Marching Orders 2018: Focus on Hiring and Mentoring Women

What can Microsoft partners do differently in 2018 to make a business breakthrough? We put that question to 16 top experts, including JENNIFER DIDIER, CEO/PRESIDENT/OWNER, DIRECTIONS TRAINING. For more tips on finding success in the Microsoft channel in 2018, read our full Marching Orders feature here.

My best advice for partners in 2018, more than any other year, is to continue to target women hires and to build programs that support and mentor women in the office. As strong, resilient and loyal employees, women bring unique perspectives to the industry. We bring fresh insight into advancing the channel in new, collaborative ways. Still, we are underrepresented in the male-dominated industry. Partners must work to encourage more women to join the industry and to pursue leadership roles.

With women's contributions, the channel will continue to advance. According to WomenWhoTech.com, Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women directors saw an average return on equity increase by at least 53%, and return on sales increase by at least 42%. The return on invested capital increased by at least 66%. In today's modern workplace, women often have longer lifespans in companies than their male counterparts. They're also often more successful in initial stages. This crucial bit of insight will make the difference this year as companies work to create fresh solutions and evolve their business.

A computer instructor by training, Jennifer Didier worked in many roles in the IT field before her interests expanded into entrepreneurship and she started her own training company, Directions Training. As CEO, president and owner, Didier has built the company with double-digit growth year over year and has expanded the organization from a local to a global focus.

Posted by Jennifer Didier on February 20, 2018 at 4:33 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2018: Bridge Professional and Personal Experiences

What can Microsoft partners do differently in 2018 to make a business breakthrough? We put that question to 16 top experts, including Tiffany Wallace, Vice President, Business Development, New Horizons Computer Learning Centers. For more tips on finding success in the Microsoft channel in 2018, read our full Marching Orders feature here.

In my 15 years as a Microsoft Learning Partner, I've watched society evolve into adjusting to and expecting what is called "instant intelligence." This adaptation is how we interact with technology professionally during the day and personally at night. This integration is made possible by the focus in all industries on machine learning. Partners need to focus on technology as an access point from the boardroom at work to the kitchen at home.

Machine learning allows us to build on the multitude of data we can now collect. As industry evolves to capture more and more data, we need to build solutions in every aspect of our lives that integrate the technology in an intelligent way.

We as partners have focused heavily on the professional aspect of how customers adopt technology in specific industries. The emerging opportunity is how we engage the customers' experience personally. How do we continue the adoption of our technology solutions in their personal lives?

Microsoft has brought us into the home with Xbox and Surface devices. What is the next access point where we can create a technology interaction with "instant intelligence"?

As vice president of business development, Tiffany Wallace is responsible for the B2B and B2C partner development, product growth and marketing strategy for over 30 New Horizons locations in North America.

Posted by Tiffany Wallace on February 15, 2018 at 8:44 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2018: Diversify Your Microsoft Revenue

What can Microsoft partners do differently in 2018 to make a business breakthrough? We put that question to 16 top experts, including Matt Scherocman, President, Interlink Cloud Advisors. For more tips on finding success in the Microsoft channel in 2018, read our full Marching Orders feature here.

As clients move more of their revenue to the cloud, Microsoft partners need to diversify their revenue streams to continue to flourish and, possibly, just to survive.

My recommendation for 2018 is to diversify your revenue and protect your margins. We are all seeing pressures on revenue and profitability. To me it feels like this is occurring in every industry as the Internet makes geography less of a business advantage. Customers are finding self-service and research easier than ever. Among the pressures:

  • Traditional hardware and software sales are going away. So, the opportunities to make big margins on large product transactions is also disappearing.
  • Managed services revenue is declining because there are fewer servers to manage on-premises. The reliability of cloud services sets a ceiling on what can be charged.
  • Partner of Record fees continue to be changed and reduced by Microsoft. We have seen major cuts in what Microsoft calls the "rate card" again this year, and adviser fees from Web transactions were completely eliminated.

