IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Going for the Gold with Microsoft

Information Technology Professionals (ITP) got a tap on the shoulder from Redmond by proving it had the technical, sales, and marketing savvy to soar in the cloud. By Paul Hager

MISSOURI MAY BE the “show me” state, but Microsoft is the “show me” vendor partner. That’s how ITP went from just one of thousands in the Microsoft Partner Network to Gold level in 18 months. Our technical competency, revenue growth, and marketing prowess—metrics that Microsoft watches—proved our ability to drive business around cloud and Office 365.

Those numbers have only gotten more impressive since we caught Microsoft’s eye too: Office 365 and Microsoft cloud represent a six-figure portion of our revenue now, and 34 percent of our recurring revenue mix. The rewards of being a Gold Microsoft partner are lucrative.

It wasn’t always that way. Until recently, we viewed Microsoft as a necessary evil. We sold Office, Windows, and Windows Server licenses, but kept a distance from Office 365 because Microsoft owned the customer relationship. You were an adviser on the account and maybe got some commission down the road, but that didn’t fit with our managed service model. Bundling services has been the key to our success as an MSP and our growth from $300,000 in annual revenue in 2010 to $10 million today, and we weren’t going to stray from that.

In 2015, though, a peer of mine in the Ingram Micro SMB Alliance member community was having great success in the New York market selling managed services around Microsoft cloud solutions, and when I picked his brain, he shared how Microsoft selects partners to work with more closely. Like a lot of vendors, Microsoft wants you to prove that you can deliver results before it gives you more attention.

Also in 2015, Ingram Micro rolled out a platform around Office 365 to support Microsoft’s Cloud Solution Provider(CSP) business model. It would be available through Ingram, and the partner would control the billing.

That was the light bulb moment. I knew if we could wrap this into our managed service bundle, and own the customer relationship, this would be a huge win for us. We were one of the first partners to transact the CSP through Ingram, and our customers accepted it rapidly.

Unlike many MSPs selling O365, though, we do not sell a “naked SKU.” We find the gaps where there are better third-party tools, bundle those in, and add our support, because at our core we are a services company, and that’s where our customers see the value. A bundled solution is a powerful differentiator. People are willing to sign longer-term contracts, too, because once they move to the cloud their desire to leave it is very low. So now you’re sticky.

Our next move was to get sticky with Microsoft. It’s a data-driven company, so we got our numbers up. We achieved technical certifications. We practiced and built our competency around cloud migrations. We onboarded happy customers. We showed that we had sales aptitude. Most important, we didn’t ask for help. We had 308 percent growth that first year, a standout number to Microsoft. Then Microsoft finds you. We were the SMB Central Region Rising Star in 2016.

Nonetheless, it’s still a people business, so we connected with a Microsoft employee in our area who wasn’t in a channel role, but suggested some local events we should attend to attract the attention of a channel rep.

We did, and we became an “interesting” partner as a result. Microsoft has some good programmatic mechanisms for getting from one step to the next, which we followed. We put in the time, confirmed that the program worked, and thanked them, pointing out what it helped us achieve. Then they gave us more. Rinse and repeat. Before long, we got assigned to a great account manager who cared about our business.

Microsoft also saw that we’re able to execute integrated marketing campaigns in which we send emails, track their success, determine what landing pages we get people to, and offer them content like white papers. We couple that with a physical mailing and a dialing campaign. When you touch people in each of those ways simultaneously, on a schedule, you get measured results back. That was another big differentiator.

So if you want to go for the gold with Microsoft or any big vendor, invest the time to gain technical and sales competency, and then build your business case. Microsoft is very transparent and clear about how you will be scorecarded as a partner, and what you will need to do to look good in that scorecard. You must show your partner, in a repeated way, that you are successful, and worth investing in. Ideally, that investment will pay dividends for both of you.

Photo: Doug Edmunds

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