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The Secret of Microsoft’s Cloud Turnaround

When Scott Guthrie used to attend Windows developer conferences, he sometimes found it hard to move around. Clad in his signature red polo shirt, the Microsoft executive was often trailed by developers wanting a word. He’s even been followed into the bathroom by eager coders. In other words, his work on tools used by independent software shops has made him a rock star to Windows developers.

That made him ideally suited to take over Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise division in 2014 when the former boss of the unit, Satya Nadella, ascended to the CEO job. Winning in the cloud is, many believe, about winning over developers and the companies they work for. And over the past few years, Microsoft has started to win, passing such rivals as Google, IBM and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise to become the No. 2 player in the cloud behind AWS, according to Gartner. Along the way, it snagged customers like Heineken, Volvo and 3M.

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“It’s not just that we’re trying to message ‘usage, usage, usage’ is important,” said Mr. Guthrie. “Our sales reps literally don’t get paid if a customer buys something and doesn’t actually use it.”