On the Campaign Trail

Microsoft has replaced its 'go-to-markets' with customer campaigns. What does the switch mean for partners?

For many partners, it had become a summer ritual. Every July, Microsoft
tinkered with its list of "go-to-markets" (GTMs), adding a few here and removing a few there. But not this year.

Instead, during Microsoft's 2006 Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston, the company made official what it had been quietly telling some partners for weeks: GTMs are history.

Introduced in 2002, GTMs were coordinated sales and marketing
initiatives aligned with Microsoft's top revenue priorities. The operational efficiency and productivity GTM, for example, promoted infrastructure applications such as Windows Server and Exchange Server to enterprises and midmarket organizations, while the financial management GTM drove adoption of various Dynamics ERP products among small businesses.
Now Microsoft has scrapped GTMs in favor of new "customer campaigns," the first of which was scheduled to reach the channel in September, and the last of which is supposed to roll out in December.

GTMs and Customer Campaigns: What's New
Go-to-Markets Customer Campaigns
Campaign topics Based mostly on what Microsoft wanted to sell Based mostly on what customers need to do
Campaign focus Product-oriented Solution-oriented
Campaign volume Fiscal year 2006: 19 campaigns Fiscal year 2007: 12 campaigns
Target audience Mostly IT executives Greater emphasis on business executives
Messaging Little granularity by audience Often broken out by industry and job role
Pre-sales resources Strong availability for later stages of sales cycle, weak availability for early ones New tools help partners initiate and qualify opportunities as well as close them
Demos Partners built their own or took prospects to reference sites Microsoft provides a wide variety, all ready for immediate use

Like GTMs, customer campaigns seek to shift Microsoft's marketing spotlight from individual products to multiproduct solutions. Unlike GTMs, however, customer campaigns are inspired by what businesses need to accomplish rather than what Microsoft wants to sell. In place of the Microsoft Office system solutions campaign in last year's connected productivity GTM, for example, this year's customer campaign lists goals such as "find, use and share information" and "build customer connections."

Furthermore, there are fewer campaigns (just 12 this year, compared to 19 GTM campaigns last year). To an unprecedented degree, the campaigns augment Microsoft's usual talk of features and functionality with discussions of business value. And in a tie to the company's "People-Ready" branding, which emphasizes employee empowerment, they frame many of those discussions in terms specific to an individual's role- and industry-based needs.

Pam Salzer, Microsoft's worldwide partner marketing director, calls the switch to customer campaigns nothing short of revolutionary. Many partners are less certain. "I would call it evolutionary," says Lee Ho, vice president of corporate marketing and strategic alliances at Panorama Software Ltd., a business intelligence ISV and Gold Certified Partner based in Toronto, Canada. Ho sees customer campaigns as simply the latest step in Microsoft's ongoing effort to bring its marketing practices in line with what its partners have been doing for years.

Indeed, though it's still too soon to be certain, customer campaigns appear likely to impact Microsoft more heavily than its channel. Partners have always talked up solutions and business value. What makes customer campaigns important is that Microsoft may finally be catching up with that conversation.

A Clean Break
To fully appreciate the significance of customer campaigns, it helps to revisit what preceded them. Long ago, before customer campaigns-or even GTMs-existed, Microsoft built most of its marketing around stand-alone product pitches. Given the company's staggering growth, it was hard to argue with that approach. But many in Microsoft's channel did. The businesses they sold to had more interest in solutions than products. Microsoft's relentless focus on this server application or that desktop system rendered much of its messaging irrelevant to customers and useless to partners.

Meanwhile, as Microsoft added more and more products to its catalog, it increasingly found marketing dozens of separate offerings wasteful and confusing. "The feedback we were getting from customers, partners and the field was that there's too much stuff out there," says Robert Crissman, general manager for U.S. partner enablement at Microsoft.

GTMs were Microsoft's first attempt to consolidate and rationalize its marketing. Based on broad technology themes, such as connected productivity and business applications, GTMs each contained one or more campaigns. Each campaign, in turn, highlighted one or more key Microsoft products, often in the context of a solution. Last year's connected systems GTM, for example, included five campaigns. One of those, business intelligence, promoted SQL Server and Office. In support of each campaign, Microsoft provided an integrated set of sales presentations, collateral pieces, Webcasts and other materials.

