For B2B technology brands, getting the most out of your partner programs can be the difference between success and failure, especially in these times of global economic uncertainty.
To succeed, channel leaders need to harness new data, technology, tactics and techniques to ensure their channel is delivering genuine measurable business impact.
For 2 years now, The Marketing Practice has worked with Microsoft to build and execute a successful scalable, multi-region through-partner program for Microsoft Western Europe. Microsoft has always relied on its partner network, as Microsoft transforms so does their partner system and this ecosystem has only grown in importance. Microsoft now has over 50,000 existing partners just in Western Europe
Last week I was joined by Judit Nagypal, Partner Recruit Lead at Microsoft to discuss the ways that together, Microsoft and The Marketing Practice have built a successful channel program. This blog summarises the content of the webinar.
The key challenge for Microsoft is the enormous volume of partners they must consider. Communication is harder to maintain and monitor when speaking to such a large audience and keeping a connection can be challenging. Microsoft works with some big partners directly and some smaller partners indirectly through a bigger partner, while The Marketing Practice provides them with the toolkit to manage and monitor these partners.
So, what can be learned from the success of their channel program?
Choosing the right partners
In a recent webinar we did with Bright Talk, Judit Nagypal, Partner Recruit Lead at Microsoft specified that it is important to not only recruit partners into the system, but also important to actively help them grow. “Growing their business grows ours -which is why our goals are joined.”
The size of the potential audience for Microsoft is huge, and increasingly complex. It includes ISVS, MSPs, MSSPs, SIs, Resellers, VARs… the list goes on.
App developers in the ISV space specifically are becoming increasingly important. 21% of ISV app developers that exist today have established themselves in the past two years.
Knowing who the right partners are can be difficult, but in 2021, organizations should look to focus on:
ISVs and app developers
Organizations who will clearly benefit from moving to the cloud
Companies ready to undergo transformation technologically and in business terms
Startups and newcomers are now born in the cloud, so you need to partner with them at the start of their journey
Need to target the right ISVs, opportunities need to be handed to the right partner type. Boost market performance and find the people who want to have those conversations.
At The Marketing Practice, we emphasise the importance of balancing quantity and quality when choosing partners.
Microsoft’s partners have all been handpicked to a specific criterion. They need to be Azure experts, have certain qualifications, certifications, experience, and resources. Currently, this may limit capacity in each market, but it is better to pick 4-5 suitable partners in each (for a company of Microsoft’s size). To find these suitable partners, Microsoft looks at:
What are the key building blocks for their program?
Who the ISV is and where they are in their cloud journey?
Who are their customers?
Which industry does their application operate in?
Intentions and plans for moving to the cloud
How will the channel marketing landscape evolve in next few years?
Organizations globally will have lost some partners because of the pandemic, and particularly at the start there was a noticeable prioritisation of business continuity. People did not want to transform and grow- they wanted to protect their current business.
In some cases, Covid-19 has enabled positive discussions around cloud and digital tool to help with transformation. We have gradually seen a shifting sentiment over time and can now appreciate that it has given opportunities for new dialogue and set organizations on a digital fast-track.
IT content and software consumption is also changing, and now looks more similar to the consumer model.
In the next year, Judit anticipates that we will continue to see more companies emerging-particularly ISV apps and SARs applications. This will change the market significantly by 2022.
Judit also told us that Microsoft will need to look at how to increase capability and capacity of suitable partners they are able to find going forwards.
For Microsoft, they will be prioritising growth over the next few yeaars: “We need to make sure we are in contact with everyone. We want to give them the option between going out of business and transforming.” - Judit Nagypal, Partner Recruit Lead at Microsoft
Building a multi-region programme
Microsoft Western Europe’s programme covers 12 countries. Western Europe’s audience is very fragmented compared to other territories, and there are lots of big players and local providers. Capability also varies hugely country to country.
This leads to three significant complexities:
1. Language barriers.
Running programmes across 12 countries presents language challenges with an outbound telemarketing approach. Not everyone is approachable in English, and a certain level of communication is needed to be able to understand their categories and where they are in the cloud journey.
2. Differences between local markets
In Western Europe, there’s a lot of market variation between neighbouring countries. For example, in Norway, Judit told us that unfortunately, there are lots of companies their pretending to be Microsoft. This means that the Norwegian audience is extremely suspicious. On the other hand, the Italian market is much more open to conversation, but these conversations generally less effective.
3. Covid-19 has affected communication capabilities
The shift to remote working has had a huge impact on connectivity and the ability to contact ISVs on the phone. Different countries are under different restrictions, and seeing different news etc, so it is hard to plan campaigns that speak to everyone. It has also had some impact on how connected calls can flow and the general attitude towards new business.
Choosing a provider- why was The Marketing Practice a good fit?
When looking for a provider, Microsoft Western Europe knew they wanted someone who could cover all the markets from a centralized location. Agents need to be trained and sat in one place (obviously this has changed since coronavirus).
Secondly, having specific knowledge of the IT market was important for the kind of conversations that Microsoft needs to be having with their partners.
They also specifically sought out a provider willing to work on a results-based programme, focused and compensating based on the results. From Microsoft’s perspective, this helps to ensure that there is a joint effort to drive forwards.
The Marketing Practice had new ideas about how they could engage and approach partners at Microsoft. The profiling element was key to this, and The Marketing Practice understands that it’s all about targeting the right people.
The Marketing Practice drove the programme by talking to huge numbers of ISVs, understanding where they were in their cloud journey and then re-engaging them. At The Marketing Practice, we believe it is a partnership, not a transaction. We qualify those opportunities and distribute them to the partners, but the programme wouldn’t work as well as it does without the support and transparency that comes from Microsoft.
Ultimately, its about driving results according to the metrics. So, how can you measure success and determine whether successful partners/relationships?
Look at the agility and speed of connection with ISVs (when provided with qualified leads)
Compare different partners in the same country and look at their win ratio
Monitoring Partner satisfaction and engagement levels: Increasing number of sign-ups and partner satisfaction surveys.
Detailed level analysis of cloud consumption shows us different partner types, how they are working and what exactly impacts their success.
Partners should be constantly evaluating performance. For partners underperforming, they should have to demonstrate an intention to adjust to stay on the programme and show that they are putting the correct teams and capabilities together to move in the right direction.
3 key takeaways
It is crucial to select and find the right partners. Even if you are working with the biggest companies in the world, you really need to focus on their capacity and influence on a local level. Not just global and regional.
Ask yourselves, what is our capacity gap in the market? What is our longer term strategy to address the gaps in the market?
Understand the ISV developers. Start the conversation from their perspective and understand what they are trying to sell.
Ask yourselves, what are their challenges and priorities?
You need a good mechanism to evaluate performance and make decisions accordingly. Some programs take a very long time to give results.
You must look realistically at what KPIs it is possible to monitor along the way and agree on realistic sales numbers. Set expectations internally to make sure everyone understands this.