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Culture Eats Acquisition For Lunch: Why Microsoft + Yammer Was Doomed

"Hey little sister, what have you done?
Hey little sister, who's the only one?
Hey little sister, who's your superman?
Hey little sister, who's the one you want?
Hey little sister, shotgun
"It's a nice day to start again
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again."
- Billy Idol, "White Wedding"
Anyone who's wasted months of their lives emailing documents back and forth with "track changes" knows that enterprise collaboration software is a no-brainer.
Whether you're talking about social networking, document sharing, videoconferencing, project management or some combination of all of these, the days are long gone when you could sit isolated in the back of your office and focus on "your work" all day.
How big is this market, however ill-defined? One forecast says "$5.9 billion by the end of 2018," another "$6.2 billion by 2019, representing a 13.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the 2014-2019 period."
Collaboration is undoubtedly "the next big thing," so much so that one day we will look back and not understand how we ever did without it. Back in 2012, though, only a few companies had seriously gained traction, and one of them was Yammer. So it was predictable that Microsoft - the largest software company in the world - with its dorky Sharepoint tool that remains unpopular among users - would seek to buy it. Indeed in June of that year, the purchase went through for a staggering $1.2 billion.
After which Microsoft proceeded to kill it. Initially Yammer CEO David Sacks stayed on after the purchase, but departed in 2014 after being more or less ignored. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
"Sacks, who was Yammer’s CEO when Microsoft purchased the company in 2012 for $1.2 billion, had been an outspoken advocate for new tools to make workers more collaborative and efficient...Sacks went to work at Microsoft after the acquisition, but people familiar with the company said he hasn’t been involved much in operations at Yammer or Microsoft."
On January 22, 2016, the business collaboration community was shocked to learn that Microsoft has apparently entirely eliminated the entire Yammer Customer Success team. (Note that Microsoft has yet to confirm the news; It is based on status updates in Twitter and on the Yammer IT Pro Network.)
Meaning that now, when you get the product, you're on your own.
One industry writer reacted furiously. "These are the people whose blood, sweat and tears helped companies like yours turn collaboration into a success at your company," wrote Carrie Basham Young at CMSWire.com, which broke the story.
Others shared Young's opinion, even before the news broke. As Dennis Pearce wrote on Twitter: "Microsoft is doing a good enough job of killing Yammer without any external help."
For her part, Young expressed disillusionment with Microsoft's betrayal of its initially promising approach to the acquisition, noting that in the beginning "Microsoft invested in the Yammer product as well as the team that built key relationships with its best customers [the CSMs]".
What went wrong here? 
From the very beginning, analysts were concerned that Microsoft had made a mistake by straying from its "core businesses," such as Windows. For another thing, others had already made inroads into the market. In a particularly stinging comment, Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research, said, "Microsoft is too late to the social party....Imitation is not a strategy."
But in my view, the real problem has to do with culture, which is ultimately reducible to brand. Deloitte Consulting has published a short guide to the specific issue of cultural integration after the M&A, but even had Microsoft followed that guide the problem remains unaltered.
Which is: One company can't marry another company unless the two cultures are compatible from the get-go. "Mergers Fail More Often Than Marriages," reported CNN more than five years ago, citing statistics that are nothing short of shocking when you consider the cost.
"Divorce rates vary according to country, educational levels and income, but generally hover between 40 percent and 50 percent in North America and Europe. Conversely, a 2004 study by Bain & Company found that 70 percent of mergers failed to increase shareholder value. More recently, a 2007 study by Hay Group and the Sorbonne found that more than 90 percent of mergers in Europe fail to reach financial goals.
It seems that while we talk a great deal about the importance of corporate culture, most companies don't put their money where their mouths are. What should happen is significant due diligence before a merger or acquisition ever takes place - to see if the two cultures can live together productively.
Instead, what we see is the deeply misguided and costly notion that you can buy your way to best fit. It doesn't work on that TV show "Married At First Sight," it and you can't buy your way to a good corporate marriage in real life.
No matter how sexy the target looks, it's brand values that make for a lasting partnership.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. "Bride of Frankenstein" photo via Wikipedia.


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