For a company whose marketing calendar had historically been built around product launches, GTMs represented a significant departure from tradition. But a close look at the 2006 fiscal year's GTM lineup reveals lingering vestiges of old habits. For one thing, many campaigns still plugged a single product. The connected customer campaign, for instance, was little more than a thinly veiled Dynamics CRM push. Other initiatives, such as the Exchange 5.5 upgrade and Oracle migration campaigns, spoke more to Microsoft's priorities than those of its customers. Meanwhile, there were nine GTMs last year, containing 19 campaigns. That's a big drop from dozens of separate product drives, but still a lot of messages for customers and partners to absorb.

Customer campaigns are Microsoft's bid to make a clean break from its past. For starters, they're based on customer aspirations -- such as "drive business performance" and "enable your mobile workforce" -- rather than revenue opportunities. "We focused on what the customer needs to get done, and those are the customer campaigns," says Microsoft's Salzer. Additionally, in a rare display of discipline, Microsoft limited itself to just eight campaigns for enterprise and midmarket organizations, and four campaigns for small businesses. Not one includes a product name in its title.

Of course, product marketing isn't entirely out of the picture. Microsoft will devote plenty of energy this year to launching new releases of Windows, Office and other key products. According to Salzer, in fact, Microsoft changed the start dates for several customer campaigns to keep them from conflicting with the Office 2007 and Dynamics CRM 3.0 rollouts this fall. Product launches may not dominate Microsoft's marketing plans any longer, but they're still a top priority.

Just the same, several aspects of customer campaigns suggest that Microsoft is finally catching on to how businesses really buy technology and partners really sell it. For example, five of this year's eight enterprise/midmarket campaigns target business decision-makers, suggesting a heightened appreciation of their critical role in IT purchasing. "In years past, we focused primarily on the IT decision-maker," Salzer notes.

Customer Campaigns Fiscal 2007 (Source: Microsoft)
Market Segment Target Audience Campaign Name
Enterprise and Midmarket Business Decision-Makers Build Customer Connections
Enable Your Mobile Workforce
Find, Use and Share Information
Drive Real-World Business Processes
Drive Business Performance
IT Decision-Makers Optimize Your Application Platform Infrastructure
Optimize Your Business Productivity Infrastructure
Optimize and Secure Your Core Infrastructure
Small Business All Decision-Makers First Server, Right Server

Mobility and Communications
Sales and Marketing

Financial Management

To get non-IT executives' attention, customer campaigns emphasize business value and ROI. And in keeping with Microsoft's new "People-Ready" branding, campaign-messaging frameworks now address specific job roles and industries, allowing partners to leverage one set of talking points when presenting to a manufacturer's COO and another when meeting with a retail firm's CFO. "We're trying to think about people, and give the channel the materials they need to support those people," Salzer explains.

Among those materials is a new set of turnkey demos designed to illustrate a proposed solution's business benefits. Partners can host the demos online, and ISVs can extend them to showcase their own wares along with Microsoft's. In the past, notes Salzer, partners who wanted to show customers a sample solution involving Office, SQL Server and Dynamics CRM had to construct it on their own. "Now we're actually building out a demo for partners," says Salzer. "You literally have a demo-in-a-box. It's phenomenal."
Steve Hicks, president and CEO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Cadre5 LLC, a Gold Certified Partner specializing in custom application development and digital design, agrees. "That's one thing we lacked in the GTMs. I don't think there were enough demos to show people how the actual application would work," he says. As a result, Cadre5 had to either build demos itself or talk existing clients into hosting site visits. "I'd much rather have a generic thing out there than have to go through that," says Hicks.

Salzer says that GTMs were light on tools for the prospecting and qualifying stages of the sales cycle. So Microsoft has developed assessment frameworks that partners can use to analyze a customer's business pains and propose matching solutions. "It isn't quite like getting a partner a lead," Salzer acknowledges. "But it gets them the materials they need to fish for leads."

