The Changing Channel

Parsing Through the WPC 2013 Rumors (UPDATED)

Are PAMs going away? Is a major partner executive leaving? As usual, there were plenty of rumors floating around this year's Worldwide Partner Conference floor -- some more well-founded than others. Howard separates fact from fiction.

[Ed.'s note: A modified version of this column ran in RCP's September issue.]

One of the more fun highlights of attending the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) is hearing all of the rumors. After 14 or 15 WPCs, you begin to be able to instinctively tell the ones that are likely to be true from the ones that are very unlikely.

Very Unlikely
The very unlikely ones are usually pretty boring, even somewhat dumb. Jon Roskill being replaced is a great example. That's not happening. [UPDATE, 8/29: A month after this column was posted, Microsoft announced that Jon Roskill will step down from his position as corporate vice president of the company’s Worldwide Partner Group, to be replaced by Phil Sorgen.]

I saw Roskill a few times at WPC and he is the same incredibly happy, welcoming, committed channel champion he's always been. I did notice, however, that he is being referred to as "Channel Chief" more than ever before. Don't know if that's an attempt to diminish his role, or just Microsoft oddly following the crowd instead of leading it.

Losing Roskill would be a hammer blow to the channel. The guy genuinely cares about the channel and works hard to improve things against some impressive resistance. The first time I met with Roskill, he started off by saying, "I'm only in the role five days, so please give me some time to wrap my arms around things." He ended the same meeting by saying, "Maybe we could change this, or maybe we could do that..." He saw the challenges implicit in the Microsoft Partner Network and was already passionate about making it better. He still is.

Very Likely
There are no confirmed numbers, but some have been approximated and mentioned in Microsoft publications, and others have been mentioned by loose-lipped Microsoft employees who shall remain unnamed.

Roughly 14,000 people attended WPC this year, down from 16,000 last year. That could have something to do with the fact that last year's WPC was held in cool and comfortable Toronto, and this year it returned to Houston, where it was last held in 2008. There are still rumors of human beings melting from the last time, or at least multiple cases of heat prostration.

About 60 percent of attendees were not from the United States. Having given four presentations this year and seeing large blocks of the audience completely unreactive to what I consider at least mildly funny jokes, I can believe this stat. I don't know if it speaks louder to the thought that maybe WPC should be moved to Europe (Toronto was the first WPC outside the United States), or that U.S. partners don't see as much value in it as they once did.

There was a clear lack of Dynamics partners this year, with many telling me they simply go to Convergence, where they get far more value.

About 3,000 of conference goers were attending WPC for the very first time. These folks were issued red ID card lanyards to identify them. This just seems like a very large proportion. Does it mean that the partner ownership that used to attend has tired of coming and now just sends others to show loyalty and allegiance to mother Microsoft? If so, how can Microsoft respond with more relevant content for those who really call the shots?

A lot of the partners who were grandfathered into the new Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) three years ago when it was first introduced are no longer part of the program. There are no stats on where they went, but we can intuit a few conjectures:

  • Many saw the MPN as just demanding too much of them, and Microsoft as not having enough value for them, so they just dropped out of the network and went on doing pretty much what they had always done.

  • Some saw this as a sign that it was time to give up on their business. While this is sad, it's hard to think they wouldn't have done so eventually, anyway.

  • Some in the Dynamics program didn't see a way to sustain their partnership and either chose another ERP provider to partner with, or went out of business.

  • A very, very small percentage decided that Google's continuing odd excuse for a partner program was better than the demanding MPN program and went there. If you're one of those, please contact me and tell me how it's going for you.

What Microsoft doesn't seem to realize yet is that many who left -- and even more who have stayed -- have seen Microsoft as treating the smaller partners who got the company where it is with benign neglect. Some point to Kevin Turner's focus on scorecards and his obvious distaste for the small partner as the reason.

My own assessment is that Turner is a very results-focused, execution-oriented executive. My favorite of his favorite phrases is "Planning without execution is fantasy." I just find myself wondering whose execution he's talking about. When Turner first arrived to Microsoft fresh from Wal-Mart, he very likely looked at the spreadsheet showing how much Microsoft spent supporting partners and said, "Why are we spending so much on these little guys who can't be producing so much?" 

Someone should have also shown him the historicals dating back to 1975 showing how those little guys created Microsoft's success.

New and Smaller Partners: Do Yourself a Favor and Join IAMCP
Many of those partners remain in the program, but now treat Microsoft with the same benign neglect they've gotten. We've seen it in the fall-off of longtime members of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), which continues to struggle to rebuild its ranks from the fledgling new partners who need it most.

If you're a small partner or a new partner, go to www.iamcp-us.org today and join. For a few hundred bucks a year, you'll find a few thousand partners who are anxious to help you make the most of your Microsoft partnership in ways Microsoft itself never will.

Allison Watson's Golden Gift to the Channel
Another well-founded rumor is that the title "Partner Account Manager" is going away. What is clear is that every member of the Microsoft field force has been turned customer-facing, which brings us all backward a full 10 years. I'll close with a little personal story that will explain this:

Ten years ago, when I was still an executive at a very successful Microsoft Gold partner (this was back when you could be a Gold partner), I was invited to the Microsoft's New York City office for a one-on-one meeting with then-channel chief Allison Watson. We had a wide-ranging and utterly enjoyable discussion about the channel, the business, the customers, the technologies, the products and more.

Then, Watson asked me what Microsoft could do to help my company. I replied by explaining to her that I was very lonely. I had nobody to talk to -- nobody at Microsoft, at least. There was nobody who was assigned to help me, to be my primary point of contact to get things done. This meant I had to spend time hunting people down inside what was already a mammoth organization.

I don't remember what Watson said to me that day, but her loudest response came in the form of the Microsoft Partner Program, which included someone called a Partner Account Manager, whose primary job was to support me and my company. That began years of incredible growth and success for many of us.

Now, that incredibly well-considered resource may be no more. Benign neglect? Not so benign.

Catch up on more news and analysis from WPC 2013 here.

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