Software and IT Partner News
12/1/2010 10:01 AM
We're in the process of moving our News and Blog posts over to this News section from our old Blog, so we are re-posting this here just so we have it in our archives. In addition, this has been by far the most read article we have posted, as well as the most intensely debated one. In fact,the Discussion on this article in our Linked In Group has close to 200 replies I believe, and is a great read if you would like to get a general feel for the broad range of Microsoft Partner sentiment around the globe. It first ran in the September 2006 issue of SMB Partner Channel Magazine so is a bit dated, but still seems to be appropriate today IMHO.
“This partnership stinks! I’ve been a partner for a year now and Microsoft hasn’t sent me one opportunity!”
I hear this a lot. Many partners fully expect that once they sign up for the Microsoft Partner program, they will soon find it difficult to handle the flood of opportunities Microsoft sends their way. Not only is this a fallacy, it shouldn’t be expected. Inappropriate expectations from your partnership with Microsoft can cause great frustration for you and your team. They can also cause you to miss out on great opportunities that this partnership can present you.
Should Microsoft send lots of leads to its partner community? Sure they should, and they do. But remember, Microsoft has over 300,000 partners worldwide.
Before I discuss tactical ideas for leveraging better your partnership with Microsoft, I’d like to review why you should partner with Microsoft in the first place. You should NOT sign up for the Microsoft Partner Program because you expect leads or sales support. Just as you should with any other Product Manufacturer (though I do realize they call themselves a Solutions company), you should choose to become a Microsoft Partner because:
- They make the products that your customers are asking for, OR
- They make products that make it easier for you to develop cost-effective solutions for your customers, OR
- They make products that integrate better with the business productivity applications (e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets) that most of your clients spend 80% of every day using, OR
- They make the products that will allow you to maximize the growth of your top and bottom line financial goals, OR
- They provide a robust partner program that will support your team as your firm grows
- And so on….. get the idea?
Basically, if you expect that Microsoft makes and supports the products, and you sell the products and support the customers, then you’re off to a realistic start. Then, whatever sales support you might get will be icing on the cake.
Now that your expectations are properly set, does this mean you should rule out using your partnership with Microsoft as a Sales and Marketing tool? Definitely not. On the contrary, it could be one of the most valuable sales resources you have access to, as long as you understand that you get out of it what you put into it, and it is not an automatic entitlement of being a partner.
Microsoft’s ability and willingness to pump money and programs into new marketing initiatives is unparalleled. This gives them the ability to create rapid market demand across many new product lines, which in turn creates sales opportunities for their partners since very little product is sold directly from Microsoft.
Microsoft’s dependence on Partners has grown over the years. As they grew from just Windows and Office to other diverse product lines, they learned that customers buy Solutions more than they buy just a Product. Also, they tend to buy these Solutions from their Trusted Advisors, which is guess who? The Partner community. Microsoft realizes this, and has put into place an enormous number of programs designed to help partners grow their businesses. Not so much because they care about your business, which they do of course, but more because that is how they will sell more product, which is what the game is all about.
There are Readiness programs (training), customer incentives, rebates, funded pilot programs, co-branded direct mail programs, joint telemarketing programs, and much, much more, all of which are free, or very reasonably priced for qualified partners. But because of the large number of partners they have, and the diverse types of products and partners they have, Microsoft demands quite a bit from the partners selected to engage with for these programs. These programs will not work without a partner who is committed to the program, and who is willing to invest time and resources into the program. So, Microsoft uses partner engagement programs to filter and find partners who qualify. The key for you is to do everything you can to become one of these “Qualified” partners.
So, you’ve become a partner for the correct reasons, and you are willing to commit the time and resources into becoming an Engaged partner…. what should you expect?
I think you should expect a lot. I believe that firms that are “highly engaged” with their appropriate Microsoft Team have elevated their status to Certified or Gold Certified. They have engaged in strategic (read: Not Every One) joint marketing efforts and business development programs with Microsoft. It is not uncommon to see 50% or more of their revenue as “Microsoft Influenced revenue.” Now the trick question: “What does Microsoft Influenced mean?”