Getting in Sync
Though most partners are reserving judgment on customer campaigns until they've been around for awhile, some see cause for guarded optimism. "I like the strategy of gearing it to specific positions, to the project manager or the director of customer service, because that's who we're usually calling on," says Hicks. Keith Brophy, president of business development at Troy, Mich.-based system integrator NuSoft Solutions Inc., a Gold Certified Partner with six competencies, is similarly upbeat. "[GTMs] were more technology-centered. We had to come up with our own value propositions," Brophy says. "These customer campaigns are doing that thought process for us."

Still, prior experience with GTMs is tempering expectations for customer campaigns among partners. To be sure, many partners say, GTMs made working with Microsoft easier in important ways. In the pre-GTM era, for example, Microsoft provided little guidance on which products to push hardest. "You would do something, but you weren't sure if it was important to Microsoft or not," observes John Scandar, executive vice president and co-founder of Fullscope Inc., a Dynamics AX integrator and Gold Certified Partner headquartered in Athens, Ala. GTMs clarified Microsoft's sales goals, he says, enabling partners to set their own goals accordingly.

GTMs also provided a common vocabulary for strategizing with Microsoft. Hicks recalls how difficult it once was to discuss topics such as content management with Microsoft employees. All they wanted to know, he says, was where Visual Studio fit in. "We were just kind of out of sync with each other," says Hicks. For the first time, GTMs got everyone speaking the language of solutions, enabling Cadre5 to have more productive conversations with its Microsoft contacts.

But day to day, GTMs changed little about how most partners did business. "It's not as if the go-to-markets Microsoft created were the first time our company had them," says Ho, of Panorama Software. "We've always had go-to-markets." The same goes for Resolute Inc., a business and IT consulting firm and Gold Certified Partner based in Bellevue, Wash. Bob Tedesco, the company's former chief technology officer (he left the firm this summer), says that most of Resolute's target markets corresponded to GTMs because the campaigns covered so many technology categories. "It was pretty hard not to map to the go-to-markets," he says.

Not surprisingly, then, many partners look for customer campaigns to exert little influence on their sales and marketing strategies. Any big changes, they say, will be on Microsoft's side of the relationship. Brophy says that partnering with Microsoft will now be a little simpler, mostly because the software giant is now embracing solutions too. Even Salzer concedes that customer campaigns simply put Microsoft more in step with what partners have been doing all along. "Many of our partners sell solutions every day," she says. "These campaigns will just support that effort."

Raise Your Voice
Salzer directs anyone interested in learning more about customer campaigns to the Partner Marketing Center on Microsoft's partner Web site. Ho visits regularly and encourages other companies to do the same. "Microsoft creates more partner-ready collateral and tools than most partners even know about," he says. In fact, Tim Phelan, founding partner of Alpharetta, Ga.-based OmniVue Business Solutions LLC, a Dynamics reseller and Gold Certified Partner, says that free demand-generation resources are among the best reasons to participate in Microsoft marketing initiatives. Tapping into Microsoft's direct mail templates, telemarketing scripts and other materials helps OmniVue stretch its marketing budget and launch campaigns more quickly. "It's not our sole source of branding or lead generation, but it really helps us take [our marketing] to the next level at a very low cost of entry," he says.

Tedesco likes Microsoft's marketing tools too, but wishes partners played a greater role in defining and shaping the campaigns they support. "I don't believe we have any voice, and I would love to have some say in what's really working," he says. For his part, Microsoft's Crissman points to several ways partners can provide input about customer campaigns. "If they're a managed partner, I would encourage them to give their feedback to their PAM," he says. Other firms can speak with one of the community development managers who cover the unmanaged channel. Microsoft's twice-a-year partner surveys, quarterly partner briefings and annual partner conferences are also good forums.

Brophy, for one, definitely plans to speak up if the passage of time reveals weaknesses in customer campaigns. Meanwhile, he's hopeful but cautious. "These customer campaigns are extremely new," he says. "It's a step in the right direction, but the future is going to tell whether they're effective."

More Information

Marketing Resources
A report about GTMs from analyst firm Directions on Microsoft is available at

The Microsoft Partner Marketing Center is located at