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At Microsoft, partnering rises to the top

Partnering is rising to the top at Microsoft, especially as unique intellectual property, differentiation and specialization increasingly set apart channel partner firms. At the same time, customers want complete solutions, so increasing partner-to-partner connections is critical, according to Gavriella Schuster, general manager for worldwide partner programs at the company.

At last week’s Worldwide Partner Conference 2015 in Orlando, Schuster said that helping partners find each other and find partners with complementary skills is important to the company: “So what I’m looking at is, how do I help partners do that?”

One effort involved the recent partnership with Dynasource, a Netherlands-based company that has a partner matchmaking product, and Microsoft. Microsoft is conducting a 6-month pilot program with Dynasource and the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) in Western Europe.

Dynasource charges partners a monthly subscription fee; however, after the pilot, MPN members will receive a 50% discount. Microsoft expects the service to go global in early 2016.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here not only to find partners with complementary skills, but also to drive up their own staff utilization,” Schuster said.

Another partnering angle Microsoft has been working on is a pilot with Nintex, an independent software vendor (ISV) that offers a SharePoint solution on Office 365. The ISV had already recruited about 1,000 partners in Microsoft’s ecosystem over the past 2 years, or so. Microsoft has two efforts going here, according to Schuster. First, how did they go about recruiting partners in the Microsoft ecosystem and how can the vendor make that strategy more available to other partners? The second effort involves the syndication of Microsoft Pinpoint, a partner finder.
MPN members use Pinpoint today to find other partners.

“What we did with Nintex is let them tag their one thousand partners and we let them use an API that syndicated Pinpoint as their own partner finder,” Schuster said.

This way, Nintex doesn’t have to create its own partner finder and it enables more value for a partner coming into MPN ecosystem. “Partners not only get exposure through MPN but also through Nintex,” she explained.

Microsoft would like to scale the syndication of Pinpoint to make it work more like LinkedIn, where partners find each other, ask to connect, get tagged as a partner, etc. “So one partner can be the partner of 50 other partners in the ecosystem and when a customer pulls up a partner’s profile, they see the all of that partner’s business not just the Microsoft business,” said Schuster.

Partnering in the Microsoft ecosystem is alive and well as evidenced by an announcement made at WPC 2015 by Smartsheet, a company that offers a cloud-based, spreadsheet-inspired work management platform for managing and collaborating on projects and processes. Smartsheet unveiled the QuickStart Bundle, a turnkey bundle of solutions from software as a service companies Smartsheet, Insightly, Xero, SkyKick and Bettercloud. The Quickstart Bundle, will be available later this year.

The QuickStart Bundle is a small and medium-sized business suite of third-party business apps that integrates with Office 365.

“What we’re trying to do with our partners is recreate what we did in the Google realm in the Microsoft realm — and do it better,” said Mark Mader, president and CEO of Smartsheet. According to Mader, Smartsheet and its ISV partners have had success selling their cloud solutions in the Google Marketplace.

He said that customers were frequently asking for recommendations on how to bundle business cloud apps for CRM, project management, operational management, financial management and migration — which was the genesis for the bundled app idea.

In addition to the Smartsheet app, the other offerings are a CRM platform from Insightly; cloud accounting software from Xero; cloud management tools from SkyKick; and a platform from Bettercloud that gathers insights, provides automated management and offers intelligent data security for cloud office apps.

“These companies are also looking for partners to sell the QuickStart Bundle on top of Office 365 to their customers,” said Schuster, who pointed out that Microsoft and Insightly met several months ago when the ISV was looking for help on how to build its channel.