REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 15, 2004 — Microsoft Matchmaker, a service designed to create partnerships between Microsoft resellers and Learning Solutions partners, helps provide Microsoft corporate customers with easier and more complete solution deployments. The initiative was launched as a pilot program in September 2004. The program links Microsoft authorized resellers — in its pilot phase, Large Account Resellers (LARs) and Direct Marketing Resellers (DMRs) — with Microsoft Certified Partners for Learning Solutions through a Microsoft-managed Web portal that facilitates training and learning efforts for corporate organizations.
Specifically, Matchmaker (www.microsoftmatchmaker.com) is designed to boost customer use of training vouchers provided with Microsoft Software Assurance (SA), a maintenance program for volume licensees, by directly linking resellers, who offer the program, to Leaning Solutions partners, who are authorized to redeem the vouchers and provide training on Microsoft software. The pairing of resellers and Learning Solutions partners allows them to address the training needs of corporate customers and ensure that customers fully deploy their software and receive the full value from their technology investments.
The initial rollout of Matchmaker involved three leading Microsoft resellers in the United States and more than 60 Learning Solutions partners.
“Matchmaker allows us to directly introduce Learning Solutions to our customers at the same time they are purchasing Software Assurance and receiving vouchers for redemption for training,” says Kymberly McCarty, manager of Partner Development for Softmart, a Microsoft Large Account Reseller. “Through our relationship with the Learning Solutions partners, we can help provide our customers with the education they need to fully implement and install their software and utilize it to its full potential.”
“The Matchmaker program provides a great opportunity to bring more connection and synergy to the Microsoft partner system,” says Dana Inge, vice president of Education Solutions for Computer Education Services Corporation (CESC), a Microsoft Gold partner. The Matchmaker program has not only helped to connect the reseller and the Learning Solutions partners, it has also generated new business for CESC. Of the leads that Matchmaker has generated, says Inge, 80 percent have been from new customers; of these leads, 60 percent have resulted in either proposed or delivered new business for the company.
Due to the success of the program, Microsoft will begin rolling out Matchmaker worldwide in January 2005.
Microsoft Plays Matchmaker
Matchmaker allows resellers to address a customer’s training needs at the point of sale, says Steve Dulaney, marketing manager for Microsoft Learning’s Certified Partner program. “Microsoft wants to ensure that customers receive a better return on their software investments,” says Dulaney. “Matchmaker brings together two partner types, resellers and trainers, to solve a customer problem. By creating a program that opens communication between resellers, who license Microsoft software and offer the Software Assurance program to customers, and the Learning Solutions partners who can help customers fully utilize and deploy the software by educating customers on Microsoft products.”
As part of Software Assurance, customers receive training vouchers, which they can redeem for training with authorized Learning Solutions partners. Depending on the number of vouchers held by a company and the type of education requested, the training can be provided online, at the customer’s site or in a classroom setting at the Learning Solutions partner. The training provided by Software Assurance vouchers is designed to ensure that customers understand their software, fully deploy it across the company, and receive the benefit of the technology.
However, some customers have failed to utilize these training vouchers, says Dulaney. “It was too often the case that administering the training benefits provided by Software Assurance and taking advantage of the opportunities for training were overlooked by customers, with the result that customers had unspent vouchers and new software that was not fully deployed.” The Matchmaker program was designed to make it easier for customers to redeem their training vouchers and schedule training on the software they had purchased. “Prior to Matchmaker, there was no program that directly brought together resellers and Learning Solutions partners to ensure that the vouchers were redeemed and training took place,” says Dulaney. “Matchmaker makes it easy for partners to work together to create a seamless engagement for the customer that ensures the need for training is addressed as part of the original sales cycle.”
Microsoft Matchmaker is a portal that puts resellers in contact with Learning Solutions partners with specific content areas and in specific geographic regions. On the site, resellers register information about current software and Software Assurance sales, which Microsoft then relays to appropriate Learning Solutions partners. The Learning Solutions partner then follows up with the reseller to learn further information about the customer’s training needs and the type and number of Software Assurance training vouchers available. The reseller then provides the Learning Solutions partner an introduction to the customer, creating the opportunity to schedule appropriate training.
“Matchmaker’s benefits for corporate customers are clear,” says Dulaney. “Having direct access to a Learning Solutions partner who understands the customer’s training needs allows the customer to more fully utilize the benefits provided by Software Assurance, with the result that companies can speed the deployment of new software, improve business productivity and reduce support costs.”
Matchmaker also provides benefits for reseller and Learning Solutions partners. “Learning Solutions partners are brought into the sales cycle earlier and are given leads on companies that have Software Assurance training vouchers,” says Dulaney. “This allows them to create new training initiatives and generate business at new accounts.” Resellers benefit because their customers are getting greater value from Microsoft products. “The Matchmaker program results in more satisfied customers because they are taking full advantage of their software and support investments. Resellers are more likely to secure license renewals and sell more software when customers have fully deployed the software they previously purchased,” says Dulaney.
In the two months that Matchmaker has been up and running, it has been a great success for customers, resellers and Learning Solutions partners. “Matchmaker enables partners to forge new relationships that benefit each other and their customers,” says Dulaney.
