Navigating the Solution Maps and Channel Managers of Microsoft's OCP

Microsoft is in the midst of an all-hands effort to create Solution Maps. Partners who want to be at the center of Microsoft's business need to make sure they show up on those maps.

All around the world, thousands of customer- and partner-facing Microsoft employees are becoming mapmakers.

At worldwide headquarters in the Seattle area, at country headquarters buildings in nations everywhere, at small field offices and on laptops in home offices or on train commutes, Microsoft employees are busily modeling the world of business into these new digital maps, known as Solution Maps.

Some are working on big regional maps. Others have responsibility at a country level, or for smaller territories. They're mostly vertically focused maps covering Microsoft's newly declared "Priority Industries" -- Manufacturing, Financial Services, Retail, Health, Education and Government.

One other thing about this colossal commercial cartography project. If you're wondering why a Microsoft partner should care about what is essentially an internal Microsoft tool, here's the reason: All the blanks on all the maps are there for one purpose -- for some Microsoft employee to type in the name of a specific Microsoft partner.

In other words, if you're an ambitious Microsoft partner, you want to be charted on these maps.

Driving the Mapping Effort
Judson Althoff, executive vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Commercial Business, made the first publicly visible reference to Solution Maps in his leaked company memo of July 3, although that mention flew under the radar. Most people who saw the memo focused on the details of the major reorganization and re-focusing of the Microsoft field organization and scanned the memo for any hints about the widespread layoffs that were then rumored to be coming.

More on Microsoft One Commercial Partner

Throughout the month, we're unpacking some of the most important changes that are taking place at Microsoft to help partners make sense of what's going on within the new OCP organization:

Introduction: Get To Know Microsoft's 'One Commercial Partner'

• Navigating the Solution Maps and Channel Managers of Microsoft's OCP

Microsoft OCP Puts New Faces in Partner Management Roles

How To Speak Microsoft in the 'One Commercial Partner' Era

An Althoff lieutenant with a major role in the mapping effort is Ron Huddleston, the corporate vice president in charge of One Commercial Partner (OCP). OCP is Microsoft's new organization bringing together previously disparate partner programs from the Worldwide Partner Group and Enterprise Partner Group (EPG) to ISV evangelism and incubation efforts to the Dynamics channel operation, as well as incentive, distributor, licensing solution provider and product-based programs.

In an in-person interview at Microsoft Inspire later in July, Huddleston shared his passion for Solution Maps, which are new to Microsoft but were a big part of his previous senior channel roles at Inc. and Oracle Corp.

"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..." he said, stopping himself with a laugh, then resumed, "The best you can do. The best you can possibly do."

Huddleston hopes to build an engine powered by a virtuous cycle of field sales feedback and partner feedback informed by customer successes. For that kind of effort to work, he argues, Solution Maps are foundational.

"In the center [are] Solution Maps," Huddleston said. "Once you have industry maps at the highest end, you've got the basics to begin improving your ecosystem over time because the map will help you essentially create a record of what's worked historically at different companies across multiple partner sets and get better and better and better."

How the Maps Work
Toni Townes-Whitley, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, described Solution Maps for partners during her Inspire keynote as "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."

According to Huddleston, the maps have various levels. There's the executive level, which is a paint-by-numbers, simple approach -- showing relatively horizontal categories like front office, back office and IT, with industry-specific partners filling the boxes. While the categories are similar across most maps, the types of partners vary enormously across different industries. For example, customer relations or customer service have very different partners in retail than they do in financial services.

A level below focuses on big flows in a specific industry, such as one-on-one marketing in retail or Registered Investment Advisors in insurance. And below that comes the architectural maps, which get technical pretty fast.

Part of the reason Huddleston caught himself and laughed in the middle of describing the "perfect" set of maps is that partners tend to dislike them at different levels.

"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," Huddleston said.

The Channel Manager
The other key change to Microsoft's engagement model is related to Solution Maps -- as in, who owns them? Microsoft has created a critical new organizational role called the Channel Manager, and that person is the one who has ultimate responsibility for maintaining maps in their area, be it by geography, by vertical or both.

In the midst of the field reorganization, Microsoft is filling hundreds of newly created Channel Manager positions around the world. Huddleston would not provide RCP with a specific number but hinted that it could be more than 1,000 people. That hiring spree is a big part of the $250 million in new channel investment Microsoft unveiled at the Inspire conference for partners. Channel Managers are different from Partner Managers, a role that still exists in the OCP organization. While partner management, with job titles like Partner Development Manager, focuses on the success, pipeline and growth of a managed partner, the new Channel Managers are focused on customers. The function of the Channel Manager role is to bring the right channel resources -- the partners that are still Microsoft's dominant sales and implementation force -- to bear on a customer engagement.

It's hard to overstate how important this new combination of Channel Managers and their Solution Maps filled with partners are to Microsoft. "On the sell-with side, this is probably the biggest structural change," Huddleston said.

