Microsoft axes its Yammer / Office 365 CSMs: a change in strategy or simple cost cutting?

Last week the global team Office 365 Customer Success Managers (CSMs) were given their marching orders which has raised a lot of speculation and concern about Yammer’s future. So let’s look at this with business-coloured glasses on.

You can read a couple of takes on the Microsoft decision here: and here:

One of the things that Microsoft acquired in 2012 when Yammer joined the Microsoft Office Division (MOD) was a team of CSMs. These people are different from normal product specialists in that they were not so much charged with the selling of the product but more so with ensuring that customers adopted the product and transformed the way they communicated. Over time this role was changed to be more of an Office 365 broader focus, not just on Yammer.

Previously the job of customer technology adoption was handled either by Microsoft Services or by the partner community – both being fee-based engagements.

Yammer / Office 365 CSMs were not chargeable resources and were facing competition on three fronts: Microsoft Services, partners, and also the Microsoft FastTrack Onboarding Centre.

The latter causes much chagrin for partners as it directly competes with their own onboarding service offerings, however it’s here so we need to just get used to it. Microsoft makes no money directly from partner services, so when you look at the four different options to drive adoption within customers – Microsoft was giving away two of them at no cost to the customer.

Is the axing of the Office 365 CSMs an indication that Microsoft is giving up on Yammer? I don’t think so. I believe it to be more a financial decision around the investment in both the FastTrack and CSM programs and that one of them had to go.

It is quite a shame that the CSMs are being given the boot as they are special individuals – people who genuinely care about the solution and the difference Microsoft technologies makes to the customer. Unfortunately, they don’t really have a place in the Microsoft world as no other product or division has the same type of individuals. This is what the partner ecosystem exists to serve.

Microsoft always faces challenges from competitors and its own partners. One of the changes of late with the cloud world is that there needs to be more of a focus on driving adoption of products that customers are paying for, otherwise they might look at going to a competitor if they are not seeing success with their investment. As such Microsoft has invested quite heavily in developing partners away from traditional technical services and more to focus on driving adoption of the products they are selling. Doing this gives Microsoft breadth. Sustaining a team of 40-odd CSMs around the world only gives Microsoft depth in a number of accounts in post-sales: something that doesn’t continue to drive sales across the board.

As sad as it is for anyone to lose their job, this is a financial reality. I’m not across the internals of this, but I do hope that the CSMs are given the opportunity to move into other customer-facing roles where their skills may be used. Otherwise the partner community has a bunch of new candidates available to them who have already proven their quality and care of customers and solutions.


  1. Your analysis makes a lot of sense when taking into account Microsoft’s business model and strategy. But it also proves the point that Yammer was never a good fit for Microsoft in the first place as I have tried to argue in my analysis ( Microsoft is a product company; they focus on adoption. Adoption is looking from the product towards the user. The CSMs were change agents; they embodied the original Yammer approach. Change agents look from the user (or organisation) towards the product – it is a very different approach managing the implementation of ESN focusing on changing the ways people work to simply driving the uptake of a product (the onboarding of users). So, I agree with you that the decision does not signify a change in strategy on the part of Microsoft. A true commitment to the vision of ESN and Yammer however would have meant a change in strategy. Letting the CSMs go shows that this is not the case. The question to me is whey did they buy Yammer in the first place? Everything that made Yammer unique – its vision, its community (the YCN), its expertise (the people), the way it developed software – Microsoft seems to dismantle (out of lack of understanding in my view). Yammer as a feature set was never very spectacular or unique. In my view we are seeing the demise of something very promising by being absorbed into a very traditional product focused culture, that not very suited to delivering on the promises of ESN.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Kai. I do think that Yammer the product has a place within the Microsoft productivity stack, but perhaps the overall culture and approach that was Yammer the company was simply too much. While Microsoft is certainly changing at the end of the day the core of the company is still the same, so fringe cultures like Yammer probably wouldn’t have enough to survive on.
      As someone going through the acquisition of my own company I know all too well what it’s like to see things that I thought were important to my company be shut down as others deemed them not as important. And that’s not to say they are wrong – like in this case we can’t say the decision to end the CSM role is a wrong one because we aren’t the architects of the strategy. It certainly feels wrong, but that’s because we have a human connection with the CSMs which differs from other roles and connections within Microsoft.

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