Microsoft's Deshaies Urges Partners to Plug In

Deshaies, who replaced five-year US partner group vice president (and XChange regular speaker) Margo Day on July 1, hailed myriad initiatives, from the forthcoming product releases of Vista and Office 2007 to Microsoft's ambitious aspirations in new markets such as unified communications, business intelligence and software as a service. At each turn, he emphasized the inherent partner opportunities, looking to convince the attendees (60 percent of whom were Microsoft partners, he contends) that the investments Microsoft is making in programs, enablement and R&D will enable them to better meet changing customer needs and grow their own businesses.

"A key for us is to have the most healthy partner ecosystem in world because at the end of the day you are the ones who bring value and the power behind the products with the solutions you develop day in and day out," he said.

In terms of solution provider opportunity, Deshaies said that it crosses the full spectrum from small- and mid-size customers up to the largest in the enterprise. He pegged the overall IT spend opportunity for small- and mid-sized market combined (which Microsoft defines as companies from one to 499 employees) at a cool $162 billion including both hardware and software. And of the estimated 42 million small businesses bandying about the United States, "the only way to reach them, obviously, is through you partners," he added.

Microsoft is coming fresh off the heels of its worldwide partner conference, held in Boston in July, and Deshaies today reiterated some of the major themes there, including the company's aggressive commitment to entering new technology markets and their belief that there is a looming " if not existing -- IT skill-set shortage that partners must address.

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With respect to new markets, Microsoft is coming at it from a customer need perspective. What's driving their IT demand today are several areas, he said, from being better able to collaborate and communicate to more reliable security and the ease and convenience of mobility. By focusing on highly tuned skills around these specific business pain points, partners will endear themselves to customers and in turn meet with more success, he added.

One of the more interesting changes on the horizon is just who partners are out their talking to during a sale. It's predominantly been the IT administrator or other technical staff. Now that discussion takes place in concert " or exclusively with " the line of business manager or C-level executive. An adjustment, to be sure.

"Now we must go strong at the business decisionmaker in a company, so we connect the possibilities [of IT] for them, not the products," he said.