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Crashing the Channel Party

Whether online or in person, Microsoft's partner program is always jumpin'.

One of a journalist's favorite arguments for attending conferences is "to make contacts." If the editor approves that one, it means, "go ahead, schmooze away, party all you want."

Schmoozing is an important skill in the business world, and arguably the most important feature of any convention; even more important—nay, especially more important—than most keynote speeches.

Partner and channel programs are a form of organized schmoozing, although lamentably short on free chicken skewers, music and drinks. You still need to go to conferences and similar events to get such bennies. Schmoozing at a partner conference, such as Microsoft's Worldwide Partner conference in Minneapolis last July, gets you meetings not only with Microsoft people but with other partners.

Now you'd think that the host at such a party would be careful to make sure the limelight rarely strayed from the main stage, to wit, what Microsoft was saying. The striking thing about Microsoft's approach to the channel is that the company not only doesn't mind if partners use its events to talk to each other, it actually encourages it.

The RIO networking system for the conference lets you browse a conference Web site for other partners who have published their particulars. You can then arrange a time to sit down with them at the conference, even during a keynote.

More important, the schmoozing goes on 24x7 with Partner Channel Builder, a Web site where Microsoft Partners can profile their solutions and services and browse for other Microsoft Partners who might make a good fit. Maybe you have a Spanish language version of your software, but are wrestling with how to sell it in the Latin American market. You can use Partner Channel Builder to find VARs or integrators who do business in Latin America and pitch them on your product. The reverse is also true. You detect a demand and want to find someone who makes a product that fills that demand and can be convinced to let you resell it. Partner Channel Builder can help.

Microsoft's channel philosophy, in effect, lets you come to the party and ignore the host. You get to meet the people you most want to help build your business and create your own channel, a kind of personal channel within the official Microsoft channel.

This insight was driven home when, over an embarrassingly pink cocktail (free) at the Redmond Channel Partner launch party (free) in Minneapolis, I ran into Tom Kuder, a kindred contact-maker at the party. Tom works for Group 1 Software, which is part of Pitney Bowes. It makes software, aimed mainly at enterprise customers, that complements Pitney Bowes' mail management business, like cleansing address lists to eliminate duplicates, mining data to identify the most likely purchasers and so on. Group 1 Software joined the Microsoft Partner Program and quickly attained Gold Certified status with a particular goal in mind: to build a channel.

Heretofore, Group 1 has sold directly primarily only to its enterprise market. However, Group 1 saw an interesting opportunity to piggyback its mailing and data expertise on Microsoft's customer relationship management product, Microsoft CRM, but it realized that Microsoft CRM is aimed at smaller firms than Group 1 generally targets. The need: a partner channel made up of companies that target the Microsoft CRM crowd. The problem: how to find them.

The answer: join the Microsoft Partner Program. According to Kevin Conboy, director of business development at Group 1, the product that Group 1 is aiming at Microsoft CRM—Data Quality Adapter—is the first product that Group 1 has ever sold through a channel, and it joined the Microsoft Partner Program specifically to create that channel.

Will letting Group 1 build its own partner channel inside Microsoft's partner channel hurt Microsoft? Not a bit. This ISV is going to pitch Microsoft's CRM partners on a product that can help make the case for Microsoft CRM. Microsoft's partners, some of whom might be a bit antsy about how quickly the product is improving, get manna from heaven in the form of a mature add-on (built to handle data from 220 jurisdictions around the world) that can impress their customers.

So, go ahead, crash the party. Build a channel on Microsoft's time and tools. It's free, too.

About the Author

Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.

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