone is senior does not mean they
are good at Sales. Some are positively dangerous. Selling is not for everyone,
seek out those you think are good at it and match your skills against theirs. A few
smart sales people can often achieve far more than a whole tranche of sales
campaigns. Knowing this; be aware of the Executive coming into your account to
meet the customer, well briefed they can help, should they fail to pay attention to
the customer needs they can be a liability. Keep your Microsoft Executive on track
in any meetings; they will expect you to be looking out for them.

8. Have a plan - Strange as it seems you need to have a plan, a mental map of how
you see it going in the first few weeks. You might find that it helps to breakdown
the plan down into 30, 60 or 90 day sections, but the time line is not the only thing
that you need to consider, look at what you won’t do, the cultural issues and your
plan needs to address some of the bad behaviour that has gone on before you
became the account manager. The point is that it needs to be multidimensional.

The first few weeks

So you are in the account, met a few of the people and if you are lucky had a briefing from
your customer about the issues they face. This is an important time. Missteps here will
make your cringe in a couple of months but early success may define the outcome of your
tenure. You may hear people say this is luck, but really it is down to your excellent
preparation and planning.

9. Be there. To sell you need to be there. You may not be able to be everywhere so
you will need to concentrate your effort, and your plan will have told you where that
will need to be. Turning up in some random way will mean you’re never where
© John Coulthard
people want you to be. You have to establish presence, you need to be known
and know people, so you need to be there. You need to be seen. Stay away from
your Microsoft campus or office as much as you can, it may be comfortable but you
can’t do your job there.

10. Don’t Judge. Avoid the temptation to jump in and tell them all the things you can
do to sort out their backward business. There will be plenty of political and
business reasons for things to happen the way they do. Don’t expect to pick these
up quickly but equally don’t show the customer that you’re not alive to them.

11. Prepare for your handover on day one. One of the keys to successful selling is
continuity, sometimes thought of as tenure you can’t just run out and get the next
job for a promotion. You can begin to look like a bonus chaser and customers will
know it when you arrive, it will also seriously limit your career in Microsoft. So
make sure you are taking the notes and making the connections that you will use to
introduce your successor, it may be some way off but you are a good planner so
plan for this too.

12. Build trusted networks. Understand that the customer will also have a trusted
network, if they are good they have checked up on you, and if you are good you will
know that, who they spoke to and what they said. You should make sure you have
a network that you can exploit.

13. Start Easy. You need to work up, having your wits about you, looking smart and
intelligent would be a good start, and filling in some of the questions in your little
black notebook would be good to. You need to make sure you don’t set yourself
up for failure or are set up for failure by others by over reaching at the start.

14. Seek early victories. Never go after the hard issues first. Again your planning will
have told you what they are, you need to address these issues but it is not now.
One way of getting an early win is to address something that your predecessor was
never able to sort or was guilty of doing. The advantage doing the latter is that at
least you know it was wrong and sorting it out is most likely right.

15. Plan for setbacks. Things are not always going to go well. When they don’t
people will be watching and how you handle this will go a long way to winning in the

© John Coulthard
end. A good plan is to do some early analysis on risk, what is the most likely thing
to go wrong, what is the worst thing that could happen.

16. Remember you are being watched. You might think that no one is watching the
“Microsoft person”. They are, your competitors are watching, they may have been
there for years or are new like you but they watch. The customer watches, are you
an asset to their businesses, are you good at your job. In the same way you
sometimes talk about other people at work, your customer talks about you with
his/her colleagues. Do you know what they are saying? If they are smart they will
look at you as an asset. You need to be one.

17. Engage but don’t give it away. There comes a time in the first few weeks when
you need to step up, you can’t avoid it and you will be tested. You do not shy away
from this and run back to the office. That will set the agenda for your time with the
customer. Being smart now will bring you many allies in the business and that will
lead to success. Get stuck in and over achieve.

18. Take Stock. Make time to see how things are going, ask the customer, also
arrange another briefing for further insight in to the business, you will be surprised
how much you missed the first time round and perhaps spot a couple of those
cringe making behaviours of a few weeks ago. Check your assumptions with your
customer; make sure they know that you know where you can improve.

Steady State

You are established, well done. You are going about your business in a
professional way, people are impressed, you have sold some stuff, people are
asking your advice, soon you may even be a definable bit of cheese on the board if
not a big cheese yourself. Now is the time to exploit what you have by taking on
some of the harder issues that you have observed.

