The Changing Channel

Why Is Microsoft Putting the Squeeze on Partner Support?

In reducing its ranks of partner-facing support personnel, Microsoft may be taking some pointers from the president of Howard's old company: "If you've got enough people to do the job, you have too many people."

One of the highlights of my career was the time I spent working at The Computer Factory. While it's true that Factory is credited with being one of the first to start the downward spiral of product margins by competing with deep discounting ("whoring boxmovers" was a term often used to describe us), there were also a lot of great lessons that came out of the experience.

Jay Gottlieb, the eccentric but brilliant president of that company, had many famous sayings and management tactics. For example, if you started to tell him something and it was obvious that you were going to hold forth for several minutes, Jay would stick his finger in your face and say, "30 seconds!" and instantly you would edit down what you were saying. I still use that one sometimes.

But my favorite by far was Jay's saying, "If you've got enough people to do the job, you have too many people." This admonition caused you to do two things:

  1. Use as much automation as you possibly could. We developed some groundbreaking technology at The Computer Factory, some of which has found its way into companies like the now-defunct Vanstar, The Computer Factory-acquirer CompuCom and several manufacturers.

  2. Get much more done with much less. I pride myself on this second point. Thanks to my Factory education, I've helped other companies reduce their workforce by more than one-third, yet increase their revenue and profitability. For what it's worth, we also built one of the first great IT service organizations at The Computer Factory, and many of our team members are running highly successful service organizations to this day.

Microsoft May Have Been Listening
Another Factory luminary was our VP of sales and marketing, Russell Madris, who went on to build and successfully sell MoreDirect. Russell's favorite saying was simply, "No surprises." I've also lived by that admonition for my entire career.

So it was with some dismay that I received a surprise e-mail from one of my closer contacts at Microsoft -- a mid-level marketing and business development manager who had been doing a good job in a difficult position -- telling me that her position had been eliminated. Being someone who was trained early on to disdain surprises, I started asking friends in the Microsoft partner ecosystem what they had heard.

I won't bore you with the details of the responses. A concise summary is that Microsoft is undergoing another reduction in force (RIF) to prepare for some major changes coming on Oct. 26, the day we've been told to expect Windows 8 to be released. I could get into a metaphorical discussion about how the tiles on the new, formerly called "Metro" Windows Phone/Surface/Windows 8/Zune interface can be squeezed, and so can we partners, but, well ... I just did, didn't I?

The upshot is that Microsoft COO Kevin Turner wants to see partners doing more of the heavy lifting. It has been obvious to any Microsoft watcher that the partner program has been just too expensive for the COO's taste, so the smaller partners were squeezed by the introduction of the Microsoft Partner Network. The profitability of Dynamics licensing was taken away from the smaller partners. And now the support that partners have enjoyed for many years is being pinched to cut costs. It leaves you wondering what Microsoft will call the interface instead of Metro. PartnerStrategy?

Again, here's the balance to all of this. Microsoft is a company that's in business to make money. With Apple recently becoming the most valuable company of all time, there's probably way less joy in Redmond. Mighty Kevin Turner hasn't struck out, but with the Surface surprise, the Microsoft Stores proliferating at a surprising rate and now another surprise partner-facing RIF, you have to wonder if he isn't swinging for the fences all on his own. Who needs a team? How's that -- a metaphor driving right into a sports analogy.

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a consultant to IT vendors and channel partner companies and a board member of the U.S. chapter of the IAMCP. Reach him at [email protected].