Playing the partner game

Making the team | How to land the right partners

Number of small business partners for government projects: As many as 20,000

To register for the Microsoft Partners program: https://partner.microsoft.com

For descriptions of federal, state and local and education activities: http://www.microsoftps.com

General contact: pubpart@microsoft.com

For information about each public-sector category, contact:

Federal:
usfed@microsoft.com

State/local: uslocgov@microsoft.com

Education: usedu@microsoft.com

Or call: (703) 673-7800

Recent projects: Customer relationship management, training and mentoring, and search.

Upcoming needs: Information technology development, SharePoint, Dynamics Customer Relationship Management and unified communications.

You can't generalize about partnering with
Microsoft Corp., said Vince Menzione, general
manager of the company's U.S. Public Sector
Partner Strategy.

The company is big and ubiquitous, and ?
because it sells to the government only
through resellers ? there are countless different
structures for partnering, he said.

"We rely on small resellers who can get closer
to the customer," Menzione said. Such connections
complement Microsoft's reliance on
large-account resellers with large sales staffs.

Microsoft tweaked its public-sector operations
in the past year, and it has elevated the
partners' role, Menzione said.

Partners fall into three categories: systemsz
integrators, large-account resellers and valueadded
resellers, and independent software
vendors.

"Within these categories of partners, we
look for specific expertise and skills to fulfill
our customers' needs," Menzione said. The
company is seeing increased demand for
information technology development, customer
relationship management and unified
communications.

He singled out SharePoint, a new collaboration
platform and tool from Microsoft, identifying
it as the company's fastest-growing business.
The Defense Department and other
agencies are using it for document management
and other tasks.

GETTING ABOARD

Under its new initiative to recruit government-focused
partners, Microsoft uses several procedures.
It counts on companies to register
through its secure partner Web site:
https://partner.microsoft.com. It also finds
partners though existing relationships,
essentially partner-to-partner networking,
Menzione said.

In addition, government agencies and
other customers alert Microsoft to companies
they are using. "It happens all the time," he
said, describing how companies that have trusted
relationships with a customer are recommended
by agencies they serve.

"Customer experience and customer partner
satisfaction [are] the key metrics. They go
hand in hand," he said.

Microsoft runs a monthly "What's Important
Now" call for information about offers, content
and co-marketing activities. Details can be
found at http://www.microsoftps.com. The company
also organizes events, such as the prospective
partner meeting held at its Reston, Va., office in
late March.

Menzione, who joined Microsoft early this
year from another vendor, said the publicsector
group plans to participate in more
regional events in coming months.

Microsoft requires prospective partners to
enroll in its reseller program, which includes
signing a legal agreement and completing a
profile. The online registration form asks about
a company's business focus, services offered,
kinds of customers served and technologies
used in its solutions.

Once a company enrolls, it must have at least
one employee who has passed Microsoft's
Business Sales and Marketing
Assessment and a number of
other Microsoft software and
network online exams.

Menzione pointed to several recent entries
that demonstrate the range of teaming projects,
including tasks for the Pinellas County, Fla.,
Tax Collector on business management optimization,
a customer service solution for the
California Corporations Department and a
business analytics project with Arctic
Information Technology for the Denali
Commission.

Once a partner has established a relationship
with Microsoft, the alliance often continues.

"As in many successful partnerships, we base
ours on trust and predictable performance,
which leads to repeatability," Menzione said.
"We work closely with our customers to assess
the best fit for a project and align to the partners
that will help us deliver."

Gary Arlen (garyarlen@columnist.com) is president
of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md.,
research firm.

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