Marching Orders 2014: Three Keys for SMB

As part of RCP's 2014 "Marching Orders" feature, we asked channel insiders to give advice to partners getting ready for the new year. Here are some tips for SMB partners from Cindy Bates, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. Small and Medium-Sized Businesses & Distribution.

As we move into 2014, SMB partners have a tremendous opportunity to build excitement and urgency with SMB customers around how technology can modernize and transform their businesses. Here are three things I believe can deliver great impact for SMB partners this year:

Help SMBs move to modern technology. The end of support for Windows XP and Office 2003 is only a few months away. The April 2014 deadline gives SMB partners a great opportunity to drive meaningful conversations with SMB customers about the benefits of modernizing their technology and the risks of not doing so. By helping customers move to modern devices and embracing a services mindset, partners can capitalize on the ubiquity of devices, the accessibility and transformative nature of cloud and the rise of affordable virtualization. 

Take the next step in building your cloud business. Cloud is absolutely critical to growth and longevity in our industry. We've made it fundamental to many of our core SMB partner programs by merging the VAR Champions, Cloud Champions and Top VAR into one SMB Champions Club, offering even more robust and flexible benefits to members. This year, we also replaced the Big Easy and Cloud Easy Offers to create the more flexible SMB Advantage offer. Microsoft is committed to helping SMB partners take the next step toward ensuring your growth and success with cloud services. Our Cloud 1-2-3 framework helps SMB partners navigate the world of cloud resources across MPN so you can start, build and grow your cloud business regardless of whether you've just closed your 50th cloud deal or have yet to sell cloud services at all.

Develop your marketing muscle. Our most successful partners have one thing in common: They all invest in marketing. We continue to invest in bringing partners world-class readiness, enablement and marketing resources that make it easy for partners to connect with customers for maximum impact. The Ready-to-Go Marketing portal brings all available resources to one place. From the product- and solution-specific campaigns, to the local customer event programs driven by Microsoft Community Connections, or the outbound and inbound marketing services we've hand-selected for partners to help boost their business, make it your New Year's resolution to step up your marketing game in 2014.

To access all trainings, marketing resources, offers and incentives for SMB partners in one place, visit the new SMB Partner Center on the MPN Web site.

Posted on December 26, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2014: Service Providers Should Go Hybrid

Marco Limena, vice president of Hosting Service Providers at Microsoft, recently shared his insights on what partners should do to better position themselves in the new year as part of RCP's annual "Marching Orders" feature.

Earlier this year at our Hosting Summit, I shared research that revealed a shift in customer demand when it comes to cloud infrastructures. According to the 451 Group, in the next two years, 68 percent of customers plan to adopt hybrid cloud models. That's an increase of nearly 20 percent from today. This shift is driven by an increased customer demand for cloud solutions that will help them grow their business or realign their organizations.

In looking at this data, there's no denying we're entering the era of hybrid cloud. Now is the time for service providers to begin building and deploying hybrid clouds that meet customer demands and allow them to move between on-premises solutions, the public cloud and service provider clouds. 

Microsoft is focused on providing the resources and support to enable hosters to take advantage of this new era. We've built out a portfolio of products to support this effort, including infrastructure solutions such as Windows Server, Systems Center, SQL Server and Windows Azure, as well as applications such as Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Office and Office 365.

All of the pieces are in place. I'm looking forward to seeing how our community of hosting partners will capitalize on this opportunity.

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2014: The Time for Cloud Is Now

As part of RCP's 2014 "Marching Orders" feature, we asked channel experts to share their insights on what partners can expect in the new year, and what they should do to get ready for 2014. Here are some tips for Microsoft partners from Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group.

Over the past two years, Microsoft partners have seen the cloud gain significant traction in terms of customer demand. The time is now for partners to join the thousands who have already built a cloud practice to start reaping the benefits.

With recently released data now quantifying profitability opportunities for partners in the cloud, there's no reason to wait. According to IDC, partners who generate more than 50 percent of their revenue from the cloud grow at double the rate, accrue new customers two times faster and generate double the revenue per employee compared to non-cloud-oriented partners. 

However, partners don't necessarily need to abandon their traditionally successful on-premises solutions. The key to cloud sales in 2014 lies in hybrid solutions, which will offer partners the best competitive advantage.

