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Convergence: Dynamics Partners Try To Unleash Potential

It is with great regret that, after three consecutive years of covering the event live, your editor is not at Convergence this year. It is with even greater regret that missing Convergence 2009 means missing a trip to New Orleans, one of your editor's favorite cities and a place where he'd happily help rebuild the local economy by spending 1105 Media's money.

But alas, priorities have changed, and RCPU will be covering the annual Dynamics show from Framingham, Mass., this year. It's not the worst place a person could be, but it's also not the home of jambalaya, Dixie Beer -- sadly, apparently brewed in Wisconsin post-Katrina -- Dixieland jazz and just generally rolling the good times.

Priorities have changed for Dynamics and Dynamics partners, too. This year's show won't see a slew of big product launches, although Microsoft has released new versions of the AX and NAV suites within the last year. Instead, as Dynamics chief Kirill Tatarinov told Redmond magazine (and your editor) not long ago, Convergence New Orleans will be -- and now is -- all about hanging on in a tough economy.

Thus far, the chin-up approach is working, said Doug Kennedy, vice president of Microsoft Dynamics partners, in a phone conversation with RCPU this week, presumably between bites of red beans and rice.

"It's not a sense of panic," Kennedy said of the buzz at the show. "It's a sense that we're all in the same situation, but nobody is really walking around here with doom and gloom. The best way to describe it is [partners] are all optimistic."

And they're still a bit confused, in some cases. Although most partners and customers seem to have their heads around Microsoft's four-suite ERP strategy, Kennedy told us that he had Chris Caren, general manager of product management and marketing for Microsoft Dynamics, go ahead and explain the four-pronged approach again in a partner briefing on Monday. Seasoned partners get it, Kennedy said, but some newer partners still need educating.

"It's clear for those partners that were committed to these product lines," Kennedy said. "We're continuing to support the investments we've made and the customers have made and the partners have made."

In other words, Microsoft's sticking with the four-suite thing, just as company officials have said for at least a couple of years now that it would. Yes, it's a bit confusing. Yes, it can send mixed signals to the market. But it's also the only way Microsoft can move forward with Dynamics ERP without cannibalizing those partners and customers that have bought into, say, GP, and want to stick with it. So we'd all better get used to it.

And it's really not that tough a strategy to explain, said Josh Richards, marketing specialist for Merit Solutions, a GP and, more recently, AX partner located in Wheaton, Ill. It's just a matter of spelling things out to customers up front.

"We do still see prospects coming in unsure of what they need but thinking that they're going in for Microsoft Dynamics and not even knowing that it's an option to go for AX, GP, SL, whatever," Richards said. "There is still confusion, but the way we've been marketing, the inquiries are always AX, GP inquiries. We make it clear that we're not a shop for SL or NAV."

But enough about the four horsemen of Dynamics, which will just keep riding on. What Microsoft would really want us to write about -- and it's worth mentioning -- is something called Unleash Your Potential. That's a software tool that partners can use in customers' shops to go through the company, role by role or even person by person, to determine which functionality the company needs, and, in the case of current Dynamics customers, whether the company is getting everything out of the system it can.

"At the very end, it spits out a business solutions roadmap," Richards said. "It's not how are you using your system, but what could your system do. It's an in-depth view of their complete system."

And it works, especially at a time when Microsoft is encouraging partners to sell into their current customer bases with upgrades and add-ons -- and to move customers who are using really old versions of Dynamics suites up to speed. Richards, who is also not at Convergence but was watching from his office in Minneapolis as snow fell, said Unleash Your Potential helped his company tap into a customer base it had been neglecting.

"There was a lot of lost opportunity within our customer base," Richards said. "We weren't really proactive around those opportunities. It's great to get into the customers you haven't seen in a while. For every $1 we've spent [on Unleash Your Potential], we've gotten $18 out of it."

In other Convergence notes, Kennedy said Microsoft is still encouraging partners to think vertically, which has been a Microsoft mantra for a while. He also said that he has noticed a lot of acquisitions in the partner community, with smaller firms more willing to sell out in a shaky economy than they were when, say, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was kicking around at 14,000.

Kennedy also said that he'd been fielding lots of questions from Dynamics partners about whether Microsoft would take more of a direct sales approach in a flagging economy, a move he said vendors have made in tough times before. His answer was both unsurprising and encouraging for partners: "We are absolutely supporting an indirect model," he said.

Priorities might change, but Microsoft's channel-based sales model still hasn't. And partners should be happy about that, even if they're not carousing on Bourbon Street this week.

Have any thoughts you'd like to send from New Orleans? Send them to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 03/11/2009 at 1:22 PM


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