Microsoft is a massive, complex organization. Finding your way through it isn't easy, but savvy partners know it's essential to their success.
- By Rich Freeman
- April 01, 2006
Ask Liz Eversoll to name a time when knowing her way around Microsoft
paid off, and she'll tell you it happens every day.
Eversoll is vice president of the Microsoft practice at Madison,
Wis.-based Berbee Information Networks Corp., a Microsoft Gold Certified
Partner with six competencies and offices in 11 cities. Press her
for a specific instance when understanding who's who in Redmond
profited Berbee, and she'll tell you about the time a major customer
considering a wholesale move of its infrastructure onto Microsoft
technologies began voicing doubts. With the deal in jeopardy, Eversoll
called someone she knew in Microsoft's consulting organization for
help with the pitch. "We were able to take a stronger story
to the customer and get them to buy into the entire platform upgrade,"
Stories like Eversoll's are anything but rare. In fact, many partners
call a deep pool of personal Microsoft relationships an essential
asset. Filling your Rolodex with Microsoft contacts, they say, usually
translates into more referrals, better assistance with sales opportunities,
and earlier access to new product releases.
Alas, making acquaintances at a company as large and complex as
Microsoft's isn't easy. The software giant employs more than 63,000
people worldwide and its headcount has been growing by an average
of 11.4 percent annually for the last five years. "I have about
15 direct reports that have to overlay with hundreds of Microsoft
folks," says Eversoll.
are all these different field reps out there. Don't
blast them all initially. Call into ones you're going
to bring value to."
-- Liz Eversoll, Vice President, Berbee Information
The upshot is that while knowing the right people at Microsoft
is critical, trying to know everyone is a hopeless task. To navigate
the Microsoft labyrinth successfully, you must approach it strategically,
pursuing the right connections in the right places. According to
Ted Dinsmore, co-author (with Edward O'Connor) of Partnering
with Microsoft: How to Make Money in Trusted Partnership with the
Global Software Powerhouse (CMP Books, 2005), that's a subtle
game involving high stakes. "You can set yourself up to be
successful," he says, "or just waste a lot of time."
Recognizing the Great Divide
Step one to plotting your course through Microsoft is understanding
how the company is structured. The software maker's byzantine org
chart intimidates many of its own employees, but all that most partners
really need to grasp up front is that everyone at Microsoft ultimately
falls into one of two categories: people who work at the company's
Redmond HQ (aka "corporate") and people who don't (aka
Following a major reshuffle announced in September 2005, the bulk
of Microsoft's corporate operations are now split into three divisions,
each run by its own president. The Microsoft Platform Products &
Services Division, co-led by Kevin Johnson and Jim Allchin (until
Allchin's pending retirement, scheduled to follow the release of
Windows Vista around the end of this year) is responsible for Windows
client and server applications, developer tools and MSN. The Microsoft Business Division, under Jeff Raikes, oversees
Microsoft's information worker offerings (including Office and SharePoint) as well as the
Dynamics product line. The Microsoft Entertainment & Devices Division,
headed by Robbie Bach, manages a hodgepodge of largely consumer-oriented
technologies, ranging from Windows Mobile to the Xbox.
Organized into 102 national subsidiaries, Microsoft's field organization
reports to Kevin Turner, the company's chief operating officer.
Personnel in the subsidiaries drive sales, design and execute local
marketing campaigns and deliver services. The U.S. subsidiary, by
far the biggest, is further sub-divided: employees focused on enterprise
customers are deployed across three geographic regions containing
12 districts. Four industry sales units -- covering financial services;
health and life sciences; retail; and manufacturing -- support the
district teams on vertical opportunities. Meanwhile, a separate
team serving small and mid-market customers is also grouped into
three regions, enclosing 14 "areas."
In theory, corporate and the field play neatly complementary roles.
