Partner director flags solution shift at Microsoft

A strong focus on training and re-educating partners in solutions over products sets will drive Microsoft’s channel initiatives during the next year, executives told attendees at its annual partner conference in the Sunshine Coast this week.

Reiterating the overall conference theme of solution suites rather than straight product sales, Microsoft partner group director, Kerstin Baxter, said the vendor’s main channel strategy was to encourage partners to gain competencies and certifications.

"Partner competencies are a transition of what we’ve been as a company," she said. "Before Microsoft partners could say they did everything with all of our products. Now they have to focus on solution areas.

"Because our product offerings are so complex and so broad we really want to recognise partners who understand and acknowledge that we don’t want them to focus on everything."

With the majority of Microsoft’s partner programs already in place, Baxter said it would now create more niche initiatives. For example, Microsoft would look at introducing more of a closed channel for its Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) product suites, such as its CRM software, Baxter said.

"You need certain certifications to sell these products compared to our traditional infrastructure products," she said. "With CRM, you need to be authorised to receive a fee and be listed as an approved CRM partner. We call this the certified software advisor program.

"We’re encouraging partners to get onboard with this immediately, as this is where we’ll be sending any customer who have queries. "CRM requires a different sales cycle. We’re looking for partners who engage with sales managers. In turn, this is what we’ll focus on with our CRM training."

To coincide with its push for upskilling partners, Baxter said the software giant would offer subsidised and recommended training programs through its Partner Learning Centre, to be launched to Microsoft gold and certified partners shortly.

Another focal point for Microsoft would be strengthening its offerings to the ISV and software development community.

Baxter said it was in the process of piloting an ISV advisory service with Australian ISV, BNS Group, to help such organisations bring new products and applications to market.

"If you’re developing a custom application, it’s a one-off," Baxter said. "As an ISV, you’re actually taking a solution to market in a much broader distribution approach - much like Microsoft does."

The Advisory service would provide ISVs with architectural assistance to ensure partners write applications in the most robust way, she said. Microsoft would also provide tips on best practices and how to bundle software to take it to market.

With the aim of furthering boosting its partner marketing skills, Microsoft would also launch a new marketing service program in the first half of next year to assist partners to develop new promotional campaigns, she said.

Nadia Cameron travelled to the Sunshine Coast as a guest of Microsoft