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Microsoft's Plans To 'People-Ready' Partners Still Hazy

Stacy Cowley
launched earlier this month

Several solution providers said they first heard of the “people-ready” strategy after its public launch in a speech that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivered in New York two weeks ago. Microsoft followed that event with a slew of print ads and commercials that touted its ability to help businesses optimize individual employee productivity. Since then, the Redmond, Wash., company has latched onto the "people-ready" slogan with the tenacity that IBM showed when it introduced its "on demand" vision three years ago.

“People-ready” was a buzzword at Microsoft Business Solutions’ (MBS) Convergence 2006 conference this week. "They just pounded 'people-ready' into our heads at every opportunity," said Mike Snyder, principal of Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft CRM specialist based in Chicago. Still, Snyder said he likes the message. "You can see that the products have been headed that way, getting the role-based software design to the front," he said.

Microsoft's plans behind the marketing message remain unclear. Microsoft channel chief Allison Watson said the company aims to train 200,000 partners this year on delivering services that enable "people-ready business," which apparently means speaking about technology in ways that will resonate in customers’ boardrooms.

"Today, many partners may be framing our products to the IT departments, about how the products will help the IT department manage and orchestrate their assets," Watson said. "We have a major training investment to help partners speak the language of the CEO, about investment in a new wave of technology."

MBS channel partners said they're already speaking that language but are happy to have Microsoft falling in line behind them. Selling business applications like Microsoft’s Dynamics line--formerly Great Plains and Navision--has always involved focusing more on business outcomes than on technology components, said Alan Kahn, CEO of InterDyn, a New York-based MBS partner.

"Now we can have that conversation, and it fits what Microsoft is saying, too," Kahn said. "Microsoft is trying to create a strategic shift in the way they talk to businesses about specific scenarios. It's a message that I think helps make them distinct."

Microsoft's partner training plans include Web seminars and PowerPoint presentations accessible through its partner portal. Another offering Watson associated with the people-ready campaign is Microsoft's fledgling Solution Finder tool, although that's really a retrofit. Partners said Microsoft has been working with them on building Solution Finder since at least last fall, long before it began honing its people-ready message.

Solution Finder is a database of partner profiles spotlighting specific competencies, backed by customer references. The intent is to let customers hitting Microsoft's Web site seek and contact partners with specialties suited to their needs.

Now live on Microsoft's Dynamics Web page, Solution Finder is will soon be expanded to other areas of Microsoft's site, including its people-ready campaign Web portal, company executives said.

"We have high expectations for traffic coming directly to partners from this site," Watson said.

Early Solution Finder participants said they are enthusiastic. Microsoft has previously offered a Yellow Pages-style Partner Resource Directory, but solution providers said it's unwieldy and not designed for end users. Traditionally, customers seeking partners have to work through Microsoft field representatives, who will listen to their needs and attempt to matchmake with local firms. For partners, that approach means it's vital to form a good relationship with the local reps and to stay on their radar.

Scott Boedigheimer, central region general manager and vice president of sales at Altara, a Basking Ridge, N.J.-based MBS partner Altara, said he hopes Solution Finder will enable prospects to contact his firm more directly.

"It changes the whole process to be more customer-facing," he said. "Previously, it was a big secret as to who the Microsoft Business Solutions partners were. If you're on the phone with a Microsoft rep and say, 'Give me the names of three partners in this area with these competencies,' they wouldn't even do that."

Beyond projects like Solution Finder, plans for deliverables to back up Microsoft's people-ready crusade remain murky. "I think they're still working out some of the specifics around product alignment," said Neil Rosenberg, CEO of Quality Technology Solutions, a Microsoft Gold Partner that participated in the people-ready kickoff event in New York. "There hasn't been much direct partner contact beyond the launch."

Despite the lack of details about the people-ready package, Rosenberg is among those who like the wrapping. "It makes sense in light of where Microsoft has been and where they're trying to go," he said. "Microsoft started in its roots as a software company not for business processes, but for personal productivity. This resonates."

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