In 2018, look to make investments in new offerings. Technologies like collaboration adoption services, business intelligence, data warehousing and machine learning are just a few that are ripe with customer needs. The biggest challenge to the traditional systems integrator is recruiting talented folks who can lead these new practice areas and evolving the sales teams to be able to clearly articulate these value areas.

Matt Scherocman is president of Interlink Cloud Advisors, a born-in-the-cloud Microsoft partner based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Posted by Matt Scherocman on February 15, 2018 at 8:37 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2018: Get Good at Change Management

What can Microsoft partners do differently in 2018 to make a business breakthrough? We put that question to 16 top experts, including Christian Buckley, Founder & CEO, CollabTalk LLC. For more tips on finding success in the Microsoft channel in 2018, read our full Marching Orders feature here.

With so many customers, and even partners, complaining about the rapid state of innovation coming out of Redmond, it's more important now than ever before that organizations take on more of an operational focus, and become experts in technology change management. Companies that can quickly assess, adapt and adopt will be the winners, pure and simple.

Christian Buckley is an independent researcher, technology evangelist and Microsoft Office Servers & Services MVP with more than 25 years of experience working with collaboration, social and supply chain technology.

Posted by Christian Buckley on February 15, 2018 at 7:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2018: Engage with Microsoft

What can Microsoft partners do differently in 2018 to make a business breakthrough? We put that question to 16 top experts, including Vince Menzione, CEO and Founder, Cloud Wave Partners. For more tips on finding success in the Microsoft channel in 2018, read our full Marching Orders feature here.

As a podcast host and business consultant to organizations looking to better partner with the tech giant, I've had the unique privilege of interviewing scores of leaders in the industry, including some of Microsoft's top partners.

What I believe separates the good partnerships from the great ones is the commitment from the very top. CEO commitment, visibility and alignment to Microsoft have been a key factor in the success of many high-performing partners.

My advice to organizations looking to expand and grow their business with the technology giant in 2018 is directed toward CEOs and ensuring that these business leaders make executive visibility and engagement across the Microsoft organization a priority, while ensuring their business is aligned to the priorities and invested in programs, enablement and co-selling in order to drive a mutually successful set of business objectives.

Vince Menzione is the founder of Cloud Wave Partners and the host of a podcast, "Ultimate Guide to Partnering." Menzione's career has consisted of three successful business transformations while leading sales and channels, including nine years at Microsoft as a general manager on the U.S. Partner Leadership Team.
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Posted by Vince Menzione on February 14, 2018 at 12:32 PM0 comments


Marching Orders 2018: Investing in AI is a Smart Play

What can Microsoft partners do differently in 2018 to make a business breakthrough? We put that question to 16 top experts, including Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft. For more tips on finding success in the Microsoft channel in 2018, read our full Marching Orders feature here.

More and more companies are looking to digitally transform their business with Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to market research firm Tractica, revenue generated from the application of AI software will skyrocket in the next five years. Starting at $1.36 billion in 2016, research shows AI generated revenue will see a 52% compound annual growth rate, stretching the opportunity to $59.75 billion by 2025. Microsoft's new "AI Practice Development Playbook" is giving partners the guidance they need to start, grow, and optimize an AI practice. Whether they're in health care, retail, construction or finance, the AI Playbook was designed to help companies across industries develop AI practices that set them apart from their competitors and capitalize on the AI opportunity. The playbook takes a step-by-step approach to help Microsoft partners define their AI strategy, hire and train a team, operationalize their plan, go to market, and grow their AI practice. Real-world examples show how it's done.

Customers, once unsure about AI technology at home and at work, now expect time-saving, life-improving solutions to be built into the products and services they buy. With so much opportunity ahead, now is the time to get smart about making AI part of your company's digital transformation.

Gavriella Schuster is corporate vice president of the Microsoft One Commercial Partner (OCP) organization. At Microsoft since 1995, Schuster has held top worldwide partner leadership roles for Microsoft since May 2014.

