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P2P4U, Part 3: Channel Development, from a Partner’s Perspective

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Tina Hanson (Parkhouse) 2011Guest post by Tina Hanson, Partner-to-Partner Lead for the Microsoft U.S. Partner Team

A couple of months ago, I was chatting with my colleague, Jen Sieger, about partner-to-partner (P2P) connections. Jen works on the U.S. Solution Partner Team, helping Independent Software Vendor (ISV) partners in the U.S. prepare and build their own channel programs to increase the reach of their software solutions to customers through other partners. In my last P2P4U post, I included the ISV Channel Development Toolkit in my “5 Communities to Explore” list, and also mentioned the recent Channel Development Meet & Greet events. These offerings are both the result of Jen’s efforts.

I thought a question and answer session with Jen would a great addition to our P2P4U blog series, and Jen graciously agreed. She thought the best way, though, to tell this story was to ask a partner to do it, and invited Alberto Sutton, Director of Product Marketing for Nintex, a Microsoft partner with offices in Bellevue, WA, to participate in our conversation and share his perspective on how partners can be more successful through partner-to-partner connections. Last month, Jen and I sat down with Alberto, and our conversation is below. Enjoy!

Tina Hanson: Jen, can you tell me about your role and why you think about partner-to-partner relationships?
Jen Sieger: My role is to help ISVs take their solutions to market. One of the most common requests I receive from Microsoft ISVs is to help them build their own partner channel. Oftentimes the smaller ISVs I work with want to grow and expand quickly and it isn’t realistic or possible for them to hire a direct sales force to make this happen given budget constraints. For these partners, building their partner channel within the Microsoft ecosystem is the most effective way for them to achieve scale. I invited Nintex to participate in this interview because I have been so impressed with the growth they have obtained with and through their partner channel since I started working with them nearly four years ago.

TH: Alberto, will you share a brief background about Nintex?
Alberto Sutton: Sure. Nintex was the result of the practice group focused primarily on building applications for SharePoint solutions who spun-off from a System Integrator based in Australia. Once we established our new partner organization, we needed to define our business model in order to be successful on our own. We believed in our product and knew it would be valuable to other partners. So we as a company, had to make it a strategic objective to commit to growing our channel. We knew we could not be successful by going direct to customers. We loved that Microsoft has such a vibrant and broad channel of partners of all types. The partners that Nintex was looking to partner with were Systems Integrators. Our first step was to start looking to Microsoft to see what tools and resources we could leverage to grow our channel.

TH: I think your comment about making it a company-wide strategic objective to commit to growing your channel is very interesting. I’m not sure all partners realize that in order to full take advantage of partner-to-partner relationships, that it has to be not only a commitment from the leadership running the organization, but also pervasive in the business as an objective to support the company’s success.

TH: You mention that you started working with Microsoft to see what tools and resources were available to you. Will you share some examples?AS: At Nintex, we consider ourselves early adopters of SharePoint and credit much of our innovation to the strong connections with the product teams at Microsoft, and participating in early adopter programs to allow us to partner from the beginning.  We also looked into the Channel Development Toolkit as a useful resource with lots of valuable information for ISVs who are recruiting, enabling, and growing their channel. Other tools we use are the Ready-to-Go Marketing campaigns; Microsoft Pinpoint as a means to create partner prospect list; the Meet & Greet events are definitely a must since they provide us face-to-face opportunities; and the Quarterly Partner Briefings held by the local Microsoft teams are also a great place to meet other local partners.

TH: What if you are a partner who doesn’t have some of the connections with Microsoft that Nintex has been able to leverage. Where do you recommend they start?
AS: I would recommend that partners start with Microsoft Pinpoint to search for local partners or even across the U.S. By using Pinpoint’s filtering options by industry, competency, or even geography, you can at least build an initial partner prospect list to start reaching out to.  We also attend your Worldwide Partner Conference to network and make new connections. I also recommend that ISVs look into product-centric conferences, such as the SharePoint Conference, where they are able to meet new partners to recruit. My last tip would be to review case studies found on the internet, as these often have contact information for Microsoft product people who typically have a good contact list of partners.

TH: Those are some great tips! And I love that you mentioned Microsoft Pinpoint, since I am also the U.S. lead for Pinpoint and hope all our U.S. partners are showcased there and maintaining their profiles. Speaking of WPC, networking is one of the primary business reasons that most partners attend the Conference, so that is great to hear.

TH: Will you share how Nintex recruited partners for your channel?
AS: First and foremost, the ISV—or any partner for that matter—should have a defined value proposition so it’s clear what your value is to the partner and customer. We also developed messaging that helped the SI partners understand what service dollar opportunity they would recognize attached our application offerings. We use cased studies to present the revenue opportunity, which helps the partner really understand potential profitability. Nintex  has a partner portal and partner program (started in 2005) that offers readiness resource and has both sales and technical information to help our partner channel sell our product. Partners love the fact that our portal is built on SharePoint. Our partner channel loves the fact that we are showcasing the technology in a variety of uses. 

JS: I agree with Alberto’s statement that the ISV needs to have a clearly defined value proposition to be successful in the recruiting process. Over the years, I have chatted with numerous VARs and asked about what they look for in an ISV or a partnership.  The most common response I have received is that the ISV needs to be able to clearly articulate their unique value proposition and what is in it for the VAR.  The Channel Development Toolkit has a downloadable, customizable partner recruit kit that you can use to develop your pitch.

TH: Those are definitely valuable resources to make it easier for partners to want to partner with Nintex. Could you offer some advice or tips for SIs who are looking to partner with an ISV?

AS: Sure, that’s a good question. I would recommend that the ISV ask questions such as:

  • How does the ISV recruit, train, and manage their relationships with Systems Integrators?
  • What does the recruitment process look like to become a part of their channel? If it’s a really easy process, this could be a sign they are not be selective in their partner processing.
  • Ask the ISV, what is the strategic commitment to growing their channel? Don’t be scared if that ISV wants to partner with multiple partners locally or in a region.  While this may feel like a competitive squeeze, this is actually very beneficial and more secure for a customer, to feel like they have a larger network of technology providers.

TH: Thank you Alberto!  I am really impressed with all the information and advice you shared today.  I hope other partners will find this helpful as they start to think about how they can use P2P relationships to support their businesses. Do you have any closing thoughts or advice?

AS: I definitely do! It was great to be here with you and Jen today. I too hope that other ISVs and partners can use some of this information as they think about P2P for their business.  I recommend to ISVs who are looking to grow their channel to start from the foundation of having the right value proposition, make sure there is a strategic commitment to building a channel, have a plan to recruit partners with a way to support those partners, and  be able to understand what your customer needs and find those partners to partner with who can deliver a holistic solution.

For the SI or VAR out there who is looking to partner with an ISV, make sure you keep in touch with technology trends and what direction your industry/customer needs are headed. This will help you narrow down the list of ISVs to partner with and make sure it’s a good fit between you and the ISV. ISVs should be building on the latest platform while building for the next and SIs should not be reactive to technology trends, but rather a step ahead to ensure they stand apart from the competition.

JS: Other partners have often approached us asking for the “secret sauce” to your success.
AS: My answer continues to be there is not a secret sauce, it a very straightforward strategic objective to commit to growing your channel!

  • The SharePoint community is a great example of how Microsoft partners work together.  It's just a great community, period.

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