Book Review: The Modern Microsoft Partner Series

TheModernMicrosoftPartnerSeries_BookCover-150x150 Book Review: The Modern Microsoft Partner SeriesRecently, I finished reading The Modern Microsoft Partner Series eBooks.

The Modern Microsoft Partner series is a collection of five eBooks designed to
help IT solution providers on their journey to success in the cloud. The series is
full of insights and best practices that cover a variety of critical business topics.

I personally highly recommend this series, especially if you are developing (or looking to expand) your Microsoft (and in particular Azure) based services.

Every book in the series has lots of good points to help you change the way you think and operate as a business, especially with a focus on the Cloud.

TheModernMicrosoftPartnerSeries_BookCover-150x150 Book Review: The Modern Microsoft Partner Series

I’ve decided to share my highlights from reading this series, in case the points that I found of note/interest will be of some benefit to someone else. So, here are my highlights (by book). Note that not every book will have highlights (depending on the content and the main focus of my work).

 

Part 1 – The Booming Cloud Opportunity

 

Part 2 – Differentiate To Stand Out

  • Book Link: https://assets.microsoft.com/en-us/Modern-Partner-Series-Part-2-Differentiate-to-stand-out.pdf
  • Successful partners that are known for something unique. They are masters in
    either a technology, an industry, or a business process, often regardless of their
    geography.
  • Differentiate his or her practice from the wide and growing variety of competitors in the market. The competition is no longer just other IT channel partners in your territory, but
    with IT partners worldwide, as well as vendors outside of IT.
  • Define your own piece of the market and be the best possible
    solution provider in that niche.
  • Until you define your specific target market and respective solutions, it could be
    inefficient to design how you’re going to sell and market those cloud solutions,
    optimize operations, and keep customers for life.
  • Unless you have critical size, it is recommended that you specialize by vertical (e.g. manufacturing, banking, retail, etc.), functional process (e.g. accounting, HR, marketing campaign management, etc.), or by technology (e.g. systems management, analytics, ERP, etc.).
  • There is a general lack of differentiation in the market, leaving price as the primary differentiator.
  • IT solution providers can no longer afford to be ‘all-things to all-people’.
  • They want to work with experts who deeply understand their business. Being the best
    integrator in a local region is no longer a competitive advantage.
  • Becoming an expert, especially a vertical expert, is a tremendous opportunity
  • There are two primary approaches to setting your business apart from the
    competition, by creating intellectual property (IP) or by pursuing a specialization
    strategy.
  • If you don’t want to create your own IP, you can also look to the partner ecosystem
    for incremental solutions that can be bundled with Microsoft’s offerings to round
    out your total solution.
  • A great way to protect margins and stand out from the competition
    is to identify one or more industries or even functional processes to focus
    on. Then establish your company as an expert in your selected area(s). You can
    also focus on a specific technology or be known as an early adopter and technology
    leader.
  • The key to a successful differentiation strategy is focus.
  • And if you are not a large solution provider, it is best to not over engineer your
    business model, or make it too complex.
  • Partners suggest mastering one specialization before adding additional ones.
  • Find what you are good at and stick to it, and turn it into an advantage.
  • Our interviews indicated that the more specialized you make your business, the fewer
    direct competitors you will have. Deep specialization allows you to gain a knowledge
    of the unique needs of a target market.
  • This deeper understanding of a market drives credibility and opportunity, and
    positions you as a business strategy consultant.
  • A best practice is to communicate the value of your hyper specialized solutions with
    “use cases” (or customer scenarios) that the prospect can instantly relate to and understand.
  • Each vertical market is unique and requires the building of a deep understanding of that
    markets’ specific requirements and needs.
