5 Keys to Selling with Microsoft in the Enterprise
Microsoft's complex corporate reorganizations -- especially its recent enterprise sales force shakeup -- can be downright bewildering. These five tips can help you find your way through the maze of changes to keep your company on a steady, profitable course.
- By Joanne Cummings
- January 01, 2006
When Microsoft announced in mid-2005 that it was revamping its
field sales force and realigning its Partner Account Managers (PAMs)
around verticals and technologies, many partners were hopeful but
wary. The changes promised to more tightly couple partner and Microsoft
initiatives in enterprise accounts by making Microsoft's intentions
clearer to partners and providing partners with a more direct route
to the company. "It makes a lot of sense. Before, there were
so many different people to meet with," says Gary O'Neal, vice
president of global Microsoft business at Wipro Ltd., a global IT
solutions and services provider and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner
in Bellevue, Wash. "We had the retail PAM, we had the finance
PAM, we had the district PAM, we had the GSI PAM and so on. Now,
the way they've restructured it, we have just one person to deal
with for each specific technology solution. It all bubbles up to
the same person within the district."
The restructuring project, which Microsoft code-named "Tailwind,"
resulted in big changes in how the company deals with enterprise
partners (see the September 2005 feature "Microsoft Realigns
PAMs to Help Partners Go Vertical" and Channel Report article,
"Bracing for Tailwind"). The company reassigned more than
half of its PAMs to focus squarely on industry, technology and sourcing
solutions, says Jared Wheeler, general manager of Microsoft's enterprise
partner team. In addition, industry and technology PAMs saw changes
in their compensation.
partners give Microsoft's recent organizational changes
high marks and say working with Microsoft in the enterprise
space has become noticeably easier.
Previously, the PAMs' compensation was structured around a set
of objectives, but it was still primarily a subjective measurement,
Wheeler says. Now, half the variable compensation for technology
and industry-solution PAMs is linked to the areas on which they
focus. "In the industry case, it's aligned to a set of customers
and the revenues that we associate with that segment, [such as]
retail customers in the Midwest," Wheeler says. "For technology
PAMs, half their variable compensation is aligned to a certain set
of products we sell, depending on what their technology specialty
Overall, many partners give the changes high marks and say working
with Microsoft in the enterprise space has become noticeably easier.
Jeff Thorpe, manager of the global Microsoft alliance at Quest
Software Inc., an infrastructure solutions provider and Gold Certified
Partner in Irvine, Calif., calls Project Tailwind "a huge improvement."
As an infrastructure-focused partner, it was difficult for Quest
to engage vertical accounts before because "nobody really wants
to talk about their plumbing," Thorpe says. "Everybody
wants to talk about their line-of-business applications, databases
and things like that, rather than managing their Active Directory
or diagnosing an Exchange problem, which is what we do well."
And because vertical customers were separated out from the various
regions, engaging with them was even more challenging. "But
now, the verticals are in the district and there are a lot of PAM
resources associated with them on a more regional basis, or a district
basis," Thorpe says. "It's made it much easier for us
to engage with them."
The biggest knock against the changes, partners say, is that they
haven't happened fast enough. "My constant feedback to Microsoft
is that they have to get the right people in the right seats sooner,"
says Jeff Rutherford, director of worldwide strategic alliances
at ProClarity, a Gold Certified Partner in Boise, Idaho, that focuses
on solutions in the business intelligence space. "It was a
massive reorganization, but there are still open seats they haven't
filled. If there are some holes in the organization, then there
are chances we're missing some opportunities."
Microsoft also needs to get its plans in place faster, Rutherford
says. "They have to move faster in defining the budgets and
their plans in the different go-to-market areas. I think they're
there now, but we're a ways into their year already," he says,
referring to Microsoft's fiscal year, which began July 1. "And
we're up against a SQL launch [which happened last Nov. 7] that
is one of the biggest launches they've ever done, and certainly
a huge impact for us, so we just need things faster."
Because you're about to move into unfamiliar territory, here are
five ways to help navigate the revamped Microsoft structure to ensure
steady profitability as you pursue customers in the enterprise space.
1. Know the Go To Markets (GTMs) and Map to
Microsoft will focus on four key GTMs, or campaigns, in
the enterprise space during 2006:
- Infrastructure optimization
- Communications and collaboration
- Database and business intelligence (BI)
- Business applications
From a customer standpoint, infrastructure optimization is perhaps
the easiest to justify because it involves lowering costs.
"Infrastructure optimization is about providing a secure,
reliable, available infrastructure aimed at lowering the total cost
of ownership," Wheeler says. "It's aimed at enabling customers
to realize the value of the software that they already have from
us. In many cases, they may have purchased it and yet have not installed
all of it, or they aren't realizing the value that they can get
from the investments they have made." Partners offering compelling
solutions designed to help customers increase the value of those
investments will do best in this GTM.
