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Exit Interview: Microsoft U.S. Channel Chief David Willis

After 28 years of brilliant service devoted to the partner channel and customers, David Willis has retired as Microsoft's U.S. channel chief .

Dave's is a record of ever-increasing success in which he served as vice president of Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners (SMS&P) in Canada, and eventually moved to the same channel chief role in the United States, after stints as Eastern Region VP for SMS&P and as U.S. Dynamics VP. He's been running Microsoft's U.S. channel since 2013, although the organizational name changed in 2017 to become U.S. One Commercial Partner (OCP).

Delivering More Than You're Asked For
Dave always endeavored to give you more than you asked him for. Once, when I was Eastern Region Chair for the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), I asked Dave for the names of some partner executives in various cities who might make great chapter leaders to help us expand. Instead of simply furnishing a list, Dave invited me to his next Partner Account Manager (PAM) meeting so I could speak directly with the PAMs who managed the best partners in each area -- more insight than I could have ever hoped for.

When we sat down for a brief exit interview, it felt odd to be saying goodbye to someone who has been so much a part of the Microsoft experience, and such an outstanding partner for so long. Dave explained that after spending half of his life at Microsoft, he decided it was time to achieve a bit more of a work/life balance. "I've always lived this work hard, play hard attitude. But there was a heavy emphasis on the work thing for the last 28 years. I'm looking forward to balancing that out with a little bit more play," Dave says.

Pointing out that "life's too short," the first thing Dave mentions planning to spend more time on is his family after moving them four times during his Microsoft career.

"Take the time to understand Microsoft's overall vision, our strategic direction, our product directions, all the different programs. And then really taking the time and effort to plug in and leverage them."

David Willis, Former Microsoft U.S. Channel Chief

Products. Partners. People.
Speaking on what has driven him over the past 28 years, Dave says, "There's so much really cool technology, but it really is the great Microsoft people I've worked with over the years that have inspired me, and the incredible customers when I was in customer-facing roles, and, of course, working with partners. Ultimately, the last number of roles that I did were very partner-oriented, because that was the area of the business that I was getting so much out of."

Guidance: Break It Down
It's classic Dave Willis to take a large subject and break it down to a specific number of smaller parts, then tackle each part. What's most outstanding is when you realize that none of it is just coming off the top. Dave has invested tremendous time in thinking these things through to make his message as accessible as possible to as many partners as possible.

Asked for his final guidance to the partner community, Dave nets it out to three things.

"Really have a clear understanding of what we refer to within Microsoft as a superpower. What do you do better than anybody else -- your specific solution? Automating specific business processes, industry or vertical expertise, or even technology expertise, as well. But how do you differentiate, and how do you separate from the pack? How do you deliver unique value to customers? And how do you explain it in a clear way?"

Once partners understand that superpower, it's critical to think about how to convey it. "Even though partners do have some really strong capabilities, they often don't explain as well to customers or to Microsoft or to other partners. And getting all of their employees to rally around it. And so I think that that superpower piece, I think is so important."

Put the Customer at the Center of Everything
"I have found a lot of partners will work with Microsoft expecting to get leads, which is definitely something we want to focus on. But everybody needs to be focused on the customer." It's been a process for Microsoft, he acknowledges. "Putting the customer at the center was not something, back in the early days, that we did very well. And we still need to improve, I think."

He recommends obsessing about customers, being maniacal about their satisfaction, driving their loyalty, and understanding their business with its challenges and opportunities. "If you do all that, it's a great way to get repeat recurring business, which is lower cost of sale and just merely helps a business overall."

Align with Microsoft
"Take the time to understand Microsoft's overall vision, our strategic direction, our product directions, all the different programs. And then really taking the time and effort to plug in and leverage them. As I look at different programs in the amount of funding we have, some partners do a great job taking advantage of that and many, many don't. It takes time and effort. At Microsoft and OCP, we do our best to try to expose it out to partners. There's only so much we can do. We need partners also to be really proactive."

On Opportunities
Dave remains bullish on the channel opportunity, pointing out, "If you look at just the total addressable market for digital transformation, for cloud solutions overall, it's in the trillions, right? Everything's going digital. In many ways. I think the pandemic has accelerated the need for clouds, remote working and that's only going to going to continue. But it's not about just doing transactions, it's really moving more and more to higher-valued solutions and services, around the superpower."

Specialize more and keep moving up the value chain, he adds. He recommends "moving from transactions or more traditional project-oriented services to more managed services, more developing repeatable IP that you can deliver to customers and then scale. That's where we're seeing the partners drive the most growth and the most profitability, as well."

Posted by Howard M. Cohen on April 20, 2021


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