When You Have To Buy Their Love, You’ve Lost

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The Road To CES: A Peek Inside Our Gadget Bags

Over at WindowsITPro, Paul Thurott outlines some details of Microsoft/Nokia’s (purported) marketing plans for Windows Phone in 2012. Amongst them: a $10 to $15 commission for retail sales people who sell Windows Phone handsets over Android or iOS.

In turn, John Gruber asks: “If this strategy was on the table, why didn’t Microsoft start this a year ago?

Here’s why: because it’s an admission of failure.

Microsoft’s obstacle isn’t an easy one. When people walk into a phone store in search of a new smartphone, the sales dude generally offers up two choices: iPhone or Android. Meanwhile, the only people being handed Windows Phones are the ones who asked for them right off the bat.

Now, why is this? Is it because Apple and Google are coughing up piles of cash to get the sales reps to push their phones? Nope — while carriers and specific OEMs might offer spiffs for the sales of certain handsets, I can’t find evidence that Apple or Google themselves ever have. (I’ve been asking sales folks and carrier reps if they ever got a cut from either company all morning, and the only answer I got besides a bunch of “No way”s was a “Hah! If Apple paid me a special commission, I’d be rich.”)

It’s because, for the time being, Windows Phone just isn’t good enough.

That’s not to say that Windows Phone isn’t good, period — it is! But it also came out incredibly late in the game. When you’re the last one off the line, you have to do something so amazing, something so much better than what the folks leading the pack are doing, that you change the race entirely.

iOS did this by making smartphones simple, embracing the concept of “Apps” better than anyone else had before, and by riding that massive wave of momentum that comes from being Apple’s next shiny thing.

Android did it by becoming the anti-iPhone. One handset? “Heck no! Put it on all of them!” said Google. A tightly monitored, “walled garden” for an App Store? “Nope! Do what you want!” Google did everything that Apple would not (for better or worse), for the consumer and everyone else in the industry.

Windows Phone, meanwhile, has very few tricks that anyone could inarguably say that it does better. Oh, it does plenty of things — and it does them all differently. But different isn’t better; it’s just different.

When phone guys sell phones, they’re selling whatever they think will be the easiest sale and make their customer (and their managers) happiest. They do this not necessarily because they’re wonderful people who have deep compassion for everyone who sets foot in their store — but because dealing with angry people (and their returns) sucks. For now, this means iPhone or Android. Both do all of the snazzy things people see in the commercials. Both have a bazillion apps. Both have such massive user bases that few would ever look out into a crowd of people all with smartphones in hand and think “Crap. Did I pick the wrong phone?”

By offering up a chunk of change for each sale — especially when it seems that no one else is — Microsoft is essentially saying “Yeah, we know you don’t really want to sell this. We know that we don’t really have any killer features yet. How about some cash?”

Find your killer feature, Microsoft. Don’t just buy love.