Most Microsoft Partners that focus on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are themselves SMBs. No SMB, whether customer or partner, can afford to pay for skilled people who mostly sit on the bench. The new Microsoft SMB partner is more like a football coach, calling in Special Teams, or free agents as the need arises. What does this new dynamic mean for customers and partners of Microsoft?
Features has been growing for some time now, but with the launch of Dynamics 365, they have exploded. The days of a Microsoft Partner truly understanding every single product and feature are long gone. Much like the Excel “guru” in your organization (who only uses 10% of what Excel can do), today’s SMB partner has a high level of competence in only a fraction of the available feature set of a given product. They have a lower level of competence in a few more things, and do not possess the competencies to do everything else (or literally, incompetent).
The Partner Peter Principle
The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies (e.g., a corporation), is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their competence's limit. Basically, individuals are given increasing levels of responsibility until they are unable to complete a task. That's why your recently promoted sales manager is not performing well, despite that a week before, he was your best salesman ever. In a partner organization, this works similarly. As Microsoft continues to launch new features, partners, who were formerly top partners, become increasingly incompetent as they attempt to become proficient with too many new features and their functional details.
I understand not all partners will suffer from this phenomenon. The largest partners have the resources to train or hire, any talent they need to fill any competence gaps. Ironically, most of the large partners do not flex this muscle, and are often the farthest behind. But even those that do flex it, have little or no interest in the SMB customer segment. The SMB customer is therefore relegated to a partner who is partially competent, yet largely lacking in the competencies required to handle your business needs. This is untenable for Microsoft, Microsoft Partners and the SMB customer.
The first step to solving this is admitting that a specific lack of competency exists in your partner organization. I am not suggesting you send an email to all of your customers saying you’re a house of morons. But no one likes to admit, that they don’t know it all. There are two types of partners. First, partners that admit that there are many things they are simply not good at (incompetent). Then there are others that claim that they are exceptional at everything. In this latter group, there are two groups as well. Those that understand the current landscape and think they can figure out anything (arrogantly incompetent). Then there are those that are not aware of the current landscape and legitimately believe they are expert because they do not know what they don’t know (obliviously incompetent). Microsoft has many incompetent partners that have simply not tried to keep up with changes in the product and the market.
The Cloud Has Made Things Worse
The cloud has eliminated the need for expensive on premise infrastructures and datacenter maintenance staff. But one complexity has simply been replaced with a larger, new one. Unlike the past, we haven't had nor will we have decades to learn it. The Microsoft cloud alone has enabled the company to build new data functionalities that were not even possible in on site datacenters. Think about the IoT and big data analytics to name just a few. You have little chance of keeping up any competency across this new marketplace.
Grow By Turning Down Work?
One way to address this, is to stick with what you are competent at, and turn down everything else. This is not a bad strategy. You won’t lose money trying to figure new things out. Your customers won’t ultimately decide you’re lacking in competency, albeit, at their expense. But we’re all entrepreneurs here! We’re simply not wired to say no to a customer holding a wad of cash in our face, just because we have no clue how to do what they’re requesting. As Microsoft launches new feature categories, we will find ourselves increasingly in this situation. You don’t have enough surplus hours to learn this stuff. This is yet another Catch-22!
Let Me Play A Broken Record
I know you are already cringing at what I am about to say… Microsoft Partner to Microsoft Partner. For whatever reason, most partners seem to hate this whole idea. I get it, partners burned you in the past, or you gave them too much of the pie, or they stole your customer. But, to thrive in this new world, this is the only path forward. Microsoft knows it, I know it, and you know it. For such a pivotal key to Microsoft’s success, I am disappointed in how little Microsoft is doing to actually enable this motion. Don’t get me wrong, they are happy to preach about it, but they’re actually not doing anything “real” to move it forward. Are you listening Microsoft? The continued failure of “Partner to Partner” is going to keep Microsoft Cloud from reaching its full potential, or even a fraction of it. Microsoft can and should, fix this, not IAMCP or another third-party. It is too crucial to our mutual success, to not address and hope someone else figures it out.