The day before announcing fiscal 2016 Q1 earnings Oct. 22, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) stock was sitting at $47.20 a share. Fast-forward to the close of trading on Nov. 12, and Microsoft shareholders find themselves with a 13% jump in share price since CEO Satya Nadella shared Q1's good news. Not bad, considering Microsoft reported a decline in revenue for the quarter, albeit a relatively minor one of just 2% on a non-GAAP basis (excluding one-time items) and accounting for currency headwinds.

Perhaps the most important thing learned from Microsoft's first quarter is that investors appear to be on board with Nadella's cloud-first mantra, because it's working. Already, Microsoft boasts an annual run rate of over $8.2 billion in cloud revenue, and based on some new research, investors can expect that figure to continue growing.

Why? Because all those sky-high estimates for cloud-related market growth -- expectations are for well over $100 billion in sales this year alone -- coincide with the overriding concern of C-level executives around the world. That means there's some method to the cloud market's forecast madness, and Microsoft is ready and waiting to lead the charge.

Survey says
Forecasting burgeoning markets like the cloud is hardly an exact science. But no matter which estimate investors choose to adhere to, the prevailing theme is that cloud sales are on the cusp of exploding. And as per some new data, it's easy to see why. A recent study was completed of senior executives around the globe, and the No. 1 technology C-level types voted most important in the near term is cloud-related solutions.

Nearly two-thirds of the execs asked cited cloud computing services as their top tech-related priority. Concerns about cloud technologies even surpassed mobile solutions and the Internet of Things (IoT) as top-of-mind. In a mobile world quickly becoming interconnected via IoT devices in our homes, cities, and cars -- to name but a few -- it's telling that cloud solutions topped the list of the world's senior execs.

At the least, the new study lends credence to industry pundits' cloud market expectations, which suits cloud-focused providers such as Microsoft and one of its primary competitors in the fast-growing space, IBM (NYSE:IBM), like a glove.

A few specs
What sets Microsoft (and, to a lesser extent, IBM, given its late arrival to the cloud wars) apart from others in the space is its focus on software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Already, many of the traditional cloud providers are discounting cloud storage services to the extent they're nearly giving away offsite data space. The price wars have essentially made housing data in the cloud a commodity. The real revenue lies in SaaS offerings, which are areas of strength for both Microsoft and IBM.

Microsoft's recently completed Q1 is an ideal example of how well Nadella and team are making the transition to cloud-based SaaS sales. After factoring in currency rates, Microsoft's commercial Office revenue jumped nearly 70% last quarter, and consumer adoption of its flagship solution increased about 20%, all delivered via the cloud. Microsoft also reported that its cloud platform Azure -- the platform from which its SaaS services are distributed -- more than doubled last quarter, both in revenue and usage.

IBM isn't in Microsoft's cloud league yet, but its annual run rate of $4.5 billion as of last quarter is nothing to sneeze at. And just as with Microsoft's suite of SaaS solutions, IBM's set of cloud-based big data and analytics services position it well as the overall market continues its rapid ascent.

The new research from C-level execs hardly confirms specific cloud market estimates, but it certainly lends credence to pundits' bullish sentiments, which should be music to the ears of investors in search of growth and income. Microsoft's 2.7% dividend yield, in addition to its seemingly endless growth potential thanks to its cloud offerings, warrants its position near the top of most any long-term "stocks to buy" list.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.