Redmond to Small Businesses: Ride the Wave
Microsoft speakers at the SMB Nation conference talk up forthcoming releases,
drawing a mixed response.
Looking to ignite pre-launch excitement among small-business partners,
Microsoft speakers at the SMB Nation conference started the drumbeat for
Windows Vista, Office 2007 and other major upcoming product releases.
"We're at the beginning of a growth wave for your business and ours,"
keynoter Marie Huwe, general manager for marketing in Microsoft's Worldwide
Partner Group, told attendees at the privately run conference. Held on
the company's Redmond, Wash., campus in September, the event attracted
600 people from as far away as Australia.
Now in its fourth year, SMB Nation caters to the vast community of one-
to five-person resellers, integrators and solution providers that primarily
serve small business customers. Microsoft views the small-business market
as a rich potential source of future sales growth. According to internal
company data cited by Huwe, the world's 40 million small businesses spent
$37 billion on software in 2005. Microsoft expects that figure to rise
by 10 percent in 2006.
Huwe and other Microsoft speakers positioned Vista and Office 2007 as
offering significant revenue opportunities for small business partners.
Microsoft anticipates $20 billion of spending by businesses of all sizes
on Vista deployment services in the next two years, said Brad Brooks,
general manager for Windows client product marketing. Meanwhile, Rachel
Bondi, a senior director in Microsoft's Office product group, predicted
that Office 2007 will spark increased demand for partner services as well.
Some conference attendees, however, questioned whether penny-pinching
small businesses will be clamoring for Vista and Office 2007 anytime soon.
"Our customer base is probably three years behind the power curve
when it comes to early adopters," said Randall Spangler, president
of Chesapeake, Va.-based integrator MERIT Solutions, a Registered Member.
"A lot of them still use [Office] 97 and it works fine, so they're
not going to upgrade to [Office] 2007 just because it's there."
In addition to Vista and Office 2007, Microsoft speakers also encouraged
small business partners to push Dynamics CRM. Citing data from Stamford,
Conn.-based analyst firm Gartner Inc., Brad Wilson, general manager of
Microsoft's Dynamics CRM product group, said that small businesses will
spend $550 million on customer relationship management software in 2007.
Wilson also referred to internal Microsoft research showing that the total
value of a typical 20-seat Dynamics CRM deal is $73,200, of which 67 percent
goes to partners.
Turning his attention briefly to Dynamics CRM Live, Microsoft's forthcoming
Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM offering, Wilson said that while plans
call for Microsoft to host that product itself and bill customers directly,
the software giant will share a yet-to-be determined portion of its subscription
fees with resellers.
Presentations on topics such as negotiating mergers and acquisitions
and building a managed-services practice drew the largest crowds. "The
business tracks are always more popular than the technical tracks,"
said Harry Brelsford, CEO of SMB Nation Inc., the Poulsbo, Wash.-based
company that sponsors the show. Because they're small businesspeople themselves,
most attendees have technical backgrounds and limited management experience,
Brelsford noted. Most come to SMB Nation to learn about growth strategies
and leadership techniques from peers and experts.
or regions in which Microsoft has subsidiary offices*; locations
range from Argentina to Zimbabwe.
*as of August 2006
For Microsoft, SMB Nation offers direct access to the small IT shops
it was targeting when it created the Small Business Specialist (SBS) partner
designation in July 2005. SBS status is open to any member of the Microsoft
Partner Program, including Registered members, provided that at least
one employee has passed a small business marketing and sales assessment
test and one of two technical exams. According to Robert Crissman, Microsoft's
general manager for U.S. partner enablement, there are currently about
7,500 Small Business Specialists worldwide, including 2,500 in the United
States. Microsoft aims to double that number during its current fiscal
To that end, Microsoft executives announced the creation of a team of
telephone-based Partner Account Managers (telePAMs) for U.S.-based Small
Business Specialists, enabling those partners to have a direct relationship
with Microsoft for the first time. Paige Boesen, a marketing manager in
Microsoft's U.S. Small Business Specialist partner group, promised more
benefits as that community expands. "As we continue to get bigger,
it only gets better," she said.
Rich Freeman is a Seattle, Wash.-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology.