In-Depth

Marching Orders for 2007

New software from Microsoft, new avenues for partner growth. Advice from Microsoft executives and channel luminaries on how to maximize partner opportunies in 2007.

Calendar year 2007 is going to be one of the biggest years in Microsoft history for new product launches. The company likes to bill 2007 as the year when the fruits of $20 billion in R&D spending will be released from Windows Vista to Office 2007 to Office SharePoint Server to Exchange Server 2007.

How should Microsoft partners get ready for the new year? Redmond Channel Partner put variations of that question to a number of Microsoft executives and channel luminaries. Read on for their answers.

Allison Watson
Corporate Vice President
Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group

Allison Watson

Play with the New Stuff
Q: How should Microsoft partners get ready for 2007?

A: I'm going to say there are three steps partners should take next year.
In the very, very short term, everyone needs to install and use Windows and Office, the SharePoint platform and, to the extent they can, also put in Dynamics CRM. They should do that not only as users, but actually in the context of what solutions our partner businesses are, or should be, offering.

Office presents something new on a user desktop. I'm going to say the same thing [for] SharePoint as a part of Office. I realize it's a server platform tool, but every partner should put SharePoint and Office together in their organization and start using it immediately. They need to get it in there and use it first because they're end-user tools and the people's imaginations will work much faster using the products than training on them. To get a platform installed that has Windows and Office in their organization is really important.

The second thing is an element of just pure training. I installed Office 2007 recently, and I got all of the extra tools for the premium edition installed as well. I went into OneNote, and OneNote is totally different now. It's simple, and it takes 15 minutes. So there's just a lot of training on all of the individual applications that are going to make a huge impact in every partner organization. This is about "People Ready" in our partner [companies]. It's the individuals and our partners that are going to have new ideas about new solution areas, because they're using the tools in a different way. So I'd say spend small chunks of time in training.

The third thing is that every partner should sit in a room and come up with a solution in their business that is linking to a new piece of technology. It could be something in Office or SharePoint, but it could be SQL or CRM. They ought to sit down and think about, "How do we either evolve something we already have or go do something we haven't done," and force the issue with themselves. They should envision a solution and a customer opportunity that aren't in [place] today, on the new platform, and incubate it, and then learn with us and give us feedback.

I think the partners doing that in their own businesses will help us accelerate the innovation, because they will then come back and tell us, "Wow, it turns out that the competency model that you have isn't really going to be valid in the next generation." Or: "This is a way we can all go to market better."
So the more partners I have to [train on the new software], the faster I think together Microsoft and its partners can design, if you will, for the next generation. Sales in business is going really, really well right now at our partners and at Microsoft. It's a pretty healthy technology environment. I think we're all in the bottom of this thing; it's just going to peak fast.

Robert Deshaies
Vice President
U.S. Partner Group,
Microsoft Corp.

Robert Deshaies

The U.S. Perspective
Q: How should U.S. Microsoft partners get ready for 2007?

A: That's a big question against a very broad audience: There are 120,000 different U.S. partners out there.

The key thing for us as we look to really drive forward, and with the business launch that's just around the corner, is that we're highly focused on working with our partners on the launch. I'd really like to get partners to spend time on two key sites.

I'd urge partners to go to Launch Central on the Microsoft Partner Portal. It's a great, single partner source with messaging tailored around products and training and solution development. It's got demand-generation tools around all of our products, whether it's Vista, Office or Exchange.

Then the U.S. Partner Readiness site [MSReadiness.com] is really a great point [of departure]. There are sales and marketing tools through MSPP and the Microsoft Partner Events section, and everything can be accessed off of U.S. Partner Readiness.

Those two portals really allow our partners to prepare and also to get visibility and transparency to the different tools, as well as prescriptions to prepare their organizations for launch.

The other key would be to continue to connect really well with their Microsoft partner account managers. There's a multitude of opportunities out there. If they have questions or need help in doing these things, they should turn to their Microsoft representatives.