We're ready to support partners in their transition to the cloud. At the 2013 Worldwide Partner Conference, we announced some updates we'll be making to the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) to better align to how you're selling. This will help you better take advantage of the cloud profitability opportunity. Familiarize yourself with these upcoming changes by reviewing our Disclosure Guide to fully take advantage of opportunities in the coming year. Together, we'll make 2014 the year of cloud opportunity and profitability.

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Four Pillars for Building a Company

This RCP Guest Blog was written by Peter Bauer, CEO and co-founder of Mimecast.

The characteristics of an effective leader have been covered extensively -- the bottom line usually being that the elements of leadership are notoriously difficult to define or measure.

However, many leaders often share a similar conviction that keeps each of them moving forward. Leadership with conviction empowers leaders to fully invest in an idea, convince others to follow them and entice others to want the product or service.

As expected, a leader's conviction is tested often by team members, customers and partners. While successful leaders hold on to their conviction and carry others with them on their journey, during the good and the bad, even better leaders manifest their conviction in core values that guide their businesses.

While every leader and founder has his or her own unique journey and perspective to add to the conversation, below are a few pillars of leadership that have worked for me:

1. Hire Friends
People are at the heart of every business, and investing in those who believe in what they work on is key to success. By hiring friends -- and their friends and their friends (in more formal words, hiring by referral) -- leaders bring on those who share similar conviction. When a business brings on those who share the faith, these same team members will fly the flag and persevere when the going gets tough. When this culture is built from the beginning, not only will team members treat each other like friends, but also extend this same level of care to the business' customers and partners.

2. Beware of Agendas
Any entrepreneur will tell you that it is very hard to innovate when you are living in constant fear of missing payroll and running out of cash. While there are several avenues to acquire this capital and the temptation is strong, consider the long-term commitments attached to some financial partnerships and try to stay true to the needs of your team as well as your vision. If you are convinced your business is capable of truly solving a problem, keep to your own agenda and only partner with those who see growth in the same way.

3. Build Partnerships
These days, it's fashionable to have reseller partnering options as a cloud company. But just a few years back, the SaaS startups were projecting that this was the end of the channel. Others, seeing that there was a broad future for how computing and applications would be delivered, took a risk. Leaders, such as those who believed in partnerships and developed a channel ecosystem for their SaaS businesses, understand the challenges of going against the grain and invest in building new models. 

4. Create Your Own Architecture
Every industry has an existing market with a giant potential to be rewritten and rebuilt in a particular way. For example, we believed the computing model was shifting from a LAN-based, client-server, single-tenant architecture to a cloud-based, grid-oriented, multi-tenant arrangement. Being able to build a platform to fit this new model was always going to be expensive and very hard. However, the investment and the time dedicated to seeing this vision through and remaining committed to developing services for our customers and partners resulted in us being a step ahead of competition who are now living in denial, and operating as application hosters or are racing to re-architect to ensure they have a future in the cloud.

To other leaders and entrepreneurs within our community, remain dedicated to your conviction and pass your vision on to others around you. There are points along the journey when any individual can have their conviction tested, but even in those times, your conviction in the target market will propel your business forward. Conviction is what is needed on the long road to turn an exciting vision into reality.

Posted on August 06, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Focus on Business Consultations

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some insights from Tom Chew, national general manager of Slalom Consulting.

Slalom is embracing opportunities in the cloud to drive deeper engagements and long-lasting partnerships with our clients. We've seen great success by first seeking to understand a company's unique business needs, and then developing a tailored solution that delivers ongoing value after implementation.

That's important because the explosion in adoption of cloud technologies from Microsoft -- such as Windows Azure and Office 365 -- means partners have even more tools to create a strong breadth of offerings for their clients. Many of the Microsoft tools work with cloud solutions from companies such as Amazon.com Inc. as well, expanding the opportunities. But gaining long-term business value is often a real challenge.

If you're not already, consider your client interactions as business consultations -- not just technology implementations. Slalom focuses on offering unique solutions and truly becoming a client's business partner. We also believe that strong relationships with cloud providers, anticipating change, and adapting business models to provide customized offerings are crucial.

The reality is that clients can choose from many partners to help them move to the cloud. By effectively communicating both the immediate benefits and long-term business value to your clients and guiding them through the transition process, partners can achieve great success through their cloud offerings.

Posted on February 06, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Strike 'Cloud' from Your Vocabulary

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Howard M. Cohen, channel consultant and RCP columnist.

Integrator. That's what most of us have called ourselves for the last three decades. What do integrators do? They take hardware from various manufacturers and software from various publishers and combine them to create superior customer solutions. A proud heritage.

