Tech Data Gets Tighter with Microsoft

Distribution giant ramps up on Microsoft-focused resources and training.

Distributors like Tech Data Corp. are displaying a higher profile in the Microsoft channel these days as a Microsoft initiative to rely more on distributors to reach breadth partners in fiscal year 2008 hits its stride.

"We've been ramping up," says Stacy Nethercoat, vice president for inside sales and service at the Clearwater, Fla.-based company. "We're extremely engaged with Microsoft in getting our message out to partners."

One reason why Tech Data has been increasing its commitment to supporting Microsoft partners: Microsoft asked it to do so. "Microsoft and Tech Data's relationship has grown over the last year," Nethercoat says. "Microsoft has, from our perspective, quite publicly recognized the value that distribution brings, particularly in what they would call their breadth space ... They very clearly told us that that's where they need us to be." And, she adds: "With that attention, we recognize that that's a smart place to go."

Microsoft elevated its emphasis on distribution partners earlier this year by creating a new executive position within the Worldwide Partner Group. Shortly after taking the new post of Microsoft Global Business Leader for the Transaction Channel Engine, Jenni Flinders told RCP in July that Microsoft planned to renew its focus on distribution partners in its fiscal 2008. "We're looking at how we actually take our distributor partners and leverage them as a significant resource to help us reach our breadth partners," Flinders said at the time. "Distributors collectively last year helped us transact with 300,000 unique partners. We don't have the capacity or the bandwidth to reach that broadly."

For Tech Data to take that action, Microsoft's request had to make business sense. "Microsoft is [the] cornerstone," Nethercoat says. "Microsoft pulls with it a lot of other products. That's the root of our intent with adding resources into this space."

Tech Data is among the largest distributors, with more than $21 billion in sales of component, networking, peripheral, systems and software products to more than 90,000 technology resellers last year. To drive those sales, Tech Data wants to make sure it's got the necessary expertise to capitalize on all the products Microsoft brought to market in the past year and will bring to market next year.

Among the most direct investments Tech Data has made in its Microsoft business is increasing the number of employees with Microsoft expertise. "We've more than doubled the size of the team specifically supporting Microsoft in the last year. That's made an enormous difference," Nethercoat says. While she wouldn't specify the number of people involved, citing competitive concerns, she did say, "Collectively, we have over 60 Microsoft certifications-MCPs and MCSEs."

Tech Data is also working directly with Microsoft's field organization to reach out to partners. The companies worked together on 14 licensing "boot camps" between October and December; Tech Data sponsored six TS2 events nationwide during the same period. The companies have also co-presented several webinars on Software Assurance and about Tech Data's support offerings for Microsoft licensing (according to Nethercoat, Tech Data has more than 130 dedicated software-licensing experts).

While not strictly a Microsoft investment, Tech Data has also been upgrading its online self-service tools for its partner resellers.

In November, at its TechSelect Partner Conference in Orlando, Fla., Tech Data began sharing improvements to two tools that will have an impact on Microsoft partners in Tech Data's program.

One, called MyOpportunityTracker, was originally released last summer for tracking manufacturer service- and warranty-renewal opportunities for resellers; it has been improved to include software license-renewal notifications. And a new tool, MyLicenseTracker, offers resellers a self-service option in cases where a customer's license keys have been lost, deleted or diverted into e-mail junk mail folders.

About the Author

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