  • If you did something custom that was successful for one client, there may be more customers that would benefit from solving the same problem.
  • Start small. Your IP can be a simple template or just a few lines of code that automates a particular function in a way your market typically needs.
  • Partners have found it is important to establish a culture of innovation and R&D
    in their companies.
  • An increasing number customers are more than willing to let you own the code in exchange for ongoing maintenance and updates.
  • Partners have said that moving core infrastructure to the cloud is the low hanging
    fruit and can be a good business.
  • Partners can add more value when they consider their customers’ “outcome” goals
    (think uptime or availability or speed), or on what the infrastructure is actually being
    used for.
  • When customers have an outstanding experience, you can charge a premium
    price that reflects that value.
  • In the small and medium-sized business market, companies need help to figure out how they can take full advantage of technologies like cloud and mobile.
  • Positioning yourself as a trusted technology AND business advisor
    which can lead to introductions to most functional leaders in the company,
    creating a great base for expansion.
  • Explain how differentiation enhanced your own business. But you will probably also need references. To get that first reference consider doing a reduced cost or even pro bono project for a local non-profit organization.
  • Take the approach of adopting new technology as soon as it emerges. If
    this is for you, consider assigning a staff member the task of staying on top of
    all technology developments so that you can quickly react. You don’t have to
    adopt all technologies, just those that impact your focus areas. This strategy
    also allows you to capitalize on industry changes, giving you a first mover
    advantage.
  • If your company is known as an early adopter, you will get more projects that deploy new technologies.
  • But you have to invest upfront to have the basic understanding of the new technologies to get a project.
  • It’s typically the leader of the company who is charged with keeping on top of new
    technologies.
  • If the name of a third party keeps popping up, or you frequently need to interface with a
    company’s technology, that company is probably a good alliance prospect.
  • To differentiate your business, you will probably need to change some of your
    practices and maybe even your business model. Change is never easy, even
    after you have found that first differentiation strategy, you must continually
    update your approach to your market.
  • This process of disruption will continue at an ever increasing rate, so if you do not change you will be left behind.
  • Go through your past projects in detail with an independent, unbiased eye to
    identify vertical, process, functional, or technology common threads that you
    can turn into a specialization.
  • Look for unique knowledge that your company has.
  • Pick one or two specializations and begin to investigate them further to gain a
    deeper understanding of the markets.
  • Create a Target Customer Profile for each potential focus area that includes
    what makes that market unique and how your solution will help them.
  • Begin to develop one or two focus areas into trial projects with a customer
    with whom you have a close relationship.
  • Start one step at a time, you don’t have to do everything at once.
  • A small successful project will allow you to expand your
    footprint with additional projects.
  • If you are migrating customers to the cloud, add a managed service that helps
    customers accomplish their goals.
  • Ramp up your specialization by making your solutions more and more specific
    to your selected markets’ needs.
  • Include specific use cases for each user group, detailing your associated solution.
  • Continuously review your specialization projects and build and expand on the
    most successful.
  • Invest in growing your reference accounts and continue to grow your
    capabilities.
  • Stay close to your industry associations and follow social media sources and
    leaders in your target market.
  • If you are focused on a specific vertical, consider adding IP to your solutions.
  • If you are IP focused, add vertically focused modules to that IP.
  • Use your own specialization experience to assist your customers to
    differentiate.
  • Establish a staff member or team that is responsible for emerging technologies
    intelligence.

 

