Truths & Insights is a nascent martech tool at Microsoft that makes it possible for the company’s sales professionals to truly embrace their mission ‘To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.’ In this case study, we’ll see how Microsoft won gold for ‘Most innovative use of martech’.
About the company
Microsoft develops, licenses, sells and supports software and services. Its 2020 revenue was US$153.28 billion. In February 2014, when Satya Nadella took over as CEO, Microsoft was at an inection point on the path to oblivion according to many business pundits. To set Microsoft on a path to redemption, Satya reclaried Microsoft’s mission “To enable every person and every organisation to achieve more”, while embracing a growth mindset towards customer obsession.
Specic issues or challenges to be addressed
One in five people in the world have a disability. 70% of those disabilities are invisible, and they have been largely ignored. For Microsoft’s customers to continue to be a industry leader in their markets, they have to be an inclusive organisation building accessible solutions as part of their business transformation.
Microsoft’s sales professionals (who had historically been order takers for renewing annual technology licensing contracts with customer technologists) were being challenged to provide unique market perspectives to c-level business leaders, especially in the space of accessibility and inclusion. However, the skills required to tease out customer’s latent needs were not prevalent in Microsoft’s sales force. In the company’s research, they observed that, while sales professionals started with customer needs, the jump to solution/product talk was too quick. Unlike marketers who were patient to experiment, sales had a shorter time horizon for results and were not comfortable discussing accessibility. There were three challenges. Microsoft needs its sales team to:
Embrace ambiguity and explore the uncomfortable around accessibility and inclusion.
Facilitate open discussions with individuals across multiple customer teams.
Reflect and strategise insights from these conversations to engage the c-suite.
The target audience
The global enterprise c-suite.
The martech solution
No martech solution in the market enables sales professionals to discuss sensitive topics like inclusion and gives actionable business insights. Microsoft had to invent a new way of work. It explored collaborative experiences that promoted collective learning and were inspired by casual gaming experiences like ‘Cards Against Humanity’ and ‘Truth or Dare.’ With iterative prototyping-testing sprints, Microsoft invented Truths & Insights Accessibility Edition: a gamified digital experience that facilitates tough and important conversations around accessibility and inclusion. Microsoft tested this through internal leadership conferences and won the annual Microsoft Hackathon in 2020 (multiple awards). The inclusive experience design promotes turn-based personal storytelling through conversational prompts and empathetic active listening.
Played virtually over communication platforms like Microsoft Teams on a web-browser, six to eight customers could join virtual tables hosted by their trusted advisor to compete in getting rid of their pre-shuffled hand of five cards quickly in two ways:
1. By playing a (white) Insights card like ‘___ is my biggest roadblock to being more accessible.’
2. By playing a (black) Truth card like ‘org support’, ‘training’ or ‘tools and processes’ in response to the current Insights card, players can share a related personal truth/anecdote.#
For example, a player could tell a story of why they believe ‘Org support is my biggest roadblock to being more accessible’ and share a personal story, which can unlock signicant trapped value for the organisation.
Empathetic active listening
All participants are then invited to react to the personal truth through reactions: ‘Me too!’, ‘Changed my perception’, ‘Inspired to act.’ Sales professionals thus facilitate open discussions with individuals across multiple customer teams.
Built with Azure Cognitive Services and AI algorithms, Truths & Insights does real-time transliteration of the customer stories (an accessibility feature), while further enabling deeper insights and enable text+sentiment analysis within seconds. This help Microsoft’s teams reflect and strategise insights to prepare insightful discussions in the c-suite.
Gamication of customer experiences digitally to facilitate collective customer listening while enabling qualitative insights analysis with AI is an industry first as far as we know.
Five critical elements for the deployment were:
Executive buy-in: Microsoft’s divisional corporate VP, VP for sales, area VPs, delivery VPs and CTOs have all either participated in strategic reviews and/or sponsored the programme with either time, people or funding. Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer also helped support to make this into a mainstream methodology.
Communal co-creation: With the worldwide community of field accessibility practitioners who were selling digital transformation projects by day and were gamers by night.
Software development: Leveraging Microsoft technologies like Azure, Office 365, LinkedIn for easy one-click authentication, Microsoft Teams for conferencing and Azure Cognitive Services for voice-text transliteration and text analytics. While the UX design was done internally, Microsoft partnered with LambdaZen and managed to get V1 built within six weeks.
Evangelism: The hackathon win was an internal marketing boost.
Funding Frugality: The director of customer experiences initiated this project. Around $150K has been spent on strategy development, game design, event marketing, UX design and software development. The secret to Microsoft’s frugality has been leveraging its own technologies.
One of Microsoft’s big challenges was making Truths & Insights accessible (WCAG 2.1 standards). To make this easier, the company recruited individuals with various abilities to make sure the solution is not just compliant, but truly usable.
Impact on the business
Before: Microsoft didn’t have a programmatic method to discuss accessibility and drive business impact. Now: Truths & Insights is part of the company’s global divisional strategy and OKRs for internal culture and customer engagement metrics. This is fundamentally transformative.
Joelle Loesch, vice president Services EMEA, Microsoft, said: “Truths & Insights enables our field teams to engage with our customers on hard conversations like never before.”
ROI (and budgeting)
To equipoise strategic and financial performance, Microsoft took a balanced scorecard approach.
In the short-term, the company has already seen several business transformation projects increase their investments in inclusive technology by more than 40% influenced by ‘Truths & Insights’. However, the real business impact at scale will be in the next two years as it is connected it to the global Microsoft machine.
“Before Truths & Insights Accessibility edition, I did not know how the conversations with my customers on Accessibility & Inclusion. This will have a huge impact on trust customers have on Microsoft”
Sarah Wolf, Sales Professional, Microsoft US