IN THE HOT SEAT: Skilling up the mid-market

IN THE HOT SEAT: Skilling up the mid-market

Touting a background in both education and marketing, it is no wonder Microsoft's Alison Dodd, is pushing the value of partners skilling up on software solutions.

Dodd sat down with ARN during the Microsoft Partner Conference in the Sunshine Coast last month to discuss some of the opportunities for partners working with Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS).

Q: Tell us about your position at Microsoft.

Alison Dodd (AD): I look after the small business and mid-market, as well as our partner team. Our focus is on how we can build customer solutions to meet business problems. It sounds easy, but with 1.4 million small businesses, 17,000 mid-market customers, and no direct internal team, we've got to have a partner ecosystem.

Prior to that I was the director of marketing at Microsoft for three years. I started at the company seven years ago, heading up the education vertical. My background is actually in education - I have worked as a teacher and a lecturer at university.

Q. Given your background, is educating partners something you are strongly focusing on in the small and mid-market space?

AD: We invest millions making sure the partners have the right skills, tools and resources they need to be successful. We have implemented very flexible training options for our partners - from online training and Web seminars, to events like our partner conference, quarterly briefings, and IT breakfasts.

Q: At the Microsoft partner conference you claimed there was $200 million worth of opportunity in the mid-market and business solutions space. Can you tell us about some of the initiatives happening for the channel to tap into this?

AD: The business solutions division segment is quite diverse. Looking at our ERP products sets for instance, we have four suites: Navision, Great Plains, Axapta and Solomon. We have cont­inued to evolve those products and put out new releases. We're also working with other ERP players to provide business intelligence functionality and reporting capability for their solutions.

We also have our recently released Retail Management System product. There are a lot of retail outlets in Australia, so we see that being a huge growth opportunity. We've got about 35 partners for this and are looking at growing this channel. Our division also looks after the CRM product.

For each of these products, we rely on our partners. This is unlike some of Microsoft's other suites - Office, Windows Server, even Exchange - where customers will have in-house skills. People with ERP installation skills aren't sitting at a customer site waiting for a project to come along.

What are we doing about that? We've invested in new go-to-market activities. We're spending a third of our marketing money through partners and helping them to upskill their business. We sit down and jointly build a business plan with them, coach them on implementations if necessary, and agree on joint funding.

Q: CRM solutions are continuing to move down from bigger organisations into the SMB space. Have you found you've had to change tact talking about these products to partners?

AD: With 14,000 partners, you'd think it's enough. What we've found, however, is that we've had to recruit new partners to work with some of the existing partners to redefine their ideas on our products.

When we brought out products such as Great Plains standard, which was aimed more at small businesses, we recruited existing partners who were servicing customers in that space and upskilled them to include support for the newer product ranges.

Q: Some resellers suggest CRM is a good way for a small integrator to expand their business into new markets. Have you any suggestions on how they can achieve this?

AD: Depending on the partner, they need to pick a couple of things, and focus on doing them well. We've got a multitude of products - a partner would be foolish to try to spread themselves across all of them. By picking a couple of solution areas, or verticals, they can offer strong value propositions for customers working in that space.

Is that where we are at today? No. Our partners need to evolve their business and skillsets to be able to deliver those solutions.

Q: What does the rest of the year hold?

AD: On the MBS side, the focus for the next 12 months is on building joint partner marketing plans. For our mid-market space, we are focusing on strengthening relations with our top 1500 mid-market customers. We have dedicated account managers now to talk to customers.

On the small business side, we have recently launched the small business portal. And we'll continue to run our go to markets. We're only doing a few, but they'll be print and online focused. We only have six per cent marketshare in the mid-market space. We're going to try to grow our share of that market. Hopefully, over time, we can upgrade people using smaller, outdated solutions to our products.

Q: What would you do if you weren't at Microsoft?

AD: My personal passion is centered around learning and the digital divide. My ideal would be to look at ways to help bridge that digital divide between the haves and the have nots. It's something I did in a past life - using technology to teach students languages over copper wire in rural Australia.

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