Microsoft: Influencing The Influencers

The company is pilot testing a program whereby solution providers who influence a sale through a large account reseller or distributor get paid for putting in that good word.

Robert Deshaies, vice president of Microsoft's U.S. partner effort, talked about the program today at CMP Media's Xchange Solution Provider conference in San Diego. (CMP Media is CRN's parent company.)

LARs and distributors will provide Microsoft with the partner ID numbers on the sale. Exactly how much margin or how many points a partner would get is still be worked out.

Microsoft was going to formally announce the program to roll out in the U.S. late this month, but the cat's out of the bag.

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There is a pilot now, which will go wider. Once lessons are learned in the U.S. subsidiary, the other subsidiaries may follow, Deshaies told CRN after his talk. Microsoft's fiscal year kicks off July 1 and it's got to get its programs up and running for that.

As more sales are booked via a services or annuity model—and packaged product may never change hands—loyal partners may no longer actually fulfill the sale itself. But if they stake their reputation on recommending a given solution, they should be compensated for it, VARs say.

Microsoft tested this influencer model with CRM two years ago, promising influencer partners who did not fulfill the sale 20 percent margins on it. But the partners had to wait 90 days to get that money, a delay that irked some VARs.

Some partners still complain about that latency but Deshaies said 50 percent of partners now don't even apply for the CRM rebate that is rightfully theirs.

Microsoft is not alone in trying to figure out the influencer puzzle. An issue can arise when more than one partner claims credit for a deal that none of those partners actually fulfills.

Ironically, in early February, Oracle discontinued its own "influencer" fee according to a February 8 post to the Oracle Partner Network site viewed by CRN. Oracle continues to pay partners resale margin and for referrals.

"Oracle used to pay an influencer fee and a referral fee. They discontinued the first. They used that when a partner found the lead and registered it but brought no value to the account," said one longtime partner. He said the influencer fee was typically 5 percent and he expects to make up that money in other ways.

Another partner said he probably saw the influencer fee on a good percentage of his deals, but shrugged off the change as well.

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