Corporate creates products, and the field sells them. Corporate
writes code and the field helps support it. Corporate crafts global
marketing strategies, and the field rolls them out to customers
and partners. For example, consider the relationship between the
Worldwide Partner Group, under Allison Watson, and the U.S. Partner
Group, under Margo Day. Watson's team, part of the Microsoft Business
Division at corporate, sets policy for the Microsoft Partner Program,
while Day's organization applies that policy for the U.S. subsidiary.
In practice, however, the interplay between corporate and the field
is more complex, for the subsidiaries enjoy surprising latitude
in enacting Redmond's directives. So while corporate produces Microsoft's
official list of go-to-market (GTM) campaigns every year, it's the
field that decides which ones actually get executed. Similarly,
though the Worldwide Partner Group issues guidelines for identifying
Microsoft's best partners, the subsidiaries ultimately pick their
Further complicating matters is a less tangible but equally important
cultural divide often separating corporate and the field. Corporate
accuses the field of missing the big picture. The field accuses
corporate of failing to appreciate the pressures of working on the
front lines with customers and partners. Corporate resents the field
for selectively implementing its plans. The field resents corporate
for distracting it with barrages of unimportant information and
pointless reporting exercises. And if partners aren't careful, they
can get caught in the crossfire. For example, warns Dinsmore: "If
you go to corporate and learn about some cool new initiative, keep
your mouth shut when you go back to the field. They don't want to
hear about it."
Taking the Field
Dinsmore speaks from experience. In addition to being an
author, he is also a managing director at Conchango plc, a U.K.
Internet professional services firm and Microsoft Gold Certified
Partner with offices in New York and Boston. Sales happen in the
field, Dinsmore argues, so relationships in the field are the first
and most important ones to cultivate. "You've heard the phrase
'All politics is local'? All sales are local, too," he says.
"In Microsoft, it's all about relationships on the ground."
For most partners, the field contact they interact with most regularly
is their partner account manager (PAM). Full-time partner advocates,
PAMs have traditionally spent their time tracking down information
and resources, facilitating connections with other Microsoft employees
and collaborating on business planning. In its current fiscal year,
Microsoft has been pushing PAMs to focus more on assisting partners
with pipeline and opportunity management. Key performance metrics
for a PAM today, in addition to partner satisfaction, include revenue
growth, share growth, competitive migrations and partner engagement
with Microsoft accounts. A typical PAM covers eight to ten partners,
though "telePAMs," who provide phone-based support, work
with 40 to 60 partners each. (See related article in the March issue,
Partners to Feel the Love.")
way to get attention is be successful in the marketplace."
-- Don Nelson, General Manager, Microsoft Partner
Sales and Readiness
Which partners qualify to have a PAM? "If there was a rule
of thumb," says Don Nelson, Microsoft's general manager for
partner sales and readiness, "it would be that Gold Certified
partners have PAMs and Certified partners have a telePAM."
In reality though, the subsidiaries decide who gets a PAM, and exceptions
occur. "Our goal would be for every Certified or Gold Certified
partner to get one or the other," says Nelson, but it doesn't
always work that way. Ultimately, asserts Dinsmore, the critical
ingredient is revenue. If you're making good money for Microsoft
and are at least a Certified partner, odds are strong you'll be
assigned a PAM or telePAM.
In the small business and midmarket space, where Microsoft's sales
efforts are 100 percent partner-led, a PAM is often a partner's
most important contact. Few partners that focus on enterprise customers,
however, consider them key to getting in on opportunities. "Honestly,
[PAMs] tend to be good traffic cops," says David R. Romig II,
president of The Computer Solution Company Inc., a Midlothian, Va.-based
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that provides consulting and application
development services to enterprise businesses. "If you have
a question, they can answer those. When it comes down to it, though,
they truly don't affect whether an account rep uses you or not.
The account rep makes that decision."
More Tips for Finding Your Way Around Microsoft
Here are a few relationship-building
secrets from veteran Microsoft partners:
- Find the influencers.