Coming Soon to a Geo Near You
The first fruits of all that work are expected to arrive any day now. In a late August follow-up interview, Huddleston said the first set of maps would be done in mid-September. While Microsoft's fiscal year started at the beginning of July, the reorganization wasn't communicated internally until a few days later. Microsoft staff has been scrambling to move from eliminated positions into the new roles or other roles.

At the same time, as they're starting their new positions, Microsoft employees are working to understand a new set of processes and get familiar with their vertical areas. The whole thing takes some time. Senior partner executives at Microsoft have said privately to expect the transition to take a quarter to get settled -- which would be Oct. 1. Partners tell RCP they're not expecting much meaningful help from the Microsoft field until the end of this calendar year.

Are the Solution Maps for Everybody?
With a partner channel the size of Microsoft's, it's obvious that Solution Maps aren't intended for every partner. The question is how scalable they will be or can be.

It seems like the key constituents for Solution Maps are the types of partners who previously worked with the Enterprise Partner Group or who were ISVs. Given the vertical focus and hyper-specialization of the blanks on the Solution Maps, those partners who have heeded Microsoft's repeated calls over the last few years to specialize, focus and develop intellectual property will be best positioned to get on the maps.

Requirements to be included on maps include having a customer reference that's official on the Microsoft Web site and the partner has to have Partner Sellers, known as P-Sellers. P-Seller is an invitation-only program for Microsoft's closest partners, and is intended to include individuals at the partner company who co-sell with Microsoft. Earlier this year, the U.S. version of that program included 1,139 individuals from 289 managed partner organizations. Program participants get access to exclusive resources within Microsoft, although the range of their access to Microsoft's internal network and buildings in the United States was drastically scaled back in February. One of the reasons publicly cited at the time was the need to scale the program globally. Having P-Seller participation as a requirement to be on the Solution Maps worldwide could explain that unpopular move to standardize the program globally.

While EPG-scale partners are logical fits for the maps, there will be room for smaller, up-and-coming partners, as well. Microsoft is keen to work with partners of all sizes driving Azure consumption, so those partners will have an advantage getting onto the maps. Also, as maps get driven from global down to the country level and below, there will be more room for locally focused partners to get their solutions included on a map.

Huddleston acknowledges the Solution Maps will only support a limited number of partners. "You're probably talking about hundreds of them," he said of a Microsoft Partner Network that, while smaller than it once was, still probably consists of more than 200,000 partners.

"Here's the thing, this is a free market, open market, invisible hand. There's nothing stopping them," he said of ambitious partners. "It is purely what the Channel Managers and the governance team thinks is the best. That's good news for some and maybe not good news for others, but it's the right thing for our customers."

Mapping is a huge push in the enterprise and in vertical markets, but it's obviously not intended for most partners. For example, the tens of thousands of partners engaging through Microsoft's massive channel push under Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) largely won't be impacted by the Solution Maps and Channel Managers. In those areas, Huddleston said, "I think it's business as usual."

Getting Charted
One thing Microsoft wants to make clear about the maps is that they will be living documents. Partners shouldn't panic if they're not on the first versions of maps that begin rolling out this month because it's going to be a long game.

"When you start this, they're not complete," Huddleston said. "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."

According to Microsoft executives, there are several ways partners can best position themselves to be part of the mapping conversation:
  1. Get some customer wins. Before worrying about jumping through procedural hoops, remember that the substantive reason that partners are supposed to be on the Solution Maps is that they have practical experience providing or implementing a vertical solution to customers. Partners with slideware solutions and marketing pitches, but without actual implementations, aren't the target. Microsoft is looking for partners who can point to past success.

  2. Document customer wins. The governance processes around the Solution Maps requires that Channel Managers only include partners with relevant case studies posted on Microsoft's site.

  3. Participate in the P-Seller program. There was a lot of talk in the United States among P-Sellers about whether the program was still worth participating in once many of the benefits were removed in March. Well, partners who want to be on the Solution Maps need to be P-Sellers.

  4. Know your Channel Manager. For years, Microsoft partners have been most concerned about becoming managed partners and getting to know their partner managers. With Solution Maps, the appropriate Channel Manager becomes the person to know.

  5. Get inside the decision cycle. Partners left off of a Solution Map they feel qualified for have a timetable to work with to get themselves on future maps. Microsoft will hold quarterly account planning meetings to reassess whether the right partners are mapped to the right solutions.

For partners heavily engaged with the Microsoft field, Solution Maps and Channel Managers may end up being one of the biggest changes to come along since former COO Kevin Turner championed Customer Satisfaction (C-SAT) scores, or since Microsoft started shifting its focus from software licenses to cloud consumption.

Those partners who want to be co-selling aggressively with Microsoft in the coming years need to be sure they make their way onto the maps that the Microsoft field is so busily creating.