Posted by Gavriella Schuster on February 14, 2018 at 12:07 PM0 comments


Marching Orders 2017: Differentiate To Survive

What should you do to make the most of technology business opportunities in 2017? For this "Marching Orders" series, we put that question to a number of channel luminaries, including top Microsoft channel executives, consultants, Microsoft partners and other regular RCP contributors. This entry comes from Matt Scherocman, president of Interlink Cloud Advisors.

Cloud gives partners the ability to sell anywhere in the world. With that, some of our key differentiators as partners are changing in the eyes of the customer.

My recommendation for 2017 is to focus on how your business is going to set itself apart from everyone else.

Here are the simple steps:

  1. Identify why customers purchase from you already. Have you actually asked them? I can tell you that I am asking frequently and continue to be surprised by some of the answers.

  2. Identify what makes you different. Where do your approaches or methodologies stand out? Can you make your "Big Mac" the same every time from every location or consultant?

  3. Where are you going to invest? Is it in building out a SharePoint solution that targets a vertical, or an offering that has an easy-to-understand pricing model, or software you have written?

  4. How will you market your differentiator? Fundamentally, a differentiator is only important if the prospect or client knows about the differentiator and considers it valuable to their business. So, our marketing has to be in their language and has to talk about how our solutions solve their business challenges.

It used to be about having expertise available. With the Internet, however, knowledge is available at the click of a button. So, in 2017 what client business challenges will your business solve better than anyone else?  

Posted on December 30, 2016 at 7:17 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2017: Prepare for a Correction

What should you do to make the most of technology business opportunities in 2017? For this "Marching Orders" series, we put that question to a number of channel luminaries, including top Microsoft channel executives, consultants, Microsoft partners and other regular RCP contributors. This entry comes from Reed Warren, vice president of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group.

Harry Truman was fond of saying how much he yearned for a one-handed economist. He grew weary of economists offering one prognostication, then a minute later saying, "On the other hand," and proffering yet a completely different scenario.

We're going to offer a one-handed prognostication for 2017/2018 -- the market could very well see a pullback in demand, thereby setting off a technology correction.

It seems the timing is about right. We are not looking at a correction the likes of 2000/2001, or of 2007/2008. It appears to us that the market going forward will be characterized more by a sustained period of incrementalism, rather than some new significant, unforeseen innovation that reshapes the market.

The IT services firms that will prevail over the next 12 to 24 months will be the top-quartile performers possessed of an arsenal of cash, low debt and a fortified balance sheet.

In addition to a healthy balance sheet, these top-performing companies will be those that have successfully transitioned to a process orientation, and with significant IP initiatives. They have focused their business on the intersection of a technology and an industry. Having such will put the company in a better position to win over new customers relative to those less endowed, and to also be in a more advantageous position to make attractive acquisitions.

History has proven time and time again that successful companies look at recessions or pullbacks as the best time to invest in their business, such that they come out the back end in a better position than they were at the outset.

For 2017, think profit.

Posted on December 29, 2016 at 7:08 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2017: Sell Outside of IT

What should you do to make the most of technology business opportunities in 2017? For this "Marching Orders" series, we put that question to a number of channel luminaries, including top Microsoft channel executives, consultants, Microsoft partners and other regular RCP contributors. This entry comes from Keith Lubner, managing partner at Channel Consulting Corp. and co-founder of Channel EQ.

Our company develops ridiculously good training content and programs for the channel. One of our most popular programs is called Business Guidance Selling. The essence of this course is transforming salespeople to sell outside of their comfort zones and into other areas beyond the IT department.

In 2017, your ability to excel will be determined by your ability to sell to all the other stakeholders within an organization that now have budgets to spend on your products and services.

You can thank the cloud for this shift in the market. More applications and services now exist for more people within an organization. Couple this with the cloud allowing companies to shift spending buckets from CapEx to OpEx and you create more buyers in more departments within more companies. The problem is, for the most part, partner sales teams have been focused on selling to the IT department.