Over the past few years, some enterprising technologists realized they could create some of the services we used to install at customer sites and produce them more effectively in their own datacenter. Not only that, but by selling these services to a large number of customers they could achieve an economy of scale that would deliver better service at a lower price, and they would still make money doing so.

So now integrators combine hardware, software and these services delivered from remote datacenters into superior customer solutions, and save our customers money in the process.

We call these services cloud services.

If there's one thing I'd like to see channel partners do this year it would be to strike the word "cloud" from their vocabulary -- or at least stop buying into the idea that there's something mystical or magical going on here. Leverage the cloud hype if you must, but don't buy into it. They're just remotely delivered services that can be delivered more cost-effectively that way. That's all.

That is, of course, unless they fall under the new Microsoft redefinition of "private cloud" services, which we'll probably spend the next two years being confused about. Simply stated, Microsoft has chosen to use the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) definition of cloud computing to differentiate "cloud" servers from plain-old servers by adding things like pooled resources, self-service portals, elasticity and a "layer of abstraction" between the user and the underlying technology. I thought we always wanted those things.

This year, let's return to talking like adults about our customers' networks and just leave the word "cloud" out of it. Then watch their FUD go thud.

Posted on February 06, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Market to SMBs

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Cindy Bates, U.S. Small and Medium Sized Businesses & Distribution, Microsoft.

The New Year brings a new era of opportunity for partners working with SMBs. New levels of innovation in the cloud, new form factors and ways of interfacing with PCs, and the accessibility of virtualization solutions are transforming the way SMBs run their businesses, let alone their IT infrastructures. Among the biggest areas of opportunity:

  • True momentum in cloud. Cloud remains chief among the opportunities for partners to transform their business for the future. According to IDC, 60 percent of SMBs say the cloud plays a critical role in giving them an advantage over competitors by providing access to enterprise-grade technology. SMBs demand flexibility, security and scalability, and the cloud is the affordable answer. By the end of this fiscal year, we project nearly 2 million seats of Office 365 will be sold in SMBs -- a true testament to the investment SMB partners are making in cloud. To build upon this success, we will continue to provide a variety of offerings to meet your business needs, and the needs of our mutual customers.

  • Innovation and growth projections in hardware. Growth projections for PC and tablet sales next year are higher for the United States -- at 23 percent -- than for anywhere else in the world. If history repeats itself, they could actually be much higher than that. When Microsoft released Windows 7 three years ago, IDC at that time had forecast a PC growth rate of only 3 percent that fiscal year, and the market actually grew at 16 percent. At the same time, we're seeing tremendous innovation from our OEM partners, who are delivering new form factors and making natural UI a productive reality in the PC environment. We've entered a new era where business people can have a cohesive experience across all of their devices, and actually be productive whether working on a PC, tablet or smartphone. All of this adds up to a host of new scenarios being unlocked for SMB customers. For example, the combination of mobility, touch and the new level of productivity now delivered on tablet devices makes tasks such as point-of-sale presentations easier and, frankly, cooler than ever before. Partners should explore these new scenarios with their SMB customers to help them realize the full potential of what they can accomplish in this new era.

  • Accessibility, affordability and demand for virtualization among SMBs. More than 70 percent of midmarket companies are currently virtualizing some servers, and roughly one-third of small businesses cite virtualization as their largest area of IT investment, with disaster preparedness specifically in mind. As the Northeastern United States continues to rebuild following Hurricane Sandy, disaster preparedness is top-of-mind as an imperative for SMBs, which arguably have more to lose than large enterprises when disaster threatens their ability to operate. The availability of Windows Server 2012 in SMB SKUs that include Hyper-V Replica make now a perfect time for partners to engage SMB customers around enterprise-caliber disaster recovery solutions and affordable IT scalability.

Visit the Ready-to-Go Marketing portal to learn more about marketing to SMB customers.

Check out the full Marching Orders 2013 feature here.

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Be Ready for a Big Year

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Harry Brelsford, President, SMB Nation.

Who ordered this tepid recovery, anyway? Several years ago, when the economy was "resetting," I made forward-looking statements that the downturn was going to align closer to a normal recession, not the "Great Recession" others predicted. Bottom line is that they were closer to right than I was.

While the slowly improving economic data inspires optimism in me and others, a common current refrain is that we've never worked so hard for so little. True -- the past few years have made us all more focused and efficient. But you're not alone if you're getting tired of this recession too!