Naseem Tuffaha
Senior Director,
ISV Sales & Marketing,
Worldwide Partner Group,
Microsoft Corp.

Naseem Tuffaha

The ISV Plan
Q: Most ISVs are well into the process of thinking about Windows, Vista and the next generation of applications. What can they do in the upcoming year to move solutions?

A: What we found in our discussions with ISVs is they were shifting a lot of their sales and marketing to be more telesales driven. In the '80s and '90s, the marketing formula was a little bit more simple. You [would] go to Comdex and other events and take out ads. We're living in a different world today.

One of the shifts that we saw with ISVs is they wanted more clear ROI and more visibility into their pipeline. We were also seeing dissatisfaction with the telesales service they were setting up. This is a place where we saw a very common pain point across our ISV base.

We took a step in building an infrastructure that our ISVs could tap into. Microsoft is contracting with a set of high-quality telesales vendors around the world who understand how to do solution sales to business. These aren't kids out of college doing telemarketing. They understand how to take leads through the qualification process. We work with these vendors to really make sure that we can get to a certain quality guarantee. We can now leverage our global buying power, and bring the cost to a level that ISVs would not be able to get on their own as any single ISV if they tried to access this service.
There's an opportunity for ISVs to qualify for joint funding around some of these campaigns, too.

ISVs should also look at our new International ISV Assistance program. We wanted to help ISVs make better decisions about which markets to enter, and accelerate those moves. We have a set of relationships that exist in the field worldwide with ISVs. They might be very strong in one market, and have less of a foothold in others.

We've added incremental account managers in local markets worldwide that ISVs are interested in expanding into.

In addition to putting more account managers in the field, we've added programmatic resources worldwide. ISVs can go through our portal for tools and advice on when to go international and which markets to go into. It's not always the biggest market that makes the most sense for their particular segment.

If we can help them get to the right place as fast as possible, that really helps them grow.

Mac McIntosh
Marketing Consultant
Mac McIntosh Inc.

Mac McIntosh

Put Together a Marketing Plan
Q: What should Microsoft partners do in terms of marketing to get ready for 2007?

A: Microsoft partners need to start the new year with a pipeline of new business opportunities they can close in the first half of the calendar year.
With this in mind, you should be working on three things right now:

Creating a well-targeted database of the prospects (companies and contacts at those companies) most likely to need your products or services in 2007. This list should include companies and contacts similar to those you've had the most success with in the past, so you have referenceable examples and a track record of success with their industries or applications, making it much easier for these new prospects to say "yes." In addition, it should include some prospects from specific industries or with specific applications that appear to have the most potential.

Planning an ongoing direct-marketing campaign that reaches out and touches the prospects on your database regularly, using mail, e-mail or telemarketing. The idea is to make sure your company is in sight and in mind when the prospect is experiencing the problems and feeling the kinds of pain your company, products or services can help relieve. These marketing touches should be frequent enough that your company is not forgotten, but not so frequent as to become a pest. I recommend you aim for once a month, understanding that you'll run behind on occasion and only touch prospects nine or 10 times a year as a result. Start working on your first monthly mailing, e-mail or telemarketing call now so it's ready to go the first week in January, when people are getting back to work and focusing on growing their businesses over the new year.

Improving your Web site. [Upgrade] both from the perspective of being found at the top of the list when people are using search engines to find your kind of company, products or services, and from the perspective of helping the prospects who visit your Web site to move forward with their awareness from inquiry to consideration to purchase process.

Ken Thoreson
Managing Partner
Acumen Management Group Ltd.

Ken Thoreson

Re-Evaluate Your Sales
Q: What should partners do to get their sales organizations ready for 2007?