To jump start your transformation and your capabilities, focus on the following in 2017:

  • Turn your salespeople into consultants. We mean this figuratively, not literally. Selling to other areas within a business is different. Therefore, your people need to think and act differently. They need to do better pre-call planning. They need to ask better discovery questions. They need to start making recommendations to the prospect on areas for improvements or cost reductions.

  • Because this transformation is not easy (but required in order to make the leap into those other areas), you need to arm your salespeople appropriately. This means training the salespeople on market "pains" and "requirements." This means educating your technical staff to ask more questions about other areas within the business. This means learning more techniques to prospect into the layers of an account.

  • The seller/buyer relationship has changed dramatically, and in order to prosper, you must come to terms with this reality. Buyers know more about your products and services before you ever pick up the phone or walk in the door. You need to differentiate and the only way to do that is to shift your mental approach to the account. Instead of pitching a product, start thinking of presenting a solution. Instead of being reactive to a prospect, become proactive in giving advice. Elevating your abilities will help you rise above the competition and keep you from falling into the control of the buyer.

Think and act differently in 2017, and you will develop more robust pipelines by selling to more people outside of the traditional IT.

Posted by Keith Lubner on December 28, 2016 at 7:43 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2017: 'P2P as a Practice' Is the New Black

What should you do to make the most of technology business opportunities in 2017? For this "Marching Orders" series, we put that question to a number of channel luminaries, including top Microsoft channel executives, consultants, Microsoft partners and other regular RCP contributors. This entry comes from Per Werngren, chairman of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP).

Remember a few years ago when Microsoft partner account managers or PAMs (now called partner sales executives or PSEs) asked partners to sign up for new competencies? If you tried to resist, you often had a problem convincing your PAM to agree.

But times have changed. We see that the most successful partners are the ones that specialize in doing only a few things -- and doing them well. Less is more!

The "jack of all trades" era is over, and by specializing and being great at something -- rather than mediocre in everything -- you will see your margin go up and your market share increase. It will also make it easier to recruit because if you're running the best team in your area, you can be pretty sure that the best people will want to play for you.

We see a wave of consolidation in our industry and I foresee that this will continue. Buyers are eager to pay top dollar for great companies that are successful and well-known for their specialization. Generalists are not what they are looking for unless you have massive scale, but that's an exception reserved for only a very few.

This is clearly reflected in valuations. Having sold my specialized cloud hosting company this year, and having seen several of my good friends doing the same, I speak from experience.

Here's where "Partner-to-Partner (P2P) as a Practice" is needed. If you want to serve your customers well but still be specialized, then you will see that by working with trusted partners you will be able to increase your profits and keep your customers even happier. You will be part of a team of specialized companies catering to your customers' needs and that will ensure that you can keep your narrow specialization but also be part of delivering projects with a much wider scope.

P2P as a Practice is clearly in fashion as more and more partners realize that it makes great business sense for many reasons. Microsoft is embracing P2P as Practice, PSEs are helping partners specialize, and the IAMCP is educating and connecting partners.

A few years ago I worked with IDC to create the "P2P Maturity Model" (PDF here) as a framework for structuring P2P activities. Stay tuned to RCP in 2017 as I share insights about that framework and other tips for driving success in your P2P activities.

Posted on December 27, 2016 at 7:40 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2017: Reconsider Cloud Managed Services

What should you do to make the most of technology business opportunities in 2017? For this "Marching Orders" series, we put that question to a number of channel luminaries, including top Microsoft channel executives, consultants, Microsoft partners and other regular RCP contributors. This entry comes from Aziz Benmalek, vice president of Worldwide Hosting & Cloud Services at Microsoft.

We truly have "crossed the chasm" and are in the "early majority" stage of the cloud-adoption curve. Cloud is disrupting traditional IT faster than we think, which means increased opportunity for cloud service providers.

One of the biggest opportunities for partners moving into 2017 is helping customers navigate the superior functionality of cloud offerings, and managing their production workloads running in the public cloud. In fact, 451 Research indicates that cloud managed services are projected to be a $43 billion market by calendar year 2018, growing 60 percent faster than infrastructure-only services.

