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Microsoft Is Digitally Transforming Its Cloud Marketplaces To Drive Partner-To-Partner Business

Updates to Azure Marketplace and AppSource for the first time allow Cloud Solution Providers to offer bundled Microsoft and ISV solutions directly through those online software stores.

Without much fanfare, Microsoft is rolling out upgrades to its cloud software marketplaces that will significantly change how channel and technology partners engage each other and sell solutions to joint customers.

Microsoft started the process Monday by introducing the capability for Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) partners to bundle, sell and invoice third-party infrastructure software directly through Azure Marketplace.

Another upgrade coming within the next couple of months will apply that approach to seat-based applications sold through Azure Marketplace and AppSource, an online store for business solutions, fostering a more direct relationship between resellers and SaaS providers.

"We're extending the concept of our partner network in the marketplace," said Toby Richards, who runs go-to-market for Microsoft's One Commercial Partner program.

[Related: Microsoft Soft-Launches SaaS Marketplace Connecting ISVs Directly To Its Channel]

"The message we've been giving traditional partners over the course of many years is this year they'll see specifics as to how to transform from pure resell to delivering managed services and solutions," Richards told CRN.

Within Microsoft, the initiative is called P2P, Richards said, and is seen as critical to supporting the profitability and health of cloud-focused solution providers.

"The goal is for our reseller partners to start adding more value to customer environments than just selling Office or things like that," he told CRN.

Playing a key role in developing the initiative are ISVs like Nimble CRM, a Santa Monica-Calif.-based developer of a social CRM solution popular with small businesses which CSPs have already been selling through the marketplace since last year through a pilot program.

By turning on the API allowing CSPs to directly sell Nimble and other apps in the Azure Marketplace, Microsoft made it easier for those partners to realize margins on bundled software sales. That's good for the partners, and it's also good for Microsoft, Jon Ferrara, Nimble CRM's founder and CEO, told CRN.

"Microsoft needs partners to sell third-party solutions to drive first-party products," Ferrara explained. The changes to the marketplaces are the first step in providing a platform that enables ‘partner-to-partner’ motions."

To achieve that goal, however, CSPs must evolve the way they sell Office 365, Power BI, PowerApps, Azure and Dynamics.

"Resellers need to be selling solutions on top of Office, but many can't do that yet because they need to digitally transform themselves," Ferrara said.

For that reason, Nimble CRM is not only looking at partners as a channel, but also as customers they can help through the transformation process.

"We're jointly story-telling with Microsoft. They're walking us into their distributors, like Tech Data and SherWeb, to market Nimble to resellers for them to adopt it and start using it themselves," Ferrara told CRN.

"Microsoft is recognizing it needs to digitally transform itself to digitally transform its distributors to digitally transform its partners to digitally transform its customers," he said.

Nimble CRM is an example of how an ISV can serve as an on-ramp for customers into Microsoft products, Richards told CRN.

"Customers are getting more out of Office 365 with Nimble, and growing into something more sophisticated," the Microsoft channel manager said.

The ISVs for the first time will be able to use Microsoft's marketplaces to build their channels globally. And the partners reselling those third-party solutions along with Office 365 can take advantage of the solution bundles entirely integrated within Microsoft's provisioning and transaction system.

"It will save quite a bit of time for the partner, and everything will be then delivered to the customer in one provisioning motion," Richards told CRN.

"All invoicing can come together in one monthly bill to the customer. This will provide immediate value to a lot of these partners ready to make that move," he said.

Software vendors with infrastructure solutions that will become available to CSPs Monday are Barracuda, Cisco Systems, Fortinet, Citrix Systems, NetApp and Check Point Software Technologies.

The seat-based SaaS vendors that will later be added are Nimble CRM, LawToolBox, JetReports, Boomerang, Meistertask and Adobe.

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