Yes, I know, Divorce is a nasty sounding word, and it does not seem applicable to your relationship with your Microsoft Partner… I mean you are not legally “Married”. But today, more than ever, your relationship with your Microsoft partner is feeling a lot more like a marriage, particularly, if you want to end it.
With this Ring…
It all started out so great. You did an exhaustive Partner search (clicked on an ad), you conducted in-depth interviews (one call with the partner who responded to your contact-us form), you required customer references (but did not get around to contacting them), you even spent some time to think about it (got distracted by work and forgot), then you confidently moved forward with your Microsoft Partner. How could this possibly have ended so badly? Looking back, it does feel similar to how you ended up marrying that stripper on your Las Vegas weekend trip… but getting that annulled, might have been easier than getting rid of this Microsoft Partner.
Ties that Bind
In the early days of Microsoft Cloud, when Office 365 launched, there was only one licensing model: Direct. Your partner could “attach” themselves to your direct purchase as an Advisor, making them your “Partner of Record”. If your partner so much as sneezed funny, you could drop them as quickly as you could click the “remove partner” button. Then came “Open”, a different way that your partner could sell you cloud services, that would have made it slightly more difficult for you to ditch them, but it never caught on, because it required annual pre-payment. In today’s subscription world, who pays annually? Apparently, no one. Syndication was yet another model, and this one implied true lock-in, at least to the syndicator. The only way to get away from that, was to create a new account elsewhere, and migrate. BTW, “Migrate”, is actually a much bigger word than it’s seven letters might indicate… it really means… starting over.
Cloud Solution Provider (CSP)
For your partner, Advisor, Open and Syndication have, or are in the process of, going away. CSP is the new model of choice, for Microsoft. Not all partners are on-board with this new model, but as their other options are evaporating, they soon will have to come on-board. For the customer, CSP places the partner firmly between you and Microsoft, your relationship is with the partner. Getting rid of your CSP partner is not as easy as Advisor was, but not impossible like Syndication. Regardless, it will require some effort on your part, and if you find yourself in this situation, you will be looking back at your partner selection process and thinking “Maybe I should have paid more attention to that“.
A House of Cards
While not a pre-planned outcome, the activities your partner has performed on your behalf, to deploy the services to meet your specific needs, will result in a level of complexity. This may not be that much of an issue for Office 365 alone, at least if you did not get much past email and Office, but once you go down the Azure path, it can get a little dicier. If you go into Business Solutions like Dynamics 365, this complexity is assured.
The very first tweak of Dynamics 365 that you have your partner do, to make it fit your requirements, begins the process of creating a unique “map”. Over time, more lines are drawn on this map, and forks are added, and some lines go off the edge of the map in one place, and come back in elsewhere. Where did they go? What did they do? I dunno. Eventually, this “map” can become huge, and it does not actually exist in a tangible form, it exists in your partner’s head.
Was this complex map the result of an incompetent partner? Not necessarily. Imagine an automobile’s wiring. If you pop the hood on a new automobile, you will see a lot of wires, lots of colors, running all over the place, but neatly routed, wrapped and clipped together. There is an order to it, and fortunately a wiring diagram exists, explaining exactly what everything does. Now imagine the wiring for a custom-made automobile. With a competent partner, you will still see a lot of wires, lots of colors, running all over the place, but neatly routed, wrapped and clipped together. There is order, but probably not a wiring diagram. If another partner were to take over, it might take some time, but eventually they could figure out what was done, and why. When an incompetent partner wires a custom automobile, all of the wires are green.
Where are the Skeletons?
Sometimes, in order to accomplish some business requirement, your partner may have to get a little “creative”. Maybe they go “off the map”, and jump out to an Azure Logic App, or some other service to do “something”, and then re-enter the map. For a new partner taking over, some of these “off the map” detours may be next to impossible to run down. At times in the past, I have had to call a previous partner, and beg them to tell me where that detour went, and hope it wasn’t to a service they exclusively controlled. This is one reason why a new partner may suggest using this opportunity to re-design things, or even suggest that your prior partner was a moron, who did not know what they were doing (which may be why you are trying to ditch them in the first place). This may be true, but even your new “competent” partner is going to build a new unique “map”, which may necessarily contain similar detours and skeletons.
