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Microsoft Takes New Tack in Pushing Partners to Cloud

An underlying theme of every message to partners at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) this year was, "If you haven't started the transition to the cloud, you are going to be left behind."

The directed message, delivered during the keynotes and sessions, suggests that there is a good chunk of the partner community that is still not on board. Microsoft clearly wants to change that, but instead of the Ballmer-esque get-off-your-butt-and-do-it approach, we saw a kinder, gentler strategy.

Cloud Partners Tell the Story
Microsoft took a positive approach to the cloud conversation by, in large part, letting partners tell the story themselves. The avalanche of partner testimonials may partly be a reflection of the maturity of the cloud market. Early adopters have been in the cloud services business long enough to actually have best-practice advice to share. In every keynote and session, partners were brought on stage to validate the message.

Also released at WPC was a follow up to last year's IDC cloud partner research. "Successful Cloud Partners 2.0: Planning For Your Cloud Business" is a much more comprehensive and action-oriented e-book than the 2013 version, "Successful Cloud Partners: Higher, Faster, Stronger." Commissioned by Microsoft, the IDC e-book presents a very compelling case based on partner experiences, adding practical advice that will help partners build on lessons learned.

The e-book provides insights from those partners who have successfully navigated the cloud and recommends specific actions for all aspects of the business, including marketing, sales, managed services and intellectual property. Based on a survey of 700 partners, as well as 20 in-depth interviews with successful cloud partners, this e-book is far more than the standard self-serving vendor propaganda. Every partner, whether they have moved to the cloud or not, will find practical advice and guidance to build or fine-tune their cloud practice.

New Programs To Support Cloud Transitions
If the data points and the advice from successful partners aren't enough, programs that will help "underwrite" transitional costs were announced in the WPC keynotes. Gavriella Schuster, making her first appearance as the general manager of Worldwide Partner Marketing and Programs for Microsoft, dedicated her entire keynote to convincing those partners not yet on board.

"We heard from you that making that first year's investment is difficult. It takes a lot of investment. You have to invest in skilling up your people. You have to rethink some of your sales compensation, change up your business model and create new service offerings," Schuster said.

She promised three new performance-based cloud competencies, adjustments to competency fees, increased internal use rights and free Signature Cloud Support, which provides unlimited cloud support to partners who achieve a Silver cloud competency level. All in an effort to get hesitant partners to take the first step.

John Case, corporate vice president of the Office division, also announced the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider Program, which will allow partners to directly provision and provide one monthly bill with partner and Microsoft services together. Office 365 and Intune will be the first services to be supported, with Azure and CRM Online rolling out later this year. This program takes a big step in simplifying the billing processes that have been confusing customers and vexing cloud partners the past couple of years.

The cloud message was loud and clear at WPC, but the approach was very different this year. If Microsoft is going to complete its own transition to the cloud, it needs the help of partners. The company has tried the strong-arm approach in the past, but the focus now is on appealing to the logic and wallets of partner business owners. It will be interesting to watch the results over the coming year.

How are you making the transition to the cloud? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on July 23, 2014 at 8:45 AM