IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Microsoft Showcases New Marketing and Referral Tools at Worldwide Partner Conference

Channel pros who invest in building high-performing cloud practices will be first in line to benefit from the new resources, which are designed to make Microsoft’s top partners more visible to sales prospects. By Rich Freeman

You do your part. We’ll do ours.

Such was the underlying message Microsoft conveyed to partners on day three of its 2016 Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. Reinvent your business for the era of cloud computing, company officials implied, and we’ll respond in kind with new tools for promoting yourself to customers and collecting leads from them.

Those tools, which include redesigned badges for holders of partner program competencies and a re-tooled referral engine that lets partners more easily showcase their services and solutions, were among several new offerings announced during this year’s third and final series of executive keynote speeches.

To get partners bought into its implicit quid pro quo, Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group, highlighted figures from recent research studies. According to a Microsoft-sponsored report from analyst IDC, for example, global spending on cloud services and associated IT products will exceed $500 billion by 2020. 

“The cloud opportunity just continues to explode,” Schuster observed. Further sponsored IDC research, she added, shows that partners collect $5.87 of incremental service and solution revenue on average for every $1 they send Microsoft’s way by closing or influencing a cloud computing deal.

“That’s a business you want to be in,” Schuster said.

However, to operate in the cloud profitably, she continued, partners must follow the example set by Microsoft’s most “modern” partners. Those leading-edge cloud resellers differentiate their offerings, through vertical industry specialization for example; aggressively utilize digital sales and marketing tools like social media; optimize their operational processes; and deliver ongoing, rather than one-time, customer value. Their peers, Schuster argued, should do the same.

“It’s not about becoming a different company,” she said. “It’s about doing things differently.”

To help its channel realize that goal, Microsoft announced the new Microsoft Professional Degree program, an educational offering aimed at helping partners and other IT professionals sharpen their skills in cloud computing and related fields. Courseware for a degree in data science is available now via edX.org, the nonprofit online learning site founded by Harvard University and MIT. Microsoft will add courses for more degrees as well in the future.

Those resources join a series of existing cloud profitability e-books and assessment tools made available to members of the Microsoft Partner Network earlier.

“We want to not just be a technology partner to our partner ecosystem. We also want to be a business partner to our ecosystem,” said Jen Sieger, the senior business strategy analyst for partner profitability responsible for those materials, in an interview with ChannelPro.

To reward its most committed, enthusiastic partners for modernizing themselves per Microsoft’s advice, the company also announced measures on Wednesday aimed at separating those companies from the pack.

For starters, Microsoft will introduce new partner program competency badges designed to help gold-level partners highlight their elite status for prospective clients by placing the Microsoft logo alongside their own.

“We need to make it more obvious and more clear to our customers who the best partner is to help them with their unique challenge,” Schuster said in her keynote.

In addition, Microsoft plans to roll out a centralized database that partners can use to syndicate information about their solutions and services across multiple partner locator sites.

“We want to pop your services, your solutions, your applications in front of the customer while they're in their digital buying journey,” Schuster stated, adding that the same tool will consolidate leads from those directories in one place as well.

“We have re-imagined the referral engine and connected that referral engine to all of our web properties and all of our marketplaces,” she said.

In a separate keynote, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, made clear that the company’s ambitions span well beyond filling its coffers and helping partners do the same, however. Imploring everyone in his audience to engage in similar activities, Smith outlined Microsoft’s numerous efforts to combat poverty, protect civil liberties from intrusive governments, safeguard the environment, and more through the power of online technologies.

“We need to build a cloud for good,” he said.

This year’s WPC wraps up on Thursday with a half day of regionally-organized breakout sessions for partners from North America, Europe, and elsewhere. Next year’s conference, Microsoft revealed, will take place in Washington D.C.

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