In contrast, the other three initiatives aim to help customers
boost revenues, he says. For example, communication and collaboration
focuses on helping companies use technologies such as Exchange and
SharePoint Portal Server to improve communications internally and
with customers, with the ultimate goal of increasing business. Database
and BI technologies such as SQL Server can be used to help leverage
information to cement business relationships with customers, while
business applications, such as Microsoft CRM, help ensure that each
customer relationship is as profitable as possible. Partners who
can help customers meet those goals are likely to benefit most from
For selling in the enterprise space, Microsoft is most likely to
choose partners who not only know Microsoft's GTMs but also can
map their own products and services to them in compelling ways.
For that reason, many partners take time to study Microsoft's GTMs,
internalize them and rejigger their offerings to match. "We
learned that early on in our relationship with Microsoft,"
says Quest's Thorpe. "We didn't actually change our business
model; we simply took what we were doing already and mapped what
we do to the Microsoft Go To Markets. We just changed the language
a bit, put a slightly different spin on it, took it to Microsoft
and they were all over it. They loved it."
The key to tailoring your business to Microsoft's GTMs is focus,
says Wipro's O'Neal. "We have to say we're going to target
these verticals and these solutions in those verticals, and we're
going to target these accounts for those solutions," he says.
"It does take some time to work through that, but we come away
with a clean plan and it's very easy to see how it fits in with
2. Cultivate the PAMs (and Everyone Else)
The key to getting the most enterprise-space business from
Microsoft is in building a good relationship with both your PAM
and the product managers in your space.
"There are people in Redmond that you absolutely have to be
in front of all the time," says Quest's Thorpe. "They
run a lot of these Go To Markets and are seeing opportunities coming
across their desks all the time, and you want them to pull you into
those as they come."
At the same time, the people in the field -- such as the PAMs --
play a different but equally vital role. "The PAMs have their
fingers on the pulse of what's going on in the field, so you have
to stay in front of them as well," Thorpe says, noting that
he just received two opportunities, one from a corporate contact
and one from a field contact. "You have to cover your bases."
One caveat: Don't rely on forging a strong relationship with just
one contact -- say, your PAM -- because the way Microsoft works,
that person will probably move to another position someday and you'll
be temporarily out of luck.
"We rely on PAMs a great deal to leverage relationships, but
we can't let the PAM be our only point of contact," Thorpe
explains. "We need to ensure that we're enabling our sales
and technical people to talk to their peers at Microsoft. The same
goes for the product groups in Redmond, or for any of the marketing
people." That way, when things change, odds are some of those
people will remain in place, allowing you to continue the relationships
Others say such moves within Microsoft can actually strengthen
relationships. When Microsoft representatives you know well move
on to new areas, they may bring you along, says Wipro's O'Neal.
"I just saw a guy the other day who I've worked with in two
other business groups in Microsoft, and he's been a big champion
of Wipro," O'Neal says. "Now, he's bringing us into new
opportunities at his new job. It increases the good interaction
with different business groups, and potentially, it's exponential.
You meet people, you meet other people through them and they connect
you with other people. It's a really big network."
3. Be Proactive on Microsoft's Behalf
Wheeler says that the partners who do the most enterprise business
with Microsoft are those who not only fit in best with the company's
goals and initiatives, but who also are proactive in bringing opportunities
"In the end, it comes down to who we can make the best sets
of 'gives' and 'gets' with," he says. For example, if Microsoft
has two partners with solutions that appear equally promising, the
company will go to market with whichever partner is more willing
to put in time and work closely with Microsoft. That includes partners
capable of formulating marketing plans in a given sales location
-- especially plans that can be used with other opportunities.
line: The partners that Microsoft taps most frequently
in the enterprise space are those that make the most
money for Microsoft. Period.
It also includes partners who "openly share their pipeline
in terms of their opportunities, or who are willing to invest in
developing skills on our platform necessary to support their solutions,"
Wheeler says. "That makes the difference."
ProClarity's Rutherford has witnessed this decision-making criteria
first hand. ProClarity works in the BI space, and sells a front-end
tool for Microsoft's SQL Server. Many times, ProClarity will engage
a customer only to find that use of ProClarity's solutions prompts
the customer to increase its SQL Server licenses.
"The customer starts out using us on a small scale just within
IT, but then sees what we bring to the equation: the ease of use,"
Rutherford says. "Often, they decide to broaden their SQL license
and buy more from Microsoft so that they can use ProClarity as a
front end throughout the entire organization."
At that point, ProClarity brings Microsoft into the deal, apprising
the company of the opportunity and taking advantage of Microsoft's
sales and marketing muscle. "We'll tell Microsoft we have an
opportunity and that we're competing against so-and-so," Rutherford
says, noting that the ProClarity-Microsoft team has an edge because
the prospect already has some SQL Server and ProClarity installed.
"We'll engage in joint sales efforts and usually get the win."
