Small Partner, Big Noise

To get noticed, and get business, be strategic in communicating with Microsoft.

The first rule of communicating is simply to do it, a rule that applies as much to business relationships as to personal ones.

Doing it is particularly important for smaller partners working with Microsoft, because the company generally doesn't pay attention to individual smaller partners unless they try to steal something. But if you're proactive and point out to your Microsoft contacts how you've helped the company succeed, you improve the odds that they'll bring you in on a deal, help you with sales calls or give you money for marketing or development.

Let's look at the issues that come up with communicating with Microsoft. Specifically, what should you communicate and how should you communicate?

First, you should let Microsoft know how you're selling its products. Don't bother telling Microsoft people how great your products are. You may get the opportunity to brag later, but to get that conversation you need to first show them how great a partner you are.

In addition, you should be specific. Emphasize the one or two areas where you really excel. Don't position yourself as a jack of all trades -- you need Microsoft people to associate you with specific opportunities, because they won't, sad to say, always remember your name.

Here are a few things that pique Microsoft's interest:

Wins. When you make a deal that sells about $50,000 of Microsoft software (I've picked that out of a hat; in a big city, the number may need to be double that), it's worth letting Microsoft know about it. Brag about how you convinced the customer about the virtues of Microsoft software. And be specific -- say, for instance, the customer was spending too much on training or overtime and you showed how to reduce those costs.

Strategic customers. If you know your community well, you may make a breakthrough. Maybe you're the first to convince a public agency in your region to use SharePoint as a public-facing portal. Or perhaps you've gotten a packaging company to implement a business process in Microsoft Dynamics NAV or Dynamics AX. Or a bank headquartered in your area is using SQL Server for data mining on your advice. In such cases, it's not just the sale that's important to Microsoft. The company is also focused on major verticals, such as the public sector, health care, finance and manufacturing, and its industry specialists' bonuses depend on how well the company is doing in their sectors. Show Microsoft that you can help the company crack new markets.

Takeaways. Microsoft runs many campaigns aimed at specific rivals because Bill Gates is a strong believer in the principle that a takeaway is a double blow to the competition. In his math, if two companies each have five accounts and one takes away one account from the other, the score is now six to four. So if you convert a Linux account (including one from Microsoft "partner" Novell) to Windows, an Oracle account to SQL Server, or a Domino account to SharePoint or Exchange, be sure to let Microsoft know about it.

The second issue is how you share your news with Microsoft. If you're a Certified or Gold Certified Partner, you have a partner account manager (PAM) who's supposed to track such matters, so start there. If you can in any way connect what you've done or what you'd like to do with an industry vertical, ask your PAM for a local contact who covers that vertical. Odds are that there are industry solution specialists who'd like to hear from you -- if they knew who you were.

Another way is to attend local seminars or launch events where you can make personal contacts. Hang around after presentations, schmooze with speakers or other Microsoft staffers, write down e-mail names from presentations. Then use those contacts to communicate and to get to other people, such as technical or industry specialists in areas related to your business. If you can't find a local event, Microsoft can help you put one on -- check out the event resources on the partner Web site.

Finally, Partner Business Plans and Partner Solution Plans (for Certified and Gold Certified Partners) provide a formal way to get your company into Microsoft's field sales database. Get your plans done and keep them up to date.

About the Author

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


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