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How To Get Customer Leads from Microsoft

According to this former Microsoft field rep, there is no magical lead fountain -- getting leads from Microsoft is a multi-step process.

Microsoft has the largest channel of partners in the world. But for all of the hundreds of thousands of partners the company claims, it really only pays attention to a handful in each geography.

What's amazing to me, then, is how many partners just expect Microsoft to hand them customer leads. There's no magical lead fountain, my friends. There are a few leads that come in, and they're given to the top partners who can sell Microsoft solutions.

I recently attended the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Houston. As part of this event, I went to a partner roundtable with several Microsoft executives. Each partner was talking about his new client-acquisition process. The room was split about 50-50 between those who indicated they were actively working with the local Microsoft team and receiving leads from them, and the other half who felt it was a one-way street from partner to Microsoft with nothing in return. I found this fascinating considering that all the partners in the room were considered "elite."

Getting leads out of Microsoft is a progression: It takes time and a ton of energy. You simply can't skip to the final step -- no matter how good Bob is on your deployment team.

Step 1. Get Microsoft to stop selling against you.
Customers will frequently ask Microsoft about different partners and their expertise. If Microsoft isn't confident that you'll lead with its solutions, it will offer up other partner names. Maybe it's unsure about your delivery ability. Maybe you pulled out your shiny new iPhone at the last customer meeting. If you aren't choosing Microsoft technology for your own usage as a Microsoft partner, why would the company think you would recommend its solutions to a client?

Step 2. Get Microsoft to provide your name in a list of options.
This option is extremely popular for Microsoft, especially on its partner-facing teams. Those teams are trying to avoid the nasty call to their manager that they're playing favorites. No one has time for those headaches.

Deployment expertise is nice in this category; sales capability is better. Microsoft needs companies to take out its competitors and competently sell its solutions. Is the VMware logo as big as the Microsoft logo on your card? Many partners don't see where this matters: "Why can't I be partners with both entities?" they ask. It matters if they want to partner closely with Microsoft.

Right or wrong, the view is that Microsoft should own the entire software stack. If you were the Microsoft rep, wouldn't you want to sell with a partner who would drive SharePoint on top of Windows Server running on Hyper-V and managed by System Center?

Step 3. Get leads from Microsoft.
This is nirvana and it's based on relationships. Do you have a specialty where the rep thinks you're the only one competent in the geography? Do you have a perfect or near-perfect execution record? Are you out selling with Microsoft weekly? And, most important, can you close the deal with the maximum amount of Microsoft licensing?

Wait, you don't care about licensing? You should. That's how reps are paid. Focus on learning the product-licensing side of the equation instead of the programmatic side. The product side really only changes when there's a new product released, so the burden is low and the potential upside in the partnership is high. Partners don't have to transact the licensing; they just have to be able to influence the opportunity.

The heart of these action items is to find and close business for Microsoft. To emphasize this point, the new title for the partner account manager (PAM) is now partner sales executive (PSE). Most Microsoft sales and partner positions have a large financial number they help manage. The amount varies by territory, but it's rare for Microsoft to dedicate a headcount for anything less than about $15 million, so the deals need to be large enough for Redmond to engage.

I recommend prepping the rep ahead of talking to the client. What's their role on the sales call? How can Microsoft drive the velocity of the deal? What is it going to take to get it over the line? Is it on their scorecard? (More on that in a future column.) Who's the competition? If you can get the client engaged, you get a chance to showcase your abilities -- and you're on the way to planting your own lead tree.

More Columns by M.S. Partner:

About the Author

M.S. Partner is a pseudonym for a former Microsoft U.S. field rep who returned to the channel and writes this column to help other partners succeed with Microsoft. Let M.S. Partner know your thoughts and questions about how Microsoft works at mspartner@rcpmag.com.

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