Microsoft Eyes Partner Sales Effectiveness, Profitability

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At its July partner conference, Microsoft plans to unveil a number of initiatives aimed at helping its partners run their businesses better with tools aimed at specific partner business models and types.

Microsoft channel executives have their hands full trying to craft the company’s partner program to cater to a broad spectrum of constituents, from small ISVs to name-brand OEMs.

It’s no small feat, given the sheer volume of partners in the Redmond, Wash., software giant’s system: 122,000 in the U.S. and 394,000 worldwide. This year, the company’s channel executives have worked to improve partner-level communications and provide more targeted investments and resources. At its July partner conference, Microsoft plans to unveil a number of initiatives aimed at helping its partners run their businesses better. One of the goals is to make sure to identify their different partner types and develop programs that make sense to their specific business model.

"Our partner program is a big enabler for partners, but a lot of the language we are using, how we are qualifying partners and how they are connecting with us are areas we need to focus on," said Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Program in a recent interview with Channel Insider.

Specifically, Microsoft’s channel program mavens will detail several areas of focus at the annual Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans in July, including:

 •    Engaging the echelon of committed Microsoft partners that drive best-in-class solutions by helping them go to market more effectively

•    Identifying the broader ecosystem of smaller ISVs, hosting and reseller partners, especially those focused on new solutions areas such as search and the Silverlight and Expressions development space, and provide more business-oriented support and marketing dollars

•    Creating targeted "landing spots" within the program for different types of partners with different needs

One of the key areas of emphasis is simplification. "We have to make things easier online, not asking partners to profile themselves four times," Bennani acknowledged.

Bennani’s team also is evolving its partner-to-partner strategy as well, incorporating feedback from partners who say today’s social media trend is actually a business trend for them. Partners are using social networking sites and tools to connect with other solution providers and industry experts to figure out how to run their businesses more effectively.

To compete well in today’s economic climate, solution providers must demonstrate how they can help end customers quickly drive revenue and growth and cut costs. To that end, Microsoft’s program investments this year will zero in on initiatives that help partners from a business perspective, including a profitability modeler that helps partners understand how they can profit from selling CRM Online and Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and new sales resources and tools.

Specifically, Microsoft will be unveiling a targeted demo tool for partners to use to shorten the sales cycle around solutions built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing services platform.

"When we think about understanding where we can have impact with our partners, we have gotten much more precise," said Bennani, citing investments the company is making in upskilling partners and providing them with the business-case acumen to appeal to customers.

Microsoft is also seeking end customer feedback. Starting in October, the company’s Gold Certified partners will be required to participate in a formal customer satisfaction program that will be administered by a third party.