Some field relationships are more valuable than
others, says David Romig of The Computer Solution
Company. "In each regional office, there
tend to be movers and shakers," he notes.
"If you can influence them, they in turn
can influence the remainder of that geography."
Those key players aren't necessarily at the
top of the org chart, Romig adds, so watch all
your field contacts to see which ones have the
most pull among their peers.
- Specialize in specialists.
In every U.S. enterprise district, a "specialist
team unit" containing technology and solution
experts works alongside the account teams, providing
pre-sales technical support. Get to know them,
advises Liz Eversoll of Berbee Information Networks.
"They have broader account coverage than
the account manager, so they have insight into
all of the opportunities that are in your particular
area of technical expertise," she says.
- Get in on events. Jeff
Rutherford, of ProClarity, advises partners
to sponsor Microsoft events such as Tech·Ed
and the Worldwide Partner Conference. "Not
only is that a good marketing opportunity for
you, but it's also a venue where you can meet
and connect with more people," he says.
- Concentrate on compensation.
The more you know about how your Microsoft contacts
are compensated, says Romig, the more effectively
you can work with them. "If 75 percent
of somebody's compensation has to do with [Microsoft
Business Solutions], trying to get them to refer
you .NET custom application development opportunities
is going to be a tough row to hoe," he
observes. -- R.F.
Account reps, formally known as account managers, essentially serve
as the quarterback of an enterprise customer's account team. Every
account team includes a variety of players, such as an account technology
specialist (who provides pre-sales technical guidance), several
solution specialists (who contribute pre-sales assistance on specific
products and applications), and a technical account manager (who
oversees a customer's post-sales technical support requirements).
When a new opportunity arises, the account manager coordinates the
team's efforts, and makes the final call on which partners are invited
into the deal. PAMs, it's worth noting, work with account teams
but aren't part of them.
Romig encourages partners to court account managers aggressively.
Eversoll, of Berbee, agrees, adding that the reps to contact first
are the ones who call on your company's existing customers. "There
are all these different field reps out there," she observes.
"Don't blast them all initially. Call into ones you're going
to bring value to."
That last point is crucial, says Romig. Microsoft account managers
hear from partners they've never met all the time. "You have
to bring them information, bring them in on opportunities,"
he says. Do that a few times, and they'll usually reciprocate.
Same goes for people attached to Microsoft Consulting Services
(MCS). MCS has personnel in every subsidiary; in the United States, there
are MCS consultants in every district. According to Eversoll, they're
worth knowing. "Since they work [both] with the sales team
and post-sales, they have a similar, but different, pipeline of
opportunities," she says. Romig says MCS sometimes sub-contracts work
to his firm. "Often," he adds, "MCS refers work to
us as an alternative to their higher bill rates." The key to
winning such referrals, Romig asserts, is bringing opportunities
to MCS first: "The last thing they want is someone begging
for work who hasn't reciprocated."
For new partners without a rich pool of prospects to share, gaining
entrée with the field can be trickier. SourceCode Technology Holdings
Inc., a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and business process management
software vendor, faced that challenge several years ago. According
to Jeff Shuey, global alliance director for the Redmond, Wash.-based
firm, arranging meetings with U.S. district leaders proved to be
the solution. "We asked for half an hour to do a business presentation
on what we're doing, how we're doing it, and how we plan to be successful,"
recalls Shuey. What resulted were agreements to pursue joint opportunities.
Shuey counsels partners seeking to replicate SourceCode's tactic
to prepare thoroughly beforehand. "You need some basic tools
to go in and get Microsoft's attention," he contends. Prepare
concise PowerPoint decks that summarize your qualifications, outline
the market opportunity and concretely specify how you intend to
help Microsoft go after it. "Have at least a thumbnail sketch
of a business plan for how you expect to target accounts in that
territory," Shuey adds. Microsoft will want to know you can
back up your promises with results.
