The reseller channel should forget about Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, since Microsoft is showing no interest in expanding its go-to-market channels for the device that aims to take on Apple and Google. Instead, solution providers should heed Microsoft's advice and sell the hell out of competing devices.
Yes, you read that right: Stop whining about Microsoft side-stepping the channel and embrace the many other tablets and convertible tablets on the market that don't bear the Microsoft emblem. Other vendors such as Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung want their partners - many of whom are also Microsoft resellers - to sell their devices, so why not oblige?
Here's the deal: Microsoft isn't racing to change its Surface sales strategy. Since Surface was introduced in October 2012, Channelnomics has pressed Microsoft for insights on when it would unleash Surface to channel partners hungry for the device and eager to expand sales.
After all, Microsoft has lost nearly $1.2bn (£710m) on the Surface tablet over the last 20 months, as it fails to sell enough through its meagre direct and limited indirect channels. Logic says it would turn to its tens of thousands of Microsoft resellers to push Surface, which would result in much faster sales and erode the substantial lead Apple and Google have in the mobility game.
But no, Microsoft maintains its limited go-to-market approach, selling Surface through its website, retail stores and a handful of direct market (volume) resellers.
Now, Microsoft is getting ready to unleash Surface Pro 3, a larger tablet that's being billed as a laptop replacement. The device was unveiled last month in New York, but the first shipments won't start until 20 June. Even then, the configurations available for purchase will be limited; buyers will have to wait until August for the less-expensive builds.
Microsoft isn't taking chances on Surface Pro 3 being a flop. It's marketing the hell out of Surface Pro 3, encouraging would-be buyers to place pre-orders for their device on the website or else risk waiting through long ship windows.
Why make buyers holding cash wait for anything when there are plenty of good products on the market? Surface Pro 3 may be a good device. Heck, it may actually be the best new device to hit the market since the last great device (whatever that was).
But the market is flush with good devices by multiple manufacturers, and even Microsoft says solution providers should sell products that don't have its emblem.
Yup, you read that right. Microsoft is unapologetic when it comes to not releasing Surface to the channel. In Channelnomics‘ last meeting with global channel chief Phil Sorgen, he said partners should sell the tablets by other vendors instead of the Surface.
Think about that for a minute. Microsoft says go forth and sell competing products. So why not?
Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung, to name a few, all have Windows and Android products with similar functionality and features as the Surface 3. And with a few accessories, such as Bluetooth keyboard and kickstand case, many of these devices can serve as a laptop substitute. Best of all, they come at variable price points, meaning they're more marketable than any of the Surfaces.
You don't need to go with tablets if you're looking for a business machine, as Microsoft positions Surface. HP released cases designed for different verticals, making its tablets customisable for different environments such as healthcare, retail and logistics. Lenovo's Yoga convertible and Helix are fine examples of traditional notebooks that take the form of a tablet when needed. And Samsung's Note and Tab have true multitasking and longer battery life than the Surface Pro 3.
Best of all, all of these devices are openly available to the channel. In fact, you could argue the Apple iPad has greater channel availability than Surface. If you can sell something that satisfies a customer's needs and make money in the process, why not? Remember, Microsoft said this is the right thing to do while it's logging direct Surface orders through its website.
Why would Microsoft encourage sales of competitive products? If it sells Surface devices, it wins. If the channel sells Windows tablets, it wins. And with every Windows device sold, there's a high probability it will include an Office 365 subscription and attached Azure cloud services. Again, a win for Microsoft.
Microsoft purports itself as a channel-friendly, channel-first company. It is, after all, a founder of the channel. But its position on Surface is anything but channel-friendly. In fact, Microsoft has demonstrated not just a willingness to shut out the channel, but go around partners to win big deals, such as the mega-deal with Delta that will put 20,000 Surfaces in airplane flight decks.
It's time for the channel to embrace other devices and stop waiting for Surface.
For more US-based channel news, visit Channelnomics
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