If you have been around the channel for a while, you are quite familiar with the Microsoft messaging to partners. “Add a Dynamics Practice”, or “Add an Azure Practice”, or “Add a whatever we want to sell now practice”. I suggest you ignore these messages.
Why aren’t you doing Azure?
I am assuming that you must do some “thing” well… or at least well enough that your car is not getting repossessed. In addition to whatever this “thing” is, you have a myriad of options to do “other” things. Not aware of these other things? Call your Microsoft rep, they will be happy to suggest 50 of them. More than just suggest, Microsoft will strongly encourage you to pursue these other things. In fact, they may even make you feel like you are inferior, if you don’t.
A Race to Mediocrity
Let’s say you cave to this pressure, and decide to add some new thing to your bag of tricks. You will need to invest some time in learning it, or at least learning enough about it to sell it. Azure and Office 365, for example, are not interchangeable. These are quite different products, designed to solve quite different customer challenges. The fact that you may know one of them well, does not mean you have even the slightest head-start on learning the other one. Your practice will be quite out-of-balance for a long time; with things you know and do well, and things you are figuring out how to do. In my opinion, this has led to a significant number of partners, offering mediocre services… at best.
You can never learn it
I talk with a lot of Microsoft Product managers, and in this new cloud world, they all seem quite proud of their ship rate. “We are shipping a new build every week!” “Ship” seems to be a leftover term from the old days that Microsoft has not shaken, seems like “publishing” might be more appropriate. What are they “Shipping”? Bug fixes, tweaks, new features and whole new versions. As a partner, this is coming at you, at a velocity heretofore unseen. We are all woefully unprepared. It takes everything you have, just to stay current on that one thing you do well, much less anything else. Any time spent learning something new, is at the expense of maintaining your knowledge of what you know well. Eventually you could find yourself “in-balance”… mediocre at everything. No longer an expert at anything.
It almost happened to us
As Salesforce.com partners, we were quite expert with that platform. Our transition from Salesforce.com to Dynamics CRM in 2011, was challenging enough, but at least we understood the concepts. Before we even got our feet under ourselves, Microsoft was pushing us to offer Office 365. My thought at the time was, this is great, as a Salesforce.com partner we only solved a sliver of a customer’s needs, now as a Microsoft partner we could solve so many more. We dived in head first. We had “mastered” something before, so surely we can “master” something else, my ego was telling me.
Slaves to the Scorecard
Until very recently, your Microsoft PSE’s very existence was determined by their scorecard metrics. How well they were doing at selling a bunch of different services. I don’t know if “One Commercial Partner” changes this dynamic or not, we’ll see. But as partners, by extension, we became slaves to this scorecard as well. If you wanted to get any love from Microsoft, you had better be impacting more than one line on that card. Hence the pressure to add more services. Ironically, at the same time Microsoft was telling us all to broaden our services, they were also telling us to narrow our focus on specific industries. I am not exactly sure what they were imagining we would all become.
The Golden Goose
Fortunately, I never lost sight of what I knew we did well, and we continued to absorb the Microsoft Dynamics business solution platform. But I can’t help but feel, that our absorption rate was slowed by our simultaneous efforts to absorb other things as well. My biggest fear became that we were on a path to being mediocre at everything. If we continued our split focus, we risked losing our mastery of Business Solutions… so, we stopped. As of this writing, I am in the process of moving our non-Dynamics customer portfolios, and staff, to another partner. For FY18, we are becoming laser-focused on Dynamics 365, and actually even a segment of that, that I’ll tell you more about soon. In fact, I had a customer reach out just yesterday asking about SharePoint, and for the first time in years I said, “Sorry, we can’t help you”. Man, that felt weird. You can ask me a year from now, if this turned out to be a good idea.
So, Have you heard the news?
So it was pretty clear at Inspire that Microsoft sees gold in the industry focused hills. I am not disagreeing with that assessment. In fact, I am “Inspired” that Microsoft themselves, will be focusing more on the path they have been telling all of us to take. But I am curious to see how this “Sell With” plan will take shape. For a nice customer, in a coveted industry, will Microsoft prefer to “Sell With” a team of partners, each an expert in their area? Or, for efficiency, will they be seeking single partners who offer a wide range of services, and “sell Mediocrity With” to these customers? We’ll see.
Banking on P2P
We have probably done better than most on the P2P front, but that still ain’t saying much. I expect to see that change significantly this year, given our total elimination of all competing services. Plus, Microsoft is actually taking some legitimate steps, finally, to activate this motion. I also think I can’t be the only partner who fears becoming mediocre, and some on the other side of the fence, who may have ventured down the “Start a Dynamics Practice” path, might be thinking of refocusing as well. If you are one of those partners, let’s chat.