CRN Interview: For Microsoft's Deshaies, Field Engagement Equals Better Sales

This week, outgoing Microsoft U.S. channel chief Margo Day officially passed the baton to Robert Deshaies, who has been working the field as regional vice president of the Redmond, Wash., company's East Region Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) organization. Editor Heather Clancy and Senior Writer Paula Rooney spoke with the two executives at the Velocity 2006 partner conference about the transition plan and Microsoft's shifting field and partner management priorities over the coming fiscal year. Here is an excerpt of the discussion.

CRN: Now that you have officially taken over the U.S. channel chief role, what will you be focusing on in the next 30 days?

DESHAIES: My next 30 days are really going to be starting my immersion. And what I've set with my team is that really it's the next 90 days of my immersion, spending a lot of time getting to understand all the underpinnings of the business. So I've been looking at the business from the outside in. There are lots and lots of details behind the scenes where I need to connect the dots. And it's really taking my experiences from the past and starting to understand how I can apply those and how we can really build that next level of field integration between the U.S. partner group as well as regional teams and figure out what that model looks like.

But first and foremost, I've got to understand all the facets of the business. I think the key thing for me is that I remain super-passionate about partners. I believe 100 percent that they are our key to success in the future, and we're going to find ways to get to the next level with them. How do we help them prepare their organizations for growth in the next best way, whether it's business planning and the way that we approach that with our partners, whether it's through the profitability model we're talking about or whether it's how we go to market with them by delivering much more at the local level through our marketing efforts and empowerment levels?

DAY: We've got fantastic general managers. The business is running very, very well. To a person, they all are saying we absolutely have an opportunity to accelerate in ways we haven't before. Whether it's the partners or the people on this team, I think people are pretty excited about the change because we are going to figure out ways to accelerate business in this SMB market space and drive growth much more quickly.

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CRN: What do you mean by that?

DESHAIES: Michael [Park, corporate vice president of Microsoft's U.S. SMS&P group] already talked to you about the investments we're making and the incremental $30 million [we're spending]. The whole vision behind that is to work with partners in a way so they find most benefit and accelerate our success in the market.

So a couple of key things. We're fine-tuning what the roles do within the organization. If you look at how partner account managers (PAMs) acted yesterday vs. where they act today, they have a much clearer focus around the business development side. And they're going to spend at least 50 percent of their time on that component of the relationship. So business planning and execution. And that execution really revolves around that sales management piece and helping them build and accelerate the pipeline, as one key example. CRN: How was it before?

DESHAIES: Before, the PAM was kind of the jack of all trades. They would deal with all types of questions. They would try to do some type of business development, which really ended up being more of a slimmed-down marketing type of plan that didn't address the sales necessities of the business. Now it's key business development working with partners around the aspects of the business, such as skills and adding skills to their organization. They also had a broader set of partners that they were working with. So we've reduced the number of partners so they can spend more time with individual partners and more time on the all-up business planning. So they can really be prepared for the next wave.

DAY: We break down the partner role into a partner life cycle: plan, enable, generate demand, sell, support. So against that framework, in the enable, plan and some of the generate demand [parts], they've been spending the majority of their time there and being less of a sales manager. [We're now encouraging them] to work with the partners and co-selling with them in the marketplace. So we've changed that percentage because the partners are ramped up. They're skilled. They understand what they need to do to go to market. Now, we'll have the PAMs spend more of their time saying, 'What opportunities are you working on? How can I actually help you move that through the selling cycle more quickly?'

CRN: Will the Small Business Specialists (SBS) be getting extra attention in this model?

DESHAIES: That's one of the investments that Michael [Park] talked about. We're going to have incremental investment in head count there to work with the SBS channel. We've really kind of developed the bookends. [In] the upper midmarket, we've done a really great job with the field. We've had the engines that really worked on the SMS&P channel. And now we're focused on the breadth of opportunity in the lower to core midmarket. So we have investment both at the field level, to help develop the community and land it locally, and support [level] by a great tele-investment with the tele-PAMs and really tie it together.

CRN: In his keynote at the partner conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked about the 'Live' products and the evolving partner opportunity. What does that mean for the U.S. organization?

DESHAIES: That is one that we're not sure of right now. Steve mentioned the formation of a new advisory council around Live. We have not had an opportunity to connect with the worldwide team specifically around that opportunity, but we're looking forward to engaging with them. We'll engage with the U.S. SMS&P group at the national level, and we're going to, of course, make sure we have a lot of input from the regional teams so we can have a well-rounded point of view from a partner's perspective on how we go after the Live opportunity.

The discussion with me is that [partners are] starting to have less anxiety about it, with examples today of how they can really add value to Live services--which I don't think they understood in the past, that it's really going to create a new opportunity. Now it's a matter of understanding what that opportunity is about.