Some new details emerged this week with the launch of FastTrack for Office 365. This solution, focused on business over 150 seats, aims to help you get your tenant up and running quickly. You can even go further and leverage FastTrack to get you with a partner if you need help migrating email.

Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountainsWhat about companies under 150 seats though? Surely, they need email that isn’t as generic as @outlook.com or @someispname.com! Let’s call them smaller businesses, shall we? I have family members that work at 3 such businesses and I’ve noticed something, probably you’ve noticed it too. Smaller businesses are either:
1. Stuck with a legacy on premise mail system
2. Worked with a partner to get into Office 365 or Google Apps

Isn’t there a better way though? One that can be supplemented with a FastTrack lite? Well, it can’t be too cumbersome because it might just be cost prohibitive for Microsoft. On the other hand, we can’t push the costs off to the customer either. A smaller business shouldn’t necessarily need a partner to get them there. That is just a one time cost for hardly any work, especially if they can manage certain things on their own. For this article though, I’d like to assume they can’t.

I decided to sign up for trials of Google Apps for Business and Office 365 to find out how easy or hard the process was for a small business.

Sales Practices
From a sign-up perspective, Microsoft and Google were similar enough and dropped you into your tenant in similar places after the initial registration. It was what happened next that surprised me and I want to talk about it first because it represents an area where Microsoft needs to step it up.

I received 2 calls over the first week and 5 calls total from Google during the first 30 days. Some of these were voice mails, but all of them were from the same sales rep. He called and wanted to understand my business to see how Google Apps would work for me. He also sent me several non-form emails from his own account, not a Google system account. I explained that I was really just checking into the process to see how easy it was and that the account was really a personal trial. He didn’t press me on this, but did follow up a few more times. I did receive some form emails from a system regarding the tenant expiration, which contained specific resources to check to update my DNS records and add payment information (of course).

After I signed up for Office 365, I received no phone call. There was an initial welcome form email from the system, but no other communication until a few days before my tenant was going to expire. I received another form email about the expiration and then another one regarding adding other accounts to the tenant.

I was surprised at the difference in sales approaches between Google and Microsoft. Now, I did sign up prior to FastTrack, so I can only hope a Microsoft rep would now call me and ask if I wanted to be in that program at least. What made the biggest impact on me though was that Google actually asked what my business was. This showed the person wasn’t just trying to make the sale, but trying to determine how their solutions could fit my needs.

For Microsoft, the recommendation is clear – be more aggressive in your sales calls when someone registers for a trial. I could have been a company of 10,000 seats for all they knew! Also, this would be an opportunity for someone to explain the next thing…

Domain Name Verification – Full Stop on the Sign-Up Process
This is really where Microsoft could shine. Once you sign up for an email client tenant, you have to prove that you own the domain you are trying to use. To work through this requirement is difficult because it requires an understanding of what DNS is, where it is hosted and who manages it. For a smaller businesses, DNS is configured when their website is done and for mail routing. No one has checked it in years and it just works. So, which company does a better job at communicating what is required here?

Both Google and Microsoft direct you to help pages for domain ownership. I found Google’s page easier to understand and better organized. They also defer the steps to do this step until after you’ve signed up. In contrast, Microsoft’s page has a ton of text and is more technical than a tech-saavy person or prospective business owner can understand. My assumption is that FastTrack could help here, but it isn’t for these smaller businesses.

Here’s where the pre-sales team can help. Having a follow-up call within a week of sign-up to check in is invaluable. Train the pre-sales folks to understand this particular issue and how Microsoft addresses it until it is confirmed (with a secondary @smallerbusiness.onmicrosoft.com email name). Just a 10 minute conversation that goes through this script would be helpful.

I see you’ve signed up for an Office 365 account. I want to ensure that you get up and running as soon as possible. If you’re comfortable with the plan you’ve selected, your next step would be to update your DNS record so that you can prove to us who you say you are. Do you know how to update your DNS? No? OK, let’s talk about DNS and maybe I can help you figure it out (pre-sales person could even do a whois query).
Do you know who manages your www.smallerbusiness.com website or do you have a staffed IT person? That would be where to start. I can send you the steps on what they need to do.

That took less than 2 minutes to write and could really help someone out. The plan conversation is an important one to have, but I’m assuming someone at least picked the right one. If not, obviously the pre-sales team should be versed in the plan and maybe even have access to change the plan type on the back end on the fly (or make a request with a confirmation to the registered account).

Buying In
For those self starters, make it even easier to sign up. Right now, you can’t purchase Google Apps for Business or Office 365 from the mobile applications (at least that I’ve seen). With the success of Office 365 for iPad, Microsoft seems to have missed out on a huge opportunity. Right now, when the Office 365 for iPad app loads, it prompts for an account. If your email address is not an Office 365 account, it just sends you away. Why not build in intelligence and use that rejection as an opportunity to sell something? The login form should recognize the email address as a non-Office 365 customer and give the person some options to purchase (maybe not the E3 and E4 plans). At least link them to more information!

Return on Investment
There were a lot of interesting discoveries in going through this process. If you’ve read any of my other articles or know anything about me, you’ll know that I think Office 365 is clearly the leader for Enterprise collaboration. What concerns me in Microsoft’s lack investment in the smaller business space and their reliance on the partner network. FastTrack is certainly a step in the right direction, but Microsoft should be thinking about ways to automate the process for smaller businesses too. You can’t always rely on partners because they too will turn down customers because they just aren’t big enough. This falls back on the smaller IT guy or someone in the business to help out. In a lot of areas, these folks have gone away because even they couldn’t be sustained by smaller businesses. It falls to Microsoft as the provider of the solution to design methods to get smaller businesses in quicker by making the sign up process as painless as possible.