Marching Orders 2012: Big Ideas for the Microsoft Channel

RCP asked 19 channel luminaries for their best piece of advice for the year ahead. Here are their tips on ways to make 2012 a banner year for Microsoft partners.

Marching Orders
Every year, Redmond Channel Partner magazine invites prominent figures in the Microsoft ecosystem and the broader channel to step away from the daily grind and think about the year ahead. We ask them, "What's your best piece of advice for Microsoft partners for the coming year?" No one knows what's right for your channel business better than you, but our hope is that you'll come away from this special report with some nugget of an idea, or validation of an impulse, that you can develop throughout the year.

We're fortunate in this installment of our annual Marching Orders issue to have entries from Microsoft channel executives, industry analysts, business consultants and Microsoft partners. With 19 contributors, we're giving you access to more professional wisdom from more people than ever before.

Enjoy the feast of ideas, and best wishes for a prosperous and professionally fulfilling 2012.


Stretch to the Cloud
Tiffani Bova
Vice President, Sales & Channel Strategies Worldwide, Gartner Inc.

With cloud dominating CIO conversations around the globe, one hurdle, which can have tremendous impact on how quickly adoption can and will happen, looms over the market. That hurdle is the capability of the indirect channel to position the value of cloud services, and sell, deliver and support integrated cloud solutions. Similar to what happened with system integration, the channel will need to catch up to market demands quickly or be left behind. There is real opportunity for the channel to leverage its relationship with customers and play a role as a "cloud service brokerage" (CSB) where they can aggregate, customize or integrate various cloud services.

There's real risk for the channel as customers shift the way they want to consume and use IT. It will be up to the entire ecosystem to invest, find ways to remain relevant and stretch capabilities to include cloud-based services while new "born in the cloud" players enter the market. The competition of today will not be the competition of tomorrow -- customer demands of today will not be customer demands of tomorrow. The reality for the channel in 2012 is rapid change, new players entering the market and IT flexibility.


Guide Enterprises Through Cloud Licensing
John Cullen
Vice President-Research, Licensing & Partner Strategies, Directions on Microsoft

For those enterprises wishing to leverage their Enterprise Agreement (EA) contract for purposes of using Microsoft Online Services, moving between on-premises systems to online services will be a complicated endeavor. Trusted advisors can help in several ways:

  • Help the business verify that online services make sense. The nature of Online Services presents a host of factors to consider: Service Level Agreement parameters and warranties for the delivery of online services; privacy and other legal considerations; technical features and limitations thereof; and online services integration issues.

  • Assist the business in up-front licensing homework. Advanced preparation reduces the likelihood of unexpected factors such as costs, payment timing and administrative burdens. It will be crucial for customers to find a competent Large Account Reseller (LAR). Avoid letting your customer be the company the LAR "learns on." Work with the LAR or Microsoft to map out the numbers as well as the administrative procedures and timetables.

  • Offer additional administrative/technical help. Adding online services in an EA can make it more complex to administer. It will likely require midyear tasks (vs. once-a-year as before). Also, annual reporting can become considerably more complicated, especially in hybrid on-premises and online scenarios. As a result, customers will require more sophisticated asset management systems and procedures.

Break Through the Air of Mystique Circling 'the Cloud'
Jenni Flinders
Vice President, U.S. Partner Group, Microsoft

For all the industry dialogue around the vast potential in cloud services, we know that most U.S. customers don't necessarily associate "the cloud" with the powerful, scalable, high-value technology solutions. It's the duty of the Microsoft Partner Network in 2012 to help partners in the channel break through the air of mystique circling "the cloud," and have straightforward conversations with customers about what this solution could mean for their businesses.

The Windows Azure Platform gives partners a significant opportunity to capture a large portion of the rapidly expanding cloud market. To realize this success, Microsoft is working closely with partners to help them fully appreciate their Windows Azure opportunities.

We have a national team chartered with creating a vibrant ecosystem of Windows Azure partners and solutions, by recruiting, on-boarding and enabling Windows Azure platform partners.

