Partners told Microsoft to simplify. It did, dramatically. Your move, channel.

September 5, 2017

4 Min Read
Cloud computing


Scott Paul

By Scott Paul, Senior Director, Microsoft Alliance, AppRiver

In the days following Microsoft Inspire, as with WPC, partners paused to consider the news and plan for the year ahead. Every year since it was announced in 2014, the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program has become more firmly established as the way to partner with Redmond. Each year, it helps to shape the Microsoft partner ecosystem and our businesses.

But partners are changing Microsoft’s businesses as well, and three years into the CSP program, those changes are starting to add up. The partners who jumped into Microsoft’s cloud-first plans early helped the company chart a course leading to one of the biggest changes it has ever made to its sales model — and the global organization responsible for it.

Microsoft’s new One Commercial Partner initiative is perhaps the most visible expression of the change partners are driving in Redmond. The focus on building, going to market, and selling with partners represents a major shift in the way Microsoft seeks to understand and connect with the small and midsize businesses that comprise more than 98 percent of U.S. companies.

Partners aiming to thrive in this rapidly changing ecosystem must understand its implications and plug in.

CSP Indirect Providers Driving Change

CSP indirect providers, the partners Microsoft authorizes to deliver its cloud products to resellers, are driving change by creating distribution models that incorporate ready-to-go specialty practices, vertical and market segment focus, and competencies resellers can add to their catalogs. These “practice gateways” increasingly include IP added by indirect providers and the ISVs they work with.

Resellers also are finding they can confidently add these competencies right now while growing their in-house capabilities gradually with the support of the indirect provider. Speed to market has never been more important for the channel, and the appetite of SMBs for cloud solutions shows no signs of having been satisfied. The right indirect provider can help make MSPs, SIs, VARs and nontraditional resellers quick and capable of harnessing the river of new products and technologies flowing from Microsoft and third parties through the CSP system.

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The channel also is influencing the way Microsoft packages and licenses products. To sell cloud through partners, Microsoft has been challenged to listen to its channel carefully, and they have responded positively to feedback.

The cloud’s flexibility allows Microsoft – for the first time – to …

… adjust the product, add and suppress features, and change licensing terms in real time. That may be a step forward if you’re a partner, but such flexibility enables Microsoft to make hundreds of changes every year to services, interfaces, terms and the rest. Keeping up, which is already a challenge, is becoming nearly impossible. Here, too, an experienced indirect provider can make the difference, filtering and tuning the signals coming from Redmond to match the needs of the resellers they serve.

The channel’s been pushing Microsoft for a simpler partner experience for years. Two years ago, Microsoft sported more than 150 partner programs, but the One Commercial Partner organization is cutting that by 96 percent, to just six core programs.

A sustained commitment to understanding and engaging with these programs, whether they’re used in your business or not, will be critical to future partner success. For example, One Commercial Partner aims to sell with partners much more successfully than in the past with, for example, a new customer success unit.

But if you’re not connected with the Microsoft teams in your territory and tuned into their needs, don’t expect to reap the benefits of “sell with.”

We’re not talking leads here — this is about team selling that involves Microsoft and potentially multiple partners collaborating around a single customer, industry or segment. Indirect providers play a key role here as well, connecting their smaller resellers to the Microsoft field to serve enterprise and small-to-medium corporate customers.

All this change ultimately is in the service of what Microsoft calls digital transformation, and that transformation can’t happen if it’s based on a weak or flawed understanding of the customer’s business. It’s the channel that owns the deep customer connections Microsoft needs to carry the CSP and One Commercial Partner initiatives forward.

For partners, that means it’s time to refresh your understanding of where customers are in their cloud journeys and what they need to take the next steps. Frequent customer contact and ongoing renewal of your trusted-adviser status and the credentials that make Microsoft’s channel the most valuable IT asset on the planet, plus engagement with Microsoft and/or an indirect provider, will position technology service providers of all types to flourish.

Wishing for the old days and waiting for things to settle down won’t do. You wanted change, and now you’ve got it.

Scott Paul is senior director, Microsoft Alliance, at AppRiver, a global provider of cloud-based cybersecurity and productivity solutions for businesses.

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