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Which Way Is the Wind Blowing at Microsoft?

Successful partners find ways to align their practices with Microsoft's goals. Finding out what those goals are doesn't have to be tricky, as long as you know what questions to ask.

If you've ever been in a sailboat, you'll know that using the wind is critical. As a Microsoft partner, I feel the same way. The success of our Microsoft practice depends on going in the same direction as Microsoft's wind. The wind I'm referring to here is the customer's interest and Microsoft's focused efforts on certain products.

Through the years, I've found it's much easier to sail with Microsoft's breeze at your back than to beat against that wind. Here are some questions to help you figure out where the wind is blowing each new Microsoft fiscal year (July 1-June 30).

How Did You End Up Last Year?
Microsoft field personnel will know where they ended up in their ranking. They're measured against both their individual performance versus quota and how their performance stacks up against each of the peers on their team. Most teams consist of about eight people. They'll also tell you how their team did against their peer teams across the country. On the individual performance side of things, quota attainment versus goal is the key metric. Each year can be different depending on how much growth was put into the quota from the previous year. Top performers will be at least a few points greater than 100 percent. Those who don't reach quota for two years in a row are frequently put on an exit plan from the business.

My recommendation would be to adjust your approach based on their past performance. High achievers will be looking hard at how to duplicate their performance and how to take home a big paycheck again -- ask how they achieved success. Low performers will be working hard to keep their well-paid gig at Microsoft -- ask how you can help. Everyone wants to feel like they have a team. Accomplish this by caring about the Microsoft rep's performance and helping on executing toward success for this fiscal year. The effort will likely be returned.

How Did You Do on Your Cloud Number?
In fiscal year 2013, each field rep had a separate quota bucket for cloud dollars, which were ultimately worth more per dollar to their own compensation plan. Reps could hit their quota number without hitting their cloud one, but they couldn't earn big money without hitting their cloud goal and the attached escalators. A rep's experience here will be impactful on who they partner with this year and how they will go after deals. My prediction is that Microsoft will continue a similar compensation scheme this year and, consequently, reps will continue to aggressively move Enterprise Agreements toward cloud-based licensing this year.

How Is the Scorecard Changing This Year?
This will help you figure out where Microsoft is putting focus. The money almost always follows the focus areas. Cloud will continue to be big. Microsoft Azure will be a major focus -- are you ready to drive that workload? I'm hearing that marketing will be more targeted toward industry-specific audiences where multiple Microsoft products can be offered together. Do you have a successful practice in a particular vertical or industry? Do you have enough success in a particular market to become a go-to partner in that space?

What Programs Are Available to Us?
This is the follow-the-money question. Microsoft will use its partner-funding and customer-funding programs to drive the company's initiatives for the year. The delivery vehicle for this funding comes through to the partner channel in the form of new programs and customer-engagement funding. If you have a deal that fits the goals for the year and doesn't seem to fit a program, then ask for discretionary funding in the form of business incentive funding (BIF). This program offers dollars to a client as an incentive to close a particular licensing transaction by a specified date.

Where Are Your Gaps?
Most of the time I want to know where Microsoft folks think the risks are -- where it's going to have difficulty making its number. (See also "What Gaps Does Microsoft Want Partners To Fill?") These gaps are always a focus for our business. Fixing that kind of an issue can have an exponential amount of impact and recognition versus the effort. Just being in the fray and communicating your efforts will build goodwill.

It can be tricky to partner with anorganization as big as Microsoft, especially when it makes major focus changes at the fiscal year. Good luck and happy sailing!

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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