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  • Larry Gregory

How to Sell with Microsoft – Microsoft Alliance Optimization

If you partner with Microsoft (or other platform vendors), you are likely enrolled in their partner program and receive self-serve marketing and support benefits, but tapping into their customer sales teams can be elusive. Your mission (as a channel executive or Microsoft alliance manager) is to leverage Microsoft’s thousands of long-term customer relationship managers to shorten your sales cycle and drive tangible revenue results.

Have Realistic Expectations

Microsoft has over 600,000 partners, each of which would love to sell through Microsoft. Don’t expect partner program or managed partner status to result in a stream of leads – those are table stakes for being able to engage the Microsoft field. Align with Microsoft fiscal year priorities and differentiate versus competitors to cut through the noise and win your place at the customer table. This takes an ongoing investment in product development, sales & marketing coordination, and alliance management. Microsoft partner program (MPN) participation is implied, but more important is your managed partner status. You could align with the Enterprise Group, Mid-Market Team, Product Group, and other field or corporate teams. As a managed partner, you’ll be expected to report your pipeline and wins on a regular basis. Leverage that reporting effort to solicit joint selling support from Microsoft.

Optimizing your Microsoft Alliance Efforts

1. Establish Credibility

Represent your firm as a well-established, substantial business so Microsoft account teams won’t worry about you failing and upsetting their customer. Things that can add to your credibility include Microsoft managed partner status, significant annual revenue, gold “competencies” in Microsoft’s partner program, top-shelf SI partners, and unique innovation that has been validated by industry experts and customers. You’ll also want to develop relationships with Microsoft people who will attest internally to your value as a partner. This all helps to shorten the validation process for each new Microsoft person engaged. Educating Microsoft sales teams can be very time consuming so develop a pithy, Microsoft-relevant pitch deck (based on their scorecard priorities) to shorten that onboarding and get you to customer conversations more quickly. Avoid talking about how you use Microsoft-competitive products as part of your solutions (as well as for internal operations). Tell just enough about your solution so Microsoft people understand the customer value and how your offering is unique. Alignment for Microsoft’s FY15 (which ends June 30, 2015) is mostly about cloud (Azure and Office 365/PowerBI) and Windows (Surface devices, Windows Phones). Much of the Microsoft field is compensated on both traditional and cloud products but the growth expectations and quota accelerators are depending upon achieving cloud targets. You will get the broadest Microsoft support if you drive significant cloud consumption.

2. Engage Efficiently

Companies centralize the alliance management role so Microsoft interaction is consistent and efficient, but you should still educate your field sellers on Microsoft teams and motivations so peer-to-peer connections are productive. Test your “to-Microsoft” messaging with a trusted Microsoft contact before using more broadly with the field organization. Note that Microsoft segments its field sellers into enterprise (companies with over 1,000 employees = the Enterprise and Partner Group) and mid-market (organizations with < 1,000 employees = Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners or SMSP). In addition, public sector organizations (government, defense, healthcare, education) are managed in a separate organization. Microsoft teams and tactics will vary somewhat, depending on which segment the customer falls in. Relevant Microsoft teams for your solution may include: sales (Solution Specialists, Account Executives, Partner Sales Executives), product groups (Product Managers), Technology Centers (Technical Directors), and marketing (Marketing Managers). Understand how the different teams and roles are motivated then test for alignment and sales support. Some roles tend to serve as gates (Account Executives) and some serve as accelerators (e.g., Partner Sales Executives). Engaging a Microsoft sales team should center on your value-add to the customer and Microsoft (in terms of pull-through Microsoft revenue and cloud consumption). Once you have established your relevance to the Microsoft team, review customer initiatives, budget availability, and key stakeholders for specific customers. While it can be useful to meet Microsoft people and build up your company reputation, getting to the customer is the real value. Avoid bringing a long list of customer opportunities to the table – build up confidence with 1 or 2 first and then parlay that success to other customer opportunities.

3. Actively Manage the Marketing to Sales Process

Incent your field sales organization to collaborate with Microsoft by enlisting active sponsorship from your Sales VP and continually monitor Microsoft-related pipeline opportunities. Integrate your CRM leads into this pipeline so you can represent qualified opportunities when engaging Microsoft (and hold your sellers accountable for lead follow-up and pipeline development). Do not bring unqualified or cold leads to Microsoft, asking for an introduction. I recommend piloting the Microsoft joint selling effort with 1-2 specific districts, chosen based on the experience and maturity of your field teams and proximity to your HQ resources. Leverage Microsoft to accelerate lead generation (through online marketing, events, and proactive proposals) and unblock later stage opportunities (particularly where a Microsoft technology is involved). Alliance management should include facilitating these joint marketing activities through to tracking sales outcomes (pipeline management). If you are a managed partner, document joint marketing investments and sales results expectations — setting these early will encourage clear collaboration toward goals over the course of their fiscal year and provide the basis for your “conditions of satisfaction”. Hot Tip: Generate Microsoft sales productivity faster with a Microsoft expert at your side. 🙂

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