Playing the Incentives Game

At a Microsoft partner meet-up recently, I was exchanging tips with other Microsoft partners, and one message kept coming through: It's not about you, it's about Microsoft, and to succeed as a Microsoft partner you need to understand what Microsoft -- and often a particular person at Microsoft -- wants.

That can be tricky to discover. Many of us play coy with a new or unfamiliar business relationship, keeping our cards close to the chest. Microsoft is a very large company with a lot of doors and windows through which relationships can start, but not all of them lead to the treasury and not every 'Softie will be upfront about his or her specific goals or interests.

But they do exist, because Microsoft is extremely focused on creating specific incentives and targets for staff. This focus on incentives that reflect the company's most-current priorities (which change every year at least slightly and sometimes substantially) has been cemented into the company's psyche by Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner. If you can discover which of those priorities your Microsoft counterpart's incentives are aligned with, you're in a much better position to decide how valuable a given contact might be.

Those incentives may not always be obvious. My view is that they are heavily weighted toward Microsoft's competitive concerns and often focused on specific companies, such as VMware, Google and Cisco Systems. How much of a threat these companies represent to Microsoft's core business is open to debate, but that Microsoft dearly wants to take them down is not in question.

Cultivating Relationships
With whom a partner should cultivate relationships also depends on what the partner wants. If you're on the marketing side for a Microsoft partner, a Microsoft product manager -- in what's typically a marketing role -- can be a useful ally.

If you're an ISV or developer, a program manager -- who's focused on product development -- may be more useful.

How do you find out what a Microsoft counterpart's incentives are? You can start by asking. Some Microsoft staff may consider that intrusive or view it as an attempt to get confidential information. Others may figure that telling a potential partner exactly what will gain them the most from this Microsoft employee is most likely to generate partner activity that will help the employee reach his goals. If a partner figures there's nothing to lose by getting this out in the open, they may as well ask. After all, many Microsoft partners are transparent about what their goals are, so lining a partner's goals up with the right person on the Microsoft side requires some openness on Microsoft's part.

Where Credit Is Due
Another issue is who gets credit. Don't count on Microsoft to blow your horn when you bring in a big deal.

One systems integrator told me recently of facing competition from Microsoft for some major engagements (typically involving Microsoft consultants), only to have Microsoft turn around after it won the deal and ask the integrator if the integrator would do -- and get paid for doing -- the actual integration work. The reason: it's all about who gets to chalk up the win, because some incentive plans count wins, not implementations. The implementation bone can be safely handed off for the integrator to chew on, while the Microsoft employee gets to notch another win toward his or her annual incentive reward.

And if Microsoft wants you to blow your horn, such as by doing a case study about how you won and implemented an engagement? There's a good chance that there's an incentive at stake. Microsoft loves case studies, because they're a powerful tool for convincing customers that they won't be the first to take a chance on a Microsoft product or services initiative, and that makes case studies an activity worth rewarding employees for.

The one big thing to avoid in all this? Losing sight of your priorities while you help Microsoft achieve its goals. Don't forget what all this chumminess and alignment of goals is supposed to achieve -- success for you.

Next Time: Threat to Microsoft's End-to-End Status

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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