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Microsoft Moves To Become Your Best Partner

Nearing the wrap of her first year as vice president of worldwide partner sales and marketing at Microsoft, Allison Watson can eagerly rattle off myriad new and future partner initiatives that she says loudly underscore Redmond's renewed commitment to the channel.

Chief among them is money, says Watson. Two years ago, Microsoft committed to spending $500 million on partner-related activities. During a meeting Monday with VARBusiness in New York, Watson said that pledge continues, revealing that in an otherwise flat budgeting year -- when internal give-and-take reigned supreme -- Microsoft agreed to fund all the partner programs and staff increases that she and her team proposed. The investments come in a variety of areas, including a major boost to inbound/outbound presales support now available to all 30,000 certified partners. The company is also doubling the resources devoted to its systems builder program and pressing ahead with its $10 billion drive to bring developers into the .Net fold, including signing up 5,000 new ISVs to the Microsoft's ISV Empower Program. In addition, Watson says the company now employs 2,400 technical specialists on staff to assist partners, up from 700 one year ago.

All this activity is leading up to Microsoft's Partner Momentum Event to take place Oct. 9-11 in New Orleans, she says.

"We want to be the best-in-class partnering vendor," says Watson. "We aren't there yet, but we have come pretty far in only 10 months."

For five years prior, Microsoft attempted to build up its channel, Watson says, but met with lukewarm results. The difference between then and now is that internal employees are being held accountable for succeeding in the effort. To that end, Microsoft recently revamped its employee compensation incentive plans, tying 60 percent of bonuses in most cases to partner and customer satisfaction.

"A key metric of loyalty is whether our partners will recommend Microsoft as a business partner," she says.

Other efforts center around simplifying accessibility to the company. Microsoft currently is working to synchronize its 67 different partner Web sites across the globe through back-end integration via Web services and .Net. The goal, says Watson, is to create a "more intelligent partner management system" that can scale and deliver data out to the sheer volume of partners via one UI portal.

On the product side, Watson says Microsoft is continuing its efforts to present a more unified product stack that helps VARs fashion solutions for customers -- as opposed to the typical spattering of point releases that do not coincide on the calendar. As part of that, Office System will be rolled out sometime in early fall. Office System comprises the new Small Business Server 2003, Office 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and a global version of Microsoft CRM.

As a measuring stick, Watson says that those Microsoft partners who retooled their business model around exploiting the software stack to solve business solutions for customers have met with the most success in an otherwise tepid economy. The partner programs put into place this year, including the additional technical, sales and consulting staff, reflect Redmond's ongoing effort to enable that kind of solution selling approach, she adds.

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