Tips From Microsoft Partners: How To Stand Out In a Crowd


One of the most difficult challenges IT consultants face is distinguishing their companies from others like them. Microsoft partners know that all too well. For example, in San Francisco alone, there are more than 200 Microsoft solution providers, including more than two dozen that have attained the Certified Gold-level status. Standing out among the crowd is no easy feat.

Despite the difficulty, many Microsoft VARs have managed to set themselves apart from their rivals by winning coveted customer accounts, attaining unrivaled technical excellence and demonstrating recognizable marketing savvy. Some of these companies were recently showcased at the 2005 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference held in Minneapolis last month. VARBusiness asked two award-winning companies--San Francisco-based Magenic and Englewood, Colo.-based Interlink--what they thought distinguished their organizations from their rivals.

Magenic co-founder and president Paul Fridman says his company has succeeded by providing exacting technical solutions that meet business needs. Case in point: A solution his company built for Line.com not only met the diverse retailer's technical needs for a back-office solution that linked seamlessly to a data warehouse, but also complex regulatory requirements involving complicated and often convoluted tax regulations governing the shipment of liquor across state lines. For that, Microsoft singled out the 10-year-old solution provider, which specializes in e-commerce solutions that leverage much of Microsoft's technology stack, and awarded it with one of its coveted Solution Provider of the Year awards for 2005.

Magenic used a variety of Microsoft technologies to build the solution for Line.com, including some products that are not yet in full-scale commercial distribution. For example, part of the solution was built using Visual Studio 2005, which is not slated for full-scale availability until November. Magenic leveraged other Microsoft technologies as well, including Biz Talk Server and SharePoint. Along with SQL Server, these Microsoft products have allowed Magenic to build an entire business-intelligence practice atop the Microsoft stack of products.

To distinguish itself, Fridman says Magenic decided to go deep with the Microsoft stack of products. While others approach customers with best-of-breed solutions sewn together from several vendors' technologies, Magenic has made a name for itself as a Microsoft specialist. Granted, that has cut it off from deals where cross-platform and multivendor expertise were required. But the decision has given the company focus, Fridman says. In fact, Magenic's team of engineers have produced some 40 books on integrating Microsoft technologies.

Then there's Interlink, which has also benefited from pursuing a Microsoft-only strategy. Once an Oracle and Sun partner, it decided two years ago to focus its energies on the Microsoft platform. That, obviously, helped put it on Microsoft's radar, but it also led to increased sales with customers, says CEO and founder Bart Hammond. Interlink's sales are up fourfold since 2003.

One reason Hammond is betting on Microsoft is the amount of training the vendor provides. That was bolstered by its decision to dramatically increase training this year to companies that demonstrate strong commitment to the Microsoft stack, which helped Interlink quickly develop into a bonafide Microsoft expert.

"The frequency of deep-dive training sessions, and the fact that they have been almost always free to qualified partners, has been invaluable," Hammond says. "In addition, Microsoft has endorsed blogging and other forms of electronic communication such that education and information is now coming directly, early and in detail from some of the brightest minds at Microsoft."

Leveraging that information has helped Interlink's team of engineers compete for more complex engagements with more sophisticated customers. That, in turn, has helped the firm create a name for itself in its trading area, which spans from California to Colorado.

Fridman and Hammond both believe partners can distinguish themselves around almost any vendor platform if they develop unrivaled expertise and penetrate top customer accounts. Demonstrate that, Hammond says, and accolades are bound to follow.