Part 3 – Modernize Sales and Marketing

  • Book Link: https://assets.microsoft.com/en-us/Modern-Partner-Series-Part-3-Modernize-Sales-and-Marketing.pdf
  • Before getting into the “secret sauce” of modern sales and marketing, the modern
    partner must first acutely understand the solutions they sell — and why.
  • The reason why customers buy from you separates your business from the competition
    and forms the basis of your identity.
  • You should aim for a connected sales and marketing process with clearly defined roles
    and handoffs.
  • The end game of having everyone in marketing, is that every role in
    your business should feel that they have a clear message to use with
    customers, a mechanism to take customer insights and feedback into the
    company, and also feel like they have shared responsibility for the customer
    relationship and satisfaction.
  • Define the messages that you want to get your workforce using in their
    digital interactions. Then selectively engage your workforce in digital or
    social media activities like blogging or other community engagement.
  • Aim to build a culture of marketing and social engagement within
    your company.
  • Your customer-facing staff (whether in customer services, pre-sales, support, or sales) could have insights from their customer interactions that you might use within your digital marketing.
  • Key to success in moving in this direction is doing it with a purpose,
    as empowering your workforce without clear direction could lead to
    underwhelming customer experiences.
  • It becomes vital to understand customer engagement based on where they are in
    their buying journey.
  • We found that cloud customers go through a cognitive process to advance their
    purchase and use of cloud solutions. They can move forward or backward and
    even appear to skip steps. But they need to accomplish stage-specific goals
    before they buy.
  • The key is to identify what stage they are in and build content accordingly.
  • Measuring the impact of activities along the customer journey is also very important, and will allow you to understand which engagements are working and evolve your tactics.
  • One idea that stood out from our partner research was the principle of
    progressive conversations with customers.
  • Saying “Go Digital” may oversimplify what could seem a very complex process, however
    digital marketing tools are more readily available, and doing nothing in the
    digital world is not an option.
  • We heard many partners moving toward a mantra of being content driven. This content will be part of your digital presence on your website.
  • Creation of content sits firmly upon the previous principle of differentiation
    (your message), and the customer journey (their needs) with a view to
    building relevant, accessible, and timely content.
  • The types of content you create both in format and messaging can really help
    you to stand out. From thought leadership to demos and “how to” content, it’s
    important to keep your content fresh, and also ensure the messaging speaks
    to your customer, addressing the pain points they are feeling and offering
    your solutions.
  • Some of the most impactful forms of content for your prospects and customers
    are customer references and case studies or success stories.
  • Underlying this is a principle most partners could learn from, and that is to have
    a process where you ask all customers for a reference.
  • We heard some interesting partner examples of how these focused themes
    can develop into a deeper campaign, with a big focus on investing in the
    areas that are most relevant to customers.
  • Regardless of how large or small your marketing department is, you must prioritize measurement capabilities.
  • Measuring the success of different content types is also important, and will allow you to see what content is resonating, driving more interaction, and ultimately driving conversions
  • The prospect of partnering with vertically oriented partners to enhance your
    offering and meet the demand for industry-specific solutions.
  • Partnerships with other channel partners are among the most impactful ways to drive sales and marketing efficiencies.
  • Creating more content, linking content to your social networks, and actively building your
    network of contacts can help you sell with intelligence.
  • We heard other examples, like a partner who offered a free service which enabled them
    to get more information about the customer to open further conversations.
  • Solution providers are learning that initially proposing easy to buy solutions, those that
    provide a ”quick win,” is a great way to acquire net new customers.
  • Like visible products positioned in supermarkets, low margin solutions can serve as a loss leader that gets you a “hall pass” and into the customer’s environment.
  • If the loss-leader approach doesn’t fit your business model, then consider leading with
    some of the shorter, repeatable project types that you can deliver with predictable
    results.
  • It becomes increasingly important to market to LOB buyers in
    their language, looking to solve business problems rather than talk technology.
  • Increasing this LOB buyer knowledge and insight is a key factor in any
    partner driving their differentiation, and this may require a retooling or at minimum a
    refocusing of your pre-sales, sales, and marketing workforce and activities.
  • Play a strategic mediator role.
  • As customers
    embark on their journey of digital transformation, it becomes paramount to have
    the ability not only to talk to their short term needs but also their longer term
    outlook and become a trusted advisor throughout that journey.
  • We heard some great examples from partners who said they were engaging their consultants and delivery staff earlier in the customer journey.
  • Partners are bringing in and realigning staff that have more specific industry experience.
  • Get deeper specialist knowledge in the digital marketing techniques, or internally to have roles that specialize in a particular marketing discipline such as social media or content
    creation.
  • If everyone is in marketing it follows that you should reconsider your compensation not just for sales, but for all roles that touch the customer journey.
  • Our research also suggested a trend towards consulting and delivery roles being
    incented differently.
  • A number of partners we interviewed discussed adding a sales component
    to the role of their delivery consultants. Through the delivery process,
    the consultant is able to learn a particular customer’s needs and identify
    opportunities for expanding the service.
  • Consultant-led sales also eliminates the disconnect between the solution
    promised and the solution that can or should be delivered.
  • Align incentives to both your account objectives and to the roles
    accountable for reaching those objectives.
  • Modernizing your sales and marketing practices will require a refocusing of your
    efforts on a number of areas, and underpinning all of these should be adopting
    a customer journey mindset.
  • Revisit your company differentiation, what makes a customer want to choose
    you?
  • Review your digital content – do you need to update and refresh? Websites
    are a classic area that tend to get stale fast.
  • Identify your big key themes, and start to build out a deeper campaign
    strategy
  • Build out your modern marketing strategy, and share with your workforce.
  • Think of ways to stand out, give customers an insight into your DNA
    and also help them along their journey.
  • Define customer journeys by customer types and roles – really understand
    who the target role is who consumes and makes decisions on the purchase,
    and drive to understand their pain points.
  • Hire industry expertise – really look to get closer to the industries and
    customers you are targeting by recruiting staff with more in depth knowledge
    and experience of those industries.

