Q&A with Ron Huddleston: Know Your Solution Maps and Channel Managers

In Part 3 of a three-part Q&A from the Microsoft Inspire conference, Microsoft One Commercial Partner CVP Ron Huddleston talks about two of the most important new concepts for partners to understand to succeed in Microsoft's revised channel model.

  • Complete Microsoft Inspire 2017 coverage here.

In Parts 1 and 2 of the Redmond Channel Partner magazine interview with Ron Huddleston, corporate vice president of the Microsoft One Commercial Partner (OCP) organization, he discussed his philosophies on working with partners and Microsoft's new partner engagement model.

In this third and final part of the interview from the Microsoft Inspire conference last week, RCP's Scott Bekker and Barb Levisay discuss important details of Microsoft's new model for working with partners.

The conversation starts out on solution maps, which are emerging as a new centerpiece of the way Microsoft works with partners. Toni Townes-Whitley, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, defined solution maps from the Inspire keynote stage like this: "A tool that we use across engineering, sales and marketing to lay out your solutions against the line-of-business needs of our customers. We're going to build all the way through those maps' reference architecture so we know how to plug and play our technologies with your technologies to meet the customer demand. Solution maps will become very, very standard at how we engage going forward."

Q&A with Ron Huddleston

Part 1: Meet Microsoft's One Commercial Partner Leader

Part 2: Microsoft's New Partner Engagement Model

• Part 3: Know Your Solution Maps and Channel Managers

Barb: Are those solution maps for the enterprise?

Ron: They are available to everyone.

Barb: And will they be industry-focused?

Ron: Industry and horizontal. By definition, every industry map has a horizontal component in it. I spend a lot of time with maps. I could talk about maps forever. I spent 10 years making 10,000 mistakes on how to do maps. I finally, I think, have the perfect...not perfect [laughter]. The best you can do. The best you can possibly do. They are a little bit complicated but as long as you start at the highest level, a very simple level of what an industry looks like -- front office, back office, IT. IT is all horizontal and front office, back office, they're horizontal categories with industry-specific partners inside of them, generally speaking.

Barb: So IT is horizontal in the solution maps?

Ron: Whenever you look at an industry, there are shared categories. They all have HR. They all have product creation. They all have product selling. They all have customer service. They all have technology. They all have data in. They all have data out. They all have a data estate. So at the highest level, everything is a horizontal map.

At the industry level, you can almost look at it exactly the same, but you would fill in the boxes a little differently with different partners that verticalize. A front office looks a lot different in retail than it does in financial services or insurance. But you still have a front office. You still have customer relations. You still have customer service. So it's just very different players.

There are three deep levels. The next level is what's going on, what are the three big flows in the industry. One-on-one marketing in retail. In insurance, it's financial service representation advisers, the RIA [Registered Investment Advisors] relationship stuff. [So there are] those flows, and then below that you've got a lot of architectural work to do.

I don't want to get into all the details but there's five different templates for those. Over time, customer success examples get represented in the maps and they help to fill these things and it gives us our structure and our foundation to spin that cycle that I was talking about. [Editor's Note: This is a reference to Part 1 of the interview, when Huddleston talked about how partners and Microsoft sellers reinforce each other's efforts to drive more business.]

Barb: So that will help partners see where they fit, exactly?

Ron: Yes, but, having lived through this before, I will tell you that no one ever likes maps, because if you're an industry wonk, you hate the dumb one, you hate the exec version, you hate the paint-by-numbers one. Then if you're [at a different] level, you really hate the architectural ones. But it's all of them together that really make sense.

And then something that people generally don't understand is when you start this process of actually having rigor, command and control, governance around this -- the ecosystem has to spin around it -- when you start this, they're not complete. They don't represent what's out there, because you have to reflect actual customer success. So you also, I believe through this, have a lot of partners that are wondering why they're not there.

It is change but it gets us all in the right place. People have to have faith in the model, having just a little bit of customer success, get that into the system, get into the map, and the maps get deployed globally then regionally then locally, and over time all the success gets more and more localized, and over time you've got this huge library -- what everyone has done historically to solve all these problems. But you need to get started, and that's what we're doing this year. It works, it totally works.

