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Prospering as an 'Expert in a Sliver of Technology'

Based on the number of mergers and acquisitions in the Microsoft channel, one would think that large scale is the only way to prosper as a partner in the cloud. Many partners believe high growth is the only path to strengthening ties to Microsoft -- and tapping the motherload of leads. But there remain partners without super-size aspirations who capture Microsoft's attention and reap the rewards.

As one of the first partners to implement BPOS, the precursor to Office 365, LiftOff launched into the cloud early. "We latched on, and committed to learning that product," said Ron Braatz, president of LiftOff. "One of the things that I had been telling partners, as a Microsoft employee was, if you want to get into a new market, start small, build your experience, build some case studies. Grow it however you like from there. You have to be an expert."

Heeding his own advice, LiftOff started small, implementing low user count BPOS systems and taking their time to build expertise before tackling larger projects. "The goal of Liftoff was to help orgs deliver successful projects. I thought that I had seen enough, and worked with enough partners and clients to really be able to do that," said Braatz. "To go into a project, no matter what kind of an IT project it was, and make it successful, that was our intent."

Based on his experience at Microsoft, Braatz knew that consistency in delivery of projects was the foundation of building the kind of relationship that would earn referrals. Microsoft personnel look to those partners who they trust to be the experts in implementing a given solution. Like any sales person, they want the best to deliver the services to their customer.

"I think more than growth, Microsoft gives attention to partners doing the job right. So, when Microsoft reaches out to us, for a project or a conversation, or an engagement, or just questions," said Braatz, "it's because we have good, mutual respect. They understand that we're experts in a sliver of technology."

While many partners working outside the enterprise market feel abandoned through the One Commercial Partner engagement model, Braatz sees it as beneficial to LiftOff. "The effect of what's happened is a lot of the Microsoft sales people that we used to work closely with have been transitioned to working larger projects," said Braatz. "So, the smaller projects are more hand offs, and that's a good model for us."

Liftoff's expertise in the product means they don't need the presales support that many partners look for from Microsoft. "We don't require a lot of co-selling with Microsoft. But, initial engagement, and introductions, are critical," said Braatz. "What that means is, they are being introduced to us. Which is great, for us. It's hard to say that less engagement from Microsoft is good. But, it's working in our favor in the latest model."

In a State of the Channel update this week, Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft corporate vice president for One Commercial Partner, announced that there are now more than 68,000 cloud partners. Since July, almost 80,000 customer referrals have been passed on to partners, she said. Big numbers like that drive home the importance of standing out in the crowd.

"My advice when I talk to partners is still, be great at a few things instead of pretty good at a lot of things because there's a lot of competition when you're pretty good," added Braatz. "What we found is that by focusing on a few things, we're able to position ourselves as a leader. We're one of the top partners because we do so much of our Microsoft technology sliver."

How are you making the most of your partnership with Microsoft? Send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on January 25, 2018