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Q&A with Microsoft's New U.S. Channel Chief

Tyler Bryson was recently announced as the new Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft U.S. One Commercial Partner organization, replacing longtime partner champion David Willis who is leaving Microsoft after 28 years.

Bryson, himself an 18-year Microsoft veteran, sat down to talk with me recently about his vision for the channel and the industry as he takes up these important reins.

I launched into our conversation with what I always feel is the most obvious question to ask a channel chief.

Cohen: What do you look for in a channel partner? What makes a great channel partner?
Bryson: As I think across our various types of channels and partners, from the work we do with ISVs and systems integrators and resellers and managed service providers, each of them is at a different stage on their own journey of transforming to create a different quality and just a different outcome for our customers together.

I'm looking for partners who are evolving their business model with us to better service customers. That means, in many cases, that they're shifting and becoming more able to run a managed service business, and to really take this innovation and convert it to real customer business outcomes.

I'll give you just one example. We're investing a ton of money today trying to build a better digital marketing and nurturing system globally. We're building better tools that are automated. And when I meet a partner that says, "I'm not ready yet to invest in nurturing leads or uncovering and developing opportunities," I quickly realize they're not transforming yet with us. That's back to that equal handshake of, "Hey, we're investing, are you?" We both want new business, but we're going to have to meet in the middle to make that happen.

So what are the things that you look for when you want to tell the difference between somebody who's with you and somebody who's not? What do you look for in that channel partner?
One is investment in skilling and capability-building. This is all moving so fast. If we don't have partners that are building skills and people to meet this capacity, that's one that's top-of-mind for me. You can't win the customers of the future with the skills of the past, right?

Number two, I mentioned marketing and the ability to capture, work, nurture and develop leads. That has to be a muscle that we work on together. The flow, the communication, the privacy, the maturity to have good privacy and processes so that our customers trust us.

Three, back to that idea of a managed service. I know you could sign an agreement with them. But I'm really not looking for a signed agreement to run Azure. I'm looking for a customer that's growing and successful with Azure, so that we're all winning together.

Finally, I need feedback. I need a channel partner that is able to work with us in a way where we're iterating together on what's working and what's not. I love it when I see a partner that's got feedback not grounded in, "Just fix all these things." But, "Hey, let's go work together on this." This market opportunity we've still not met yet. So those are four things.

One of the challenges Microsoft has always faced as far back as I remember is that on the one side, you have people who just want to complain. They don't have any good foundation for it, but they just want to complain and they don't get it. They don't understand your message. At the other end of the spectrum you have sycophants, people who think that Microsoft expects them to blow as much smoke up your skirt as they possibly can.
There's a healthy level of tension we need together, right? And there's a fine line between what's healthy and what's just not productive.

We can be the source of needed change. We have many issues that we've got to work on, but as I get kind of rooted in, it's that constructive tension [where] I care enough about you that I'm going to speak the truth to you and you care enough about me that you're going to speak the truth. We're losing because of this. That's always a great place to start versus maybe things out of context.

What are we losing?
We're both losing a chance to service these customers. This is probably the greatest moment of our channel lives. The whole business model [is] being rewritten, and there are going to be massive winners and losers. It's going to be those that get the right service to the customer and are in it for their long-term success, what we call customer success. Ironically enough, we didn't even have teams with those titles five years ago. Now we have thousands of people working in those roles, because that's the consumption economy.

"Underpinning all of this innovation is a need for our partners, whether they're Dynamics partners or Azure partners or Microsoft 365 partners, getting and building a data practice. Everybody needs it. Everyone!"

Tyler Bryson, Corporate VP, Microsoft U.S. One Commercial Partner

You mentioned several times the ability to run an MSP business. Take that in the context of the tremendous push over the past 10 years to have partners declare their competencies and really specialize, really focus. Concomitant with that, you're going to have to find other specialists who can fill the skill gaps in the projects you attract that you no longer do. How do you see that?
You remember when customers would ask, "What do you do?" And you'd ask, "Well, what are you buying?" And however they answered, you'd say, "Yes, I do that."

That may have been true in a more transactional or a more of a license-driven world, but now more than ever, our business model is more aligned to our customer outcomes than ever. We don't get paid if it's not being used!

You need partners that are great at executing and delivering those outcomes. But the breadth of it is so massive that there has to be an ability for partners to work together. Having someone say that they are an Azure partner, to me, is kind of like saying, literally, I know how to navigate the world's oceans. There is just infinite depth, and it's only growing.

So what I'm looking for is more and more people who are saying, "I'm great at helping customers understand and unlock data." Of course, there's a whole world of infrastructure and security you may not be great with. That's OK. Somebody else is working on that. And the customer is just fine having more than one partner engaged.

So you would agree that the partner who understands the importance of driving Azure consumption is a preferable partner.
If my goal is to finish my project and get paid versus having delivered outcomes the customer appreciates? In the old world, we would integrate and deploy Microsoft Exchange and say, "OK, let us know how it goes." We're now in the world of business productivity and collaboration on a continuous cycle forever with that customer.