Our predictions at SMB Nation are:

  • Positive hardware growth. While major research entities and some hardware manufacturers are predicting flat PC/laptop/server sales at best (some forecasts even predict a slight decline), we believe there will be net-net positive growth for hardware for several reasons:

    • The U.S. elections are completed, leading to certainty in the business community.
    • Expectations that fundamental growth is sound in the economy.
    • The Windows 8 launch should yield growth benefits in the second half of 2013 (even though we're not seeing an order backlog today).

  • Deferred refresh cycle. Many SMBs have extended the useful life of their IT assets and must now refresh. They have the fiscal confidence to refresh. This will exceed expectations.

  • Innovation excitement. There's a natural excitement with new technologies and with the mainstream acceptance of cloud computing (finally) in 2013 that will create both budgeted and impulse buys in the SMB community.

Check out the full Marching Orders 2013 feature here.

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Beware the Status Quo

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Tiffani Bova, Vice President, Gartner Research Inc.

Business partners of the future must continually reinvent their businesses. Otherwise, they'll find themselves left behind as the "supplier" of technology versus the trusted partner that guides clients to where they need to be. Helping businesses focus on growth and enabling new and different customer experiences is where businesses are spending their IT dollars.

This is being driven by what Gartner calls the "Nexus of Forces" (see gartner.com/webinars), the explosion in information, social, cloud and mobility, as well as the intersection of these rapidly evolving capabilities. These are disruptive technologies that fundamentally change business processes, business strategies and business models, and they're coming at us faster than ever. This is creating unprecedented uncertainty and opportunity for the IT channel as a whole.

There is a catch, however. To tap into the true power of this next generation of solutions, partners need to focus on business processes, IT services, software development and creating unique offerings, which are focused on business outcomes and not just "reselling someone else's technology." Selling outside of IT (sales, marketing, supply chain and finance) will become a requirement. Building a sales organization that can speak to business unit owners should be a priority (if it isn't already). Expanding your (vendor) partnerships beyond the usual suspects must align more appropriately to your long-term goals; otherwise, you'll find yourself selling what people are no longer buying.

No one channel company can go at it alone anymore. Indeed, organizations unable to collaborate -- those that cannot effectively manage the kinds of partnerships that encourage innovation, and direct that innovation toward new strategic capabilities and business growth -- will find themselves at a severe disadvantage.

For some years, many CIOs, IT managers and business owners have seen their channel partners -- integrators, vendors, outsourcers -- as a way to perform standard processes at less cost while their internal IT organization strategically guides the businesses use of technology. Now, however, these very same partners (read: you) have an opportunity to become a source of innovation -- and often the only way complex solutions can be delivered and managed in a fast-moving "hybrid" world.

So, the question is, in 2013 will you be one of those partners that's mapping out your own course, enabling innovative IT solutions that help your clients harness the power of information, social, mobile and cloud technologies? Or will you be the partner that's waiting for your vendor partners to tell you what you should be selling and how much money you can make doing it?

Check out our full "Marching Orders 2013" feature here.

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Get Up to Speed

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Jenni Flinders, U.S. Partner Strategy and Programs, Microsoft.

In this new exciting era with the product launch wave -- the biggest in our company's history -- it's imperative that our partners educate themselves and their customers on the benefits of these product offerings.

I want our partners to be able to approach sales opportunities with a high degree of comfort, fluency and credibility to take full advantage of revenue potential. As such, Microsoft needs to provide its partners with a roadmap, allowing each of these organizations to forge ahead and blaze a trail of individualized success.

A few areas each partner needs to look at, and ensure are part of their business model, include:

  • Cloud computing: For our partners to evolve and grow, success hinges on our ability to lead the channel through a new way of doing business with the advent of cloud computing. Partners can truly understand the power of the cloud through resources available to them, such as the Microsoft white paper, "Cloud Computing: What IT Professionals Need to Know" (.DOC)

  • Certifications: New sales and services models are emerging, which also means we have to retrain our existing staff and hire new talent. This is critical to ensure our partners have the capacity, capability, and commitment to deploy and deliver the right solutions for customers and help them move to the cloud on their terms. This is a great opportunity for our partners to refresh their existing talent through training and certifications.