Whether your primary business model is IT consulting, systems integration, managed IT services, datacenter hosting, outsourcing or value-added resale, cloud managed services give you an opportunity to add a new, higher-margin business line that can provide a more stable, steady stream of recurring revenue.

Managed services are not a new business model. For more than 20 years, large enterprises have relied on service providers to manage their IT assets. Whether they're an outsourcer, a remote monitoring and management (RMM) provider or a managed IT provider, service providers have been managing their customers' workloads -- either in their own datacenters or those operated by their customers. Cloud, however, requires a new method of management because of its focus on scale, elasticity and automation. For CIOs, cloud represents a paradigm shift in the way they think about embracing IT, and they are demanding a new way to think about data governance and security.

The hyperscale nature of cloud provides a completely new meaning to scalability, elasticity and resiliency, and has redefined how applications are architected and delivered. Device and data proliferation means customers can do so much more with their IT assets, with cloud providing the computing resources to do so. The pay-as-you-go model provides a fail fast, agile method of app development. In fact, DevOps has completely changed the way applications are developed and maintained.

In addition to the benefits provided to customers, managed services ensure you have a constant revenue stream as opposed to a project-based method. With the consumption-based model, service providers are providing monthly billing to customers for managed services packages and adding to the packages over time as the customers' cloud needs grow. Margins are typically higher, too, compared with professional services and just reselling services. Managed services also provide the opportunity to diversify a service provider's portfolio and add new offerings like cloud dev/test, cloud backup and data recovery, cloud-native app design, et cetera.

Amidst the sea change the cloud has enabled, MSPs have a huge opportunity to help customers transition to (and embrace) this paradigm shift in technology by guiding customers in all aspects of their cloud journey. From consulting to migrations to operations management, customers rely on cloud MSPs to show them all the benefits that come with cloud adoption. As a cloud MSP, you have the opportunity to truly engage with customers to meet their needs end to end. Whether around cloud migrations or net-new app development in the cloud, you have the opportunity to truly become a trusted adviser.

Last year, Microsoft launched the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program specifically for partners looking to tap into this booming opportunity. This year, we hope you'll join the more than 500 partners providing managed services on Azure via the CSP program.

Posted on December 26, 2016 at 7:34 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2017: Execute Brilliantly

What should you do to make the most of technology business opportunities in 2017? For this "Marching Orders" series, we put that question to a number of channel luminaries, including top Microsoft channel executives, consultants, Microsoft partners and other regular RCP contributors. This entry comes from Ken Thoreson, RCP columnist and president of Acumen Management Group.

Thinking about 2017 versus the past two years, I envision that most Microsoft partners will begin propelling their organizations to new levels of success.

In most cases, the business models have already been worked on during the past two years, and if those partners have focused on the right actions, 2017 should be highly profitable.

During the past two years, we have worked with many organizations on their partner cloud acceleration strategies and business-velocity tactics. In the new year, the words I would use to describe partner marching orders would be: "Brilliant Execution: Finding Leverage, Fine-Tuning Business Models and Enhancing Management/Sales Training."

Brilliant execution means a careful and consistent focus by management on every aspect of your business. Ask the following questions: Is it working? If not? Why not? And what will you do to fix it?

Fine-tune your business models; building KPIs is essential for tight management systems that will work well in the new environment. Margins have changed, so costs and productivity must be managed more carefully. You must know what levers you can pull to alter your profits.

Finding leverage means knowing the ways to extend your sales team, your marketing programs and your business resources without simply adding more staff. Check out the Microsoft Community Connections program, for example.

Enhanced training means raising the bar on management/leadership and sales. After 19 years of consulting with Microsoft partners, I know that those partners that focus on excellence from their teams exceed their goals and win market share. Check out ChannelEQ.co as an example of how to improve performance.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on December 23, 2016 at 7:15 AM0 comments