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ORLANDO, Fla. -- At Wednesday's Vision Keynote at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2015, Gavriella Schuster, general manager for worldwide partner programs at Microsoft, shared with partners how the company is making investments that will increase a partner's market value, amplify their marketing impact and grow their market influence.
Acknowledging that a partner's employees are one of its greatest assets, Schuster told the Microsoft partner conference audience to expect to see the company innovate in four areas: training, certification, exam delivery and performance tracking.
For starters, Microsoft will consolidate all partner training in the Microsoft Virtual Academy. The vendor is also moving to a continuous education approach through skill badging, or "a low-friction way to earn credentials," as Schuster called it.
Online exam proctoring will also be expanded to give professionals more choice and flexibility when taking exams -- for example, home or office. And an online dashboard will simplify the performance tracking and administration. It's available on the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) portal.
Gavriella Schustergeneral manager for worldwide partner programs at Microsoft
As per partner requests, Microsoft is eliminating the tracking of unique Microsoft Certified Professionals per competency and sales assessment tracking.
Microsoft is also continuing its partnership with SkyKick, Inc., to get partners up and running on Office 365 for internal use. The vendor is also expanding the number of Azure server credits it provides and is giving partners access to Visual Studio Enterprise Edition.
On the new ISV Hub in the MPN portal, Microsoft will help partners build applications, bring them to market and build a partner's business in the cloud.
"These are just some of the many ways that we're investing to help you get in, get out and get on with your business," Schuster said.
Microsoft's investments in the marketing function are designed to help partners who often have a skeleton crew of people focused on marketing. For starters, the vendor partnered with IDC to identify best practices in digital marketing from some of Microsoft's most successful partners and packaged the partnership as prescriptive guidance to increase the capability of a partner's marketers.
The vendor also curated marketing services from DigitalStride to help partners with search engine optimization (SEO), optimizing a partner's online presence and Pinpoint profile. Microsoft is also giving partners Bing credits to do search engine marketing, according to Schuster.
Microsoft will also simplify its marketing for partners with one broad-based customer marketing campaign, ModernBiz, which focuses on helping customers modernize their business. The campaign is anchored on four customer scenarios that are cross-product and solution-oriented, as well as targeted at helping customers grow their business and a partner's business.
Microsoft created partner profitability guides around the four customer scenarios that are available on the MPN portal.
The vendor also created partner success stories to market to customers. There are currently 15 stories available, with another 100 in the queue and more coming throughout the year. Microsoft is marketing and syndicating the stories through paid and social media, and partners can view them on the MPN portal. The vendor is looking for partners to come forward with stories to share.
Partnering among partners
The last focus for partner investment is helping partners grow their market influence.
The ultimate way to achieve this, according to Schuster, is for Microsoft partners to partner with each other. "Partnering with each other helps you expand your reach, expand your services capability and build a channel within our Microsoft channel," she said.
The benefits of partnering include increased customer satisfaction, increased customer lifetime value and reduced customer churn.
Addressing naysayers to the concept of partnering, Schuster reminded partners that they need to stand out in today's competitive market with differentiation, unique intellectual property and specialization. But individual partner firms can't do it all, unless they consider partnering with each other. That way, they can leverage the other partner's skills, while extending their own services.
Microsoft is making investments to help partners identify other partners with complementary skills, offerings and intellectual property.
A six-month pilot is currently underway in Western Europe with Dynasource, Inc., a dynamic sourcing platform that matches partners and helps them increase staff utilization. Microsoft is also investing with DevDraft to help partners develop their own intellectual property. DevDraft connects developers with companies using code challenges.
Microsoft communities, such as the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) and Women in Technology, to name a couple, are also places where partners can meet other partners.
Mike Lowry, director of business and channel development at Concept Searching, Inc., a small ISV in McLean, Va., works with system integrators and believes Microsoft's marketing efforts are OK, but aren't as effective as having someone in the company responsible for playing more of a role in the partnering process.
"They need to bridge the partners together, and then figure out how to have the solutions along with what Microsoft's mission is. I think if they could do a better job of that, everyone is going to be happier because then we're following what Microsoft is trying to do; we're backing up Microsoft and, at the same time, we're making our revenue targets," Lowry said.
Concept Searching focuses on metadata, taxonomy and content migration within SharePoint and Office 365. The company's business is split between the federal government and commercial sector.
What was fruitful to Lowry was participation in a roundtable discussion following a session for Microsoft federal partners held at the Microsoft partner conference. Not only did he meet potential partners, but he had the ear of Microsoft's president of the global sector for defense and national security. Lowry also had the opportunity to speak to this executive's counterpart in Latin America about an opportunity he has in Mexico. The Latin America executive introduced him to others -- an introduction that he admitted was fantastic.
"I also need that to happen more frequently at the local level because, ultimately, that's where it needs to happen," Lowry said.
Read about Microsoft's call for partner transformation.