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Precious Gems in Plain Sight

If you've been a Microsoft partner for more than a minute, you already know that the company offers an astonishing array of programs and services intended to help boost your business.

But the Microsoft Partner Program's top executive worries that you're missing out on some of the best ones.

Allison Watson, corporate vice president for the Worldwide Partner Group, says that while several tools are anything but secret, they're still frequently overlooked and underused.

Reaping Redmond's Riches

Here's where to find some of the Microsoft Partner Program's most valuable-and most underused-partner resources:

Microsoft Solution Finder
https://solutionfinder.microsoft.com

Demo Showcase for the People-Ready Business
https://partner.microsoft.com/
demoshowcase

Telephone Pre-Sales Technical Support
http://microsoft.com/oem/tpts.mspx

Partner Marketing Center & Partner Learning Center
https://partner.microsoft.com (located in password-protected area)

Among those she views as most valuable is the Microsoft Solution Finder, a searchable online directory designed to help generate solid sales leads for partners. How does it work? "It's very simple: Is your solution [listed] in our tool?" Watson says. If so, when potential customers use the tool to search for products and services they need, Solution Finder will steer them in your direction. Currently, the nine-month-old directory includes only a fraction of available solutions and, in September, generated fewer than 1,500 leads. But Watson hopes to see both listings and leads skyrocket as more prospects and partners of all levels discover the tool. (For more on Solution Finder, see "Looking for Leads Online").

Also new on the sales side: Demo Showcase for the People-Ready Business, a resource for Certified and Gold Certified Partners that was unveiled during the Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston last July. The toolkit, available online, is keyed to Microsoft's "People-Ready" campaign, which emphasizes linking software to specific jobs and industries. "It's not even about showing customers what it can do for them. It's about showing customers, in their roles, how whatever problem they're having can be solved," Watson explains. "It's an integrated demonstration environment that, for the first time, allows me to talk to a health-care executive about health-care solutions" or to
tailor presentations to, for instance, people in sales, marketing, IT or operations.

The Demo Showcase is designed to complement another benefit that Watson would like to see get more use from all partners: Telephone Pre-Sales Technical Support. Callers can get unlimited free assistance not only about technical questions (for instance, about a particular solution's security features, scalability or interoperability with other products), but on business and technical issues as well. For example, partners might seek pointers on the best way to position new products or deal with specific sales scenarios.

While partners can request assistance via e-mail or a query submitted online, Watson urges them to seek real-time help by phone when they're in the field and run into customer questions that they don't know how to answer. "They're a phone call away from someone who is going to take the time to go through the competitive comparisons" or provide whatever other on-the-spot help they need, she says. "So when all else fails, get your mobile phone out and call from the customer site."

In addition, Watson wishes partners would make better use of the Partner Marketing Center, which she says can "practically do all their marketing." The center guides users through building annual marketing plans, creating and executing campaigns, developing seminars, sending out direct-mail brochures and other tasks. While the center is geared largely to beginners-"a 'Marketing Center for Dummies,' a little bit," as Watson puts it-it's stocked with enough resources to benefit even more experienced partner marketing teams. It's available to partners of all levels.

As her last "hidden gem," Watson mentions the Partner Learning Center, also available to all partners. Actually, "that's one of our most used tools, but I still don't think it could ever be used enough," Watson says. "A lot of [partners] use it already, but they could still use it more."

About the Author

Anne Stuart, the former executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner, is a business technology freelance writer based in Boston, Mass.

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