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The Changing Channel

One-on-One with Microsoft's New U.S. SMS&P Chief

Meet David Willis, who in the wake of the recent partner executive reshuffling now runs Microsoft's U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners organization.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows I stated recently that losing Jon Roskill from the channel program would be a mortal blow to the channel. I stand by that observation and regret seeing someone with Roskill's values no longer at the helm.

However, the ascendance of Phil Sorgen left a vacancy in Sorgen's old job that has been filled by one of the channel's remaining best friends at Microsoft, new Corporate Vice President for U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners (SMS&P) David Willis.

Meet Dave Willis
Willis is "old school" Microsoft, having been there for 21 years. He harks back to the days when everyone on the Microsoft field team understood and embraced that a big part of their role was to help partners drive their own services and projects to create demand for Microsoft products.

Back then it was a personal relationship, a true partnering of professionals. The partner account managers (PAM) who took that last word in their title seriously and truly managed their partners were the best-of-breed. Now, they're gone.

A Truly Concerned Partner Advocate
I first met Willis when he was vice president for the Microsoft U.S. East Region. At the time I was East Region chair for the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) and was working to open new chapters in cities we weren't yet present. Willis suggested to me that he could have the PAMs identify the best possible partner leaders in each target city and accelerate my process. It was an incredible gesture, and an astute observation of what it would take to truly help the IAMCP.

Then, after the introduction of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), I turned to Willis, who was now vice president of U.S. Dynamics, and asked him if he realized just how badly Microsoft had hurt the smaller Dynamics partners. Many of them could no longer qualify for the program but had bet their business on it. I'll never forget the look of concern on his face as he promised to address it immediately.

Unfortunately, neither he nor I anticipated the wall of resistance we would face within Microsoft. I can say with confidence that Terrence Abrahams and the rest of the team Willis assigned did everything humanly possible, but all we ended up with was a Master VAR program that still sticks in many throats.

Stepping Back into Mainstream Microsoft
When I spoke with Willis in mid-September, he pointed out that he had been "out of the mainstream" for four years while focusing on the Dynamics business and many things had changed, "most especially the cloud."

He then reminded me that he was brand new in this role and needed some time to get acclimated before making any suggestions or observations. This reminded me of an early conversation with another Microsoft old-schooler new in his role at that time -- Jon Roskill.

Willis is excited to be getting involved with so many new initiatives beyond cloud, including mobility, enterprise social and Big Data. He reports to Microsoft North America President Judson Althoff, and owns responsibility for all corporate accounts as well as small and midsize business (SMB) including public sector, all Microsoft partners and Dynamics.

When asked what he felt his mission was, Willis responded, "Connecting with partners will be most important, finding out where they are and helping them evolve their business. Given how much the market has changed, what it took to be successful in the past isn't necessarily going to mean success in the future."

Willis then added, "Partners have always been core to Microsoft, a key competitive asset to us over the years. They're an important part of our `Devices + Services' strategy, so we need to do a better job at letting partners know where we're going, the business model, the profitability, the right programs they can plug into so we can work togetherto succeed."

More Columns from Howard M. Cohen:

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a consultant to IT vendors and channel partner companies and a board member of the U.S. chapter of the IAMCP. Reach him at hmc@hmcwritenow.com.

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