What I Learned at MS101 for Partners

At MS101, partners get a glimpse behind the Redmond curtain.

As a partner, do you ever wish that you could get past the facade that Microsoft puts up? You probably want to sink your claws into the organization and pull out the meaty parts, the ones that will help you succeed, the people who can really help, information about what kind of partner music the local office really listens to.

So do I. As an analyst who focuses entirely on Microsoft, I sit through a lot of earnest presentations that don't really advance my knowledge unless some unusual insight or interesting data accidentally trickles out.

So I was expecting to hear mostly stuff that I already knew when I attended an MS101 for Partners session this fall in Redmond. MS101 is a partner version of the orientation that new Microsoft employees go through when they join the company, and Ernie Lou, of Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group, helped push it into being because he thought partners could benefit from a similar experience.

MS101 surprised me. Yes, much of it was material I knew, but many of the presentations were chock-full of insights even for a hardened Microsoft-watcher who has covered the company full time for seven years, with much of that time spent focusing specifically on partnering.

The event is not only a testament to Microsoft's dogged pursuit of more effective partnerships, but may also signal a change in attitude. Some attendees who have worked with Microsoft for many years say the company's transparency has recently improved dramatically. After viewing a detailed presentation on how the field sales force is compensated, one attendee commented that "18 months ago, getting this kind of information was like pulling teeth."

In an intense, three-and-a-half days (punctuated with some big-time schmoozing and partying), about 80 of us learned a great deal about the company's culture, its general organization, its business planning tactics, the partner program itself and marketing initiatives, such as the new Customer Campaigns. Attendees heard from partner-facing Microsoft organizations, such as the Enterprise and Partner Group, and got primers on licensing and overviews of strategies for industry verticals, services and all the major product groups.

The program also included troops from the front line of the partner relationship, such as account managers from the field, partner account managers (PAMs) and veteran partner-company executives, who were encouraged to spill the beans on what works with Microsoft and what doesn't.

Finally, attendees walked away with a DVD loaded with useful materials, such as business-planning templates and address books listing every PAM in the world as well as the people who head various customer accounts and industry segments. Most of this information isn't available to the public but it's priceless for partners, and MS101 is one of the few ways to get your hands on it.

Here are a few things I learned from MS101:

  • How partners should craft their pitches to Microsoft when they want to work with the company.
  • Why it's hard to get big money from Microsoft—but how a lot of little money can add up.
  • What some of those mysterious abbreviations—such as BMO and TSP—stand for.
  • How the Microsoft field is compensated and how to use this knowledge to find the people inside Microsoft whose bonuses depend on your success.

Everyone's bonus depends on successful partners to some extent, but if you can narrow your focus to a particular product or a particular type of solution, you may be able to find someone whose bonus depends 100 percent on your success in that area.

MS101 isn't free and most partners will need to pay their own way, but you'll walk away with loads of practical advice about how to work with Microsoft that could quickly recoup your $1,300 investment. To get in, you'll need a PAM's name on your application. Sessions are held several times a year, with at least one session usually held outside the United States (there's a session planned for Rome in late February 2007, for example).

Attendees span the entire range of Microsoft's partner community, from companies with fewer than 20 employees to global integrators.

Bottom line: I highly recommend MS101 for Partners to anyone who is serious about partnering successfully with Microsoft.

About the Author

Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.