A: As a consulting firm to many Microsoft partners, we recommend that our clients ask themselves 10 questions as they look forward to 2007:

  1. What worked this year and what didn't? Did I attain the sales goals and make the pre-tax margin goal I wanted?
  2. How can I improve on this year's metrics? If I had a 50 percent win/loss rate, what can my team do to make it 60 percent next year? Has my average order size increased over the previous year and what can I do to keep it growing next year?
  3. Have my salespeople become more solution-focused or professional than they were 12 months ago? What new training programs should I implement for 2007?
  4. How many new clients did I add this year, compared to my goals? Did the percentage of revenue from new clients grow faster than growth of my base review?
  5. What new value-added services can I add in the next year that will endear me to my clients and outflank my competition?
  6. Based on my revenue goals for 2007, when do I need to add new salespeople to attain my objectives? What's the ramp-up time? What are my recruiting plans?
  7. How are my management skills? Am I still a "doer" versus a "leader"? What can I do in the new year to improve my management team?
  8. What are my financial, business and personal goals for each of the next eight quarters? Do I have a vision for my business or am I really just opportunistic?
  9. Is this the year to establish an advisory board for my company?
  10. What three things can I do to stay fresh in 2007? Perhaps take some Fridays off? One three-day weekend per month? Plan for a two-week vacation?

Renew your passion, set your vision and build actionable sales and marketing plans that are realistic and in alignment with your goals.

Paul DeGroot
Analyst
Directions on Microsoft

Paul DeGroot

Get Your Story Straight
Q: What is your advice to partners for 2007?

A: Every partner should have a Vista and Office 2007 story of some kind for 2007, to capitalize on Microsoft's huge marketing investment in this area. You may have doubts about how quickly the market will jump on these products, but you should have no doubts about Microsoft's commitment to make them successful, even if-for partners, especially if-it means spilling cash, such as business incentive funds, all over.

If your applications run well on Vista, or if you can position your product or service as Vista-compatible, you need to tell Microsoft about it (starting with your local office or your partner account manager), because they'll be looking for partner solutions that demonstrate momentum around Vista and Office 2007 and that can get these products through customers' doors. Microsoft is particularly looking for upgrade deployments that can help Vista beat the PC run rate (e.g., the rate at which the OS will get into the market simply by being sold with new PCs).

Exchange 2007, and in particular unified communications (integrated voice mail and e-mail as well as corporate instant messaging integrated with voice over IP), will be another hot area. If you have customers still on Exchange 2000, Microsoft wants to talk to you.

Microsoft will be rolling out new technical certifications related to these products, and, in all likelihood, some new partner competencies as well, so partners should budget funds for training and competency achievement.

Longer term, make sure you know what's happening with Windows Live and Office Live. Try the betas, subscribe to relevant RSS feeds, understand the development tools behind them. The Live initiatives are new and poorly understood, and even Microsoft doesn't really know where they're going, so you have an excellent opportunity to provide feedback on how they can help you or you can help them. Remember that Microsoft is capable of taking a very long view; it can (it doesn't always, but it can) patiently and slowly build a new business and fund it through several iterations, until the company or a partner figures out how to win.

Harry Brelsford
CEO, SMB Nation

Reinvent Your Small Business Practice
Q: What priorities should partners serving small business have for 2007?

A: First, sustained profitability. Our recent survey data revealed that two-thirds of SMB channel partners are profitable, which is a good thing. Consider sustaining that profitability to be a key goal in 2007. That would be a win with the current stable state of the economy.

Second, reinvent thyself. Another trend we discovered via surveying related to current specialty and reinvention frequency. The majority of SMB channel partners, who overwhelmingly deliver network infrastructure services, have been in the trade for five to 10 years and claim to reinvent themselves every three to five years. So what are the most popular choices for SMB channel partners to reinvent themselves in 2007?

  1. VoIP/telephony
  2. Managed services
  3. CRM
Bill Breslin
President, U.S. Chapter
International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP)

Bill Breslin

Ride the Wave
Q: What is IAMCP's advice to partners for 2007?

A: "Ride the Wave" is our advice to partners and a recipe for success in 2007. It's also the tag line for the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners for 2007. Our recruiting booth at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston featured a tiki hut and an IAMCP-branded surfboard. Why? Because the technology wave that's about to be launched by Microsoft in early 2007 with Vista and Office 2007 is not just going to be a big wave-it's going to be huge.

