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New Microsoft Partner Tools Stress Collaboration

Microsoft this week is giving partners a glimpse of several new features it has added to its worldwide partner portal, many of which are designed to let its 400,000 global partners measure their performance and collaborate with other partners.

Microsoft has dedicated account managers and telesales for about 35,000 of its worldwide partners, but for the past few years has been pushing the idea of allowing the remainder to plan their business moves themselves. To facilitate this, Microsoft has built its Partner Velocity Platform, which handles more than 60 Microsoft subsidiaries in one platform.

The overarching strategy for this year's worldwide partner conference in Denver is to allow partners to develop more effective business plans by anonymously benchmarking their profitability against other partners and share information on effective sales strategies, said Allison Watson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's worldwide partner group.

Since last year's event, more than 10,000 partners have used an online tool Microsoft developed to facilitate these comparisons. Based on this success, this fall Microsoft plans to add a self- service dashboard to the portal that lets partners gauge their performance and profitability against other partners on the same level, as well as measure the value they're getting out of their relationship with Microsoft, said Watson.

"All of the transactions around the business cycle are going to be seen here: How many training and activities are they doing, how many marketing campaigns, how many selling engagements, how many customer complaints, what's their customer satisfaction level," said Watson.

This week, Microsoft is taking the wraps off its partner sales management system, which the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor has been beta testing internally with partners as a means of boosting the effectiveness of collaborative sales efforts, Watson said.

"We're starting to get incredible feedback, where our managed, and tele-managed partners, working with our account managers, and our account teams start to work together on the same set of joint opportunities, both in the enterprise and across the board," said Watson.

Another new strategy Microsoft will focus on this week is its desire to boost partner-to-partner interaction, a step that Watson believes will benefit partners as well as Microsoft, and which also fits into the self-service strategy.

"We have a strategy called P-to-P (partner-to-partner) that says, what happens if you make getting together with another partner a strategy. This is slightly different than getting 20 new customers," said Watson.

The P-to-P strategy stems from a recent IDC study conducted with the International Association Of Microsoft Certified Partners (IAMCP) which found that partners that share referrals, or that partner with other Microsoft partners, are more profitable than those that don't.

Microsoft tested the P-to-P program by conducting three pilots over the past 18 months, which included defining a program that connects competencies to customer opportunities, and setting up a formalized lead sharing program, said Robert Deshaies, vice president of the U.S. partner group. Based on the success of the pilots, Microsoft plans to deploy it across its U.S. partner base, he added.

"This really resulted in a lead exchange that allowed us to match partners by not only competency, but also cultural kind of approach to the way they service customers," said Deshaies.

As part of the self-service theme, for partners that can't make it to the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Denver this week, Microsoft is offering a way to follow the event online through the partner portal. Dubbed Digital WPC, the website includes video on demand, product demos from Microsoft, and partner presentations on the value of Microsoft solutions.

Watson says the goal is to have 50,000 Digital WPC attendees this year. "WPC is a really important event for us, but one of the challenges we've always had is there's only so many seats in a room," said Watson.

"We're giving [partners] direction and tools and the resources they need, and if they need us we're there for them -- that's the strategy," said Watson.

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