 

Part 4 – Optimize Your Operations

  • Book Link: https://assets.microsoft.com/en-us/The-Modern-Microsoft-Partner-Series-Part-4-Optimize-your-Operations-2016.pdf
  • When you move to the cloud, there may be a period of time when your topline
    revenue will decrease and you may take a hit on your bottom line because you
    will incur costs up front but will collect revenue in installments over time.
  • IDC research shows that as your time
    in a cloud business increases, your gross profit and revenue growth improve
    significantly.
  • If you don’t have a way to differentiate, you are stuck competing on price alone. However, how well you run your business can be the mechanism that sets you apart. If you are efficient, effective, and deliver quality in a timely manner, customers will take notice.
  • Using standardized, repeatable “components” and appropriate automation to streamline the processes and enhance quality.
  • What do your customers need today and in the future? What are your
    competitors doing? What potential products and services are emerging
    opportunities?
  • They are also constantly looking for ways to drive costs down while maintaining
    quality and providing value, especially opportunities for process automation.
  • There is no single right way to price repeatable and managed services.
  • It’s important to set your price just above what you think you can charge and negotiate down if you have to.
  • Anything you can do to decouple from day rates is really the answer.
  • IP is more around repeatable projects that rapidly demonstrate cloud value. They have packaged repeatable projects that are focused on rapidly demonstrating value within the cloud and identifying the big transformational opportunities.
  • Every company has or can create their own form of “secret sauce” that is the foundation
    of standardized and repeatable processes and deliverables.
  • Using templates can be many times more efficient than starting from scratch.
  • We’ve heard the most seasoned services firms compare a successful project
    services practice to a factory: good manufacturers constantly look for
    ways to increase productivity and optimize performance.
  • Anything that can be reused contributes to efficiency. The higher your efficiency
    factor, the more potential for higher margin.
  • Go back and look at your last 20 or 30 or even 50 projects and see what they
    have in common.
  • Successful partners take this discovery to the next level, by wrapping that depth of
    experience up as a “product” that can then be sold, publicized and marketed as a
    differentiated skill or service.
  • Even a small piece of a common task, if made repeatable, will be useful. You don’t have to
    standardize everything all at once.
  • Look for commonalities in the work you’ve done for customers in particular industries.
  • Drawing a clear line in the sand when it comes to adding custom features to your standard product.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to say no to a customer.
  • Partners that are successful at specializing have usually built their solution around
    industry best practices.
  • The goal of the first step of the relationship should be to understand the customer’s requirements and what their cloud solution needs to provide.
  • The value of fixed pricing goes right out the window if the required amount of time and
    resources needed for a task exceeds what was anticipated when the pricing was determined.
  • From onboarding to implementation to ongoing support tasks, anything you can
    automate should be automated.
  • Remember, you don’t have to invent it all yourself. There are many commercial tools
    available within the Microsoft ecosystem that are ready to do your heavy lifting.
  • The FastTrack Center provides tools, content, and best-practice advice to help speed up customers’ time to value, as well as increase user adoption.
  • Senior management needs to spend the majority of their time “working on the business” – plotting the course ahead, tracking and adjusting key performance indicators (KPIs), and figuring out what’s next.
