Microsoft’s Partner Network (MPN) has been the primary delivery vehicle for Microsoft technology to small and midsize businesses for decades, and partners continue to drive adoption of Office 365 and Azure services by hundreds of thousands of new business users every month. It’s no secret to MPN members that new Microsoft technologies, programs and business models can heavily influence their practices. But, today, as Microsoft releases hundreds of new features and applications to its cloud customers every year, partners also are influencing Redmond like never before.
As a hosting service provider, AppRiver was accustomed to using Microsoft technologies such as Exchange to create products that, while familiar to most businesses, were unique to us. Everything from SLA to architecture to cost was within our direct control. And when anything changed, it was because we decided it needed to change. Six years ago, that definition of control was challenged. As an Office 365 Syndication launch partner in the summer of 2011, we needed to find ways to differentiate and create value without being in control of the speeds and feeds and infrastructure – or when and how things changed. Office 365 also began to transform the way Microsoft does partnering, and that transformation is still in its early stages. How would Microsoft keep partners engaged even as it became the sole designer and hoster of the cloud services that generate nearly universal demand among business customers today?
These days, Microsoft is looking to its partners to connect with customer needs faster and more comprehensively. In something of a reversal, managed service providers, hosters, system integrators and other partner types are helping Microsoft refine its cloud products and shape the customer experience. And there’s real customer value in this trend. In 2011, partners had fewer than three dozen Microsoft cloud products with which to be concerned. Today, the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) catalog boasts more than 600 individual offer IDs, and every month brings offers that are new, expiring, or different. Significantly, though, through major new initiatives such as the One Commercial Partner organization within Microsoft and groundbreaking events like the Digital Transformation Academy in Las Vegas earlier in November, Microsoft seeks to accelerate and improve collaboration between its product, program and field sales teams and MPN partners. The results of such efforts will take time to develop, but early indications suggest they could be significant.
Filtering and tuning the huge volume of product information and other signaling Microsoft generates so that customers can make good decisions quickly is a critical job that can only be done by partners. The Indirect Reseller model can help smaller partners manage this task by pairing them with large providers who interpret Microsoft news and messaging for their channels. Sometimes, as with the arrival of the Microsoft 365 product family this month, indirect providers help partners prepare for big new product events that will have an immediate impact. At other times, providers may encourage partners to watch and wait while Microsoft readies a product like Dynamics 365 for wider adoption. And through it all, the MPN ecosystem is generating its own messaging back to Microsoft about what’s working and what isn’t; what customers want and what they could do without. It’s these deeper relationships between providers and their channel partners, and between those channel partners and their customers, that are creating the biggest transformation of Microsoft’s commercial organization in the company’s history.
Scott Paul, Senior Director, Microsoft Alliance, is a veteran AppRiver professional who has managed sales operations and strategic accounts for the past five years. Scott was AppRiver's project leader for the rollout of AppRiver's Microsoft Office 365 offering and has managed hundreds of large customer and partner rollouts across AppRiver's entire suite of services. He’s responsible for AppRiver’s overall sales performance today, and reports to the COO.
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