Tight Relationships Require Trust

What would partnering look like if you had all the money, hardware and people you could imagine to throw into your relationship with Microsoft?

What would partnering look like if you had all the money, hardware and people you could imagine to throw into your relationship with Microsoft? There's probably no better example of such a nirvana than how some of Microsoft's larger partners work, and what they get for their efforts.

Within about a mile of Microsoft's Redmond campus, which is across Lake Washington from Seattle, several big names in computing have their company names on office buildings, in some cases emblazoned in neon, in others, listed more discreetly on signs in high-end office parks.

In many cases, these offices serve a dual purpose. They serve local customers, just as their branches in other large cities do; but they are also the locus of these partners' efforts to maintain strong relationships with Microsoft. And even if most of their customers are over in Seattle, the companies still base themselves in or near Redmond to better capitalize on their proximity to Microsoft.

It may seem curious that geographic proximity is so important in the age of cyberspace, which is theoretically everywhere and nowhere, but human beings live in the real world, and they're what make or break relationships.

It's an easy walk from the Microsoft campus to some of these partner offices, so if the partners' engineers want to talk with a 'softie, they needn't brave Redmond's terrible traffic or Microsoft's limited parking. In fact, in some cases, they may not need to go anywhere: One of their own offices may be occupied full time by a Microsoft employee who's probably just one of several Microsoft people allocated full time to that partner.

These partners' offices sometimes include computer labs with high-end server and network hardware, used not only to test whether a company's products are compatible with Microsoft products, but also for building new solutions and proofs of concept--often with Microsoft consultants rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.

In some instances, the labs are partly funded by Microsoft, and funds for development of partner solutions that can give Microsoft an edge may come from Microsoft product or sales teams. But such arrangements don't happen by accident. To find seed money for new partner products or solutions, a creative alliance manager may need to do some "tin-cupping" around campus (as one Microsoft alliance manager calls the process of seeking financial support).

"You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is another theme that's often apparent as a partner company and Microsoft try to align their sales teams along common priorities.

The partner's Microsoft alliance team may put together marketing collateral, such as a "field readiness kit" that's circulated to sales offices to demonstrate the partner's prowess in developing and selling enterprise solutions. In addition, the partner's solutions may be mapped to Microsoft's sales campaigns, making it drop-dead easy for someone at Microsoft to fill out local sales campaigns with a partner solution or case study that might tip a customer toward a Microsoft platform.

In turn, the partner's salespeople know that they can call on Microsoft's expertise for development of high-end or custom solutions, which can give them an edge when competing for a customer's business. As a result, partners' sales forces are typically more willing to specify Microsoft solutions.

Some partners may be jealous that others enjoy such privileges, but these benefits are far from freebies. Maintaining healthy relationships at this level requires hard work, a huge amount of trust and a major investment of human and physical resources.

Microsoft invests in such relationships not to be nice, but because its leaders believe that these partners can get Microsoft products and platforms into major accounts. Partners invest because they find Microsoft tools and products to be profitable and compelling answers to the problems facing many of their customers. If either side falls down on its side of the deal, these relationships can quickly become rocky--and this paradise will be lost.

About the Author

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