Microsoft Tries To Soothe VARs' SaaS Fears

Microsoft has created a team of 10 local business development managers whose focus will be on working with channel partners to tap into opportunities in the small and home-based business segment, CRN has learned.

Microsoft will position these business development managers throughout the country to provide small business partners with marketing support, content, giveaways, and demand generation tools, and partners will host and participate in events with their local customers, according to an internal Microsoft document viewed by CRN.

Instead of being focused on Microsoft products, these events will aim to educate VARs on topics such as how to obtain loans, how to start a new business, and how to take advantage of tax laws, according to the document.

Solution providers, especially those that focus on small businesses, have long been wary of Microsoft's services ambitions because of what some partners see as inevitable conflict with their own support and consulting services offerings.

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"There's no doubt that there is fear among partners, and some are more afraid than others," said Mark Crall, president of Charlotte Tech Care Team, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist in Charlotte, N.C.

Added Crall: "A lot of small business partners are very technology focused, with little sales or marketing experience. And now, they have to go out and sell services and advise business owners, which is not their strong suit. It's a scary transition for a lot of partners."

The events will involve traditional Microsoft Small Business Specialist partners, as well as what Microsoft calls Influencer partners, i.e. Chamber Of Commerce and Small Business Development Centers (SBCD), and Alliance partners such as MasterCard, Federal Express, and Kinkos, among others.

Alliance partners will drive demand for events in return for demonstrating their own solutions, Influencer partners will host events, and SBSC partners will schedule events utilizing MS content, training, marketing, and tools, according to the document.

The initiative shows that Microsoft is taking steps to avoid losing its foothold on new and emerging small businesses, Crall said.

"Microsoft has a responsibility to do what's right for customers. How they address their needs while keeping partners' trust will be a big challenge, but no one is better positioned to capitalize on partnerships than Microsoft," he said.