Microsoft Partner Chief Calls AI ‘The No. 1 Topic With Partners’

Partners are ‘quite motivated and inspired to bring [AI] to our joint customers,’ Microsoft Chief Partner Officer Nicole Dezen tells CRN.


A tough economy is still an opportunity for Microsoft partners, the vendor continues to see progress on partner adoption of New Commerce Experience and new partner designations, and artificial intelligence is “the No. 1 topic with partners right now,” Microsoft Chief Partner Officer Nicole Dezen told CRN.

Dezen, who is about 10 months into the new role—she is also corporate vice president of the Global Partner Solutions organization for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft—also told CRN that the vendor’s investments in cutting-edge technology such as generative AI and more resources for partners represent “a new era.”

On AI, partners are “quite motivated and inspired to bring this capability to our joint customers,” Dezen told CRN. “There’s so much goodness coming, too. … We talked about this as a new era. And it really does feel like a new era. It’s a fantastic time to be in this business.”

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[RELATED: Microsoft Reveals More Partner Designations, AI Opportunity]

Microsoft Chief Partner Officer Dezen Talks AI, Marketplace

Dezen spoke with CRN following Wednesday’s “State Of The Partner Ecosystem” announcement from Microsoft. As part of that, Microsoft announced new partner designations as part of the system replacing the longtime Gold and Silver badges partners earned.

Microsoft Wednesday also unveiled multiparty private offers in the commercial marketplace.

The updates aren’t the last partners will hear from Microsoft, whose major changes to the partner program in 2022 proved a challenge to partners throughout the year.

“We’re on a multiyear journey,” Dezen said. “And when we launched Microsoft Cloud Partner Programs six months ago, we said this is a significant opportunity and change for partners. And we have a very rich road map ahead. So what partners will continue to hear from us is more innovation, more capability, more skilling, more resources to help them go to market with us.”

During the State Of The Partner Ecosystem, Dezen said that the vendor is investing in more “partner growth and profitability.” For every $1 of Microsoft revenue, services-led partners make $7.63 and software partners make $10.11, she said.

She also advocated for partners to explore co-selling opportunities with the vendor. In 2021, Microsoft co-selling partners achieved nearly double the revenue growth of partners that didn’t co-sell with Microsoft. Partners that co-sell with Microsoft grow faster and generate higher margin, she said.

“Our services-led partners are so core to our strategy,” Dezen told CRN. “They are incredibly important. They can count on the fact that there are so many more opportunities coming ahead. … I’m so grateful for the unique work that they do every single day.”

Microsoft has about 400,000 channel partners worldwide, according to CRN’s 2023 Channel Chiefs list.

Dezen 10 Months Into New Role

Ten months into the role, Dezen said that she’s worked to understand the breadth of Microsoft’s partner ecosystem.

“It’s been an exciting whirlwind,” she said. “I love the partner business, which is why I think I have the best job in the company. And one that was really tailor-made for me.

“It gives me a front-row seat to understanding how they think about their business. Because I think a big part of my responsibility is to help them grow successful businesses.”

Looking ahead, Dezen said she’s still meeting with partners “to learn from them, to find new ways to help them deliver value through our technology, our programs, our incentives, our tools.”

She also meets with other Microsoft employees to make sure “we’re really helping them capitalize on the value that partners deliver for Microsoft—whether that’s with our enterprise sellers, with our SMB sellers, with many internal stakeholders in marketing and etc.”

Dezen’s chief partner officer role is a new one for Microsoft. She entered the job July 1, about two months after Microsoft channel chief Rodney Clark departed to go to Johnson Controls.

Some of Clark’s duties went to David Smith, Microsoft’s vice president of channel sales, and Julie Sanford, Microsoft’s vice president of partner go-to-market, programs and experiences. Both report to Dezen.

With Dezen’s promotion, former Global Partner Solutions Corporate Vice President Nick Parker became president of the Industry and Partner Sales organization. Dezen reports to Parker.

Dezen has worked at Microsoft for more than 12 years, according to her LinkedIn account. She joined Microsoft in 2010 as senior director of the OEM division for the HP in Asia-Pacific and Japan account.

Before her current role, Dezen was Microsoft’s corporate vice president of device partner sales for about a year, according to her LinkedIn account.

The Economy’s Effect On Partners

When asked about the economy, which potentially may be headed to a recession—and its effects on partners, Dezen said that partners still have opportunities with customers looking for a reliable source for where to spend IT budgets.

Customers are also still investing in cutting-edge technology such as AI and cybersecurity, she said.

“Customers in times like this are looking for trusted companies to lean on to help them achieve their business goals,” she said. “In fact, in some ways you can say their business goals become even more mission-critical in a climate like this. … Customers are most certainly investing in digital transformation because I think they see it as a path to … optimization, to synthesizing their investments, to leaning on a trusted partner to deliver the core capabilities they need.”

During the vendor’s most recent quarterly earnings call in January, Microsoft leaders detailed a “slowdown in growth of new business” for certain offerings.

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella told analysts that the slowdown is temporary and a result of customers spending a lot of money on digital tools during the height of the pandemic and now wanting to get the most out of what they bought before spending more money.

“Just as we saw customers accelerate their digital spend during the pandemic, we are now seeing them optimize that spend,” he said at the time. “Also, organizations are exercising caution given the macroeconomic uncertainty.”

During the Sate Of The Partner Ecosystem, Microsoft detailed new resources for ISVs. Dezen told CRN that new ISV partner resources don’t take away from services-led partners.

“We have a vision where all of our partner types will have more, more, more capabilities within” the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, she said. “So there’s a lot more to come.”

‘Happy’ With NCE Progress

Microsoft’s partner organization changes came as partners adopted its controversial New Commerce Experience (NCE), a new platform for partners to do business with customers.

One of the biggest changes under NCE was a 20 percent premium on month-to-month commitments for popular Microsoft offerings.

That premium encourages customers to adopt annual commitments, partners have told CRN. With annual commitments, partners could be on the hook for paying for the rest of a customer’s commitment should the customer go out of business, get acquired or require fewer Microsoft licenses.

Dezen told CRN she is “absolutely happy” with the progress around NCE. “We’re seeing really nice momentum there,” she said. “Partners are on the journey with us. And this is another place where we listen, we take feedback, we evolve. We’re addressing market needs.”

Microsoft partners are still dealing with the inability to bring on a new customer if the customer is already in a commitment with a different partner. Partners also can’t leave distributors they worked with for an annual commitment.

When asked about license portability, Dezen said that she and her team are “constantly evaluating our programs and policies” and that she has “nothing to update on specifically at this time.”

Microsoft’s Commercial Marketplace

Dezen also told CRN that partners should invest in using Microsoft’s commercial marketplace, “a core part” of the vendor’s go-to-market strategy.

“This is really a mechanism to help partners scale faster,” she said. “And it’s a really nice complement to the other resources and programs that we have made available to our partners.”

For services-led partners still figuring out how the marketplace can help their business, Dezen said that Microsoft is “publishing quite a lot of new resources every day. I would encourage partners that are interested in how to get engaged with us to check out our resources.”

“We want more partners on this journey with us,” she said. “Marketplace is another place where we have an awesome road map. I’m excited about this.”

She also encouraged partners to look into diversity and minority-owned business classifications available on the marketplace for customers looking for those type of partners.

“We serve the entire world,” Dezen said. “And we want to help our entire world of partners succeed. And so I’m really proud of the investments we’ve made to enable partners to self-attest so that—companies that are interested in buying from our diverse partners—they can seek those out. They know where to find those companies.”