Demystifying the Managed Partner
"Managed partners" are widely
regarded to be the cream of the Microsoft channel. But
what exactly is a managed partner? "That's a holdover
term that we'd almost like to get rid of," says
Don Nelson, Microsoft's general manager for partner
sales and readiness. "It comes from a few years
ago. If you had a PAM, you were considered managed."
Back then, there was less consistency across geographies
in how Microsoft assigned PAMs. Today, states Nelson,
"if you're Gold or Certified in the program then
you will be getting managed resources, either a PAM
Which is not to say that all Certified and Gold Certified
partners are managed equally. For example, in addition
to working with PAMs, U.S. partners with multi-regional
or national customer bases get assistance from business
development managers (BDM) in Redmond who perform the
same functions as a PAM on a subsidiary-wide scale.
In addition, the top several hundred ISVs worldwide,
as measured by revenue, have BDMs with similar responsibilities
in Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism Group
and the very biggest partners (such as SAP, Accenture,
and HP) have BDMs in the Enterprise and Partner Group.
Interested in acquiring a BDM? No need to call us;
we'll call you, Nelson says. Companies big enough to
rate a BDM inevitably attract Microsoft's attention.
Making Friends in High Places
Field relationships are critical, but contacts in Redmond
can be equally beneficial, especially if your firm does business
nationally or internationally. Just ask Jeff Rutherford, worldwide
director of strategic alliances at ProClarity Corp., of Boise, Idaho,
a maker of business intelligence software. When Microsoft released
SQL Server 2005 last fall, strong ties with corporate enabled ProClarity
to play a role in numerous launch events. Though local offices had
significant leeway in shaping those events, lobbying from Redmond
on ProClarity's behalf made an impact. It's a pattern Rutherford
has seen before. "I wouldn't say it's impossible to get results
in the field without corporate, but it's a much higher degree of
difficulty to do it that way," he says.
For many partners, the most coveted relationships at corporate
are with people in Microsoft's products groups. The Computer Solution
Company, for example, uses its contacts on the Office and Visual
Studio teams to offer input on potential improvements and sneak
early peeks at pre-release code. "We get the capability to
fold in functionality on behalf of our clients without having to
wait and see if it's going to be there in the next version,"
says Romig. Having friends in Redmond also builds credibility with
local account teams, he adds. For her part, Eversoll uses her connections
among product marketers at corporate to get the inside scoop on
The easiest way to get in touch with product groups is through
a PAM. But don't expect instant results if you haven't yet built
up a reputation as a dependable source of revenue. "That's
what typically will get access and attention at corporate,"
says Shuey, of SourceCode. As always, companies that bring value
to Microsoft are generally the first to get rewards back from it.
Newer partners should concentrate on establishing a track record
in the field before asking a PAM for introductions to the product
groups, partners say.
There are ways to make contacts at corporate without a PAM's assistance.
The simplest is to attend Microsoft events such as Tech·Ed, the
Professional Developers Conference and the Worldwide Partner Conference.
Those gatherings are often effective venues for meeting people from
the products groups and elsewhere at Microsoft. Romig has struck
up conversations at events that later landed his company in invitation-only
early adopter programs.
Nelson, of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, discourages
partners from fixating on the relationship hunt. "I personally
believe that partners spend too much time on this," he says.
Participate actively in events, training classes, and other offerings,
argues Nelson, and relationships will evolve naturally over time.
Above all, he counsels, keep your eye on the bottom line: "The
way to get attention is be successful in the marketplace."
partners would disagree with that last assertion. "Microsoft
relationships are very important, but you have to earn them,"
says Eversoll. "You have to come to the table with value, and
once you do that the word spreads." It's worth the effort,
says Romig.In some respects, at least, working with Microsoft is
no different from working with any other company: "Regardless
of how structured the org chart or processes may seem to be,"
he says, "business still comes down to relationships."
For more information:
Rich Freeman is a Seattle, Wash.-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology.