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You would think most technology companies would be well-versed in the art of using information technology to advance the cause of sales and marketing because that’s what they preach every day to their customers.

But anybody working in the channel can tell you that the truth of the matter is that most technology vendors have no idea about what’s happening with the customers.

Many solution providers like it that way because it usually discourages the vendor from trying to poach customers by taking them direct.

But the upside of having vendors that actually know something about the end customer’s environment is that they might actually be able to help sell additional complementary products that the customer might find useful.

The whole concept of upselling the customer has been around for a very long time, but it usually takes place at the time of the transaction. Upselling customers a few months after the initial transaction is usually a pretty difficult task to accomplish because the sales person calling on the customer is basically blind to what the customer has in place.

And even though vendors have invested millions of dollars in customer relationship management systems, the usefulness of the data being collected in those systems is pretty dubious. But hope springs eternal and no less august an organization than Microsoft is about to take on the ultimate customer management challenge.

Under a project called MIO (Microsoft Individuals and Organizations), the folks in Redmond plan to organize the 300 million individual records and 70 million organization records in a single application.

That application, based on CDI (customer data integration) software from Initiate Systems in Chicago, hopes to create the one “truth” about the Microsoft customer base so Microsoft can do a better job of selling products.

Naturally, this application has certain “Big Brother” aspects to it in that it will track all the parent-child relationships between individuals and various legal entities. But from an IT perspective, it shows that even Microsoft, with all its IT knowledge, is struggling to make sense of the reams of customer data that are housed in a myriad of Siebel and SAP applications.

For the channel, however, this MEO project should ultimately be a good thing because if it’s used constructively, it means Microsoft could be a lot more proactive about helping to generate leads in the channel. And amazingly enough, Microsoft expects to have this up and running across all seven of its global units by the end of year.

There’s no doubt that putting that much information, also known as power, in the hands of Microsoft is a little scary. But down the road, just about every vendor is going to have to implement similar systems, so we may as well get use to it and see what happens next.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at