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Partner marketing: lessons from Microsoft's partnering model

Partner marketing: lessons from Microsoft's partnering model


Around this time of year Gavriella Schuster, who leads the global Microsoft One Commercial Partner organisation, shares on her blog a ‘state of the nation’ update for Microsoft partnering. This year it was orientated towards Microsoft resources and programs to support partners through COVID-19 and the second half year.

It’s easy to think that the best vendor response to COVID-19 is to encourage partners to focus on ‘work from home’ applications. And it’s true that use of that Microsoft Teams has boomed in the last quarter. There are now more than 75 million Microsoft Teams users worldwide, which is more than double the user base in March this year.  Likewise peak daily usage of Zoom in April was up to 300 million users, from 10 million last December.

But in fact Microsoft’s response to COVID-19 for partners has been much more than about Microsoft Teams. And vendors in most technology categories can learn from this.

Forrester has recently explained that economic fallout from COVID-19 is changing customer expectations of channel partners.  Collaboration and added value are more important than they have ever been.  Partners must demonstrate the expertise to understand customer problems, and to proactively recommend solutions. This is not new, but it’s gained particular focus in the first half of this year.

This places a responsibility on the vendor’s partner marketing to help partners differentiate their offer to customers. That’s what we see with Microsoft. There is increased access to training content, and better support for partners to respond to customer needs through the Co-Sell Program. There is also more investment in digital demand generation content to help partners get their message out to customers, and support for partners to execute campaigns.

Digital demand generation content needs to be easy to use, and to have wide market reach, making it easy for partners to execute campaigns. 

In our work with clients, we find that vendors have two gaps to deliver this effectively and increase speed to revenue. The first – partners need a ‘guide’ or ‘concierge’ to help them navigate this engagement at speed.  Second, they need digital campaign ‘packages’ that offer guaranteed returns for their marketing spend. Offers such as our own Digital Partners products enable vendors to provide partner marketing services for both enablement support and ready-to-go packaged digital campaigns.

Here’s our summary of the main partner marketing lessons from Microsoft, and from other vendors who are responding positively to the new economic environment for channel partners:

  • Heavier focus on partner value and differentiation to customers, particularly with digital demand generation content and support for marketing campaigns.
  • Increased access to enablement and training content, not so much sales-orientated, but designed to drive proactive conversations with customers about digital transformation.
  • Incentives and specialisations, not just for obvious remote-working solutions, but also for underlying technologies that allow customers to respond more quickly to changing demand by streamlining and integrating back office process.

Microsoft’s partner program response to COVID-19 has been about much more than Microsoft Teams. All technology vendors can learn from that.

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