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Microsoft shows channel more money at Partner Conference

Allison Watson, vice president of the company’s worldwide partner sales and marketing group, told an assembly of around 5,000 resellers — a turnout so large it necessitated moving the general sessions from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to the nearby Air Canada Centre — that Microsoft is bumping its spending on the channel up from $1.5 billion in its fiscal 2004 to $1.7 billion in its just-started fiscal 2005.

That $200 million increase will be spent on new field specialists for system builder, ISSV and Microsoft Business Solutions partners, new training systems, sales and marketing support, and services for partners. In addition to the $1.7 billion, Watson said that each of the subsidiaries around the world will move 35 per cent of their marketing funds previously earmarked for direct-to-customer marketing, into joint marketing efforts with partners.

“We saw that need to come to you with integrated solutions,” Watson said. “We need to do a better job of teaching you about how we come together, to create better connections between partners, to provide you with help against our competition, to increase your revenues and profits. We need to simplify and execute.”

The money will be poured into a variety of new programs to be unveiled at the Worldwide Partner Conference which runs through Tuesday here in Toronto, the city which was slated to host last year’s Partner Conference until it was moved to New Orleans due to partner concerns over the then still-fresh spectre of SARS in Toronto.

That conference ended up being themed about building momentum, and now this year, the theme is velocity, or as Watson puts it: “Speed to market, speed to customer, speed to value, speed of money changing hands in the industry.”

She detailed the launch of its next-generation partner program, announced last year and seeing some refinement at this year’s show. Already, the company is on its way to having a better view of its partners in totality — where previously it had 87 partner databases, it is on its way to having just one. Within the program, the eight existing competencies have been expanded to nine with the addition of a Microsoft Business Solutions focus, and later this year, two more programs will be added, covering licensing and software management, and the company is still seeking input from partners on where they’d like to see Microsoft lay down additional areas of competency.

She said that opportunity is on a significant upswing, with tech spending growing this calendar year for the first time in a few years, with money going into both new projects and infrastructure upgrades. “We need to capture that incredible opportunity out there,” she told partners.

Watson said the show would offer partners a look at the changing market, and where the biggest opportunities are. She said partners could choose to be aggressive and stake out their own positions in some of the key areas the company has identified, or could choose to sit back and align themselves with the growth areas Microsoft is targeting, and simply ride the wave toward growth.

“You can go out there and really attack now, or you can just ride the natural growth curve in each competency,” she said. “There are plenty of opportunities to bet your business on Microsoft and grow your business in a very rapid and swift way.”

She also acknowledged areas where the company needs to improve — providing head-to-head comparisons against competitive technologies, and simplifying the partner program further, especially for smaller partners. But she said the company would continue to work on it because of its partner-centric culture, and said she had support from Ballmer down through the management corps in her efforts to make Microsoft more focused on its partners.

“Our promise to customers isn’t complete without you, and we all know that — it’s you who develop the custom solutions that make technology to life that brings value to our customers,” Watson said.

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