People-Readying the Channel

Microsoft revs its SMB engines for product push.

Microsoft is positioning itself in rhetoric and action to make a major sales push of new products to release in 2006 and 2007, according to company executives and partners.

On June 29, the Redmond, Wash., software company announced a reorganization of its MBS (Microsoft Business Solutions) and SMS&P (Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners) units, bringing the latter, where the partner organization resides, into alignment with the field sales organization and under the control of new Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, formerly of Wal-Mart.

The company has made strides in the past four years to improve the sales and marketing support it deploys to partners, and sources said they expect that trend to accelerate in the coming year, even to the point where the vendor is handing partners complete presales and marketing campaigns tailored to composite customer groups. One partner said the number of prequalified leads is mounting as well.

This week at Microsofts Partner Conference in Boston, the company will hammer home on the "people-ready business" mantra it expects to drive solutions and sales, executives told eWeek, rallying the troops for the market push amid past and coming releases of Windows Vista, Office 2007, "Longhorn" Server, SQL Server and others.

"Weve never seen this much focus [from Microsoft] on our sales organization," said Larry Hedin, vice president of sales and marketing at Heartland Technology Solutions, a Microsoft partner in Harlan, Iowa, with customers throughout the Midwest. "Were being engaged by every different group within Microsoft to prepare us to sell a deeper breadth of product than we have before."

Part of the strategy is due to the fact that Microsoft has a broader portfolio, said Allison Watson, corporate vice president of Microsofts Worldwide Partner Sales and Marketing Group. "The last five years and $20 billion of R&D investment is coming forward," Watson said. "Were expecting more out of our partners, and I think theyre expecting more out of us."

Hedin said Heartland expects to see its Microsoft business grow 15 to 20 percent as the organization sells a broader swath of Microsoft products to its customer base.

"Microsoft is focusing on turning partners into better salespeople for themselves and for Microsoft," said Paul DeGroot, a senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Microsoft-focused research company in Kirkland, Wash. "You can no longer drop the ball on sales in Microsofts channel." Microsoft has recognized a weakness in its partners abilities to deliver the message—both their own and Microsofts—to the market, DeGroot said.

The people-ready business campaign, which is designed to deliver messages to individuals based on their business role, such as CIOs, chief financial officers and database architects, will make the sales message more precise, Watson said. The campaign enables a partner to enter a sale and begin the conversation about what an individual needs based on the persons role. "We want it to be easy to capture the IT value in it by being precise about the full breadth of what we offer," said Watson.