In-Depth

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.

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.

Many 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 is."

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 Them
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 these campaigns.

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 Microsoft's goals."

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 you've developed.

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 to Microsoft.

"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.

Bottom 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."

Navigating 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 representative.
  • 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 Sales Assistance."
  • 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 to be."

    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. Period.

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."

About the Author

Joanne Cummings is principal writer and editor for Cummings Ltd., a freelance editorial firm based in North Andover, Mass.