Matchmaker Helps Resellers Show the Value of Software Investments
Softmart ( www.softmart.com ), a business-to-business supplier of software, hardware and technical solutions with operations throughout the United States, participated in the Matchmaker pilot program as a Microsoft Large Account Reseller. Chris Sharp, vice president of Business Development at Softmart, describes Matchmaker as a lead-sharing program that brings partners together. “The Matchmaker program provides Softmart with a tool that we can use to communicate quickly and effectively with Learning Solutions partners, allowing us to provide them with information about our valuable customers and their training needs,” says Sharp. Matchmaker also helps Softmart develop new relationships in new geographic markets. “Matchmaker allows us the opportunity to find new partners in new regions where perhaps we may not currently have Learning Solutions partners.”
One of the benefits of Matchmaker is that the program makes it easy for customers to take advantage of the Software Assurance training vouchers they have in place. “At Softmart, we knew that there were customers who had purchased Software Assurance but who had not redeemed their vouchers for training,” adds McCarty, Softmart’s manager for Partner Development. She explains that while Softmart educates customers about the benefits they receive through Software Assurance and Learning Solutions partners work with these customers to provide training, “there was a disconnect in this process,” according to McCarty. “There was no official connection between the resellers and the Learning Solutions partners that allowed us to share information electronically back and forth about customer needs and opportunities.”
Matchmaker provides that connection, says McCarty. It connects representatives from the reseller with Learning Solutions partners, enabling them to meet, strategize and engage with the customer together. This not only provides value by allowing their customer to redeem training vouchers, but also ultimately opens up the customer relationship and creates opportunities to generate more business.
In the end, Matchmaker helps Softmart maintain stronger relationships with more satisfied customers. “As sales people, it’s part of our job to educate customers about the value of the products they purchase. However, Matchmaker gives us the ability to show the value,” says McCarty. “If you show customers how to take full advantage of the latest and greatest features of their products, and provide them the training to be more productive and maximize their purchases, they have a strong motivation to continue to partner with Microsoft and Softmart by purchasing further upgrades and services.”
Trainers Discover Matchmaker Benefits
Microsoft Learning Solutions partners involved in the Matchmaker Initiative pilot are very enthusiastic about the program, as it highlights the benefits of training and education in successful IT initiatives and provides the opportunity to address the training needs of an expanded customer base.
“Matchmaker has connected the learning community with the reseller community to better service Microsoft customers by combining product and service support,” says Dana Inge, vice president of Computer Education Services Corporation (CESC, www.computeredservices.com), one of the largest independent training companies in the U.S., with 10 locations on the East Coast and a staff of 225. “By integrating the Learning Solutions partners, full technology solutions are offered to customers, maximizing their investment by ensuring enhanced employee productivity, task automation and operational efficiencies.”
When CESC receives a lead from a large account reseller (LAR), they are immediately aware of potential Software Assurance training vouchers to redeem. They begin the process by working to understand the business challenges the customer faces and what technology initiatives they are pursuing. CESC then create a strategic education plan to meet these needs.
“With the Matchmaker program, it is significant that we are brought in at a much earlier phase of the technology project cycle,” says Inge. “This allows us to better service the customer’s needs with regard to the project. Placing education earlier in the process means a higher probability of success for the customer’s technical implementation because more knowledgeable people are working on the project. Leads on Software Assurance benefits only further our company objective of Building Minds and Building Business.”
“We are very excited about the program,” says Inge. “To date, CESC has worked with both current and new customers on leads from the Matchmaker program. At a time when IT budgets are slim, the Software Assurance training vouchers extend a customer’s education budget. Matchmaker has increased our visibility to the customer base, system integrators and resellers. It also positions the partner ecosystem to work cohesively to provide more complete and effective customer solutions.”
When Andy Williamson first heard of Microsoft’s Matchmaker Initiative, he admits he was a bit skeptical. Williamson is chairman of Online Consulting (www.onlc.com), a consulting and training services company with offices in the Greater Philadelphia area and a Microsoft Learning Solutions partner with a long history of providing training and education for corporate customers on Microsoft software solutions.
“I’ve been involved in other programs in the past that attempted to organize partners and help them work together, but they just weren’t very effective,” says Williamson. “But shortly after signing on as a Learning Solutions partner in the Matchmaker initiative, I started receiving referrals. The bottom line is that I’ve gone from being a skeptic to being a strong advocate of the program and the value it brings the channel.”
The primary benefit of Matchmaker is how it builds relationships, says Williamson. Previously, resellers and Learning Solutions partners had few points of contact, even though they served the same clients. “Matchmaker serves as a catalyst, it makes the introductions so that reps from my company get to know reps from the resellers. This creates a whole new set of opportunities for both sides of the equation.”
Establishing one-to-one relationships between counterparts is what will continue to drive the Matchmaker program forward. “The value of the program comes from building a trust relationship between the reseller and Learning Solutions partners, with both sides working together to deliver a quality experience for the customer,” says Williamson. “The Web site is nice, but what will ensure that leads continue to flow through the system in the future is people working together and developing a relationship based on doing a good job for the customer.”
Matchmaker is important because it creates a business reason for the reseller and the Learning Solutions partner to sit at the same side of the table and work on behalf of the customer, says Williamson. “If we didn’t have this program in place, it would be more hit or miss whether companies like mine would find the opportunity to step up work more closely with resellers,” says Williamson. “Matchmaker heightens our awareness of the customer value that results when resellers and Learning Solutions partners work together.”