19. Single Narrative. It may be possible that you and Microsoft, have become a core
part of the solution to addressing the business issues the customer faces, you need
to decide what your common theme will be, something that people will understand.
Something that appeals to them and what they are trying to achieve. You need to
be known for it. You might call it your personal brand.

© John Coulthard
20. Mirror your customer. By now you are working closely with the customer, adding
value to their business, making their people look smart. Show some empathy and
create common objectives (the COS document is a good place for this) that they
know you are really working to.

21. Small is big. There is a tendency to get all programmatic at this point, roll out
marketing plans, a kind of corporate carpet bombing. Don’t do it, you need to
continue the well planned light touch that has got you here. Keep things small, this
has the advantage of keeping them inexpensive, note I did not say cheap.

22. Compete with your competitor’s strategy not their people. By now you will
have seen the competitors in the account. It is big mistake to pick a fight with them,
you need to undermine their strategies, make sure you can articulate your concerns
about the compete issues in the language of your customer.

23. Mattress Mice. There are those, in Microsoft, that will expect you to complete
forms, training, all that due process, just do it. But remember you lead, prioritise it,
some else’s crisis does not make it your crisis, so do it in your time. It means that
you will have to keep an eye out for the deadlines. Do these things early and
people will leave you alone. You will find it less stressful if you understand that this
stuff is always well intentioned.

End Game

24. Have an exit plan. Sales people come and go. When you go you can leave a
gap for the competition to move in again. You need to close that gap. You need to
make sure your plan includes an effective handover. Remember all that work that
you did at the start, you need to make sure that your replacement has done the
same level of work. As it happens you may be their boss.

What if

Here are a few “what ifs”. The playing field is never level and sometimes things happen
that may not be in your control. Here are four:

You can’t get out of the IT department. You need to be very aware that if you get stuck
in IT you may well be selling to the wrong people, there are issues here and you need to
© John Coulthard
stay focused on sales and selling, it seems like an easy place to start and your competitors
will be happy to put you there. You must be in the business with the operational leaders.
If you get stuck sadly you need to start again with your planning and preparation. I am not
saying don’t go there; just don’t stay there.

Your boss does not get “sales”. Tricky one this, and you would have thought it could
not happen, but it does, there are plenty of people that get where they get to through the
science of management, they can run a spreadsheet to within an inch of its life, but they
can’t sell. The answer is to get busy with the spreadsheet and understand the drivers
back in the office. Know the questions they are likely to ask and have a prompt and
accurate answers to hand. It will work in your favour in the long run.

You need resources. Briefing is the key to getting more resources, brief well and make
sure you keep it short, more than one page and you are already too long. It is always
tempting to write more when you are busy, it takes skill to keep it short, try to include the
benefit that will accrue from the use of those resources, some call it the business case,
either way; learn to brief really well.

The customer changes. This is not really a what if, it will happen, people move on and
new people come in, so you need a network that is robust to the threat, it needs to be part
of the plan. Oh and you can almost guarantee that it will happen at almost the worst time
so expect it to happen.

© John Coulthard

So this is what I have learnt, in selling or by talking to others, some of this seems to
contradict itself, and it should, in that different things are called for at different stages.
Some will tell you there is a formula for this, to my mind there is not, there are things to be
selected from various courses or books.

This is not a how to, you need to use these Articles to work out what you need to learn, if I
have not explained it clearly enough you can get to me at None
of us want to end up like Willy Loman in “Death of Salesman”3, so best get this stuff sorted
now. And finally…

25. Keep the initiative, lead and decide. In sales you need to seize the agenda, you
need to make decisions early and often and keep your wits about you, Microsoft will
acquire more technology through acquisition and development and make sure that
your customer is the one to benefit from it first. Stay focussed.

John Coulthard
Beckford Lodge
January 2008


The mistakes in this paper are mine alone, but many people helped be understand these issues and my
deepest thanks to them. They included: Richard Aspin, Tanya Shirlow, Gary Roberts, Mark Ferrar, Mike
Altendorf, Terry Doherty, Ced Bufton, Richard Granger, Chris Wilkins, Andy Belcher, Neil Jordan, Steve
Bowyer, Mike Palmer, Phil Morel, Chris Wood, Dave Gartenberg, Theresa McHenry, Danielle Still, Chris

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by Arthur Miller and is considered a classic of American theatre.
© John Coulthard