Microsoft's New U.S. Channel Chief

A Q&A with Robert Deshaies

By the time of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston in July, Robert Deshaies had had a few months to digest the idea of taking over the U.S. Partner Group from five-year veteran Margo Day. The swap, in which Day assumed a regional vice presidency for a U.S. region, similar to the position Deshaies held, was engineered by both executives' boss, Michael Park, vice president of the U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners (SMS&P) Group. Redmond Channel Partner Editor in Chief Scott Bekker sat down with Deshaies in Boston to talk about his plans for United States-based partners.

Congratulations on your new position.
Thanks. The Worldwide Partner Conference is actually the formal transition for Margo and I. We've really stayed highly focused in each of our areas of the business for the last couple months, so I've done a couple of odds and ends and meetings here and there, but primarily I have continued to manage [my sales region, the eastern United States for SMS&P].

My immersion begins now.

What are some of your priorities?
First, Michael Park has set his vision for U.S. SMS&P. So, primarily for me, it is to make sure that we are executing against that vision and strategy that he, along with his leadership team, including myself, have worked on for the last several months. That includes the $30 million investment we've made [in the channel], but also making sure that our group lands very effectively and efficiently so that we ... get our reach to a broader set of partners and that we have the ability to help all types of partners extend their market reach and their profitability and deepen our relationship from where we were last year.

For the next 90 days [through mid-October], I'll really start my immersion into my new role. Then once I come out of my 90 days, I'll start to look at the priorities for the business for the next 12 to 36 months.

Partners have been working with Margo Day for five years. What do they need to know about you? How is your style different?
I've been a partner; I owned an organization myself for six years. I've worked for Microsoft partners. Or I've worked for Microsoft. My entire career has revolved around partners.

Margo and I have a similar passion around partners. It's a phenomenal approach in the way that we delight, satisfy and build loyalty with customers .... Hopefully, I'll continue to share the same level of passion. I'll selfishly say that I'll bring a little more passion to that just because I feel that way [laughs].

The other thing is, I've spent the last several years working in a different capacity with the partners [as a regional vice president for sales, and in the field rather than at Microsoft headquarters]. Those experiences are different. From that, hopefully what will happen is, which is part of the design plan, to bring those experiences back to how we can continue to evolve our strategy and continue to do the work at the strategy level.

Robert Deshaies

The same goes for what we did with Margo. She is taking her experiences in the HQ function for the last five years, bringing those out to the field.

Together, along with Lane Sorgen and Dave Willis, who are the other two [U.S. SMS&P regional vice presidents], we really can bring and develop the next perspective on how we can evolve the way we work with partners, not next year, but over the next three to five years. [We can create] a model that can set the stage for the long-term health and growth of our partners.

One of the areas that you oversaw before was Software Asset Management. Are you still going to serve as executive sponsor of that?
Yes. It's a great fit. It allows me to continue to work with the regional field teams, along with our sales operations group. It's a great way to collaborate across functions within our group, and it's also cross-segment, so it's not only SMS&P but also the Enterprise Group.

Any changes coming to the organization?
Fundamentally, we're making an incremental investment. From a U.S. Partner Group perspective, the organization is staying as-is. That will continue to move forward as it did in FY [fiscal year] '06. We're making investments in headcount as well as marketing investments and so forth within our team to go to market in FY '07.

We'll have a deeper set of partners that we'll work with as a result, so more [employees will be] working with more partners-and we'll have more dollars for the partners to go to market with.

In the field, we're adding additional telepartner account management, as well as telesales resources so that we can work with a broader set of partners.

That's really helping us work with a deeper set of our value added resellers, [allowing us to better reach customers who are candidates to buy their software through Open licensing].

But it will also allow us to get a much closer reach to customers throughout that lower and core mid-market space. There are a lot of partners and customers that we haven't worked with, so this gives us an opportunity to really up our engagement with partners, and in turn, it will result, I think, in a much better customer experience.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.