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I am not a big fan of a company putting all its eggs in one basket. Tying yourself to one supplier or one giant customer for the bulk of your business is a dangerous proposition.

The old 80/20 rule where 80 percent of an organization’s business comes from just 20 percent of its customers always seemed out of whack to me, and I come across far too many companies where this ratio is closer to 90/10 or worse.

That said, however, there are sometimes good reasons why a business skews a certain way. And when those reasons involve Microsoft and its channel commitment, the move is usually a safe bet.

Microsoft—and we are not going to get into a debate about its technological innovation, marketing practices or security flaws—is perhaps the best friend the channel has ever had.

Although product announcements and subsequent delays have left some solution providers in the lurch as their clients continuously wait for the next product release and upgrade, the company has always been 100 percent committed to the channel.

While its enterprise counterparts have all dabbled with their own direct agendas, Microsoft has remained true to its channel partners.

And although the company’s constant barrage of patches, fixes and product delays has given resellers and customers fits at times, the software giant is a loyal partner to VARs. Also, let’s face it; Microsoft is not going away any time soon, so the risk of it going out of business is minimal.

Because of Microsoft’s channel focus, it has spawned a boatload of other opportunities for solution providers. Many ISVs align with the company to try and leverage its solution provider base to get their products and services to market.

One clear example is TenDigits Software. TenDigits’ MobileAccess for Microsoft CRM brings wireless CRM solutions to BlackBerry users. As we all know, the CRM (customer relationship management) market has tremendous upside potential, and the channel will be the main delivery and support mechanism for these solutions.

To read Elliot Markowitz’ previous commentary on the CRM market, click here.

The company recently announced its TenDigits Alliance Program, in which it said it had signed on 20 partners in key markets in North America and Europe, including Vox Wireless, ePartners and BusinessEdge UK Ltd. This gave me the opportunity to speak with its President and CEO, Sean Gocher.

At first I was a little skeptical about the company’s strategy of being completely tied to one company, even if that company is Microsoft, when there are so many reputable CRM vendors out there.

However, as the conversation moved on, I turned the corner, because one of the main reasons TenDigits is so closely aligned with Microsoft’s CRM offering, despite the delays specifically on this front, is because of the channel focus that Microsoft has that the other vendors don’t.

“Microsoft is 100 percent partner-focused,” Gocher said. “Other CRM vendors instead of building out channel support are just [taking advantage of] their channel partners. That is one strategic misstep that they are making and that will make them niche players. Any direct player in the small and midsize business space will not win,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more.

Click here to read about Apple Computer’s relationship with VARs.

And although Gocher admits that working so closely with Microsoft can be frustrating at times, he said he finds the benefits the company brings to the table far outweigh the negatives. In fact, he even trief to explain away some of Microsoft’s actions, saying the company is so intent on getting feedback from its partners on product development and on addressing everyone’s concerns that it ultimately leads to delays.

While this is certainly true to some degree, Microsoft has been known to manipulate the market a bit as well.

In any case, by aligning with Microsoft and trying to leverage the vendor’s solution provider channel, TenDigits is hopeful that it will have 100 channel partners of its own come October.

The biggest challenge I see is finding the right 100, because CRM is an expertise that not all channel partners have, and just being associated with the Microsoft platform is not enough. I said it before: Knowing how to upgrade an organization to Windows XP and evaluating and implementing a CRM solution are quite different.

Regardless, TenDigits’ decision to partner with Microsoft because of the vendor’s channel commitment is tremendous foresight, and will take the company a lot further than if it were building out its own direct strategy.

Elliot Markowitz is editor at large at The Channel Insider. He is also editorial director of Ziff Davis Media eSeminars. He can be reached at