Remember, back in the day, it was shelfware. There was a constant push to get it off the shelf and deploy it. We don't care. If they haven't figured out how to use it, you'll show them ways to use it. It was similar, though there wasn't as much on the line, I think, as there is now.
Fortunately for our customers, they have choices. If the service isn't working for them or the partner that manages it isn't giving them good service, they'll just shift over, turn off the service and go to a new one. That's a healthy reality that keeps us all focused on keeping our customers happy. No, no more shelfware.

We've talked about expectations that you have for your partners and what a good partner looks like, and there's some good guidance there for partners to focus on if what they want is the best possible Microsoft relationship. Let's swing it around. What do you feel are the priorities right now, in terms of enablement of partners? What do you think they need most from you right now? What can you be doing that will better prepare more of them to focus on driving consumption through driving better business outcomes?
We have to have an ecosystem at Microsoft that helps our partners get great at data.

Underpinning all of this innovation is a need for our partners, whether they're Dynamics partners or Azure partners or Microsoft 365 partners, getting and building a data practice. Everybody needs it. Everyone!

I was meeting with a customer last week and the discussion was about them optimizing their store worker labor productivity or what they called revenue per labor hour. A Microsoft seller could show up there with a partner and say, "We're going to deploy Microsoft 365." Does that really improve labor dollars per hour? Maybe. But until we get back to, "What does the data say?" Where are all these islands of information that they're working from today? The average store worker is working with seven applications. One for labor or time tracking, one for processing forms. I need every practice of our partners -- we need to empower them -- to get great data and tell that story.

When you say build a data business, what are the kinds of experiences that partners can expect you, particularly, to be driving toward them to help them do that?
I don't know if I have the right answer yet, but I know we need to work on skilling at three levels.

One is we need to help our partners understand the skills of modern Big Data platforms. This isn't about scrolling together nine different relational databases into a Big Data warehouse, putting a flag on it and saying, "Query away." That is what we did 10 years ago. Today, it's about building a practice that allows us to collect, ingest and transform data into a repository with the flexibility to ask new questions.

Let's say you're a security partner, you're living in the world of data. We have 19 different security applications, all of them streaming data to us about what's going on. How do we make sense of this data? That modern Big Data capability, it's not that everybody has to be able to go out and build machine learning and artificial intelligence, but they need to come to the customer with the ability to help them get their arms around this data with modern tools.

Then look what's possible. The best thing about that is if we establish that baseline, that partner then has the ability to start expanding the view. I want to do more than just deploy Microsoft 365. I want to branch out into workplace analytics or building Power Apps. The data gives them the capability. So that's number one.

The other skill set I think we need to be better at empowering is security and compliance. This is not going away. This is only going to be a more important skill and capability to differentiate our ecosystem. I want our ecosystem to be the ecosystem of trust. I want to differentiate on the idea that when you work with a Microsoft partner trust comes with it. Because we're empowering you with the practices, the skills and, of course, the platforms, not just in Azure, not just in Microsoft 365, but left-to-right, to be a secure conduit of transformation. Nobody transforms their business until first they're secure.

We need to connect the dots.

So what I hear you saying is you're embracing a complete stack approach, really, going back into our roots in technology at every layer of the stack and...
It's an open stack. Thank goodness, right? What we didn't have at Microsoft years ago, it is truly a left-to-right open stack.

Let's help them see the path to transformation. The other thing that our customers tell me that they need from our partners is better roadmapping and phasing of their journey. We come in and show the glossy presentation, give them five great customer examples of how Walmart did it or whatever, though they're a midmarket retailer and then they're just like, "Ah, I've got three people in it."

You've got a great partner who's going to take you on kind of a journey of business? And are you familiar with our catalyst framework that we have now? It's a standard way that we do business exploration and technology architecture. Our partners all have versions of this in some way, but we're finding that our customers really, really appreciate it. [It shows them] what they need to do, and it needs to be phased out for them. It's an example of one of the ways we're empowering the channel with some new language tools.

You mentioned the data business. Several years ago, you had an initiative to teach more partners about data science. And now it has morphed and it's no longer front-of-mind for everybody. But it was a great initiative. It was the right thing that was needed and I think it serves today.
We should have gone faster, we should have gone faster, that's what I'm realizing. We have built for 25 years this amazing customer base that relies on us for data. Of course, there are many competitors but for most of our corporate customers and even our enterprise customers, our database technology is ubiquitous. And now we need to activate our partners to go modernize that. We have to because it's waiting for what's next -- data warehouses and report systems rather than intelligence systems.

If a partner heard that and asked you, "What's in that for me, why should I really go out there and campaign to promote Microsoft's vision of the more modern interface? And the more advanced database solution?" What would you tell them is in it for them? What's the value to them? And what's the value they can offer their customer?
The value to them is this is the stickiest work possible. The stickiest workload of all. No one is saying, "Come out, do this project, and leave," anymore. My data is constantly changing. We have new questions for our business. "Hey, what we thought we knew -- now we we've added these new data sources."

And what's in it for the customers is rather than rearview analytics, we're getting intelligence and prediction and forward-looking capabilities. That's the big breakthrough. It's the world of statistics and correlation being in the past and the world of machines learning and thinking in the future.

The power of this for me is that we've heard this for many years, but it's actually commoditized now where it's a workload that many thousands of customers could be using. That's why I just have this urgency right now to get to this to our ecosystem and invite them.

Posted by Howard M. Cohen on March 01, 2021


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