A few days ago, someone asked me “how, as a Microsoft partner, can we effectively work with Microsoft?”. I was asked to explain three ways of doing so, and when people ask for three of anything, for some reason on the spot, I can think of two main ones and then have to make up a third one, or on a better day I can think of ten, and try to prioritise them in my mind and come up with three! On this occasion it was the case that two came to my mind and I made up a third one and tried to make it more appealing (which worked by the way!). But after the call it kept me thinking for a day or so, and then I did think of ten different things that in my experience I did well when engaging with Microsoft as a partner and I have picked the top four for this post.
Of course, all these points are my personal views and are based on my personal experience working closely in the past 12 years with Microsoft. I have worked with Microsoft as a P-Seller, as an MVP, as a partner within the capacity of Head of Cloud, sometimes in an alliance role, and sometimes as a technologist or CIO advisor.
1. Have a strategy
No corporate, business unit, or functional unit can survive without a clear strategy and set of well-defined goals in their ever-changing environment. Partnership with Microsoft is no exception. A clear strategy should have well-defined financial goals, cover the ways and means of partnership, detail the processes that needs to be in place in order to help achieving the financial and partnership goals, and, last but not least, cover the people’s perspective and how your people can enable and drive financial, partnership and process-related strategic goals.
Strategy may appear as an obvious one, but it is an important one that I have seen partners missing or put less emphasis on year on year. You do get to submit your partner’s strategy to Microsoft once a year if I remember correctly, but having reviewed some of the partner submissions I could tell it was done rushed and as part of the process, rather than being done as a true strategy which will guide the partner to achieve meaningful goals.
If strategy is clear, and if strategic goals are defined in alignment of partners’ business goals and Microsoft expectations, then it will be much easier to come up with a more detailed action plan driven from the strategy, have everyone on the same page, and drive a fruitful relationship.
2. Have good stories, tell them and back them up
I have seen many conversations between partners’ sales representatives and Microsoft Account Executives (AE), where a partner goes asking for leads or asking Microsoft AE or ATS to share their account list and bring leads to the table. While this is one of the ultimate goals for a partner to walk out of these meetings with a few leads or target accounts, my experience is that it only works if you as a partner start telling your story, a relevant story from size, sector and technical aspects, and then you have demonstrated your value. Along the way, hopefully, you will manage to talk about how you do things differently and why they should consider you as a preferred partner in a certain area versus other partners.
Do not forget that Microsoft has many choices when it comes to partner selection. They select partners based on their past experience working with them and based on the value they think each partner can bring to the table to make their end-customer more successful. Wrong partners onboarded could sour the relationship with their customers by not delivering the value the customer expected from the Microsoft products and the consultancy carried out by the partner. Microsoft makes that choice by risk-assessment of the partner experience alongside many other factors and chooses the one that they believe has the minimum risk and higher chance of success. To be that partner, if you have a good story, you should tell it, and you should tell it well, and you should tell it to anyone who is willing to listen. You should also back it up by case studies, technical knowledge, and repeatability of the solution that was applied. Believe me, it works!
3. Partnership is a relationship
Relationships do not get built over night, or in one or two meetings. It takes time, sacrifice, commitment, and hard work. I am no expert when it comes to relationship advice, but what I know is communication, trust and understanding is fundamental.
Build that relationship and trust over months and years, and it will turn out to be a good one. Talking about the “understanding” part of the relationship advice, to me it means as a partner you always need to think about what the Microsoft contact who you are trying to build a relationship with, cares about, how they are measured, and what their KPIs are. You need to help them to achieve that and as a result you become successful because you both at the end of the day want to make the end customer successful. Doing that, a certain level of alignment grows between your objectives and those of Microsoft. It is in a sense, no different to what we do when consulting our clients, we understand their challenges, listen to their vision and requirements, and then try to provide advice, solutions and services that help our client succeed.
4. Train your employees on ways of engaging
Identify key people within your business who you think might be beneficial to network and build relationship with Microsoft. Then identify people at Microsoft that they should be focusing on building a relationship with. Educate your people on your partnership strategy and where they fit in and what is expected from them.
I used to do this in one of my previous roles by running Microsoft engagement training sessions for consultants, architects, account managers and the sales team. This resulted in having an army of people who share the same approach to the engagement, and share common objectives driven from partnership strategy. But beyond the training, the activities carried out by individuals should be mentored initially to ensure it is on the right track. And mentorship should continue. I used to attend some of the meetings between our internal technical or sales team and Microsoft to observe and provide feedback after the meetings. That initiative went on for six month and was quite successful and was praised by Microsoft several times for its consistency in approach and effectiveness. It is also important to encourage recurring meetings between individuals.
You cannot leave this to chance. I have been in situations that various people randomly contact Microsoft and things soon get very confusing, because their objectives were not aligned, their messaging approaches were not aligned, and sometimes they were not even talking to the right people. Knowing that Microsoft works with a large partner community, they really appreciate it when partners keep things clean and tidy, to the point and with common goals and objectives.
I hope you find this helpful. If you are struggling with any of the points raised in this post and want to discuss, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn. Due to COVID-19, unexpectedly I have more time on my hand and I would love to put it to good use.