I define Microsoft Influenced revenue as revenue that is materially affected by your relationship with Microsoft, versus simply a lead given to you by Microsoft. I realize that this is a broad definition, but I think you should look at your relationship with Microsoft in a very broad sense. Examples of Microsoft Influenced revenue would be:
- Contracts you won where Microsoft joined your team for the proposal as a sub, or provided proposal preparation support in the form of competitive information, proposal templates, etc
- Contracts you won from a Joint Marketing program with Microsoft, such as their direct mail campaign
- Contracts you won from a Call blitz held at a local Microsoft Office
- Contracts you won because the client wanted the best local partner, and when they called the local Microsoft office, Microsoft gave them a list that contained your firm.
- Contracts you won because the client wanted a Microsoft solution, and chose you over your competition because you were a Certified Partner
- Contracts you won because the client preferred a.NET solution and your competition bid a competing solution (they created the Market demand with their Marketing Air Cover, or general consumer marketing to drive product adoption)
So, do you have to become a highly engaged partner to be successful as a Microsoft Partner? Absolutely not. If you have a strong sales force, and a large customer base, there is a good chance there are some Microsoft products your customers want, and by simply becoming a Registered partner, you should be able to sell and support them just fine. In other words, if you don’t need more from the partnership, there is no requirement to invest more.
However, if you are interested in investing in your relationship with Microsoft in order to maximize the value of your partnership, here are a few things to consider:
- Elevate your Partner Level as much as possible. The basic levels are Registered, Certified and Gold Certified. You don’t have to be Gold Certified to be successful, but the further elevated you are, the better exposure you will have to Microsoft people and programs. I recommend that you simply review the requirements for each level, and see where you fit in, or where you can get to without changing your current business too much, and strive for that level.
- Get engaged with the appropriate team. Whether it is the Public Sector Team, the Enterprise Team, or the SMS&P Team, find the appropriate one(s) and begin to get into their local engagement programs. These programs willvary, but they all seem to have programs that identify “Qualified” partners whom they rely on for marketing programs.
- Give before you get. I have found that it is best to begin a new relationship with a “strategic” (read: someone who can help you get new business) person inside of Microsoft by introducing yourself to him while also mentioning a recent Win your team had that you know he/she would want to know about. This is much more enticing than “Hi, I’m Bob. Can you give me some leads?”
- Build and Maintain personal relationships. This is where the true value from any Microsoft engagement effort will come from. Programs can be effective, but Microsoft employees who know you, trust you, and view you as a committed and qualified partner, will yield more value over time than all of the programs combined
- Read, filter, prioritize. The more engaged you become with Microsoft, the more communications and opportunities you will get from Microsoft. It is important to be strategic and focused as you review these and not try to do everything. Lack of focus can cause a flurry of unproductive activity. Choose the team that provides the best opportunity for you. Choose your Competency and Industry focus if applicable. Then, use these to filter your communications and opportunities to find those that best justify your valuable time and resources.
- Don’t be afraid of MCS. Though this is becoming less and less of an issue, many Partners seem to be afraid of MCS (Microsoft Consulting Services), or see them as a competitor. I guess to the really big guys, they might be. But to the rest of us, they can be one of the biggest areas of opportunities for Partners. MCS seems to always have more work than they can handle, and they rely on Partners for most of the actual production work. If you get an opportunity from an MCS rep, chances are the contract is already in place, and your people can begin billing the next day. No proposals, bidding, etc…
In summary, a Microsoft Partnership can be a very valuable asset if expectations are set appropriately and a strategic plan is put in place to leverage the partnership productively. And I think the value is only going to grow. Microsoft is releasing more new product releases this year then ever in the history of the company. This will create more marketing programs, which will create more customer demand, which will create more new exciting opportunities for all of us!!!
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