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With 20,000 CSPs, Microsoft Partners Need a Stand-Out Strategy

In a State of the Channel update this week, Gavrielle Schuster, corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group at Microsoft, announced that there are now more than 20,000 partners transacting through the Cloud Service Provider (CSP) program -- up from 3,500 a year ago.

That's got to be a sobering number for every cloud partner. As the field of competitors grows, the average partner with 20 to 90 employees needs a clear strategy to stand out from the crowd.

An observer from outside the channel might think that defining a clear strategy seems like an easy and obvious path for partners. But for MSPs, VARs and SIs who built their businesses serving a broad range of clients, it's far from simple. With no previous industry or functional specialization, betting the farm on a narrow line of business can be paralyzing.

Microsoft is working valiantly to help partners see the value in specializing. The Modern Partner series, blogs and training are focused on helping partners take the leap.

One of the biggest barriers for partners is the valid concern that selecting a specialty without deep market research is risky. Few partners have the expertise, time or the money to pursue an objective, data-based research project. But there are several steps that partners of every size can take to start the progression to a specialized strategy.

Evaluate Internal Strengths
Bring your people together to talk about the expertise held within the organization. Since you will need the buy-in of everyone on the team, include them all in the process. Talk about the projects that have been most successful and the customers who have valued your work. Pay particular attention to the customers that you and the team enjoy working with the most. You're likely to be more successful if you can focus the business on work that your people are passionate about.

Research the Competition
While you may not be able to perform in-depth market research, the Web makes it easy to evaluate the competition and their messages. Stand in the shoes of your prospects and read what competitors claim objectively.

In 2008, when deciding where to focus his practice, Kevin Fream, CEO and CTO of Matrixforce Corp., started with Web searches. "I looked at what competitors were saying and then worked on how we could position it differently," he said.

"A good example was coming up with Overwatch to address the ransomware problem," explained Fream. "Most organizations need to have an ongoing and combined enterprise cybersecurity, data breach protection and device management. We didn't see competitors offering a complete solution so we put together a selection of products that combined to provide an easy-to-understand package. It is cost-effective for customers [and] has good margin for us."

Define and Validate Your Value Proposition
The secret sauce that Matrixforce has discovered is not only defining but validating the value proposition. "You have to have a good strategy and then spell out your value proposition," said Fream. "The epiphany for me was seeing that everyone said the same thing, without backing it up."

There are few partner Web sites that don't claim to have "seasoned professionals" or "industry expertise." Even if your organization does have depth of experience in a specific solution or industry, since every other competitive partner is saying the same thing, those statements become meaningless to prospects.

"One of the simplest things we have found to set our solutions apart is a brand name and slogan," said Fream. "It's inexpensive and differentiates the message."

Matrixforce registers its solution names to protect their brand and deliver a more professional message. The company has recently completed patenting its methodology to further demonstrate commitment to formal, professional processes -- especially important for its target of financial services companies. It also references qualifications, like being a C Corporation and its Microsoft Gold partner status, prominently to validate its expertise.

"By promoting your Microsoft certifications, you send the message that there is strength behind your services," said Fream. "The platform may be a commodity, but your knowledge and your services are validated by the Microsoft competency."

The effort that Matrixforce has put into its cloud offerings is delivering results. "2016 has been a big transition year and we are poised for a spectacular year in 2017," said Fream.

To thrive in a field with 20,000 competitors (and growing), creating a unique strategic direction for your company is imperative. Your solutions need to build on the expertise and passion of your team. You need to spell out why your solutions are different from the others and back it up with proof. The combination of clear strategy and value proposition will give you the foundation to make the cloud your next business success.

How are you differentiating your CSP offerings? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

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Posted by Barb Levisay on December 08, 2016 at 7:27 AM