IN THE HOT SEAT: Adding up the channel

IN THE HOT SEAT: Adding up the channel

Canadian-born Kerstin Baxter is a mathematics and computing whiz with a Masters of Math — amid some other degrees — under her belt. Firmly committed to a career in IT, her channel expertise across the big pond at Compaq and Digital landed her in good stead in Australia — with Microsoft scooping her up and testing out her partner skills. Starting in Melbourne seven years ago in the enterprise business, she relocated to Sydney in 2002 to take on a national role as the director of the partner group.

What are your main responsibilities in your current role?

KB: As director of the partner group, I have the responsibility of implementing our overall partner strategy for Microsoft Australia. And that means making sure we are aligned appropriately with worldwide directions, and making sure we’re implementing what’s most appropriate for our Australian business partners and the overall Australian market place.

I have a team of 35 people, as well as a set of contractors, and we’re responsible for thinking about partners across the overall company. We think about all of the geographies, and all of the different partner types and communities (everybody from our system builders and national OEM business, through to our system integrators, ISVs, distribution, licensing partners and Microsoft Business Solutions partner community).

What are the main business objectives for 2004?

KB: The business has to be about making sure that we are well-engaged with our overall partner communities; that we are together driving business and meeting customer needs.

We think about making sure we have the right partners to address those needs. There is always a recruitment type of component, as well as an understanding of what our current partners actually have to take to market including vertical and horizontal solutions, and ensuring we have the geographical coverage. Engaging with the smaller partners is partic­ularly important to us. The smaller organisations that are doing some very innovative types of work.

Of course, we want to make sure our new partner program is a success, and that we refine it to meet our partner needs, but also that we are promoting it to our customers so they understand the partners they should be engaging with.

What are your top three areas of focus this year?

KB: It’s tough to categorise because our business is so complex. We are talking about Windows on the desktops, the laptops, our mobility solutions, server technologies as well as new products that we’re bringing to market: for example, CRM and retail management solutions.

And then what you have to do is start to segment the customers across Australia. We have specific initiatives in our small business area, for instance, where we’re working with partners to help develop further solutions around our small business server.

Currently, we’re talking about mobility with our Microsoft partners and how mobility can help small businesses, and we see a huge opportunity there.

Of course, security is key across all of our customer needs. And then through mid-market and enterprise, we’re also taking a look at the vertical needs of our customers.

We also see a huge opportunity around integration where organisations have lots of different solutions, but don’t know how to integrate them to make sure they are sharing information and that there’s a complete supply chain (whether it’s within the organisation or outside).

In working with partners, what areas of the business do you find most exciting?

KB: I’m always amazed at what our partners do with our technology: to actually deliver applications. I get excited around the work our ISVs are doing. Over 200 ISVs in Australia have recently joined our Power Program, which is for organisations that are developing new product. We created a program that helps them get access to software and advice so they can create the product and then join some of our other partner programs later on that help with the sales and marketing of those products.

What are some of your main challenges in working with the channel?

KB: Our first challenge is actually understanding what all of our partners do because we have a broad partner community and ecosystem. And once we understand what they all do — and we’re asking our partners to profile themselves — we can most affectively engage and support them.

The bigger challenge is how to actually facilitate the partners partnering. And that’s an emerging trend we’re seeing in the market because the products are becoming more broad and solutions are more complex.

We will be launching some online tools in the new year, as well as hosting events and activities that help them meet each other to talk about the solutions, and we will actually introduce them to each other.

What advice can you offer partners?

KB: My biggest piece of advice is that they make sure to take the time to understand their primary vendors and what they offer that suits the business. Many times we get asked to offer a benefit, which already exists. Of course, this means that we need to ensure we spend time on developing even better communication, and that we have the information needed when the partners need to access it. Communication is so key, and one truly cannot underestimate the need for it.

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