ProClarity also makes an effort to stay up on the latest features
of SQL Server in order to ensure that its own solution is fully
in step with Microsoft. "We know the advanced features they're
bringing to SQL Server 2005 -- for example, the UDM," he says,
referring to the Unified Dimensional Model, which is a business
semantic model that defines business logic and terms, and ensures
data stays uniform across reports, spreadsheets, BI applications
and so on. "We work very hard on our product side to take advantage
of the UDM so that when we go to market and sell against some of
the big competitors in the space, we have, together with Microsoft,
the best solution. And Microsoft appreciates that."
4. Go Global
Microsoft also relies more heavily on partners with a more
global presence. The company favors partners that not only offer
compelling solutions to vertical markets in domestic regions --
say, Exchange/SharePoint Portal solutions for the financial sector
in Northern California -- but that can also provide similar solutions
to organizations worldwide.
"For our big relationships, we'll work with them to hone solutions
at the local level, but also on a global level, so that they'll
push those down inside their companies for their people in France,
Germany, Japan, Brazil and so on," Wheeler says. "We'll
say, 'Now that you have this information based on the work we have
done together, what are you willing to commit to in each of those
countries? And where are you willing to commit? Let's be proactive
together and put a plan in place.'"
Microsoft's growing global emphasis was initially difficult for
Quest, Thorpe says. "I was told categorically several times
that the bigger your presence in Asia, the more [Microsoft] will
work with you," Thorpe says. "Our managed partner came
and told us that in the past, and some of the business leads and
server leads told us that."
As a result, Quest has invested in bulking up its global presence.
"We have a very strong EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa]
practice right now, our Latin America practice is growing and we've
invested heavily in Asia," he says. "And I've noticed
that since we've made these investments, the scale of the engagement
with Microsoft has really increased proportionally. Microsoft is
working us into more of their global campaigns, where in the past,
we've been restricted to what they're doing in the United States,
or what they're doing in the U.K., France and Germany."
Wipro's O'Neal agrees. "Global partners definitely have a
leg up," he says. "You may be working in an account in
New England or Seattle, but in the end, that customer has subsidiaries
in other countries and they've got customers in other countries.
Microsoft has really seen that in order to scale, it's got to work
with global partners."
the Enterprise Maze
Microsoft offers a
variety of resources and programs aimed at helping
partners sell successfully in the enterprise space:
- Solution Accelerators:
For most campaigns, Microsoft offers solution
accelerators that provide information to partners
on how best to tackle certain opportunities.
"Some of it's code, a lot of it's process
and some of it's instruction on how to best
utilize our products to deploy and maintain
a robust, secure available infrastructure,"
says Microsoft's Jared Wheeler. Partners can
build their own solutions atop the accelerators,
thus differentiating themselves in the market.
For more information, visit Microsoft.com and
search for "solution accelerators."
- Partners Solution Plans
(PSPs): Quest Software's Jeff Thorpe sees
Microsoft's PSPs, which are business plans for
given solutions, as great partner tools.
PSPs lay out "things like here's what the
metrics are, here's what we're going to track
to, here's what makes this attempt at taking
this solution to market successful and here's
what makes it unsuccessful," Thorpe says.
"We end up with a business plan with clear
trackable objectives. Before, it was really
more on our shoulders."
For more information, contact your PAM or Microsoft
- Microsoft and Competitive
Resources: Microsoft has call centers where
partners can get free support for product, application
or competition issues, such as answers to complex
licensing questions or tips on how best to position
Exchange and SharePoint against Lotus Notes
in the enterprise space. "Throughout our
organization, I give that number to people and
make sure they know who to call," ProClarity's
Jeff Rutherford says.
For more information, visit the Microsoft partner
Web site and visit the link "Find Competitive
- MS101: Quest's Thorpe
recommends that partners attend Microsoft's
MS101, a one- or two-day Microsoft introductory
training course that teaches attendees the ins
and outs of working with the company. Says Thorpe:
"There are some really fundamental things
to understand about working with Microsoft,
and the more you can understand those things,
like mapping to the Go To Markets and understanding
how people at Microsoft get paid and what influences
their behavior, the more successful you're going
For more information, contact your PAM.
5. Influence Revenues
Bottom line: The partners that Microsoft taps most frequently
in the enterprise space are those that make the most money for Microsoft.
For example, "influenced revenue," or the amount of revenue
that comes to Microsoft purely as a result of a partner's solution,
is a key factor. "For us, it's SQL Server, SharePoint Server,
Win Server and all the clients for those servers," ProClarity's
Rutherford says. "And we help drive Office sales as well."
The more important thing is getting that information to Microsoft.
"With the business development managers and the PAMs, we evangelize
all the time about how much revenue we drive for Microsoft, whether
it's via a PowerPoint presentation or an e-mail, whatever,"
he says. "We keep that in front of them at all times so they
understand the value that we're bringing to them."
"It's simple," agrees Quest's Thorpe. "The things
that get my attention are the things that are going to help me in
what I do every day. Microsoft is no different. They want to make
money, they want to close business, and they're looking for anybody
who can help them with their objectives. It's pretty straightforward."
Joanne Cummings is principal writer and editor for Cummings Ltd., a freelance editorial firm based in North Andover, Mass.