In October last year, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer said on a partner conference in Europe: “Email me immediately and we’ll send in the cavalry. I’m joking…but I’m not.”, in reply to a partner’s question who asked what to do faced with public sector customers interested in Star Office. When I read this I took it half serious. But later that year I found out just how serious Ballmer really is about this.
In September 2004 I was trying to enter prequalification for a software project at the local government. We were facing competition from companies like Oracle and IBM, and it didn’t look like we’d stand much of a chance by ourselves, being a much smaller local company. And since we are a company focused on Microsoft technology, I emailed Steve Ballmer and asked him if he would be interested in helping us out. Within 24 hours, Steve Ballmer replied to my email confirming they were interested, and put me in touch with others at Microsoft who I could work with to take this further. This is the kind of commitment partners can expect from Microsoft, and the example is being set by even the highest executives at Microsoft. As a partner this gives you the feeling people at Microsoft actually care about you and help you bring in the business. This is why the number of Microsoft partners around the world keeps growing and they are actively looking at bringing in the business to their companies and Microsoft.
Microsoft had partner programs before, like the MSDN ISV partner program, but they were nothing compared to what the Microsoft Partner Program is today. Today the Microsoft Partner Program is a very comprehensive and well thought out system designed both to better promote Microsoft’s products and increase their business, and to help partners to improve their own company and business. Microsoft partners can make use of various benefits which they can utilize to maximize their business potential. Partners are encouraged and given incentives to keep improving themselves, to keep learning and to keep up with technology on a yearly basis so that they can keep their Certified and Gold Certified partner levels. This not only has benefits for the partner, but also for the partner’s clients, who can rely on the partner to be capable of delivering high quality Microsoft solutions to them. In addition partners have access to a variety of resources at Microsoft, including one or more personal Partner Managers and evangelists who they can turn to when they need help. And these people work hard and try their best to keep their partners happy. I know this from my own experiences.
I guess you can see where this is leading to. When Microsoft’s partners win, Microsoft wins. And with the growing number of partners worldwide in the Microsoft Partner Program, this will only help to directly or indirectly bring more business to Microsoft. The beauty of this is that it is a win-win situation for both Microsoft and their partners.
The only thing Microsoft has to work on is that they need to better anticipate the growth and not let it slow them down. A lot of people are saying Microsoft is becoming more and more like IBM: big and slow. And I experienced this myself too. Steve Balmer had replied to my request within 24 hours but in the days that followed, I had to talk to perhaps 10 different people, explaining to them every time what I wanted. When I finally was working with the right guy at Microsoft, things just took way too long to get done, and as a result we were not able to make the deadlines for the prequalification. And you know what? Oracle and IBM did. And they had as much time as we did.
I think this is definitely an area Microsoft now has to look at and try to improve. Growth should not slow a company down. If you are too slow to act on business leads because of too much bureaucracy, there will be other, perhaps smaller but more aggressive companies, who will take that business from you.