Partner View

Life as a Small Fish in Microsoft's Big Pond

Microsoft offers tools but not much help for smaller partners -- it's up to you to work up your strategy and deploy those tools to meet your goals.

Life as an "unmanaged partner" -- one too small to be assigned a Microsoft account manager -- is typically like being lost at sea: You've got a sail and a rudder but no idea where to go.

A smaller, unmanaged partner gets a lot of what Microsoft calls "breadth" advice and tools -- meaning that they're directed at partners without dedicated account managers -- but it's up to the partner to decide which tools to use. Small partners' expectations for what Microsoft will provide are usually bigger than what they'll actually receive. Still, becoming a Registered Member can be the first step to something good -- if you don't stop there.

When partners visit the Microsoft Partner Program Web site, they're greeted with an incredible amount of useful information, including recommended contacts to make, region by region. Unfortunately, this is where smaller partners can begin to see how different their experiences will be from those of larger partners or, in some cases, partners based in different parts of the country. For example, the West Region Web site does a great job of letting partners know how they can make contact with partner program employees in that area. The East Region site makes it much harder to figure out whom to contact. That's the first lesson -- each region, area and office in the program is different from the others. The structure is different, the people are different and, for the most part, partners' experiences will be different as well.

Where there's similarity is that all sales organizations within Microsoft are intensely focused on achieving their goals. These days, Microsoft sales employees will lose their jobs if they don't make their numbers. It's important to understand the focus, goals and objectives of the people in your local Microsoft sales organization. Once you do, you can figure out what your sales contacts need and what you can do to help them make their numbers.

It's also particularly important to understand the partner role in Microsoft's "People-Ready" marketing campaign. Know where Microsoft is placing the most emphasis on its employees locally -- whether, for instance, they're focusing on Small Business Specialist certifications and licensing -- and know the incentives available to partners and customers. Attend the quarterly partner briefings and the annual Worldwide Partner Conference. Join user groups and the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners. Some local Microsoft offices have an analysis of their partners' expertise in certain areas of technology or customer service as they apply to the campaigns, so it makes sense to know where you stand, whether you're on their radar and whether there's anything you can do to fill a gap. Of course, being Certified or Gold Certified improves your chances of being on the radar. So, at a minimum, work toward becoming a Certified Partner.

Finally, smaller partners should avoid placing all their bets on Microsoft -- a relationship with Redmond helps enable success but doesn't guarantee it. Smaller partners must make their way primarily on their own, through focus, talent and solid business-management practices. Ultimately, partners must leverage the unique offerings that make them special. It's a good thing if those offerings just happen to satisfy the hungry beast that Microsoft can be.

About the Author

Ron Huxtable is a senior partner at Peak Presence Inc., a Long Beach, Calif.-based Registered Member that works with Microsoft partners to narrow their focus, develop new business opportunities and expand upon existing relationships.