You got an email from Microsoft. 

It’s assertive. 

It’s confident. 

And it’s talking about your business getting something called a Software Asset Management (SAM) engagement. 

What is a Microsoft SAM engagement? And how should you respond to the email in your inbox? 

A few times each year, we’re asked about SAM engagements. I have an opinion about these, and—in this article—I will educate you on how to reply. 

But before we go any further, let me point out something important: This email might appear to be from Microsoft, but it’s really from a third party. So don’t respond to the message yet. 

Having said that, let’s cover some basic things you should know about a Microsoft SAM engagement. 

What Is a Microsoft SAM Engagement?  

If you’ve never gotten an email like the one in your inbox, you might be wondering what a Microsoft SAM engagement is. Here’s what Microsoft has to say

“Software Asset Management (SAM) is a set of proven IT practices that unite people, processes, and technology to control and optimize the use of software across an organization. SAM can help you control costs as well as manage business and legal risks, optimize software licensing investments, and align your IT investments with business needs.”

This explanation is a mouthful. And it’s pretty vague. However, you can get further specifics about a Microsoft SAM engagement on this page. Microsoft writes this:

“The purpose of a SAM engagement is to help you get the most from your software investments, ensure that you are licensed correctly, and implement the right policies to properly manage your company’s software assets.” [Emphasis mine]

I want you to pay attention to the bolded text, and here’s why…  

What Others Say about Microsoft SAM Engagements   

Scott & Scott is a law firm that specializes in dealing with Microsoft audits, and this organization has an important perspective on Microsoft SAM engagements. Attorney Christopher Barnett doesn’t mince words about how he sees these engagements: 

“However, no company should be under any delusion regarding what a Microsoft SAM engagement really is: an audit.”

In his article, Barnett describes the SAM engagement as an intrusive process, revealing that the engagement is used to uncover where an organization is using Microsoft software without a license. And while Microsoft says SAM engagements are voluntary, he calls into question their noncompulsory nature and explains how SAM engagements can involve an element of fear. Here’s another quote: 

“Microsoft often describes [the SAM engagement] as a way to avoid a contractual audit (thereby making it sound a whole lot less optional that it really may be).”

Barnett isn’t the only one with a negative opinion. 

Meet Paul Katz, president of EfficiencyNext. Katz has his own personal story of a Microsoft SAM engagement. According to Katz, it began with a call from a Microsoft affiliate who claimed that a Microsoft SAM engagement was mandatory. 

Katz then recounts how the affiliate delivered an FAQ page with the following words:  

“We hope that customers will work proactively with us to ensure they have a compliant licensing position.  However, given the great emphasis Microsoft places on protecting its intellectual property, for those organizations that don’t wish to engage in this process, a more formal communication may be made with respect to our licensing rights and your organization’s obligations under your Microsoft license agreements.” 

You can read the full story here where Katz recounts how he complied with the Microsoft affiliate and the frustrations that followed (including a cybersecurity risk). 

To these voices, I’d like to add my own experience with SAM engagements. 

My Take on a Microsoft SAM Engagement 

I wasn’t always against Microsoft SAM engagements. At one time (before I understood what they were), I actually helped my clients complete them. 

But things have changed. 

I’ve learned that a Microsoft SAM engagement is basically marketing. It’s purely a way to sell more software. 

Here are two things I can tell you from personal experience:   

1. My Microsoft SAM engagements took an enormous amount of time and energy. 

If you say yes to Microsoft’s affiliate, you will need to fill out spreadsheets. You will have to inventory all your software. You will find yourself hunting for your licensing, which can be difficult if you didn’t buy your software digitally. 

Expect a lot of hours trying to pull information together from many different places. Be prepared to waste your time. 

2. The end result was always the same. 

If you undergo a Microsoft SAM engagement, there’s a good chance that the third party will tell you to buy more software. In my experience, every Microsoft SAM engagement had an identical outcome.  

How to Respond to Your Email 

Call a Microsoft SAM engagement marketing or call it an audit, how should you reply to that email? 

Well, if you’re concerned that you’re cheating Microsoft, go ahead with a SAM engagement.  

But if you’re confident that you’ve bought the software that you’re responsible for purchasing, this is a complete and utter waste of time. 

Remember, this Microsoft SAM engagement is voluntary. You can say no. In your reply, you might want to reference Microsoft’s own information on the topic. This will let the third party know that you’re knowledgeable about the matter—and remind the organization that it cannot force you to undergo a SAM engagement. 

If you’re one of our clients, I’m happy to respond to the third party directly on your behalf. As your IT provider, it’s my job to protect the interests of your business.  

If you want to chat about Microsoft SAM engagements, you’re welcome to call our office at 704-464-3075. You can also send us a message online

About Steve Kennen

Picture of Steve Kennen, president of Proactive IT and cybersecurity expert

As an expert in information technology infrastructure management, cybersecurity, and cyber risk management practices for small businesses, Steve spearheads initiatives that keep his clients secure and their business operations running smoothly. His core message is that the details matter.