In my last post, I started a discussion around I.P. for Microsoft Partners. In this post I want to provide some examples of I.P. that partners have developed, in hopes of sparking your imagination.
Successful I.P. must solve a Pain
Pain can come in many forms: maybe a desired feature is inadequate or just plain missing, or maybe a task takes too long, or costs too much, to complete. Many things are too complex, and there is room for simplification. Don’t just think about customer pain either, there is also Partner pains and even Microsoft pains, ripe for I.P. solutions to make go away. While staying focused on the Microsoft stack, let’s take a look at some successful I.P., large and small, that has been built on top, around, or in support of it.
Solving Pains for more than one party
If you can develop some I.P. that can simultaneously solve pains for Microsoft, Partners and Customers, you have hit the trifecta of I.P.. Such is the case with SkyKick (Us as well, but I will get to that farther down). When Microsoft launched Office 365 with the highest of hopes, it did not take long to see where the bottlenecks would occur. Migrating an organization from one system over to Office 365, was an arduous, manual task for Partners. This was resulting in some pretty big costs for customers, thus slowing down the potential growth of Microsoft’s new signature product. The co-founders of Skykick, both former Microsoft employees, saw the writing on the wall. If they could build an easier way for partners to perform a migration, with less effort, resulting in a lower cost to the customer, and top it off with a smoother result, smiles would appear across the faces of Microsoft, Partners and Customers. So that is what they did, the smiles came, and they are blowing up with success now. Skykick was not the only ones to see this opportunity and there are other migration solutions out there, but in addition to solving a problem, they also took it to market in a very specific way, via Partners only. In addition to building some good I.P. it is equally important to understand what avenue(s) you will take to sell it, and I will get to that in a future post.
Enhancing a weak spot
Dynamics CRM Online is a powerful “platform” upon which a great many things can be built. In fact you could remove all of the existing entities and build something else with it entirely that has nothing to do with CRM, if you were of a mind to. Fortunately, to save you the trouble Microsoft has already gone and built out several workloads for you, like Contacts and Accounts for example, but also Lead Management, Opportunity Management and a host of other pre-built capabilities that are delivered out of the box. Some of these workloads are quite sophisticated, but some others are… well, let’s just say, not as sophisticated. Marketing is one of those areas. The core marketing capabilities are nowhere near the level of the core sales capabilities, and many would describe this as a weak spot. ClickDimensions seized upon this weakness, and built a solution for Dynamics CRM that goes well beyond just pluggin a hole. In fact, some customers buy CRM just to be able to use ClickDimensions. You might wonder why Microsoft, with all of their resources, did not just plug this weak spot themselves? The fact is, for every weak spot, a race ensues. If you can develop some good I.P. that solves a problem before Microsoft gets around to it, more often than not, they have said “Great, Checked, Next”. Microsoft has plenty of things on their plate and if a capable ISV is doing a good job, they tend to live and let live. But the prospect of being disintermediated by Microsoft some day is always there, and I will discuss that in a future post.
The Law of Verticals
In my last post I talked about gaining Vertical expertise by proxy. In other words, you have performed services for several customers in a particular vertical, possibly by chance, but you ended up gaining an understanding of their particular needs. This unique knowledge you have gained can be the basis for some I.P.. Such is the case for 2B Solutions, a Dynamics CRM partner who looked over their shoulder one day and noticed that they had deployed CRM for quite a few law firms. Taking a “Best Practices” approach from their learnings, they developed a CRM solution specifically for law firms that they call 2B Law. They are building a channel now, and we are also in talks to connect up with them to combine the best of what they are doing, with the simplicity of our solution and make the combination of the two available to our partners in one of our channels. I will be writing a future post on building a channel and other options (mental note: committing to a lot of future posts in this post)
The short life of Feature I.P.
In your daily use of Microsoft products yourself, you may have come across something that annoyed you. For example, let’s say you find a particular button being on the left, very inconvenient, and you know it would be better if it were instead on the right. Maybe one weekend you have some time to kill, so you build a solution that reverses the position of the offending buttons. In subsequent product demos, a customer mentions how awkward the left positioned button is and you say, “Yes, I agree, in fact I built a solution that reverses that”. You show your solution to the customer and they say “Wow, that is how it should have been to begin with, I will pay you $20 for that solution”. A lightbulb pops over your head with a Cha-Ching sound. Suddenly, you are selling the hell out of your $20 feature I.P.. Well, you had better sell fast, because just as you are ramping up your sales staff and resources and buying that new Maserati, Microsoft rolls out an update. You notice item 23 in the changelog “Moved Button from Right to Left“.
“I wanna talk about me, Wanna talk about I, Wanna talk about number one, Oh my me my”
So, it is about this point in my posts that Toby Keith lyrics take over my head. Just so you know, RapidStart CRM is also I.P.. We also feel that we are one of those Trifectas in that we simultaneously solve pains for Microsoft, Partners and Customers. So how did we come up with our I.P.? Well, while many ISVs were focusing on the successful products with tons of customers and therefore tons of opportunities for their I.P., we instead focused on a product that had not yet reached it’s potential: Dynamics CRM Online, and in particular, the SMB market for that product. Microsoft was/is really struggling with this, even though it is high scorecard item. Somebody in Microsoft Finance feels CRM in SMB is important, that’s good for us. Microsoft is having a heck of a time convincing the broad partner channel to jump in and help, also good for us. By and large, SMB customers are not succeeding with CRM, also good for us. Building valuable I.P. to solve a pain for a single angle is tough enough… trying to solve for three different directions at once… well, let’s just say, it taxes the brain. So far, Microsoft, Partners and their Customers agree that we accomplished it however, so that ain’t terrible.
[info type=”info”]Non-Confidential Information Notice. This post was written by Steve Mordue who is a member of multiple Partner Advisory Councils and is therefore subject to an Enhanced Microsoft Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding information conveyed to PAC Members. All opinions expressed are solely those of Steve Mordue, and no information provided herein is subject to the NDA. Basically, Steve knows a lot more than he let’s on; He’d tell ya, but then he’d have to kill ya.[/info]