Microsoft is making good on a promise to up-skill a channel lacking in marketing capabilities and competency, through a deepened digital commitment to partners.
Delivered through One Commercial Partner - an internal and external channel strategy overhaul - the tech giant is offering expertise and insights to an ecosystem limited by a lack knowledge, resources and direction around marketing.
“There’s a long way to go for the channel and we recognise that at Microsoft,” said Vivek Puthucode, general manager of One Commercial Partner and Small Medium and Corporates across Asia Pacific at Microsoft.
“This is why we have a dedicated go-to-market team, which houses a set of experienced marketers who have come on-board to advise partners around how to go about modernising their marketing machinery.”
Speaking exclusively to Channel Asia, Puthucode - who assumed his new role in July 2018 - observed that partners are beginning to embrace marketing across the region, but acknowledged that challenges still exist.
“Many partners still struggle from a funding perspective, for example,” explained Puthucode. “Justifying investments can be difficult, and many of the traditional approaches such as events are not always scalable.
“This approach can really restrict a partner’s ability to do more and reach more customers. I believe the digital marketing journey has only just begun for many partners. We are focusing our efforts in this space because we have best practices and expertise.
“Microsoft has a huge marketing engine so we’re taking our best practices and packaging this up to make it relevant to a particular partner or in-country market, delivered as-a-service.”
To drive change within the channel, Microsoft has rolled out an internal initiative under the banner of ‘partner manifesto’, designed to trigger such a shift in approach.
“It’s a mindset change inside Microsoft,” Puthucode said. “We have to bring partners into the centre of everything we do, we’re not just dealing with customers and selling and helping them consume.
“It’s all the things which happen prior to that which is how we market together, hence our partner manifesto.
“One of the principles that we have signed up to as a leadership team is to ensure that every marketing event has appropriate and relevant partner content. We don’t do marketing activities without bringing our partners along.”
An example of this action was during Inspire and Ready events, held in Las Vegas during July 2018, in which the vendor ran dedicated marketing sessions allowing Microsoft employees to engage with partners.
According to Puthucode, a simple approach such as this allowed the channel to showcase marketing capabilities, engage with Microsoft sellers while enhancing digital skills in the process.
“That’s just one small example of our work in this space,” Puthucode added. “But in reality, the funding aspect is crucial from a digital marketing perspective.”
With a remit for ASEAN, New Zealand, South Korea, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan, Puthucode cited the work of Kiwi partners in taking advantage of Microsoft’s marketing capabilities.
“When I was in New Zealand, two Microsoft partners in particular offered huge credit to our local go-to-market team and partner marketing experts,” Puthucode said. “Work is being done to help set up marketing divisions for our partners, which never existed before.
“Through Pip Simeon and the team, we helped put together a specific marketing strategy designed to activate media and social channels, and drive a new level of engagement for our partners.”
Crucially for Puthucode, the ability to bring such expertise and guidance together for partners stands tall as a differentiator for Microsoft in an increasingly competitive vendor marketplace.
Because as the battle for technology and platforms goes down to the wire, Microsoft is leveraging a rich channel heritage as a trump card.
“We’re bringing this together as a package but now we must move this forward further, create a pattern and ensure we reach as many partners as possible,” Puthucode added.
Microsoft’s creation of a channel-centric marketing agenda is centred around recognition that the traditional practices upon which the ecosystem was built, are giving way to a more modernised approach.
“We have a very diverse set of partners,” Puthucode said. “Some are fully transformed. They were born-in-the-cloud to start with and they understand cloud technology and what it can do.
“And then we have traditional partners who have been engaged with our customer base for a significant period of time. They’re going through massive transformation.”
In taking a helicopter view of the world’s largest network - a network which adds 7500 new partners per month - Puthucode said plans are in place to transition partners into more lucrative areas of the market.
“We’re helping our partners get to the same space as we are, and where our customers are,” he explained. “This is achieved through three parts, with the first focused on build-with.
“We want to help our partners build intellectual property that creates demand in the market, which either bridges a technology gap or serves a customer need.
“Our role is to work with the channel to develop skill-sets and solutions in specific markets, leveraging our army of technology specialists.”
Secondly, Puthucode outlined value through the vendor’s go-to-market team, which again draws on modern marketing practices and processes.
“We have a strong go-to-market team which provides advice to our channel partners, demonstrating how they can embrace digital and scale up their marketing efforts,” he said.
“Thirdly, is our sell-with team. We are a platform company and that’s the value we bring to our partners and customers, through the ability to build IP on top.
“Therefore, we co-sell with our partners to provide our channel with scale as part of the Microsoft sales engine, spanning enterprise, mid-market and small business. When a partner solution has been built, tested, proven and credentialed, then we can take this offering to markets across the world, tapping into our global customer base.”