What is the Ideal Microsoft Partner?
Microsoft’s Partner conference last week was fascinating. Each presentation was well scripted, and the messages were consistent. The energy was high and much of the content was exciting. Steve Ballmer and Kevin Turner’s keynotes were electrifying, yet it was Allison Watson, Corp. Channel Chief, who had a crucial message to deliver. Her presentation on Microsoft’s partner restructuring was both highly relevant to this audience and detailed. These changes will shake up the channel partners, and those who have been with Microsoft long term may find it tiring to revisit certification requirements and re-establish their “value” in the Microsoft Partner Network hierarchy. Yet the changes are needed and the sooner the better.
Things have changed a lot in the last several years. Microsoft’s partner ecosystem is quite diverse and there was much feedback that the “Gold Certified” partner moniker wasn’t creating differentiation. In addition, Microsoft has changed. Now, more than ever, its market share leadership is being challenged by a multitude of competitors, and its partner base is a key strategic ally in this fight for market share. As Kevin Turner COO said, partners need to "leverage the R & D roadmap". And Microsoft needs to motivate and mobilize this large mass of partners now, more than ever.
To this end, the new Microsoft Partner Network’s goal is to drive market share gains through "quality and commitment". Its three pillars are:
1. Capabilities which offers rewards for partners who invest in competencies early
2. Customers which rewards partners who deliver net new customer business
3. Connection which encourages leveraging other partners and collaboration for complete solutions
Julie Benanni, GM of the Microsoft Partner Network, has said "We wanted to change the way we qualify partners. One of the key things is that of the 640,000 partners worldwide, not all can, should or would be in Advanced". Clearly better differentiation benefits both partners and Microsoft.
But is there an “ideal Microsoft partner”? As one partner noted, “Previously the emphasis was on selling seats, not solutions. As Microsoft comes to grips with the ever changing economics of software sales - will Microsoft begin to value system integrators as do SAP and Oracle?” IBM (NYSE:IBM) seems to have a good idea of what it values as exemplified in solution provider Enterprise Information Management, who recently saved the Army $1 Billion. Microsoft would do well to have a clear picture of its ideal partner and cultivate them as it moves forward.