The Microsoft-LinkedIn deal is about who owns the business screen
Our own William Furlong, GM of B2B Marketing USA and former Bizo executive, explores what the Microsoft-LinkedIn merger means, predicts a new kind of programmatic B2B messaging service.
Spending much of my career at the convergence of media, software and networks, and having the good fortune of working at Bizo, a company acquired by LinkedIn, I watched with interest and a bit of shock and awe, at the news earlier this month of Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn.
The merger is the marriage of the leader in the business cloud with the leader in the business network, and it has positioned Microsoft/LinkedIn as the owners of the business executive’s screen. From an individual’s solo work activity and in-team collaboration and project management, to the outside world of engagement in sales, networking and client management; Microsoft and LinkedIn can own the entire workday. The pure global scale of mostly a business audience and its subsequent data assets will separate them by a wide margin from the competition.
Of course, I am pleased as a shareholder, but it could also have a big payoff for B2B marketers, connected Microsoft ecosystem partners, and yes, the business executives who now spends most of their work time in front of screens and on SaaS-centric platforms.
What does the merger mean?
But, as is the question with all these big tech acquisitions, will it actually deliver on the promise? Looking at the leadership of both firms and the structure of the acquisition – separate companies – I believe they are well positioned for success.
First, I don’t see this as a way back to the adtech/advertising table for Microsoft, but one that puts the companies in control of a bevy of interfaces that impacts efficiencies for the business executive and for marketers. Assuming the product integration map moves along efficiently, a business executive will soon have a complete “personal tech stack” whose data and various integrations will only power up their game.
Just imagine having the ability to push out Outlook email via a “drag and drop” LinkedIn In Mail contact, and park that activity into Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM. And having your marketing team, via a self-service UI, deploy an “always on” one-on-one message to every one of your prospects. And, later on, being able to create a PowerPoint and instantly cut and paste, company information and sales data into the deck from LinkedIn.
At the enterprise level, imagine the power of a suite that includes Azure Cloud services, LinkedIn Talent Management and Marketing Solutions Services from LinkedIn. Wait there’s more: Imagine inserting your recent webinar education series into Lynda’s expanded library of content, that just happens to have a window in many Microsoft Office tools!
Sales and marketing opportunity
What is at play here, too, is the evolution of sales and customer journey strategies. More industries are adopting “social selling” and empowering the marketing team to generate revenue. This combined tool kit will fuel more adoption and acceleration to “automating” the funnel system on through to the sale.
From a competitive enterprise perspective, I believe both companies are proactively looking to the future where adtech, martech and the breakneck adoption of multiple SaaS powered business applications are becoming reality. They want to become the absolute toolkit for any business executive from Fortune 500 to the local SMB. All sorts of unicorn firms are playing in this space: There is Slack moving into the productivity realm, and IDaaS, or Identity Management as a Service, is now a category and its constituents are exploding with success managing all the various software tools a company and its workers need.
From the social side, you have Facebook moving into the enterprise with Facebook for Work. Word has it they are building a suite of business apps for its members. Slack has no social or marketing solutions platforms nor does Facebook have an enterprise business outside their programmatic data platform for advertising. The Microsoft-LinkedIn merger will make a pretty powerful combination as these various companies continue to grow. There are countless other players moving in too, and interoperability and single access will be critical for companies and us as individual business executives.
Another big question is how this will impact marketers. Again, the key theme here is that content marketing, education and research are all leading tactics of B2B marketers. They are growing exponentially and “traditional digital advertising” is suffering for it. We have seen the acquisition of Lynda by LinkedIn, which is all about learning as well as the social content placed into their ecosystem every minute of the day by members and marketers. Often the paid media in B2B really leads to all this sort of content.
I contend that the existing infrastructure of LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions group will be the plumbing to activate a new kind of programmatic B2B messaging service. Don’t know quite what that will look like – maybe they don’t, either – but they have a lot of smart people there, including my former Bizo colleagues, who have their fingers on the pulse of what B2B marketers need and what works for them.
Last, Microsoft’s CEO has a decidedly strong vision and is known as a strong executor. It is no surprise then that the companies will remain separate as I think this route will allow innovation and integration to follow more effectively. This is the company’s biggest acquisition – almost 4 times bigger than Skype – so they’ll need all hands on deck for this one to work, if not prosper. It truly is a new path for the enterprise where martech gains its highest table stakes in the B2B ecosystem.