VAR. Reseller. ISV. Systems integrator. Consultant.
You may be familiar with these high-tech partner labels, but channel managers must get ready to become comfortable with an entirely different set of technology solutions influencers.
The transformation of Microsoft’s partner program into a beast called the Microsoft Partner Network (come on they have 640,000 partners, the program IS a beast) is a harbinger of things to come across the channel. Not tomorrow, necessarily, but over the next 12 to 18 months as businesses come out of their shells and start investing in technology again.
When I spoke with Allison Watson, Microsoft corporate vice president, Worldwide Partner Group, before the company’s partner gathering earlier this month, she said Microsoft has been segmenting its partner types even moreso than it has done in the past based on changes in the way that customers buy or acquire technology. If a 20-something is only familiar with free applications, then Microsoft better figure out how to get inside his or her head. Stat.
As an example, Web design firms and developers are of keen interest, especially as Web sites and Web 2.0 applications increasingly become the front door to businesses. Of course, hosting companies are another focus, because of the influence they hold in small and midsize businesses who are considering cloud-based software options. Here’s some detail on Microsoft’s new effort with hosting providers. Routes to market surrounding home media continue to be evaluated.
Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft worldwide partner program, figures there are 9 or 10 major business models that technology companies now must consider as routes to market, especially as the industry moves to what Microsoft calls “software plus services” and the rest of the world calls software as a service. You think 640,000 partners is a lot, the company could grow up to 1 million by pulling in these next-generation influencers, Bennani figures.
Who knows who these partners are? Your guess is as good as theirs, but you can believe the Microsoft is very busy finding out.
Of course, supporting all these partners will be a tricky matter indeed.
That’s why you’ll see more money being spent on tools and resources that address two major areas:
- Embracing social media and social networks to communicate. Watson estimates that Microsoft has about 3,500 followers and the company is looking closely at how social networks can accelerate and improve customer support. (Here’s a separate blog I did for my Business Brains platform that discusses Microsoft’s plans.)
- Business development resources for partners transitioning from an old model to a new model. Let’s face it, it’s easy to stick with what works until it doesn’t work anymore. Problem is that is happening rather quickly. An example of something that could help soften the blow is the Profitability Modeler, a Microsoft tool that helps partners estimate three-year profit and loss impacts for moving into new business areas. A similar resource is an updated Practice Builder and Services Ready Initiative.