As partners who are always looking to grow our businesses, we must get our sales and marketing teams up to speed and get our technology people up to speed. Microsoft is going to do the heavy lifting by launching megatons of nationwide and worldwide publicity. To ride the wave, we need to get up on our surfboards, get the wind to our backs, and catch the "big one."

But don't just get your company ready. Get a competitive edge by joining the IAMCP and participating with us as we offer specialized readiness opportunities offered exclusively through our organization by the Microsoft product teams to help you get ready. We are working shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. Information Worker (IW) marketing team now to get some incentives put together to help you gain the IW competency quickly, prepare you for 2007 and help you to ride that wave.

And last but not least, remember that there's strength in numbers. Use the IAMCP to help you get to know LARs, CTECs, Dynamics, ISVs and other kinds of partners who can jointly go to market with you. The fact is that Microsoft partners who use Steve Ballmer's famous "coopetition" regularly do more business together than they have ever done alone.

Bottom line: Ride the Wave, join the IAMCP, partner up and increase your revenue for 2007!

Anne Stuart
Executive Editor
Redmond Channel Partner magazine

Anne Stuart

Reach Out to Each Other -- and to Us
Q: What do RCP editors recommend that Microsoft partners do to thrive in 2007?

A: Network. Let me explain why.

Over the past few years, I've become well-acquainted with the Microsoft Partner Program from both the inside and out.

First, as a contractor, I edited two Microsoft-sponsored publications targeted to midsize partners and customers. Fifteen months ago, I left that gig for an offer I couldn't refuse: helping edit an independent magazine for all Microsoft partners.

If there's one thing I've learned from both experiences, it's that "partner community" is far more than a convenient catchall phrase for describing our audience. Meeting and interviewing many of you has reinforced my initial sense that partners have created a genuine, strong and vibrant community. Of course, you're dedicated to your own organizations-but most of you seem committed to your collective success as well.

So my humble advice to you for 2007 is to keep constructing that community.
At the very least, take advantage of Microsoft-sponsored networking opportunities such as TS2 sessions, regional partner briefings and, of course, the 2007 Worldwide Partner Conference (to be held July 10-12 in Denver).
But I urge you to explore independent organizations as well. You'll meet plenty of like-minded partners by getting involved with two key groups represented elsewhere in this "Marching Orders" package: SMB Nation and the IAMCP.

And I encourage you to check out other resources that can help you keep building bridges, such as:

  • The PartnerPoint Portal, a 4,600-member organization whose Web site is stocked with partner directories, news, blogs and other tools and services.
  • Vladville, the blog and Web site of Vladimir Mazek, a Microsoft systems administrator and engineer, who provides a forum particularly useful to Small Business Specialists.
  • Your closest local or regional peer organization, such as the Technology Wizards group of Small Business Server Consultants in Portland, Ore., or the Cincinnati Networking Professionals Association. (Watch for a feature story on grassroots partner organizations early in 2007.)

Finally, keep in mind that we at Redmond Channel Partner magazine view ourselves as both a resource and an advocate for your community. Our mission for 2007—as it's been all along—is offering insights intended to help partner companies succeed. We welcome your comments any time about how well we're succeeding ourselves.

More Information

Marching Orders 2007: Partner Resources
Microsoft TS2 sessions: http://www.ts2seminars.com/
Microsoft Virtual Partner briefings: http://www.ts2seminars.com/VirtualBriefings.htm
PartnerPoint Portal: http://www.partnerpoint.com/
Worldwide Partner Conference, July 10-12, 2007: http://www.microsoft.com/partner/events/wwpartnerconference/
SMB Nation: http://www.smbnation.com/
Vladville: http://www.vladville.com/
IAMCP: http://www.iamcp.org/
Technology Wizards, Portland, Ore.: http://www.technologywizards.com/
Cincinnati Networking Professionals Assoc.: http://www.cinpa.org/