  • Giving line management the mandate to define and fine-tune the methods and processes that drive efficiency, and getting out of the way.
  • One thing all partners we interviewed agree on is that everyone in the company must
    understand where things are going in order to be successful
  • When its employees didn’t understand where the company was going, they took a step back to regroup and get all stakeholders on the same page.
  • If everyone is not completely on board, you risk spending time and money on activities that aren’t contributing to the desired outcome.
  • You can never communicate too much. Make sure all staff understand what the company is trying to achieve.
  • Best-in-class partners score 2.5 on this metric, while 2.0 is the generally accepted baseline.
  • Anything beyond 120 days indicates a strong pipeline of work; anything less than 30 days may be problematic.
  • Direct sales cost. This measure determines the value a seller is providing to the
    company. In the cloud, 8-10 percent is ideal and 15 percent is acceptable.
  • It’s common to see less than 1 or 2 percent of revenue being spent on driving net new demand. However, some of the most successful partners spend anywhere from 8 to 10 percent.
  • Typically, you’re looking for something less than 8 to 10 percent per year of annual churn.
  • You want to aim for a 70% or higher attach rate if managed services is a primary focal point for your business.
  • Ideally, a partner starting their journey to the cloud should aim to have 15 percent of revenue from these sources by the end of year one, 33 percent by year two, and 45 percent or more by year three.
  • For project services, striving for 30 percent or more gross margin is important; managed services should return at least 40 percent and IP over 50 percent.
  • As long as new hires are ready and willing to learn, the rest can come with experience, education and ongoing learning.
  • You need a formal skill development plan that’s based on role. This plan must have milestones along a path of logical progression to becoming fully proficient.
  • Build in a process for onboarding staff that includes both self-study and on-thejob
    training on processes, methodologies and tools that are appropriate for their
    role. Partner experience shows that both employee retention and satisfaction
    improve when staff have a positive onboarding experience.
  • It is hard to carve out time for ongoing learning, but if you make it part of the daily,
    weekly or monthly work rhythm and work culture it will happen.
  • Regardless of what you do, continuous learning needs to be encouraged and enabled. If you are able to increase skills and knowledge, you are typically also able to increase billing rates.
  • Acknowledge and reward staff that are enthusiastic about learning.
  • With shorter projects and (hopefully) a higher volume of clients, you need more “T” shaped people: those who have broad and versatile skills but can still go deep on some things.
  • Partners report that the service desk job is more like being an air traffic controller: a role that requires lots of finesse and grace under pressure.
  • You need structure to foster versatility, but you don’t need to go overboard. Start with
    determining the focus areas that make most sense for your business, then identify champions that will lead the charge.
  • Profit doesn’t happen automatically just because of cloud.
  • You need to pay attention to documenting your processes and methods, allocating your resources in the most cost effective way, and measuring your performance.
  • Begin with an honest assessment of your current operations.
  • You don’t have to do everything at once. Start with a gap analysis, then put a
    plan in place to make the required changes.
  • Reduce your reliance on charging based on hourly or daily rates in favor of
    charging based on a deliverable or outcome.
  • Dedicate time and effort to incubating potential products and services that are emerging opportunities.
  • Always include slack in your pricing to cover unforeseen circumstances that could affect profitability.

 

