While building some unique Intellectual Property (I.P.) that solves a worthwhile problem can be difficult, getting it to market can often be even harder. Depending on what your I.P. is: App, Solution, Service or combination, will have a lot to do with what makes sense in a go-to-market plan.
Apps are Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy
If your I.P. is an App of some kind that can be purchased and automatically provisioned (and removed) by a user, without any assistance, you have your choice of App stores. Microsoft has several, all of which can be accessed from Partner Center, including Office Apps, Dynamics Marketplace, Azure Marketplace and Enterprise Cloud Marketplace. Also, while not a Microsoft property (not sure what the relationship is) the CRM App Store appears to be yet another marketplace for Dynamics CRM Apps. I don’t have any real expertise in the App space per se, here’s a link to get started with Office Apps. I will talk about some things I do know below.
Packaged, Vertical or Horizontal I.P.
Most Packaged I.P. Solutions will fall into either a Vertical or Horizontal category. Our RapidStart CRM is an example of a Horizontal Packaged Solution; we provide for the deployment and adoption of CRM across any industry type. Some other horizontal Packaged Solution examples would include ClickDimensions, Peak Portals and Skykick. The capabilities these horizontal applications provide are industry agnostic. On the Vertical side you have solutions like 2B-Law, Tribridge Health 360 and Ignify’s Insurance Solution. What all of these I.P. solutions have in common is that they all require a knowledgeable seller, and some configuration to be done. So let’s look at some go-to-market strategies.
Cut out the Middle-man and go Direct to Customers
One way to get your solution out there is to go directly to the potential end customers. This is going to make the most sense for a vertical solution as potential customers are more easily defined and identified. The downside is that you are going to have to do all of the selling with your own forces which may limit your ability to scale, on the other hand if your solution is complex, it may be the only way it can get sold. The upside is that you don’t have to share any of your margin with anybody and you have a lot more flexibility in per deal pricing. You should think hard about the direct approach; for a few bucks of margin, you are putting the whole load on your shoulders. Most I.P. that I have seen today has a shelf-life, so speed is more important than it has ever been. If you have a great solution, you will eventually have competition, and even a solution of significantly lesser quality can beat you with a better sales plan.
Build a Channel, aka “Giving Birth to a Porcupine”
Building a Channel seems simple enough; call a couple of your partner pals and say “Hey, would you mind slinging my stuff”. Not only will this generate zero sales, but your “former” pals will start avoiding you at events. You failed on several fronts. Building a Channel is a big enough topic to deserve its own post so I will write that soon.
Go the Distribution route
If you have decided to sell through other partners, then Distribution for your Microsoft I.P. seems like a no-brainer, they have hundreds of sellers talking to your potential resellers, you can just print up a bunch of postcards and have their people hand them out, right? Uh, no. First of all, distribution is not even going to talk to you unless you have a channel built (which I said above I will write about soon). Distribution is also not interested in a few hundred of anything, they think in terms of thousands, and need to know that there is both that kind of market opportunity, and that you can handle that kind of scale.
You also need to understand that Distribution probably makes as much money from vendors as it does from selling the vendors’ products. They will expect you to fund various marketing activities, and since their margins are thin, that may not be an unreasonable request. You are not doing distributors a favor by allowing them to sell your product for you at scale.
You should also be prepared for some significant upfront expenses to integrate with their back-end systems, and each distributor has their own systems. I am not trying to scare you away from distribution, but it is probably not the starting point for most I.P.. Consider building a direct channel first; if partners won’t resell your I.P. there, then all distribution will provide is a lot more partners who won’t resell your I.P..