Both Sides

Microsoft Partners: Get Used to Dodging a Drunk Dinosaur

A few of Microsoft's recent moves have the company lumbering right onto partners' territory.

Last time I talked about the Microsoft wind and trying to catch it in the sails of each of our businesses. The wind was customers' interest and Microsoft's focused efforts on certain products. Coming out of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, I'm feeling the wind blow strongest in a few directions, but the most notable is a strong headwind coming at the channel.

Office 365 Adoption and Deployment
Microsoft not only wants to sell the cloud, it wants to make sure clients deploy it and use it actively. The recent announcement that Microsoft will offer clients free onboarding for Office 365 is a major initiative in this area. I think this effort stems from a number of different desires. One is control: Microsoft wants to control the deployment of the client. Redmond's expecting this level of involvement will make clients move faster to the cloud and ensure mail is migrated to Microsoft datacenters. Second: Microsoft wants to remove any real or perceived barriers to deployment -- is that partner charging too much? Are they fighting Microsoft support for attention? Is the client trying to do it themselves?

I'm watching this area closely: Does the client really want to work with Microsoft directly? Do they trust Microsoft enough? Can Microsoft scale? What will partners do when they have the option to recommend an Exchange migration where the project will be $15,000 in services to their business or a move to the cloud that could be less than $5,000?

I have more questions than answers, but the bottom line is that Microsoft will be pushing adoption hard. This year expect sales specialists to have specific commitment in this area, and I think you'll see active use become a core part of the entire field's comp plan next Microsoft fiscal year.

Direct to Client
The free mail migration offer from Microsoft, the cut in the enterprise Partner of Record fees, the slashing of fees in the Large Account Reseller channel (now called Licensing Solution Providers) and the hiring of more field team members all suggest that Microsoft will take a more direct relationship with the client. As a partner community, you're seeing less transparency from Microsoft and my expectation is the trend will continue. Microsoft's trust of its own partner community is diminishing. My advice: Keep the relationships with your clients tight, and ensure their satisfaction.

Microsoft Azure
Azure is in a highly competitive space with Amazon and Google. Look for Microsoft to drive Azure agendas into each and every account it touches. It will be especially interesting to see how Microsoft adds utility services and more applications onto the platform. Keep your eye on bundles such as the Enterprise Mobility Suite that combine new innovative services like Azure Active Directory Premium (multi-factor authentication self-service password reset) with market laggard Windows Intune. My encouragement in this area is to pick a workload for Azure and focus on that one first. Azure is so wide that trying to understand or sell it all is intense. Find that area that's best for your client base.

Like most partners, we struggle with finding the balance between working on the business and working in the business. As part of stepping back and looking at the Microsoft changes, I recently met with one of my business mentors. I described the massive change our born-in-the-cloud business would need to execute to stay in business. This is mainly caused by the tremendous impact that losing mail migration revenue to Microsoft will have on our financials.

Handling suppliers with high levels of power, my mentor said, can be quite like dealing with a drunk dinosaur. Their agenda makes them lurch from side to side. They're so big that they don't always know where they're going. And they don't feel a thing when they step on you.

It seems to me that Microsoft at least used to recognize it was a dinosaur, and tried harder to indicate where it was going to step. Lately, I think it's too worried about its own short-term agenda to worry much about the problems it's causing its partners.

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About the Author

M.S. Partner is a pseudonym for a former Microsoft U.S. field rep who returned to the channel and writes this column to help other partners succeed with Microsoft. Let M.S. Partner know your thoughts and questions about how Microsoft works at mspartner@rcpmag.com.