Are Microsoft Partners Feeling Inspired?

By Howard M. Cohen
Inspire partners

The recent Microsoft Inspire conference started me thinking about my many years of working with the vendor. I began selling Microsoft products in 1982. When the Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) was introduced, my company joined immediately, having been partnering with the vendor for years. I remained a registered partner of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) when it replaced MSPP in 2009.

At that time, everyone we had worked with at Microsoft did everything they could to help us position, promote and sell projects that involved their technologies. There was no better partner.

I continued to be inspired when Allison Watson, then the global channel chief, came to visit me and asked what she could do to make the lives of partners like me easier. I complained that I had nobody at Microsoft to talk to about things like resources and joint marketing calls. A month later, Allison rolled out the MSPP, which included a new role, the partner account manager (PAM). It was exactly the role I had described, and I was inspired by the responsiveness.

Over the past decade, the channel's relationship has changed. The Kevin Turner era, which recently and mercifully ended, brought scorecards and metrics and demands and impatience—and so many requirements for our PAMs to report everything that they had little time to help us. We saw many of our most talented friends leave Microsoft.

When the PartnerFinder site was taken down, it listed more than 118,000 Microsoft Partners in the United States. Today, it is rumored there are barely 30,000. The 4,500 Dynamics partners of that time now reportedly numbers around 400.

I asked some former Microsoft employees whether they still felt inspired by their former company. One said, "I'm inspired by the stock, but my personal opinion is that I have not seen anything bleeding-edge or game-changing come out of Microsoft. There was a lot of hype after Nadella took the helm, but I think they are still dragging in the tech sector."

Another added, "I think Microsoft is getting comfortable in the XaaS delivery model and has figured out how to help partners generate revenue and margin."

Speaking specifically to products that have provided inspiration, a third replied, "OneNote on iOS is pretty cool. HoloLens would be, but it's dragging on forever. Windows is solid now, but not sexy. Not lots of inspiration, if I'm honest."

Input About Microsoft From IAMCP Leaders

Some leaders in the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) community contributed more input from the partner perspective.

Thomas Vesque, of Vesque Partners, said his focus is on the Inspire event. "I get re-energized," he said. "I get to see the faces of collaborators. I get to connect with new people. Those connections allow me to be aware of what is available in the marketplace and who is providing it. I feel thankful to Microsoft for putting us in the same room to be able to meet, talk, collaborate."

Vesque added, "Inspired? It's too early to tell for me. Thankful?  Definitely."

David Gersten, vice president of sales and marketing at Bond Consulting Services, is currently the secretary to the U.S. IAMCP board of directors. Speaking for himself and his company, David focused on the Dynamics segment that his company sells. "We absolutely are inspired about Microsoft—now even more than ever," he said.

"We are very excited about the progress of the Dynamics 365 brand and how we can help clients in all sizes of organizations and with various budgets for implementation. The breadth of the ERP and CRM solutions—from SMB to enterprise, with enterprise-grade technology—helps our message resonate much further through the channel."

Randy Steinle, co-founder of the Cyber Trust Alliance and current president of the U.S. IAMCP board, had this to say: "I do feel inspired by Microsoft. I feel more inspired today than in the past. I'm inspired by Satya Nadella's leadership. I think he has honestly embraced Microsoft's strengths and weaknesses and aggressively focused resources in the right direction."

Marc Hoppers, the former U.S. board advocacy chair, offered this observation. "I do feel inspired by Microsoft's products," he said. "Since Satya Nadella took the CEO seat, he's changed the culture of the product side of the business.

"Besides sunsetting wonderful mobile apps like Sunrise and Wunderlist, they really are making wonderful products for both mobile and cloud, and that's generally translating to the desktop and laptop. (I'm still not a fan of Outlook on Windows.) I don't feel that the transformation of the field has the same success or momentum."

Rudy Rodriguez has been one of the foremost leaders and supporters of the Microsoft channel partner community for many years, having served as president of both the U.S. and international IAMCP boards. His comments reflect years of working closely with Microsoft's senior executives.

"I am still inspired by working with Microsoft," Rodriguez said. "Even though the channel has shrunk over the past few years, I am seeing a renewed and genuine effort by Microsoft to really help the partners that are all-in for reselling the Microsoft platforms.

"There has been a major disruption in the channel, and it does take significant effort to achieve the digital transformation we are being asked to do. It is not quick, nor is it easy, but ultimately we are able to deliver better services for our customers and build value in our companies through the recurring income model."

Rodriguez also offers guidance and advice to Microsoft partners: "The challenge for all partners is to sustain the level of income to maintain our staffs. This requires significant effort to find project work while building a managed services practice. Building an MSP business requires investment in time, training, systems and sophistication in marketing to recruit new business, developing your own IP and value proposition. Consequently, we had a contraction in the channel because only the strong and committed can survive."

As the CEO of Citrix, Mark Templeton saw the company's core technology sold to Microsoft decades ago, setting him on perhaps the greatest challenge a CEO can face. Templeton retired recently, having succeeded in navigating Citrix to new heights.

As a core partner with Microsoft for many years, when asked if Microsoft still inspired him, Templeton replied, "Great question. Not sure I'm inspired as much as it's great to see that that's their aspiration: to inspire us forward—in computing, in business and in life. They are out-Apple-ing Apple, which is amazing.

"Last fall, they showed the Creator's release, while Apple showed new speeds and feeds. So, Microsoft did an Apple event, and Apple did a classic MSFT event. Go figure!"

Templeton closed by adding, "The good news is there is now competition for driving human outcomes, which is how the industry began. I hope [Microsoft] wants to both inspire and invent. Computing is becoming truly personal again, which is where it started and how it became so important."


This article was originally published on 2017-09-07