Build Your IP in the Cloud
Jeff Edwards
Director of Channel Strategy, Microsoft Business Solutions, Microsoft

Cloud continues to offer new opportunities for partners to innovate and grow their businesses. They should consider utilizing the cloud to expand their solution footprint and deliver even more value to their clients and prospects. Take advantage of Windows Azure to package up vertical- or industry-specific code, Office 365, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM into a compelling solution for customers. The ability to build on Windows Azure will not only reduce Microsoft Dynamics partner investments required to develop these solutions, but also will put them ahead of the curve as we deliver more of our applications in the cloud.

This approach will give partners the ability to differentiate themselves in the market, improve the "stickiness" of their solutions and, with a high percentage of recurring revenue from the annuity model, paints a compelling long-term opportunity for Microsoft Dynamics Partners.

Next Page: Mobility


Manage Mobility
Howard M. Cohen
IT Consultant & RCP Columnist

Sometimes we forget that the "P" in "PC" stands for "personal." But with the consumerization of computing bringing more handheld smartphones and tablet devices into the corporate network, new challenges arise that create tremendous opportunities for channel partners.

Microsoft has already indicated that the next version of Systems Center will include management support for a large selection of handhelds and tablets well beyond their own. Partners should begin now to plan to add MMSP -- Mobile Managed Services Partner -- to their portfolio. Client concerns include information security, network access control, authentication, data encryption, containerization, and separation of personal and business data, kill and wipe capability for lost devices, not to mention mobile application development and more.

Between cloud and mobile devices, more and more rogue IT initiatives are springing up and IT management will need help to keep proper control over the corporation's data assets and network. Prepare now to provide those incremental new services.

Deliver a Consistent User Experience Across Devices
Dave Sobel
CEO, Evolve Technologies

My big idea is simple: Don't focus on the wrong thing. Cloud computing is getting an amazing amount of buzz, and the channel has focused considerable energy on this opportunity, which looks big. I've heard numbers from $160 billion to $200 billion. Mobility, which is generating less buzz, looks to be an opportunity of $1.2 trillion. By my math, mobility is thus roughly six times larger -- but generating so much less noise. Don't fall for the noise: Focus on what's really important, which is delivering a consistent user experience across any device. That's the real opportunity, and what users are clamoring for.


Social Local Mobile Commerce
Liz Eversoll
CEO, SLM Technology LLC

The writing is on the wall, the message is on your mobile … there will be 20 billion connected devices by 2020 or roughly three devices for every person on the planet.

Your mobile device will be the entry to your digital world, which authenticates your identity; manages your roles in life; connects you with friends, matches, brands, locations and communities; secures your wallet, health records, financial records; centralizes your coupon books, reward cards and other discounts; informs you with helpful content, recommendations and referrals; manages your schedule, to dos, preferences and behavior-tracking; knows your location and intent based on this information; and entertains you, among other things.

Social commerce, a $300 billion market, has many aspects and tools including social shopping, social advertising, social media, social networks, group buying, flash sales and many others. The winners will create a social, local, mobile and highly personalized experience based on a consumer's location, intent, and preferences and validated by their trusted community, resulting in consumer purchases. Don't miss the message.

Use Mobility as a Cloud 'Trigger Point'
Keith Lubner
Managing Partner, Channel Consulting Corp. & RCP Columnist

Throughout 2011 we worked with a lot of resellers who were making the move to the cloud. The successful ones had multiple cloud products in the portfolio that they could leverage when engaging with a customer. The key became finding the customer "trigger point" when it came to the cloud solutions. A key trigger point for resellers in 2012 will be mobility because it will enable conversations with prospects on so many levels and because the market for mobility management services (think mobile apps, device management, content, security, policy controls, network services and so on) is predicted to experience tremendous growth. Most organizations will have these devices in one form or another. Make mobility part of your portfolio and it will surely enable you to sell more cloud solutions across the portfolio.

