Microsoft Channel Chief Talks Billing, Competencies

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Microsoft's direct billing of Office 365 is designed to keep control over pricing and comes directly from CEO Steve Ballmer, according to Microsoft's channel chief, Jon Roskill. Roskill also announced a series of improvements to MPN designed to benefit partners.

Microsoft’s direct billing of Microsoft Office 365 is designed to set the pricing for the cloud-based productivity suite without caving in to any pricing pressures, Microsoft Channel Chief Jon Roskill told Channel Insider. And the order to do it that way comes directly from CEO Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft is billing customers directly and has designated a small group of syndication partners – service providers and telcos – who can bill customers directly for Office 365 services.  Service-focused IT solution providers have told Channel Insider that such a setup is not acceptable and they won’t sign on with Office 365 until they can bill their customers.

"That’s telco’s core competency – billing," Roskill told Channel Insider, explaining the reasoning. "They are best at that. Better than we are."

Meanwhile, managed service providers and others who are looking to present end customers with a single bill for all services can work through the syndication telco partners, Roskill said.  But that doesn’t mean the discussion is over.

"We hear the feedback and we talk about this regularly at Microsoft," Roskill said. Indeed, Microsoft switched from quarterly payments to partners to monthly payments for just that reason.

Roskill pointed out that there is functionality in the BPOS and Office 365 tools that enable customers to delegate administrative rights to their partner of choice, and that he’s asked partners to show that to him. Only about 500 of them have that today, he said.

Channel Insider attended some of the breakout sessions specifically about Office 365 and it’s true that most partners seem unconcerned about the issue of who bills the customer.  Partners were more interested in which customers to target and how to navigate the licensing and how to have a discussion with customers about prices. Roskill said that the partners at WPC were among those leading the charge to the cloud

One partner in a break out session about cloud licensing expressed concern about not being able to tell potential Office 365 customers how much they would save if they moved from on-premise solutions to the cloud – a key part of any sales discussion based on saving money. That’s a calculation that must be done on the back end taking into account the current licensing and the move the customer would make, Microsoft representatives told him.

Another concern for partners this year – the new Competency program. Microsoft has moved from 16,000 Gold partners before to having 6,000 Gold partners now who hold 9,000 competencies, about 1.5 average per partner. While some may point to how hard it is to achieve competencies, Roskill said that is by design.  And now Gold and Silver partners have direct access to their region’s product managers, a key benefit that enables them to provide feedback on products to someone who can make a difference.

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com