The nChannel team recently sat down with Brian Ocheltree, CEO of PartnerPoint, the largest community of Microsoft Partners worldwide helping connect members with customers and other partners looking for assistance.
As a provider of integration solutions for several Microsoft products like Dynamics RMS, GP, NAV, and SL, nChannel believes our partners would be interested in hearing directly from PartnerPoint and their perspective on Microsoft products, cloud-based solutions and the future of Microsoft.
Below are the results of our interview with Brian Ocheltree:
nChannel: Can you give me a short background on PartnerPoint and what it provides users?
Brian Ocheltree: Partnerpoint is a large and diverse online community of Microsoft partners. It is not a Microsoft company, but rather an independent company which was founded in 2005. PartnerPoint currently has approximately 35,000 members from 126 countries and territories.
PartnerPoints mission is to help connect Microsoft partners with Microsoft customers looking for support, and other partners. Members of our community have many avenues of exposure to both customers and other partners thru our highly organic ranked portal, PartnerPoint.com, and our LinkedIn Group and Facebook Page.
Members can choose Impressions, Clicks, or Leads from customers seeking support, and virtually all of the PartnerPoint services are self-service thru a secure admin interface.
nChannel: Why do people find your community and website valuable?
Brian Ocheltree: The biggest value proposition to Visitors of our community is the unique resources to help find qualified Microsoft partners for specific requirements. They can search by location, Microsoft product focus, Industry expertise, and more. They can browse White Papers from partners, read Microsoft related News, and post requests to our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
The benefits to our members, as mentioned above, is the cost effective Marketing Exposure. The effective CPM of our Banner Ad, or Click Price for our click throughs to our members websites is significantly cheaper than could be had on Google or Bing, and our visitor traffic is the highest quality available 99% Organic Search traffic, which are the most motivated visitors.
nChannel: From your vantage point, what are some of the most common challenges Microsoft customers have?
Brian Ocheltree: I believe Licensing in general has been a consistent challenge for Microsoft customers over the years. It seems it can be relatively complex at times, and can vary widely from product to product. The recent addition of Hosted products, though typically just simple monthly subscriptions, will be yet another setup of licenses that customers need to learn.
And of course, I think finding the right partner can be tough for Microsoft Customers. It is certainly getting better, but can be difficult. There is of course PartnerPoint, and there is also a service called PinPoint from Microsoft. Pinpoint was launched by Microsoft a few years after PartnerPoint, and is designed to provide a similar service – to help customers find qualified partners.
But not all partners are listed on these two services. So even though Microsoft has by far the largest Partner Network of anyone in the space, it is still difficult for some partners to find enough qualified partners for a specific task to provide a competitive bidding environment, and to ensure qualified options.
nChannel: From your vantage point, what are some of the most common challenges Microsoft Partners have?
Brian Ocheltree: By far, the most consistent challenge Microsoft Partners have had since I have had my finger on the pulse is Sales and Marketing. I suppose you could say that this is the case with most businesses, but I think it is disproportionately true in the IT sector Tech guys just arent marketers on average. There are of course truly brilliant marketers in the partner channel, but this is certainly the exception and not the norm.
This poses quite a challenge for Microsoft, since they are truly dedicated to selling virtually all of their software and services thru its partner channel. They are almost required to educate, support, and partner with their Channel in a wide array of Partner Marketing efforts to be able to hit their sales goals.
Part of the reason Microsoft Partners struggle with Sales and Marketing is the simple fact that most of them sell to Businesses not Consumers, and Business to Business (B2B) marketing is tough inherently. Unlike consumers, business decision makers simply dont Raise their Hand easily. It is significantly easier to get a consumer to click a banner ad or link, fill out a form, or pick up the phone and call, than it is a business user. Therefore, the cost to buy or generate these Hand Raises is high. For example, a partner can expect to pay as much as $10 for a simple Click on a SharePoint ad in Google or Bing.
Sites like PartnerPoint that can leverage the economy of scale from a group of partners, are a good way to get the price of exposure to business customers down. For example, our Silver Members usually end up paying between $0.50 and $1.50 per Click from visitors to our site.
In addition, since these sites aggregate content from many partners, the Organic placement on the search engines is significantly improved, helping all members get more exposure. For example, PartnerPoint is currently the #1 Organic Listing on Google, Bing, and Yahoo for the key word: Microsoft Partners
nChannel: In the past several years, how have you seen the “Cloud” change the way in which Microsoft customers and partners do business?
Brian Ocheltree: Although in its infancy, relative to customer adoption at least, the Cloud phenomenon is a game changer for all of us. Ive heard lots of complaints from partners, like how Office365 will kill their on-site services revenue, but these complaints are mis-guided IMHO. It would be similar to a Typewriter reseller complaining that their manufacturer is coming out with a line of Word Processors. The industry as a whole is headed in that direction quickly, and us Microsoft Partners should really hope our primary product manufacturer moves quickly in that direction as well so that we have products to sell our current Microsoft customers. We should embrace it, support it, and endorse it. And then, figure out how to change our business offerings to allow us to leverage the new offerings.
In the end, Cloud adoption by customers should simply increase the market for all of us. The types products and services we are asked to provide as a partner will change a bit, but the demand for services should rise based on the new capabilities the Cloud provides for large and small customers.
nChannel: Do you see Microsoft getting into the integration business?
Brian Ocheltree: No, I cannot see Microsoft ever pursuing Services beyond what they do now through Microsoft Consulting Services. They committed many years ago to selling thru the channel, and have invested heavily in creating and supporting the largest Channel in the industry with over 1 Million partners (I think). Not only would they be choosing to compete with their channel by selling services directly, but I think they realize selling services is a tough business. There are quite a few case studies from other companies like Dell, who have purchased large services organizations to help bolster their services offerings, and failed miserably. Its an entirely different business model, and I think they are smart enough to realize that.
nChannel: What are you most excited about from Microsoft and Microsoft products in the coming year?
Brian Ocheltree: By far, I am most excited to see Windows 8 running on some of the new mobile devices like the Surface, and new phones. The growth in mobile over the past 2 years has blown me a way, and I think Mobile is already a game changer for consumers, and will soon be one for business users as well.
Apple has set a high bar with the iPhone and iPad, but Microsoft still has a strong hold on the PC OS market Worldwide, and I think their mobile plan is a key to success. Mobile devices are already outselling PCs, so it is critical that Microsoft have a set of solid mobile products for Microsoft Customers to use when their folks start to demand mobile devices.
nChannel: Where do you see Microsoft and Microsoft based products 5 years from now? What will be the main focus?
Brian Ocheltree: Im a huge Microsoft and Bill Gates fan. As a business owner my entire life, I truly appreciate the success Bill not only created thru this incredible company, but that has been sustained for many years. However, I dont see Microsoft as the best innovator out there, and thats ok. There are many aspects to creating a successful company, and product innovation is only one of them. Microsoft is a market leader. They excel at building products in high growth markets that although maybe not the best product in Rev.1, get better over time and eventually dominate a market.
Ive been around long enough to see Microsoft enter with an inferior product, but eventually dominate over these market leaders:
- Office Productivity against WordPerfect and Lotus123
- Server OS against Novell Netware
- Browser against Netscape
- Email against Novell Groupwise and Lotus Notes
- DB against Oracle
If you assume this cycle continues, you can assume that in 5 years Microsoft be will following the trends of the market and slowly integrating products into key areas, probably pioneered by someone else, and eventually dominating many of them.
As a Partner, you should love this .. 🙂