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Learning Partners Energize P2P, Part 1

Learning partners are experiencing a renaissance in the channel as a result of a Microsoft engagement model aimed to foster partner-to-partner (P2P) relationships. Providing a conduit to connect partners with a shared interest in customer education, the engagement model is fueling collaboration. large account resellers (LARs), system integrators (SIs) and learning partners are combining their strengths to help customers realize the full value of the software that they own.

New Value in Partnering
While learning partners have long understood the value of partnering, some SIs and value-added resellers (VARs) viewed them as competition for service revenue in the form of training. That concern is waning as the industry becomes more specialized. Most partners recognize that it's better to focus on their strengths than to try to be everything to every customer.

Learning partners have a different type of relationship with customers than other partners, as well. As teachers rather than consultants, their connections reach deeper into customer organizations. With the democratization of IT (like cloud solutions that don't require IT approval), direct connections with business managers have become more valuable. 

"Learning partners have deep relationships with our customers," observed Jenni Flinders, Microsoft U.S. vice president of partner strategy and programs. "They serve as advocates to help customers get the full benefits from their licensing. In turn, they are trusted partners and carry a lot of influence with customers. They help drive adoption and additional business."

The Three-Legged Stool
Over the past two years, Tiffany Wallace, director of partner alliances for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, has seen a fundamental shift in the way learning partners work with Microsoft field teams. In the past, without partner account managers (PAMs) like reselling partners, learning partners missed out on the benefits of internal and channel advocacy. "We weren't really on the radar before," noted Wallace, speaking of the Microsoft field sales teams.

That changed in 2011, when Microsoft established the role of regional enablement director (RED) to promote higher visibility of learning partners and their capacity to contribute to the channel ecosystem. REDs help partners connect with one another based on the concept that LARs, service partners and learning partners form a "three-legged stool" to support customers.

The ideal triumvirate approach includes:

  • LARs selling the software to the customers
  • SIs and VARs deploying and customizing the software
  • Learning partners helping customers use and support the solutions

Fostering the P2P connection between the three partner groups is the fundamental purpose of the REDs. "The learning partners are getting more and more engaged with all of the partner types to drive a holistic approach to our customers," said Scott Akin, Microsoft's director of partner enablement and learning channel. "Training leads to adoption and deployment and ultimately customer satisfaction. The connection to the other partners is critical. My team is opening the doors to help the learning partners to engage."

Apparently, the new engagement is making the intended impact. "It's moved the dial for us," said Wallace, who covers 22 metro areas. "I can reach out to my RED and find out which partners I should connect with in Kansas City. He works with the field sales team and talks the internal language."

Through collaboration with local partners, New Horizons extends its reach to educate more customers. In turn, it can help service partners educate customers on new technologies in a number of ways, including Microsoft Experience Center (MEC) events.

Next Time: Expansion of MECs
Learning partners are now able to use their facilities and equipment to host MEC events to give customers a hands-on experience with the newest wave of business solutions. More on those collaborative ventures next time.

How are you partnering to help customers adopt new technologies? Add a comment below, or send me a note and let's share your story. 

More from This Series:

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 14, 2013


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