MS partners feel the cold

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Microsoft hype for its partner program has fallen on deaf ears, with some resellers claiming more work could be done.

Simon Uzanovski, marketing manager at corporate reseller BCA IT, said that he believed some resellers had recently dropped off Microsoft's partner radar, with the focus moving more towards developers and vendors.

“I question the relevance [Microsoft] sees in people like us,” Uzanovski said. “Sometimes I feel like at times they feel like they don't need us. Sometimes things seem a bit distant.”

According to Uzanovski, Microsoft was “very active” with BCA IT two or three years ago in terms of what working with it on what the two companies were going to take to market. But he argued that the situation had changed.

Certified and un-certified Microsoft resellers were still going off and doing the range of partner programs in good faith but with less input and support from Microsoft, Uzanovski said.

“I went to a partner event last year where there were all these promises going to happen. I don't know if it seems to have fallen down since then....[but] we haven't really seen a lot of action from them to a degree. I almost feel like we're off the radar with them,” Uzanovski said.

He said that Microsoft seemed to have talked a bigger game than it was eventually prepared to play, with the focus “not as good as what we would have hoped”.

However, Uzanovski concedes that a large company like Microsoft might find it difficult to equitably support every single partner. “Still, they're very much pull-focused. And they believe they can do it so much better [than anyone else],” he said.

Lorenzo Coppa, managing director at Victoria-based online reseller City Software, said Microsoft partner support had been “sporadic” in recent years. He agreed with Uzanovski that Microsoft was inclined to be more “pull-focused”, in that the company tended to respond to criticism as it happened rather than taking a pro-active approach.

“They were pretty hopeless last year. I remember sitting down with Microsoft and we gave them a pretty hard grilling and said that they'd got us working out there in the marketplace for them for free--because we don't make much margin on Microsoft,” Coppa said.

Coppa said that Microsoft seemed to have recently improved its approach to its business partners as a result of some of last year's partner discussions. “From a high level what I have noticed [since] late last year is quite a dramatic improvement in services and support that Microsoft has given us,” he said.

City Software has worked with Microsoft for four or five years, in what Coppa calls “quite a close relationship”, which has occasionally involved some Microsoft contribution to marketing for the company. “We've always had a relationship with Microsoft,” he said.

Dinesh De Silva, national marketing manager for corporate services provider Alphawest, said Microsoft had in recent years made substantial improvements in the way it treated its partners but more work remained to be done.

Microsoft had in the past frequently failed to achieve “regular, consistent, engagement” at all levels with its partners and customers, he said. Account management, business development management and service delivery had all been areas that Microsoft had needed to address, De Silva said.

“There's a bit of work [yet] to be done,” De Silva said. “Some time back, ourselves and other partners spoke to Microsoft saying we found them not doing enough with their partners and we effectively found it difficult to partner with them because of their size and manner. And we're one of the major partners.”

He agreed that if a reseller Alphawest's size could feel neglected, many smaller Microsoft partners may be even more shut out of support systems and opportunities.

“You also have to ask whether it's an employer-and-employee relationship or more like a husband-and-wife partnership,” De Silva added.

However, he had special praise for the ideas of Microsoft's state partner manager for NSW, Neil Jackson, who had since been appointed. De Silva said Jackson had, among other things, started regular partner meetings to find out what was needed in the Microsoft partner community. “Jackson has brought about some change which was good,” he said.

Microsoft Australia has recently expanded its partner sales team, taking on three more account managers cosset and encourage its 65 Gold partners in a move consolidating the company's support of larger companies. The bulk of Australian partners are smaller resellers and distributors barred access to Microsoft certification.

Kerstin Baxter, director of the partner group at Microsoft Australia, said that each Gold Partner would be assigned an account manager, who would each look after “less than 10” partners.

Certified Partners would get a phone-based account manager, who would each look after about 70 Microsoft Certified partners. Of Microsoft's total 12,000 partners in Australia, 65 representing 55 companies have been awarded a specialist Gold designation, entitling them to extra assistance from Microsoft as well as extra demands.

“We want to make sure they [Gold and Certified partners] understand all the resources available for their business,” she said. “It's not just about technical certification.”

She said most Australian Microsoft partners had less than 10 employees--including most resellers, OEMs and system builders--so are not eligible for certification.

Microsoft was not seeking to streamline the partnership program or reduce the number of partners in any way but would seek to increase the ranks of specialised Gold partners as appropriate, Baxter said.

She pointed out that un-certified Microsoft partners could also access Microsoft account managers and marketing assistance, although not on such a dedicated or extensive level.

“It's volume-based as well,” she said. “But they have their own program, but in a smaller way. We do the top tiers of resellers and system builder partners in a similar kind of way.”

Microsoft would continue to work with all levels of its partners to maximise the potential from those relationships, Baxter said.

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