Part 5 – Deliver Customer Lifetime Value

  • Book Link: https://assets.microsoft.com/en-us/The-Modern-Microsoft-Partner-Series-Part-5-Deliver-Customer-Lifetime-Value-2016.pdf
  • The moment of a cloud sale is only the beginning of the customer purchase transaction.
  • In the cloud world, it is important for partners to rethink how they engage with customers.
  • Customer lifetime value is all about building the depth of customer relationship
    that creates a strong revenue stream.
  • Separate IDC research has shown that recurring revenue promotes
    higher company valuations.
  • Our research shows the best gross profit comes from activities beyond simply
    reselling products, including professional / project services, managed services
    and packaged intellectual property (IP).
  • Partners add more value when they consider their customers’ “outcome goals,” or what the infrastructure is actually being used for. The higher up the value chain you move customers in the Microsoft cloud, the more opportunity to provide professional services, managed services and packaged IP.
  • The fact is customers have a huge appetite to leverage the cloud.
  • In a 2014 IDC survey of end user respondents, Microsoft was perceived as the most
    qualified company to help customers adopt a public or private cloud service.
  • They expect to need help in a number of ways including consulting, training and
    implementation expertise.
  • Customers are focused primarily on pilot projects. Currently, 23% of customers say they are at this stage. “Try before you buy” offers are a good way to get your foot in the door here. You could also offer a cloud readiness assessment or a proof of concept.
  • This is where the C-suite starts to acknowledge the need for an enterprise-wide approach for cloud and IT organizations begin to actively consult with 3rd party professional services organizations (like yours) to help with cloud assessments, strategies and future implementation roadmaps for which workloads to migrate to which cloud environments.
  • This is where organizations consider the service providers that will help build, run and support their cloud-based applications and infrastructure over the long run, so differentiation becomes really important.
  • Typical services customers need at this stage include migrations (mailboxes, servers, data centers), data architecture, user rights and account management, IP address management, and SharePoint workflow.
  • Value added services could include user experience consulting, critical response support, hosting line-of-business applications, turnkey BI portals, and e-Commerce functionality.
  • Successful partners are proactive at helping their customers move higher up the maturity
    continuum and become the catalyst for accelerating business innovation
  • Over the next five years, investment in digital transformation will drive a sizable
    portion of growth in technology markets.
  • Customers are ready to embrace digital transformation and are looking for solutions and partners to help them achieve it.
  • Partners are seeing demand and interest around mobile-first strategies, the
    Internet of Things, and customer-centric marketing from customers of all sizes.
  • The first step in taking advantage of the shift to digital transformation is to dig
    deep into the needs, challenges, business objectives and priorities of your customers.
  • Partners that have done this recommend starting the digital transformation conversation
    with a planning engagement that builds confidence that there is a way
    forward and what it might look like.
  • You cannot add value unless the customer finds your solutions and services
    relevant to their needs. Relevancy stems from understanding your customers’
    business, industry, pain points, and areas of opportunity.
  • As you build up expertise in a market you are able to provide more valuable
    benefits to the customer and start to anticipate problems customers may face.
  • Adding true value means helping your customers solve problems they could
    not solve on their own or take advantage of opportunities they had never
    thought of.
  • Maintaining a strong customer relationship requires both inbound and outbound
    communication, which should be predictably frequent.
  • IDC research shows that partners with more than 50% recurring revenue touch each customer at least twice a month.
  • If you provide suggestions and usage scenarios that are specific to a particular client’s needs, you will increase your credibility factor as a trusted advisor and increase the likelihood your customer will keep renewing.
  • What’s the vision for where the customer will be on their cloud journey two, three, or five years out?
  • Your plan should include customer goals and expected outcomes, how
    you will measure and track adoption, and planned rollout projects along
    with expected timing.
  • Use the Microsoft Cloud Platform roadmap to get a snapshot of what they’re working on.
  • An adoption plan works best when it is truly a joint plan between you and the
    customer.
  • It is critically important to have a mechanism in place to solicit feedback from your customers on a regular basis.
  • Several partners told us they use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as their primary
    measure for satisfaction.
  • Regardless of how you measure customer satisfaction, it is important to act on the feedback you receive and follow up with customers to demonstrate you are taking measures to address their concerns.
  • The industry is moving away from large projects to long-term relationships, so it’s critical to maximize your average revenue per user.
  • Define your company’s value proposition and what you want to be known for.
  • Identify the services you will provide beyond resale and basic cloud migration.
  • Ask lots of questions to build up your understanding of your customer’s business.
  • Establish a formal customer satisfaction measurement process and learn from
    the feedback. Make sure your customers know you are listening.
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