  • Diversity: Diversity isn't only about race or gender anymore -- it's about acknowledging the differences that make people unique. This allows companies to have fresh perspectives to innovate and solve problems. Today, successful businesses require an accepting environment where the best and brightest minds -- employees with varied perspectives, skills and experiences -- work together to deliver solutions that work across multiple devices.

I will continue to encourage our partners to engage closely with us as we embrace the opportunity with the new products in the market; think deeply about sales and technical capabilities by building a strong employee pipeline; and actively recruit and hire top talent from diverse backgrounds.

Together we will create the positive change needed for the channel to continue to evolve and grow.

Posted on January 16, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Manage a Year of Abundance

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Mike Harvath, CEO, Revenue Rocket Consulting Group & RCP columnist.

It looks like this could be a year of opportunity for Microsoft partners. What with a new, huge revision cycle that includes Windows 8, Office 2013, Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013, the new Surface tablet and Lync, there's a lot to crow about.

I can't remember a year in which Microsoft has unleashed such a barrage of new and updated technologies. Some might argue that this onslaught is a wee bit too much to thrust upon the market all at once. Time will tell, but for the moment I think this spells opportunity -- as change often does in IT -- for those partners that have positioned themselves to take advantage of this bounty.

Revision cycles are when corporate clients take the time to reevaluate their technology configurations. Given the volume and variety of what Microsoft is introducing, corporate clients are going to need -- more than ever -- their IT services partners to help them figure out what's right for their businesses. For corporate executives it's the logical time to consider on-premises or off-premises cloud options, for example; to further their move into mobility; or to consider the new applications made more viable with these new technologies.

For the partner community, particularly for those IT services companies that specialize in vertical and technology niches, as I've long preached, you're going to be in high demand. But only if you're able to demonstrate that you and you alone have the requisite expertise to sift through this abundance, identify the best options, and then help your clients translate and implement the right solutions.

On the flip side, this era of abundance may also be the death knell era for the generalist IT services companies that think that they can do it all. We may well see a year in which the stronger, well-positioned IT services companies prosper and the less-well-endowed falter and die. It could be a shakeout year.

Read our full Marching Orders 2013 feature here.

Posted on January 15, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


Marching Orders 2013: Make It Simple

As part of Redmond Channel Partner's annual "Marching Orders" feature, we asked several channel luminaries to give their best advice to help Microsoft partners succeed in the coming year. Here are some tips from Keith Lubner, Managing Partner, Channel Consulting Corp.

In 2012, I saw too many solution providers trying to do too much, which led to stagnation and frustration, and often left them with the feeling that they were pushing a wet noodle uphill (it doesn't go far). Their businesses didn't move as quickly forward as did the frenetic pace of technology. In 2013, I'm afraid technology will keep moving quickly, but I recommend that solution providers slow down and simplify. This sounds contrarian, but hear me out, as this basic notion will actually allow you to leapfrog competition that might still be trying to push that wet noodle uphill.

Let's get simple with a simple story. Earlier last year, my son came up with a neat idea for collecting "unclaimed" golf clubs, cleaning them up and then donating them to organizations such as The First Tee. As soon as he came up with the idea, he immediately (as often kids and adults will do) started projecting all of the potential roadblocks, tasks and other items necessary to get the initiative off the ground. He then suffered "paralysis by analysis," and guess what happened? Nothing. Great idea, but nothing happened because he complicated the entire thing.

When it comes to solution providers in 2013, don't complicate the matter. Simplify everything, which often requires you to retrench and focus on core areas. Most of you added (or are in the process of adding) mobility and cloud to your portfolios. You're brilliant at technology but get caught up in the same thing that my son did -- projecting the "what ifs." Don't "project" anything, but rather simplify your thinking around specific tactics in your sales, operations and marketing. Here are three things you should do to keep things simple in 2013:

  • Industry data is all fine and dandy, but data doesn't move your business -- it's what you do with the data and the tactical plans around it. Focus more on tactics in 2013.

  • For sales, just make your sales processes simple. Don't overcomplicate things. The best companies have simple sales processes so that their sales people can simply execute! Cloud and mobility in particular require this.

  • In terms of marketing, people keep trying all these tricks in an effort to find the "magic sauce" that will bring the dump truck full of leads to their door. Simply commit to being consistent with your marketing in 2013. Those providers that have excelled for the past 20 years have been the ones who've been simply consistent and persistent. That's my simple advice. Oh, by the way, my son simplified and started on some basic tasks and, yes, got his initiative off the ground!

Posted on January 08, 2013 at 8:50 AM0 comments


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