A Succession of Card Dealers
Sometimes a customer reaches out to us to replace an existing partner, for whatever reason. In the conversation it is revealed, that in fact, the partner they are replacing, actually replaced a prior partner, who may have actually replaced yet another prior partner. As a partner, who is considering whether or not you want to be the next partner “up-to-bat”, this is not a good sign. My first thought goes to the “map”, and the fact that there are now multiple maps, overlaid on top of each other, none of which will actually be provided to me. As if figuring out one map is not difficult enough, sorting out this mess is going to be extremely difficult. Add to that, this customer has demonstrated that they clearly do not have a lot of patience, and this will require a lot of patience… and money. My second thought goes to hanging up the phone, but as a sales creature, this does not come naturally.
Can you even get rid of your Partner?
It is quite easy, in a heated phone call with your partner, to just say “You’re Fired“. In most cases, that will start a chain-reaction of events, that are immediately out of your control. It would not be unreasonable for a partner, having just been fired, to assume you are no longer going to pay them anything, so cancelling your licenses, that they are on the hook for, may be prudent on their part. In addition, for the same reason, they may shut off “off the map” services that they are providing that have a cost to them. If you are no longer a customer, why should they care about your ramifications of the decision you made. Having stepped into a few of these situations as the “new” partner, I can tell you that it is neither fun, nor cheap. My advice, don’t fire your partner in a huff.
Can’t we just get along?
The least disruptive and least expensive option, is to work out your issues with your current partner. Maybe it’s just a personality clash; ask to deal with someone else, or assign someone else on your side to deal with them. If they are truly incompetent, or for any other reason, you have decided that the relationship simply cannot continue, then take a breath. Before you say anything to your current partner, find your new one. Maybe this time, you will do a better job of vetting them.
Don’t go very deep in conversation until you have made a decision on a new partner. In the Business Solutions space in particular, partners know each other. It would not be uncommon for the new partner you are talking to, to alert your current partner, if you mention them. This could potentially start a chain reaction before you are prepared. Save identifying the old partner until later. You will have to make a decision on a new partner without their having much data. Obviously, you can’t let a prospective replacement partner start poking around in your systems. But without doing that, it is impossible for a new partner to evaluate what they are getting into. You are going to have to make your selection based on other factors than cost estimates from a new partner, which without their accessing your systems, are beyond wild-ass guesses. This will not be cheap, regardless. Are you sure you don’t want to work things out?
How could you have avoided this?
Well, if I did not make it clear enough, the best thing you can do, is spend more than two minutes making this critical selection in the first place. The next thing to do, is to make sure you have a meeting of the minds with your partner about licensing, and your options and procedures for switching, if necessary. Don’t worry about offending the partner, we understand that this is a reasonable request. If they do get offended, I would move on to another partner. Switching licenses from one partner to another is not simple due to the CSP model, but it can be done. The main thing to agree on, is in the case of a partner switch, that the partner will commit to an orderly transition, and that you will of course, pay the fair costs of that transition.
Next, you should have an understanding of how the new “map” will be built. Insist on out-of-the-box configuration over custom code or off-map solutions wherever possible, and have a clear understanding when these approaches will be required. When the line must go off the map, understand where it is going and why. Look to AppSource for solutions from reputable ISVs, before building something custom to meet a requirement. I am sure there are other ways to avoid this, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.
Should you even have a Partner?
One way to avoid ever having to fire a partner, is to not have one in the first place. For larger companies, with significant internal resources, this may be a possibility, but for the SMB, you simply will not get the value out of business solutions without a partner. It is an unfortunate truth. In order to realize a true ROI on your business solutions, a custom “map” will have to be built for your specific needs. The business solution landscape is rocky and vast; you will need a knowledgeable cartographer. Otherwise, for SMB, I suggest you skip business solutions entirely… you will just end up wasting a lot of time and money. Sorry, but you can’t get there from here on your own.
Getting Fired Sucks
No partner is immune, we have all been fired. Yup, even an MVP like me, with a highly reputable partner like Forceworks, have been fired… a few times in fact. I don’t like it. It is clearly evidence of failure on our part, somewhere. Your first reaction may be to blame the customer, and it may actually be their fault, but you have to be wide open to the possibility… that you blew it. You dropped the ball, screwed the pooch, jumped the shark. The best thing that a partner can do, is identify what actually happened, and learn from it. Partners are not the only ones that get fired; on a few rare occasions, I have been forced to fire a customer. Maybe they were demanding too much, and not wanting to pay for it; Forceworks is not a charity organization. Maybe they “seemed” like a great customer, but once underway, they revealed themselves to be complete assholes. I distinctly remember the point in time where we had enough work, that we no longer had to tolerate assholes. Life is too short to work with assholes, on either side.