Microsoft: Influencer Program Coming This Month

In a Wednesday keynote speech at the Xchange Solution Provider conference in San Diego, Robert Deshaies, vice president of the U.S. partner group at Microsoft, gave partners a sneak peek into initiatives that will make it easier for the channel to drive sales and be recognized for them.

As more software sells through a subscription/annuity model -- in which physical goods may not even change hands -- it can be difficult for a partner to be paid for his or her work in the sales cycle, according to many solution providers.

Partners that don't sell products, but whose influence on buying decisions include Microsoft products, have been asking for more visibility into how the vendor measures their efforts, Deshaies said.

On March 28, Microsoft plans to launch an influencer program that will track partner ID numbers to keep track of those responsible for making software sales through Large Account Resellers (LARs) or distributors who fulfill the software ordered, Deshaies said.

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"Across the spectrum of partners that help transact business involving Microsoft, we're going track their efforts and recognize the partners," he said.

Microsoft is currently working with 17 core partners and will track around 12,000 partners' influence revenue, and in the future will continue to drive that further down the partner ecosystem, according to Deshaies.

Depending on how the U.S. program fares, it will be expanded to other regions around the world, Deshaies said "I see a lot of value for us in the influence program. As a large consulting firm that resells Microsoft products, I think if they want to get into the SMB market, this is a good way to approach it," said Bill Cunningham, principal at SystemSource, a Bloomer, Wis.-based solution provider.

Howard Swerdloff, Dynamics practice lead at AAJ Technologies, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based solution provider, who is also a member of the International Association Of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP), said the issue of recognizing influencers has been simmering in Microsoft's channel.

"It's one thing we've always talked about, because we partner so much with each other. How do we measure everything that we're influencing?" said Swerdloff.

"Seeing Microsoft get behind recognizing partner opportunities in which one partner is influencing revenue to another partner -- which ultimately gets back to Microsoft -- is a fantastic thing," he added.

Deshaies also said the coming wave of Microsoft products will create revenue opportunities for partners. Microsoft will release this year new versions of System Center, Unified Communications, Exchange Server 2007, ERP, CRM, and Longhorn.

The new product releases, although they'll take time to gain traction in the market, represent a new round of services opportunities for Microsoft channel partners, said Babar Yasin, principal at Arshco, a Berkeley, Calif.-based solution provider.

"In addition to the services opportunities around Vista, all the servers, especially Exchange server, have great potential for services. We obviously have to go in and upgrade it, update it, and it all adds up to more revenue for us," Yasin said.

For first time ever, x86 servers are outpacing Unix servers, which bodes well for the upcoming release of Exchange Server 2007, Deshaies said. "64 bit computing is coming to market and gaining a foothold, and it's opening doors for creative solutions, especially in unified communications," Deshaies said.

Deshaies also discussed Forefront, Microsoft's much ballyhooed entry into the enterprise security market.

"We're new to this space. This year we'll see a lot of opportunity around security, not just with Forefront, but also how security plays end to end throughout all of our products and how to create a secure environment," Deshaies said.

Microsoft also is helping with marketing efforts, Deshaies said. With between 96 percent and 97 percent of Microsoft's revenue being generated by partners, the vendor wants to provide the channel with more effective marketing vehicles and branding campaigns, Deshaies said.

This year, Microsoft plans to introduce ready-to-go marketing programs, which reflect the changing needs of channel partners and underscore the vendor's commitment to meeting them, Deshaies said.

"You don't create one size fits all for partners, you need dynamic programs to help partners accomplish their goals," said Deshaies.

In the past 30 days 27,000 partners have looked at ready-to-go campaigns, and in the past 45 days more than 2,500 have signed up, Deshaies said. "We do a good job of this in the upper midmarket and in the enterprise, and we're trying to figure out how to do it in a simplified way in the small business community," he said.

--Additional reporting by Barbara Darrow