Next Page: ISVs and Partner-to-Partner


Windows 8 and the XAML Investment
Andrew Brust
Founder, Blue Badge Insights & Visual Studio Magazine Columnist

For 2012, watch Windows 8, and keep an eye on Windows Phone, too. Then think hard about XAML, and how its dots are connecting. This is the year that Microsoft will fight back with a serious tablet play, and XAML is Redmond's common thread between the tablet, the phone and the classic Windows desktop. XAML inside Silverlight for today's Windows browser and desktop; XAML and Silverlight for Windows Phone 7, XAML and the Windows Runtime for Windows 8 and some flavor of XAML for Windows Phone 8.

But Windows 8 isn't partial to XAML. It speaks HTML5, too, and so does the rest of the industry. People are worried about Silverlight's longevity, and Windows Phone has only fledgling market share. Is XAML a sucker's bet? The trick here is to be cognizant of legacy while being vigilantly future-facing. You'll be supporting Windows 7 for a long time, and you must start breaking in Windows 8. You need something to connect them, other than your bottom. XAML is that thing.


Get Ready to Leverage the Microsoft Stack
Dr. Petri Salonen
Founder & CEO, Tellus International & Former IAMCP President

One of the most exciting waves by far in software technology is the cloud and what it enables for software vendors from an innovation perspective.

Based on our work with ISVs, lots of organizations have already made a decision that their solutions need to be supported by a true multi-tenant cloud architecture. What we also see is that many organizations haven't realized the combination of the cloud and mobility. This is where we think that Microsoft partners will be specifically in a strong position during 2012, and we expect to see new ways of using the cloud with a mobile device.

Microsoft with the Windows Azure platform is one of the few vendors that enable development of solutions that are enterprise-ready. Applications can be integrated within the cloud and this combined information is consumed by mobility users providing a seamless user experience.


Percolating Partner Power
Mike Harvath
CEO, Revenue Rocket Consulting Group & RCP Columnist

It looks to us that 2012 could be a year in which we begin to see the emergence of a more activist partner community. This activism is being driven by:

  1. Ongoing spending by corporate America in pursuit of productivity gains

  2. Ferocious competition among IT services companies for that spending

  3. The voracious appetite among partners for new avenues of intellectual, financial and operational capital

The three signs of this activism are: first, the continuing trend for mergers and acquisitions as companies seek to fortify themselves with greater presence and clout in the market; second, a movement to collaborate with other partners as IT services executives seek to extend their reach by creating a network of their own to sell their new IP product or service; and third, a call for their vendors to pony up more financial and marketing assistance.

This activism is a good sign. It means that IT executives are optimistic about the future, and they're willing and eager to find ways to keep up the "Big Mo."

Partners Partnering to Win Together
Jon Roskill
Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft

Partners partnering together to accelerate their businesses is not a new idea -- in fact, it was the core point behind the "N" in MPN … Partner Network! MPN efforts over the past year have concentrated on bringing line-of-business-focused solution partners together with infrastructure partners or Business Intelligence partners connecting with Web design shops.

As we head into 2012, the cloud is going to be the big accelerator and partners actively working the expansion of their own "partner network" are going to be the ones that win big.

So how do you get going at expanding your partner network? A great place to start is the local IAMCP chapter. The IAMCP aims to help people and companies in the Microsoft ecosystem broaden their base of business opportunities within their own communities and around the world through partnering among IAMCP members.

Next Page: General Business


Engage Deeply in the MPN
Julie Bennani
General Manager, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft

We learned from an IDC study in March 2011 that partners who connect more broadly and deeply in the MPN had 28 percent greater revenue per employee and 68 percent larger deal sizes. Partners should look at how their organization and people can maximize the value in MPN for their businesses. Are you taking advantage of the enhanced Internal Use Rights (IUR) for Microsoft software and services? Are all your people taking advantage of our Partner Learning Paths (role-based) and Sales Success System to keep their skills and expertise current and of the highest quality? Have you engaged in Business Model Transformation workshops to help move your business to the cloud? Are you engaged and taking advantage of our solution incentives? We strongly encourage you to look for ways to engage more deeply with the MPN to help you derive more business opportunities in 2012.

Work Collectively with Your Government Advocates
Per Werngren
Owner & CEO, Idenet AB & Former IAMCP President

It is very important that bureaucrats and legislators meet with people that represent small and midsize enterprises (SMEs). SMEs form the backbone of the economy in all parts of the world. Collectively we employ more people than all the big companies together -- and it's within SMEs that jobs are created!