The industry team is rolling that out for us, but there are horizontal ones that are included because they're all based on the horizontal ones.

Scott: Switching gears, how important is the new channel manager role?

Ron: Yeah, yeah, yeah, by the way, this is the most powerful thing that's happening, by a long shot. [It's important for] everything from P-Sellers to sales incentives to Azure to conflict that might occur, friction that might occur. Historically, the way we were set up, there was not one person that really owned the customer set and partners driving into the customer set, we didn't have experts in that. They were simultaneously partner-connected and territory-connected. When you just have territory-connected, you have people that are professionals and experts and driving that. Any tool or any program that we rolled out could not be fully optimized because there was no one there to catch it, that was just focused on that. Now we have catchers, and it's great.

Scott: What I want to understand is how significant a role this is. Are the partner account managers [PAMs] gone? Is that structure replaced by the channel managers?

Ron: No. So the "Build-With" side is partner account managers, they're identified with partners. The global success of the partners. Historically, they've been partner managers attached to, for example, Italy. Now it's everywhere on the planet and all technologies. They can grow with the partner. If the partner just sells in Italy, fine. But if they want to go to France, they can.

Scott: OK. So you're attached to a PAM and that PAM goes with you?

Ron: That's right, and they're not stuck in their region. On the channel manager side, this is what was an investment, which is why it was an investment for the money. They are dedicated to Italy. And they bring all the partner types into Italy from outside Italy and inside Italy. They're the ones that hold on to the practice maps and the horizontal maps and the industry maps because this is the representation of what their work is, and that's how it gets fed into the system. I was a channel manager before, by the way. It was a great job.

Barb: Are they "Go-to-Market" or "Sell-With"?

"Whenever you look at an industry, there are shared categories. They all have HR. They all have product creation. They all have product selling. They all have customer service. They all have technology. They all have data in. They all have data out. They all have a data estate. So at the highest level, everything is a horizontal map."

-- Ron Huddleston, Corporate Vice President, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft

Ron: "Sell-With." Industry maps would be "Go-to-Market."

Scott: How do partners get on the radar of the channel managers? Is their PAM pushing them to the channel manager?

Ron: That and if you're a partner and you're selling in Italy, you better know the channel manager. You don't need to know the PAM.

Barb: How many channel managers will there be?

Ron: I don't know if we're [sharing that], but it's a lot. $250 million is a lot of money.

Scott: The $250 million is salaries for channel managers?

Ron: It includes all those investments that I talked to you about.

Scott: Anything you wanted to say about the Azure investments? It sounded like you're trying to get rid of some conflict there.

Ron: We paid our reps on billed Azure revenue. The partners generally sold consumed Azure revenue. The reps were selling two different things: one where they got paid [right away] and one where they got paid over time. Even if it was the exact same customer, the exact same transaction, there was one that had a lot more incentive for the rep at Microsoft.

Now we're paying our reps on the same thing that the partners sell. We've just eliminated the big [hurdle.] That's why there was random clapping [during Huddleston's Inspire keynote announcement of the change]. I said, 'If you know, you know. And if you don't know, you don't know.' The people who know -- it was just the world's biggest, 'Why are you doing this? Don't do this to us.' Here's a good example. If channel managers existed last year, we would have solved this, boom. But now we have catchers.

Barb: Who do channel managers report up to?

Ron: One Commercial Partner, "Sell With."

Barb: But what person on your team?

Ron: The "Sell-With" leader is Larry Orecklin. But there's OCP leaders in every area that all have "Sell-With" leaders. "Sell-With" is as regionalized and localized as you can possibly get to be. "Build-With" is as centralized as you can possibly make it. We'd never centralize everything all the way up, but the general philosophy of the model is you go as deep as you can here ["Sell-With"] and you want to go as high as you can here ["Build-With"], so your partners can scale.

The big hindrance a lot of folks have is we have geographic boundaries around things, categorization boundaries around things. Those are all gone. We had not catchers. Gone. It just takes time for people to understand it, but it works. It feeds itself because no one is in conflict. It works.