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CompUSA Reaches Out to Microsoft Small Business Specialists

In an effort to deepen its relationship with small-business customers, Dallas-based retailer CompUSA Inc. is looking to partner with Microsoft Small Business Specialists near its stores.

The new CompUSA TechPro Business Providers program announced on Monday is a referral program to pass service and installation leads developed through CompUSA's 103 stores and its outbound sales calling operations to competent professionals in the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community.

"In working with CompUSA, we think we've created a groundbreaking program to create a link between the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community and the CompUSA Technology Program," says Rex Bloesser, Microsoft's U.S. director for SMS&P Retail Development. "It will allow CompUSA to use fully qualified Microsoft Small Business partners. At the same time, it will increase the potential customer base and sales leads for Small Business Specialists."

Mark Gertenbach, director of technology services for CompUSA, says, "We believe it's the right time to be doing this. The small business customer has been looking for the combination."

Executives from both companies cite research findings that 60 percent of small business customers shop at retail for some technology.

Noting that small-business customers are often a difficult demographic for Microsoft partners to reach, Bloesser says the CompUSA store personnel will provide participating partners with a valuable service: "They qualify leads before the partner is really engaged."

In addition to referrals from floor-based CompUSA employees, partners would also benefit from CompUSA's outbound calling representatives, called business sales reps. Unlike many outbound calling employees in the industry, the CompUSA business sales reps are based in the company's stores. "These business sales reps live in the communities that they're selling in," Bloesser says. "That's one of the very homogeneous connections to the marketplace that I felt really separated their outbound calling efforts from others I've seen."

Small businesses, with several PCs but no networks or mobile capabilities, aren't just a hard demographic for partners to reach – they've been hard customer for Microsoft to find despite being one of the most sought-after opportunities for future revenue growth. "We think the networking infrastructure and mobility buckets are areas where we can focus on," Bloesser says. "Those are very hard to sell through advertising literature."

Microsoft has taken a multi-pronged approach to connect with the small business market. One way was to create the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community, a sub-group within the Microsoft Partner Program with special expertise in Windows Small Business Server and related technologies. After building out that community to several thousand partners, many of them small businesses themselves, Microsoft in March 2006 announced a major agreement with Best Buy. The Richfield, Minn.-based company launched a nationwide initiative through its Best Buy for Business division in which it certified hundreds of store-based and outside sales employees as Microsoft Small Business Specialists. Best Buy also enlisted its mobile Geek Squad employees in the Best Buy for Business effort.

About a month earlier, Norfolk, Va.-based Geeks on Call, a franchise-based competitor of Best Buy's Geek Squad, unveiled a similar arrangement with Microsoft by becoming a Microsoft Gold Certified partner and training its specialists as Microsoft Small Business Specialists.

The CompUSA approach stands in marked contrast to these efforts to build up an internal staff of certified employees. While Best Buy has told investors that small, local VARs are competitors to its effort, the CompUSA arrangement is designed to enlist those VARs in non-exclusive, mutually beneficial partnerships.

CompUSA already had relationships with about 70 VARs around the country in similar arrangements to what it is rolling out more formally now as TechPro Business Providers, and which the company hopes will scale up quickly.

Gertenbach won't say how many partners CompUSA is looking for right now. "We want to make sure that we have the right amount of partners. As the demand grows, we plan to scale that growth," he says.

SoftNet Technology, an Iselin, N.J.-based provider of consulting and software solutions and a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, is one of those existing partners. Gregory Geodakyan, who leads the small business division in SoftNet's Roswell, Ga. office, says his group has been working with CompUSA for about six years, and he's generally found the relationship very helpful.

"I have one salesperson. CompUSA allows me to have 50 outside sales reps. What more can you ask for?" Geodakyan says, adding that having the CompUSA name behind his proposals often helps him win business.

He sees the new program as a return to a focus on small business for CompUSA after the retailer's previous focus on consumer-side services for partners, and he looks forward to the effect of additional resources from Microsoft.

"As a VAR, I feel more threatened by what [Best Buy's] Geek Squad is doing. Geek Squad competes with me. CompUSA helps drive business to my door. As a person who is a stand-alone VAR in a market, you would be a fool not to sign up and leverage CompUSA and get yourself more business," Geodakyan says.

More information on the CompUSA TechPro Business Providers program is available at https://partner.microsoft.com/us/techpro (registration required).

About the Author

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