Let’s get real for a minute. The typical SMB customer does not wake up every day thinking, “How can I spend more money with my Microsoft Partner?” They are more likely thinking, “How soon can I get rid of my Microsoft Partner?”
The New Game
If you have built an SMB focused practice around Business Solutions, the ground is shifting below your feet. Right now, this shift may be so slow that you don’t even notice it, but before long you could find yourself flailing for a hand-hold. Most SMB practices today are built around “going deep” with a SMB customer, kind of like a miniaturized version of an enterprise deployment. Take my word for it, SMB was not a fan of this “necessity”. Microsoft has known this for some time, as they watched the SMB struggles out of the corner of their eye. Now, Microsoft has jumped into the fray, with an earnest effort to eliminate some of those struggles. “Wait a minute, we made a living on those very struggles”
Vertical Expertise… meet Horizontal Scale
If you have made a living in SMB, helping a few customers at a time, overcome these struggles, prepare to have nothing to do, or at least not very much to do. As AppSource matures, it will become the first place a SMB customer will look to for bending Dynamics 365 to meet their needs. When I have a new need for my smartphone, I don’t call a developer to build it for me. Even if there is no app that perfectly meets my need, I will end up using one that is “close enough”. Perfection is the enemy of Good; something that SMB understands better than their partners. If a $5 app solves 85% of an SMB need, are they really going to spend $5,000 for that extra 15%? I am pretty sure they will compromise. We’re not there yet, but now is the time to be preparing to pivot your SMB practice towards scale.
How to Mentally Prepare for Scale
Scale, in Microsoft terms, means selling 100 with a light touch, vs. 10 with full consulting. This is a pretty foreign motion for many SMB practices. But if you can’t make that pivot, you might want to brush up your resume. Your current business model is on a collision course with extinction. How soon? My guess, is that by this time next year, if you have not made the pivot, you could be gone. “Hey Steve, why all the doom and gloom?” Because most of you, have not been paying attention. You will wake up one day soon, and find that those who have been paying attention, will have left you behind… and taken all of your customers with them.
How to Pivot for Scale
Step one, stop thinking about all of the wonderful things you can do for a customer, and start thinking about all of the wonderful things you could do for a bunch of customers at once. This is the I.P. mindset you need to get into, and I have written much about elsewhere in this blog. From an I.P. standpoint, Microsoft has given you a gift in AppSource. As I write this, other partners are building apps for AppSource, that will completely dis-intermediate you. That custom time tracking solution you are being paid big bucks for by a single customer, is already available in several versions on AppSource. Your future business model cannot be, hoping that your customers will not discover AppSource. Microsoft will be making your customer aware of AppSource from 20 different directions.
Ahh, now I see what CSP is for…
The Cloud Service Provider model (CSP) was built for this future world. CSP, combined with AppSource, is a huge win for customers, and the partners who made, or will make, the pivot. So you better get your ass up on CSP. Are you even aware that Microsoft does not pay any incentives on the Advisor model anymore? By now, I would sure hope so. In CSP, you have two primary routes, 1 Tier and 2 Tier. One is not better than the other, it is a matter of fit. For smaller partners, 2 Tier will make the most sense, and for that you will contact your Distributor. You also have another option, and that is to work with a CSP Reseller, think of them as like a mini-distributor. Which path to take on this, is also a matter of fit. While the traditional distributor is more around buying licenses and support, these hybrid resellers often add services to that equation that you may, or may not, need. Go do your homework.
P2P, the third pillar of Scale
If AppSource and CSP are critical to building scale, then P2P is not far behind. Get your head out of your ass, you don’t, and can’t, know everything… not anymore. The EIE (Expert in Everything) title is deprecated… I don’t care how smart you, or your staff are… it is officially impossible to be an EIE today. All of those annoying partners reaching out to you everywhere you turn offering services… you might want to start calling them back. You are going to need an “external” bench. Why? Because like it our not, you are going to need to support everything in this scale model; CRM, ERP, Azure, Office 365, Power Bi, etc. Unless, of course, your plan is to become one of those annoying “specialist” partners.
Becoming an Annoying Specialist Partner
In my last paragraph, you may have thought I was anti-specialist, this is not the case. Actually, I am anti-annoying. But if you are a specialist, looking to be found for P2P opportunities, annoyance is about all you have to work with today. I would love to report that Microsoft is finally stepping up to the plate on this issue, and providing “Specialists” with way to be found by other partners, but they are not. Not really. Their hope is that the “Find a Partner” tools for customers, will serve this purpose as well, but it will not. Hopefully soon, that light-bulb will go off for them, but in the meantime, you get to be annoying.