Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

MINNEAPOLIS—The easiest question that Microsoft senior VP Doug Burgum fielded during an open Q&A session with channel partners on Thursday: What is the difference between a bison and a buffalo?

After that one—which North Dakota native Burgum handled with ease—the questions got a lot tougher, as MBS (Microsoft Business Solutions) partners at the worldwide partner conference here took to the microphones to vent various frustrations with Microsoft’s marketing, channel and product programs.

Like last year, Burgum offered to take questions on any topic during his hour-plus session. Partners took the opportunity to ask Burgum where MBS, one of Microsoft’s seven business units, is going in the coming year, on both the profit and product fronts.

One partner, Mark Rockwell, a developer with Rockton Software in Puyallup, Wash., raised a number of questions that seemingly were on the minds of a number of other attendees.

He did so in the form of a self-authored poem, where he touched on a number of gripes, ranging from lack of prompt support from Microsoft’s centralized support organization on the core MBS applications (Great Plains, Navision, Axapta and CRM), to ongoing incompatibilities and problems in Microsoft’s MBS and “classic” channel programs.

But Rockwell got the greatest applause when he questioned Microsoft’s strategy to push its partners to sell vertically.

He said that some of Microsoft’s channel partners wanted to continue to sell horizontally and that they still “deserved complete support.”

One of Microsoft’s main goals at this week’s partner conference is to flesh out for the 6,000-plus partners here how and why Microsoft is reorienting itself to sell vertically—the same way that rival IBM is doing. As part of its vertical push, Microsoft also is requiring its partners to focus vertically, as well.

Burgum tried to allay partners’ vertical concerns, claiming that “vertical is just a code word for specialization.” But he also said that Microsoft was moving full-speed-ahead to reorient vertically its programs and plans.

“We have to move from focusing on products to focusing on solutions,” Burgum said. He added that “many of you already have that deep (vertical) knowledge.”

Click here to read more about Microsoft’s vertical-solutions direct sales force from columnist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

In spite of his venting, Rockwell concluded that he was “happy to see Doug still at the helm.”

In the past year, there have been persistent rumors that Microsoft planned to sell off its as-still-unprofitable MBS unit and/or replace Burgum as the head of it.

Burgum, for his part, said he believed there had been “more FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] spread about us this year than in the past 20 years I’ve been in the business.”

He noted that there have been rumors about Microsoft’s commitment to the business applications business and to its partners, attributable to Microsoft’s competitors in the ERP and CRM space.

The proliferation of the FUD “tells me we’re on the right track,” Burgum told session attendees. “We are the underdog.”

Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft Partners Question Microsoft’s Vertical Push

Check out’s for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.