Sunday, August 24, 2008

Picking Your Partners

My friends Arlin and Vlad have been having a public exchange about partnering with Microsoft.

I've had my share of thoughts on this subject myself. See, recently, Vendor Loyalty Goes Both Ways and Grading the Microsoft Relationship.

The interesting question for me is: How closely should my company be to a "Microsoft only" or "Microsoft first" shop?

On one hand, Microsoft is just another vendor. On the other hand, they're the 800 pound gorilla of vendors.

I can easily move clients from Cisco to Sonicwall, or Sonicwall to Cisco. We recently made the move from Symantec Anti-Virus to Trend. No blips. No arguments. We just did it.

Even getting rid of Dell isn't a challenge. We wait for something to go wrong and quote HP.

Moving clients off of Microsoft would be a much slower and more difficult process.

KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) has been a Microsoft Certified Partner for almost ten years. Our 3-second tag line is that "We design, build, and support Microsoft networks."

We are a Microsoft shop.

When we need a tool, we look to Microsoft. That's true whether it's an Office product, a resource kit add-on, or a power toy. Our zero downtime migration is accomplished almost entirely with Microsoft tools.

But we do not embrace Microsoft to the exclusion of the rest of the world.

And by world, I mean world.

Microsoft's first-line tech support for SBS has been horrible for years. We have simply abandoned it in favor of Zenith and other options.

If some day the only version of Microsoft Office available is through Office Live, then we will use and sell something else.

Right now I have two servers in my home. Microsoft Home Server and a Linux box.

Most partners I talk to are the same: they balance four factors:
1) "What works"
2) Cost
3) What's right for the client
4) Working with vendors who are good to work with

A great example is Groove. Vlad takes a quick jab at "Grove" in his post above. Groove is an embarrassing, kludgy collection of tools thrown together without much glue.

Warning: Old Man Story Approaching

In the days of Windows 3.1 and 3.11 for Workgroups (yes, two distinctly different versions), you could not connect to the internet without some effort.

First, you were running a 16-bit system. So you had to install a 32-bit emulator.

Then and only then could you install the sockets needed to connect to the Internet. Of course, the World Wide Web was still hidden away in a particle physics lab, so all you could really do was telnet and ftp.

And yet, even in 1993-1994, brave and optimistic programmers released collections of tools so that a DOS/Windows PC could do all the things a Unix box could do: Finger, ping, nslookup, telnet, etc.

It was a fun time to be a nerd.

That's what Groove reminds me of.

Except that really great versions of all the tools inside Groove already exist somewhere else. Everyone does these things better than Groove.

Just yesterday, a pissed off partner emailed me about being taken for granted by Microsoft. "They want us to be their sales drones, no matter how poorly they treat us."

The bottom line hasn't changed: You need to look after your business. One piece of that is building long-term relationships that work for your company. Where it makes sense to partner with Microsoft, do it. Where it makes sense to partner with someone else, do it.

Because, at the same time, you are building relationships with your clients that need to be profitable to your company and to the clients. You need to give them good, long-term advice. If everyone makes money in the long run, the cost becomes less relevant. That leaves "what works," what's right for the client, and a vendor relationship that's good for you.

"Selling out" has no meaning in this context. We're all in business to make money. Making money by building the right partnership with Microsoft is not selling out.



  1. I feel compelled to note, even though it's probably clear from all three posts, that the term "sell out" came from the folks I talk to, not from me. Vladville is much a reflection of my thoughts and opinions as it is of the people I deal with and communicate with.

    Good for Arlin. As for the folks that are upset by this... hey, SBSgroupLeads had years worth of lead on this and blew it in endless meetings, committes, leadership councils. Thats at least what they were up to when I left two years ago.


  2. Karl

    I recommend reading Microsoft 2.0 by Mary Jo Foley, change is happening. Since the departure of Bill Gates, the move from a techie to a sales organization is in full swing. I highly recommend this book.

    Stuart Crawford
    Calgary, AB

  3. This is a healthy discussion and as you correctly note Karl, it is all about balancing how we do business and serve our customers. It doesn't matter at all if we miss that mark. For us at HTS and ultimately HTG, it requires that we build strong and deep relationships with those we are taking to the dance. We can't really take care of the customer without vendors - so our best game is to do it in close conjunction with them. Microsoft is a great partner but it is a two way street. They have to be treated the way that we all want to be treated as partners. It is not about just holding out our hands asking for things. They make a living the same we we all do - by selling stuff. We can be far more effective doing it together.

    I also want to go on record making sure everyone realizes Vlad didn't say I sold out - he just shared some feedback and then defended the reality of what we are doing with HTG. I appreciate knowing that some don't agree with our approach which is certainly not unexpected, and even more, appreciate his comments that point out the value HTG has to those who want to do business in partnership with a vendor. There are many ways to skin the proverbial cat in the IT space - we just happen to think the most effective way is to create win-win relationships with vendors and each other.

    Keep up the good work Karl.

    - Arlin

  4. Vlad's correspondents, my correspondents, and Arlin's correspondents: Don't get lost in the different perspectives.

    This is a great discussion you should all be having with each other.


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