While we're all very busy driving our businesses, trips like a meeting in 2011 between IAMCP SME Union and members of the European Parliament can be productive. We found that we were warmly welcomed in the aisles of power because they wanted to hear what we had to say. The agenda we used, with topics such as how governments can support the diffusion of cloud computing or support intellectual property protection, can be easily replicated in other regions.


Find Your Place to Thrive
Barb Levisay
Owner, Marketing for Partners & RCP Columnist

About three years from now, your business isn't going to be the same as it is today. It's not just the cloud. It's unimaginable quantities of data, instant global communication and flat-world competition. No matter what size partner you might be, the time has come to figure out how your business will adapt.

Take a critical look at the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. How can you apply those strengths to emerging business models? How can you phase out those parts of the organization that serve declining markets? Define your vision for the direction of the company based on your strengths.

Then, explain it to your employees. Even if they haven't said it, your employees are wondering how the company will adapt to the changing market. If you have the right people, they want to help you build the next-gen company.

Listen to SMB Customers
Cindy Bates
Vice President, U.S. Small and Medium Sized Businesses, Microsoft

Operating under the assumption that a product or service is right for a customer prior to conducting a needs analysis only robs the partner of the opportunity to form a strategic, consultative relationship and the customer of the right solution for its business requirements. Continue to listen to your customers in 2012 and work to address the specific needs of that business no matter their size and consider options such as Windows Intune and Office 365 as possible solutions.

We want to equip our customers in 2012 to make the right decision for their businesses. I encourage partners to visit the Microsoft Ready-To-Go Marketing portal to easily find content and resources that will help them effectively plan and execute their marketing efforts and communicate with small to midsize businesses (SMBs) of all sizes.

Key Words: Vision, Clarity, Fatigue
Ken Thoreson
President, Acumen Management Group & RCP Columnist

As I look in to my crystal ball, three words keep spinning up: Vision, Clarity, Fatigue. As leaders, each of us must have a vision of success for the New Year. Have you defined both short- and long-term levels of success? Clarity means that everyone in the organization can clearly articulate your value proposition -- and that it separates you from your competition. From a leadership position, clarity means that the vision for the organization is clearly understood by everyone and the operational, marketing and sales tactics required to achieve the objectives are understood and expectations of accountability are clear. As for fatigue, the past few years have been challenging for everyone, with layoffs, budget cuts, tougher competition and general stress. The leadership team in a partner organization has to fight malaise by making sure there's a focus on culture, fun, excitement and team building. Do you have a fun organizational 2012 kick-off meeting planned?

Refocus on Marketing Fundamentals
M.H. (Mac) McIntosh
President and Senior Consultant, Mac McIntosh Inc.

The keys to success with driving leads and sales today is engaging prospective customers, then helping them move forward in their buying process. Here's how:

Use lower-cost-per-touch marketing to address the earlier steps in the buying process; create awareness, generate inquiries and nurture them until they're sales ready. Change your marketing and sales processes to match your prospect's buying processes, instead of trying to make your prospects fit your sales process. Stay in sight and top of mind. One-shot campaigns rarely work, so use ongoing, multi-touch marketing campaigns instead. Make the right offers (calls-to-action) designed specifically to engage prospects at different stages of their buying process, and to move them forward in their buying process. Relevant content is critical to your success. You need it to be found on the search engines and in social media and to use as offers or calls to action designed to get prospects to engage.

Get Creative in 2012
Darren Bibby Program Director, Software Channels Research, IDC

Microsoft partners should consider how they can do something to stand out in the crowd in 2012.

In my role as a channels analyst, I talk to a lot of interesting partners every year. No two are the same. All these companies are doing some great things. But every once in a while you spot a really cool idea. Here's an example I love:

  • Derek Sardo of Rolling Thunder Inc. co-hosts a drive-time weekly radio call-in show called "The Computer Clinic" in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He's fantastic at it. And he has barely needed sales or marketing staff in the last seven years he's been doing it -- he gets so many leads based on the show.


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