Microsoft and Intuit: Getting To Know Their Customers. Two Different Strategies.

The best part of this article, is the last four paragraphs, but read the entire article (don’t skim) to get the full thrust and basis for my argument.
There are two kinds of companies. Those companies who build products, hoping that customers will buy them. These same type of companies, when they build a product, really have no clue how it is being used or how they can make it better.
The other type of company is one that really KNOWS who its customers are. They talk to them, eat with them, listen to them and etc. They KNOW their customers. Microsoft and Intuit are two leading software companies building solutions to help small-medium sized businesses grow. Sage, although not having the market share of Intuit or Microsoft is very important in this battle as well, followed by dozens of other smaller players.
One big difference between Intuit and Microsoft companies, as outlined in a recent Fortune Small Business cover story is how they know their customers.
For years, Intuit’s “follow me home” initiative has ensured that its employees (from managers and directors to tech support) get to know Intuit customers one on one and see, day to day, how they do business. By knowing how customers really do business, by seeing how they work day in and day out – Intuit’s employees will be able to make better products, create better advertising, better manage customer support and improve all aspects of Intuit’s marketing, sales and support for QuickBooks.
The FSB article gives us a peak into a similar (but very different) program that Microsoft is doing for the launch of Microsoft Office for Small Business Accounting 2006 which will be out in September of this year and integrate seamlessly with Microsoft Office which is used by 90%+ of small businesses.
Microsoft has hired a team of anthropologists who go out into the field, documenting, photographing, speaking with and observing small-medium sized businesses in action.
The result of this research is that Microsoft will also be able to get a better picture of who its customers really are and how they do business. Based on the anthropology research, the Microsoft SBA team has created fictional characters which represent a customer profile.
For example, “Stan” starts his day at 7:30am, gets to work at 9:00am has a day full of meetings and calls, and leaves his office by 5:30pm. He often goes to dinner with a client and comes home late.
Do you see the difference yet?
Intuit’s managers have a one to one relationship with customers and as a team KNOW what the life of their customer’s are like from a personal perspective. Microsoft’s managers only know their customers through the distanced view of a fictional character based on reports from anthropologists.
I’d bet that Microsoft managers, of course, have direct dealings with their customers in some capacity. However, as an institutionalized part of the corporate culture, the gold star for knowing customers goes to Intuit.
Scott Cook, founder of Intuit told FSB, “Our culture is customer in, not technology out”. This is a fundamental difference in how Intuit and Microsoft operate.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft (obviously successful and smart) started his company as a technology product.
Scott Cook (obviously successful and smart) started Intuit as a business solution.
The SMB market is not really a “battle” as truthfully the market is so big in many product segments that there is room for a handful of major players and dozens and dozens of smaller players.
Read the full Fortune Small Business cover story here.