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Microsoft partner-to-partner relationships help solution providers grow

For Microsoft partners, joining forces with other Microsoft solution providers can be an easy way to expand business and reach new customers.

Microsoft partners are used to working with the software giant to resell and deploy its software, adding their own value-added services on top. Now many are using other Microsoft partners to help out with technical skills they lack, and to connect with customers that would otherwise be out of reach.

Microsoft solution providers put through 8,000 requests for cooperative opportunities -- VAR-to-VAR partnerships -- through the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP) this year, resulting in 4,000 actual business partnerships, according to Microsoft figures. Others, including GreenPages Technology Solutions, have taken up joint business opportunities on their own.

"You can't be all things to all people," said Michael Healey, chief technical officer for the Kittery, Maine-based Microsoft partner. "If we didn't use partners, we would very quickly have to double or triple our technical staff."

The key to making a connection work with another Microsoft solution provider, Healey said, is forming long-term trust relationships that allow each partner to be confident the other won't steal customers. GreenPages has used such partnerships since its inception in 1992.

Microsoft partner-to-partner activity through the IAMCP amounted to $6.8 billion during calendar 2006, according to Marie Huwe, general manager of worldwide partner marketing.

Microsoft is seeing partnerships form among all different types of solution providers and for various purposes, but a key area is Software as a Service (SaaS). Lots of Microsoft partners partner on others with SaaS experience before moving into that field themselves, and even more will in 2008, Huwe said.

"Partners are going to be looking pretty aggressively for other partners to help them get to market," she said.

In a recent IDC study of partner-to-partner activity in the IAMCP, 54% of respondents said they planned to pursue partnerships with other solution providers to resell their SaaS offerings. And 50% said they're looking for partners to help implement SaaS.

To help partners find each other, Microsoft plans to use Web 2.0 tools. In the U.K., for example, the company is building a social networking site.

"I don't want to step on anybody else's brand name, but it's basically a Facebook for partners," Huwe said. "It could make a tremendous difference."

Per Werngren, worldwide president of the IAMCP, said finding other Microsoft solution providers through his organization provides "some kind of basic trust." But Healey said GreenPages hasn't utilized the help of Microsoft or any other vendors to identify partners.

"Overall, the vendor programs are a mixed bag," he said. "The Microsoft program needs to be a little more aggressive in its marketing. You don't know who you're getting. They have so many partners, and for such a long time they had a disjointed partner program."

Traditional solution providers like GreenPages aren't the only companies that can benefit from partner-to-partner relationships. Quest Software, an independent software vendor (ISV) and Microsoft partner in Aliso Viejo, Calif., recruits value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs) to use its tools when performing Exchange Server and SharePoint migrations, according to Michael Ragusa, vice president of channels and alliances.

"The regional partners provide us the geographical coverage, the skill sets and the expertise," Ragusa said. "We rely on that experience in the channel."

And even at Did-It, a New York-based advertising consulting firm that specializes in search engine marketing and uses both Microsoft products and sites, there are opportunities to partner with VARs and SIs.

"Just recently [Microsoft has] started to bridge those two ecosystems together," said Kevin Lee, executive chairman.

Lee said he would eventually like to work with Microsoft partners in customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) to show his clients where their customers come from, which ones spend the most money and how to target other big spenders.

"I don't know if it's a 2008 phenomenon or not, but I do think that the foundation is in place now to move in that direction," Lee said.

Partner-to-partner relationships benefit Microsoft because they help solution providers sell Microsoft products and services to more customers than they could alone, and they can complete deployments and implementations faster, Huwe said. They also increase the stature of the Microsoft partner network, Werngren said.

"Customers need to understand that one partner cannot do everything," he said. "If smaller partners learn how to partner with each other, they will look as big as IBM Global Services.

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