My Microsoft Conundrum

First of all, let me state that I’m a amateur investor in the stock market. I have a discipline when it comes to stock investing in that I look for companies with good products and/or strong management. One of the major holdings I have is Microsoft (MSFT), in fact, my Microsoft stocks takes up about 20% of my portfolio.  As an investor, I want to see the stock shoot up and demostrate increased sales of the product quarter after quarter. Likewise, I want to see the profit increase quarter after quarter.

The reason I bought Microsoft stock is because I believe in their products. I believe in their vision of “business software” will be. As to what I believe their vision is, that’s a separate BLOG post.

As you all know, I’m also the principle of AP Commerce, Inc. based in Los Angeles. We are a small Certified NAV partner; we do nothing else other than to implement Microsoft Dynamics NAV (Navision). Personally, I’ve been working with NAV since 1999 and have been involved in hundreds of implementations to date. Our company is created to be a service company, not a software sales company. It just so happens that NAV is the product that we uses so we can help our customer achieve greater success.

However, this post is not to discuss accomplishments. It’s a genuine conundrum I have being an investor of Microsoft and a business owner doing business with Microsoft.

Before I continue, let’s make one thing clear about Microsoft. Microsoft is in the software sales company. Their core business is to sell software. Not service, not hardware, not internet content, not social media, not whatever. Yes, we all can see they’re trying to diversify, but at the end of the day, their business is to sell software. Period.

It’s not a secret that Microsoft loves partners that can sell and sell and sell. Since Microsoft channel reps are evaluated by how their region performs, channel reps throws all of their support and time into partners that sells. As an investor, I love this strategy. More sale means more revenue and hopefully fatter profit. By exceeding these arbituary numbers set by Wall Street, stocks shoot up. Wall Street loves growth. When I receive the annual reports from Microsoft, I always turn to the revenue and the profit section. I look at how much revenue growth this year as compared to the previous year, and the year before that. I look at the earnings per share, I look at what the cost of doing businesses. In short, I want to see growth and more GROWTH! In the world of Wall Street, public companies are evaluated by the quarter. If the quarter sucked, the company will get hammered and executives get fired…

As such, it’s not a surprise that Microsoft wants more partners to sell all of their product suites. And more and more hardware dealers and bulk software retailers find out about Microsoft Dynamics NAV (Navision), studies the manual, pass the required tests, and acquire the competency to sell Navision (among other softwares). In a push to sell more software, my suspection is that even larger solution centers, to be more aligned with Microsoft strategy have shifted their focus software-sales centric.

As a business owner working with Microsoft Dynamics NAV. I’m deeply concerned by this practice. As we all know, selling and implementating Microsoft Dynamics NAV is different than selling and implementing Microsoft Office or setting up a network using Windows 2003 Server or implementing Exchange Server with Sharepoint. Without proper skillset or the resource, the implementation of ERP usually fails. Once the software implementation fails, customers blame the software, the vendor, and ultimately, Microsoft. 

These bad implemenations creates a deep distrust in Microsoft; confirming their belief that Microsoft is an Evil Empire and all of Microsoft products suck. Pretty soon, word of mouth spreads (business executives and managers have powerful friends) and before you know it, more and more people have the mental imprint that Microsoft sucks because their friend of a friend got screwed. For the record, Microsoft products does NOT suck. Microsoft Dynamics does NOT suck.

Most of these companies either bite the bullet and live with a software that they can’t really use and hates Microsoft for the rest of their lives, or they call around for other solution centers to come help them out.

We have quite a number of situations where companies called us help asking us to help them with a failed implementation. In one instance, the owner of a company that bought NAV over a year ago expressed to me that he absolutely hated Microsoft and his lack of due dilligence in selecting the right vendor and the software. He couldn’t believe that his original vendor got to be a Gold Certified Partner. He was so upset that he wanted to sue the solution center and Microsoft.

To make a long story short, I accepted the task and decided to let the chips fall where they may be. Fortunately, we were able to help them out quite nicely and the owners and the employees became a fan of NAV. Not only did they became our reference and paid their bills in full and on time, but they also agreed to go back on the enhancement program with Microsoft and bought additional NAV sessions. In the end, by making the customer happy, they ended up doing more business with Microsoft.

When I started the company, I promised myself that we would be a service company, not a software sales company. What we did for this company took time. It takes time to ask the company to believe in us, then to believe in NAV, then to believe in Microsoft. Trust is the hardest thing to build once it has been broken. Unfortunately, the time Microsoft spends working with this customer doesn’t translate into revenue quickly.

As a business owner who believes in Microsoft, I want Microsoft to reward partners that can do the job correctly, not reward partners that can only sell. As an investor, I want Microsoft to spend the time and effort supporting people that can generate revenue quickly. So I can see an increase every quarter and meet Wall Street expectations.

How would you recommend balancing being a service company and being an investor?

Question of Morality?

A few weeks ago, a CFO that recently joined his company called us up asking to quote Microsoft Dynamics NAV to them. This company had gone through a couple of management changes, got sold to another company, and then resold again to a group of private investors. Needless to say, none of the current employees have been there very long.

It just so happens that the CFO had used Navision before and loves it very much. He had gotten several quotes from different solution centers which were all about the same price.  In the end, for whatever reasons, we were able to win the deal.

By this point, the budget was approved for the amount specified on the quote. When we place the order with Microsoft, to our surprise, the company had purchased Dynamics GP back in the 90’s that no one knew about. This meant that we were able to receive credit from Microsoft and apply the credit to the cost of the software. The amount of the credit was 50% of our total software deal. So this is a significant amount and would cut into our profit for this deal.

At this point, two scenarios quickly came into my mind:

1.       Keep my mouth shut and fulfill the amount as specified on the original quote. Basically we would be able to book the difference as pure profit.
2.       Tell the customer of the credit from Microsoft and apply the credit to their quote

This basically came down to whether or not we should pocket the money or be honest and give the customer the credit they deserve.

It took me some time to decide what to do. The choice was hard but it was a decision that I would expect myself to make and the people we work with to make. It’s the way we’re brought up. Its’ way we build trust. It’s making the world a more pleasant place to live: I was to give the credit to the customer from the software purchase.

Before making the phone call to inform our new customer the good news, another thought came to my mind; was this good news for the CFO? I could only imagine the questions he would face if we invoice him for something that was significantly different than the amount specified on the quote:

“Why didn’t you do your due diligence and realize that the company had purchased GP before?”
“Why didn’t you know that you could’ve applied the credit the company had in GP?”
“What other things the board hired you to do are not done properly?”
“How can you propose such a budget if you don’t have the grasp on the proper information?”
“How can the company trust your decision making ability in the future?”

Would I be the person that will cause his loss of credibility with the CEO and the board and ultimately his job? Or was I just thinking too much?

I picked up the phone and delivered the whole story about the Microsoft credit to him privately. As I expected, there was no congratulatory remarks or a word thanking us for our honesty. He listened intently, paused for a few seconds, and then said, “Hmm… We bought the software that long ago and they still recognized it? Go ahead and send us the invoice then.”

From his paused, I can sense that for a few seconds, millions of thoughts went through his mind as well. What were his thoughts? God only knows, because I wasn’t going to ask him.

In the end, there was no right or wrong. It could be right or wrong depending on how you look at the situation and who you are. I did what I thought was the right decision; it was information that I would’ve liked to receive if our roles were switched. I would not like it very much if I found out this information on my own at a later date.

I guess that’s why we were able to win the deal.