Market Forces

Microsoft CSP Program Pushes Partners To Change Gears

More than being just a new offering, the CSP program requires Microsoft partners to design the business model that will take them into the future.

Past vendor programs were designed to make it easier for channel partners to sell a set of solutions as one "package." While the intent of the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program shares that goal, this time partners have to complete the package on their own. The CSP requires a new mindset, where partners must clearly define the role they want to play in their customers' future.

"CSP is the value model. You cannot view this as a transaction, like you would through a traditional disti sale," says Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates. "This program is such that you buy the technology and you control the billing. You create your special offering -- management, sensors, custom applications, development change management, custom SharePoint...whatever -- and you sell the whole value."

Pin Down Your Add-Ons
One of the factors that makes this transition so challenging for partners is that there is no cookie-cutter way to proceed. The services that a partner is likely to add on top of an Office 365 subscription can be as simple as adding a monthly fee that provides the classic managed services of user support and backup/recovery. Or those add-on services can be as complex as partner-created IP, SharePoint deployment or unified communications. The options can be overwhelming.

"Managed services means something different to every partner based on segment or vertical or capability," Opal says. "For me, managed services means that I want to own IT operations. I want to participate in strategy and drive them to a better value prop by taking my high-end, well-trained talent and spreading them over my managed service clients. That gives my customers access to strategic technology expertise that's relevant and current. In turn, it gives me a highly utilized bench."

With no template to follow, partners have to objectively evaluate their strengths and resources and define the value add they can deliver to customers. More than being just a new offering, the CSP program requires partners to design the business model that will take them into the future.

"It's incumbent on partners to offer services that are relevant to our customers," Opal says. "Figure out what your long-term value proposition is. Then you can walk it back to determine if you have the right people and processes to support that model."

Figure Out Your Packaging
For most partners, marketing the packaged services of the CSP program is uncharted territory. Packaged services force a change in messaging from software to business value -- a welcome but challenging transition for most technology marketers. The business problem that the packaged service solves, instead of the technology behind it, has to drive the messaging and the marketing.

Partners starting to build the marketing plans that will support their CSP offerings should follow these five steps:

  1. Spend time with consultants to understand services. Ideally, the marketing team will be closely involved in defining the CSP offerings, identifying target markets and value propositions.

  2. Build on resources that Microsoft is providing. Microsoft's ModernBiz campaigns provide a foundation for messaging that can save partners time.

  3. Name the packages. By naming their offerings, partners establish that there has been an investment in time and resources to define their solution.

  4. Define your target market. As every experienced marketer knows, messaging is easier and marketing campaigns are more effective with a clearly defined target market.

  5. Create specific benefit-driven messaging and campaigns. Even if a partner's buyers are still IT folks, the messaging needs to be focused on the outcomes the partner delivers rather than the technology it leverages.

CSP is likely to be the most transformational program that Microsoft has ever offered to partners. It requires an evolution in mindset -- from vendor-driven solution packaging to partner-driven value solution packaging -- and gives a unique opportunity for partners to plan their future on their own terms.

More Columns by Barb Levisay:

About the Author

Barb Levisay owns Marketing for Partners, a marketing and service delivery leadership firm for Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint and ISV partners. She serves as the event chair on the Board of Directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners.

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