Being in this industry almost 25 years has taught me many things, but today’s lesson is that yesterday’s competitor is today’s partner! It used to be that if you were a Microsoft partner you were encouraged and even expected to cover as much of the Microsoft stack as possible. Having many badges was something that everyone aspired to. But that is no longer a sustainable business model. We quickly learned that we had to decide how much of the stack we could realistically take on and put our flags in the ground!
A Changing Business Landscape
There have been all kinds of talk over the past several years about transforming your business to the cloud. As a well-connected partner considered “in the know,” we heeded the advice. The transformation of our service offerings from project-based to managed services and from on-prem solutions to cloud solutions was critical. But, truth be told, even we were surprised at the rate of change we are experiencing in the technology industry.
With cloud solutions on the rise and the ability for Microsoft and other vendors to apply updates to these technologies virtually every month, it leaves the partner community in a scramble to stay informed and keep up. Not only do engineers and consultants need to be aware of these changes and stay trained and certified on the technology, but your intellectual property (or IP) needs to be maintained and updated regularly, as well. For example, site survey checklists, configuration checklists, and documentation templates all need to be maintained as the technology changes. If technology is changing monthly (and sometimes it happens more often than that) that means time out of your billable week needs to be spent on updating your materials as well. If these activities are not completed, the effect on your business can be grossly underestimated.
Let’s not forget how this impacts the sales and marketing teams as well. After all, they create all the materials that sell your services. They need to be kept abreast of these changes and to QA-check all your brochures, proposal templates, and purchase agreements to make sure that changes in technology features or deployment methods are updated. This is a phenomenon that affects all areas of your company, not just the engineering team and one that significantly impacts your ability to stay competitive.
Forming Strong P2P Relationships
So what’s a Microsoft partner to do? For us, the answer has been to downsize in breadth and partner up!
Recently, I met with several key Microsoft partners in the local area to discuss and agonize over this conundrum. I was relieved to find that everyone I spoke with has come to the same solution. That is, pick one or two key workloads that are your strongest to keep internal and outsource the rest.
So, now I have formed some very key and strategic partnerships to outsource the business needed to complement our offerings. At the beginning, I had to be careful when making these selections, since these companies would be carrying our name and some of them were prior competitors. In short, I had to ensure they would deliver the same level of quality as our company. To do this, I kept a close watch on the first couple of engagements, making sure good communication was documented and attention to quality was delivered throughout the projects. Once trust is established and everyone gets to know one another, it all falls into a good rhythm.
“Partnering with ATSG has increased our top line revenue and provided more billable hours for our Windows and System Center engineers. We are now looking to leverage the partnership to cross-sell ATSG’s Managed Services and O365 solutions to our customers. This is a win-win-win for VDX, ATSG and our joint customers!”
– Rob English, President and CEO of VDX
The best of these relationships occur when you cross-refer business to each other, creating a definite win-win business relationship. In such cases, I outsource technology projects to them that we don’t have the expertise for in-house and vice-versa. This way they bring us into sub under them for Office 365 and other technologies in our wheelhouse.
I find that building trust happens naturally and pretty quickly. When people do what they say they are going to do, first off, that is a very good sign. When they show up for appointments and calls and on-time, when they follow-through on assignments or requests within deadlines and don’t need to be reminded, these are all trust-building qualities in a partner.
I typically find allies through people I trust, my Microsoft connections (local and corporate), and my IAMCP colleagues. I never have to go too far to find a highly recommended partner. Our clients are simply looking for a quality solution and one person who owns it.
Whenever I tell a customer that I’ll be using a partner to deliver part of the solution, they are not overly concerned. This is just the standard way of doing business now. They accept it and tell me that if I trust the partner to deliver the project to my standards, then they trust my judgment. I also protect our business with NDA agreements, Master Partnership Agreements, and written SOWs for each project.
This is certainly not what I had imagined our company would look like in 2017, that’s for sure. But, it is a way for us to help our customers deploy these various technologies, and stay competitive in a fast-changing market. By controlling who does the work and putting the client first, we all win!
For more advice on how to find the right partners for your business solutions, engage with the business experts in the Microsoft Partner Community here.