Q&A: Microsoft’s New Vice President for Partners Shares Vision for Partnership Channel

REDMOND, Wash, July 11, 2002 — Microsoft’s new vice president for the Worldwide Partner Sales & Marketing Group, Allison Watson, has a long record as a champion for partners. In her new role, she is responsible for the company’s worldwide strategy for the partner channel.

Watson was previously chief of staff for Kevin Johnson, senior vice president of Microsoft Americas, for whom she led business development projects in strategic business system design, sales force expansion, and knowledge worker productivity sales and marketing. She served three years as general manager of Microsoft’s Mid-Atlantic District, based in Washington, D.C., leading the sales, marketing and consulting teams to top-tier results in customer and partner satisfaction and revenue growth. As a leader in the U.S. East Region, Watson’s work helped define Microsoft’s U.S. field strategy around integrated partner marketing and selling, partner development and recruitment, and field alignment of sales, services and partner models.

Watson’s 14 years in the industry have included stints in sales management, retail enterprise selling, strategic partner management, consulting business development and small to medium business strategy development. Prior to joining Microsoft in 1993, she held sales and consulting positions in the healthcare, manufacturing and high tech industries. She has a B.A. in economics from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from San Diego State University.

On the eve of Fusion 2002: Microsoft’s premier annual event for its partners, PressPass spoke with Watson about future opportunities for the Microsoft channel.

PressPass: What changes do you see in the partner ecosystem?

Watson: In the partner channel there are some constants and some significant changes that impact the opportunity to thrive. What are some of the constants?

Microsoft has a longstanding, unwavering commitment to its partners, and that commitment continues. Over the years as the industry and the economy have changed, Microsoft has maintained its strategy as a software company innovating around products and solutions. Our products and solutions have always been sold, delivered, deployed and integrated through partner channels. We have never strayed from our fundamental promise to enable our partners to develop, sell, and service great technology solutions. We are committed to our business model in technology partnering, and to a mutual investment to make it work.

But the environment in which we mutually operate has changed. The pace of technology innovation continues to accelerate. Customers have higher expectations for expertise from partners, and expect knowledge ranging from business process approaches, vertical systems expertise, deep technical expertise in enterprise class design and operations, and end-to-end lifecycle approaches for specific solutions, markets or customer types. Customers now make technology decisions at the board level to drive competitive differentiation, something we call “Business Agility.” The partner channel has changed with this approach. The fundamentals for success have changed. Specialization and focus is required. Cross-partner networking is often the end-to-end link for providing value to customers. A fundamental and back-to-basics approach to planning, readiness, marketing, sales, and services is required for sustaining and growing.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft so committed to a channel sales model?

Watson: A strong, healthy partner channel is a competitive differentiator in the technology marketplace. Only with partners can Microsoft meet the needs of millions of customers worldwide, particularly in small and medium businesses, where 50 percent of Microsoft revenue is earned. If we provide and enable multiple partners across the broad technology marketplace, our customers will also have greater access and choice. It’s our responsibility to provide our partners with the training, marketing, sales and service support to enable their success. We’ve always been committed to this approach and to our partners but have been a little quiet about it over the last few years. You’ll be seeing and hearing more from Microsoft in the coming year, and I expect that in the next three to five years we’ll look back on this time as a turning point in our relationship with our partners.

PressPass: Why does this matter now?

Watson: A strong partner model is even more critical in the times ahead. In order to realize the growth opportunities for our partners and Microsoft, we need to look how we can enable businesses to become more agile through the use of technology. We need to determine how customers can use technology to improve their business systems, processes, and their strategic marketing capability. How can businesses unlock knowledge worker productivity and the power of information?

Answering these questions and enabling business agility requires a focus directly at the heart and soul of the customer — that’s where our partners operate. What a restaurateur, a healthcare provider, or a global conglomerate needs to be agile will vary, and our partners can address that complexity. If you look further at enabling agility and meeting customer needs, you’ll see it takes a broad spectrum of partner type including those that resell, service and those that develop products and applications. Finally, when you multiply partner types by customer needs across vertical markets, end customer size, geographic reach, and range of business problems that technology solves, it’s clear that a broad and deep partner model is critical to success. For business agility and meeting customer needs, Microsoft can only be successful if all of our partner segments are successful.

PressPass: What are your goals for working with Microsoft’s partners?

Watson: Coming into this role, I’m looking at a few key areas. First, we need to continue to build a healthy partner eco-system through a focus on the fundamentals of sales, marketing and services execution. We need to develop a broad, skilled and excited partner channel with growth in every segment. Third, I want us to earn a reputation for partner loyalty through consistent communications and exceeded expectations. In addition, I want to develop a broad community of partners who support each other and participate in a network, supported by Microsoft, that leads the industry in innovation. Finally, I’ll be working hard with my team to ensure we continue to provide the tools and resources partners need to enable their success.

PressPass: Can you elaborate on the tools and resources Microsoft offers partners?

Watson: Again, we can only be successful if all of our partner segments are successful — from the smallest reseller to the global partner. We are taking a business framework approach to meet partner needs. This framework considers how we map our tools and resources at each step of execution — including planning, training, marketing and selling, services and measurement — so we can tailor our offerings for a particular partner type and partner focus. In planning, we consider marketing opportunity, identification, goal setting and resource mapping. For training, we provide the depth and breadth of content partners want to get the readiness they need, when they need it. In the marketing phase we provide a globally consistent execution strategy aligned to the core customer needs and have an integrated marketing strategy to meet those needs with technology solutions.

For selling, our partner strategy maps to our internal solutions selling strategy and ties to our end-to-end marketing approach. When we consider servicing and supporting customers, we work with our partners give them the tools for design, deployment, operations and support. Finally we are increasing our focus on providing tools to measure results at each step of the cycle.

In the coming year, you’ll see us keep the “tried and true,” as we are developing innovative new programs to help our partners succeed. I am very excited to be able to announce some of these new programs during our Fusion 2002 event.

PressPass: Speaking of Fusion 2002, what role does the event play in the plans for the partner channel?

Watson: Fusion is our annual event that gives us an opportunity to directly engage with our partners to preview Microsoft’s technology evolution, highlight revenue opportunities, and feature Microsoft’s go-to-market plans in key solution areas. This year we are using it to announce some key new investments we’re making to help our partners be as productive and successful as they can be.

PressPass: Your overall message seems to revolve around working together with partners.

Watson: Exactly. Working together and changing together. We have to have a healthy partner ecosystem for our industry to thrive. We aren’t going to get where we want to go without a symbiotic relationship with our partners. We’re not just saying, “OK, here’s the opportunity and here are the tools — now you’re on your own.” We’re making major investments end-to-end inside the company, and we’re aligning tools, resources and people to focus throughout a partner enablement framework. That’s why I am so excited to be in this role. I’ve been a partner advocate since day one of walking into this business. I’m committed to innovate and to find ways to grow our mutual businesses. And in this broader role I can help to make the future successful for Microsoft, and for our partners. Over the next few years, I want our partners to be proud to say “Microsoft is the best partner to partner with!”

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