Enabling partner-built solar systems big priority for Microsoft channel chief

With the Interim now removed from her job title, Gavriella Schuster talked with ChannelBuzz about her priorities going forward, including both things partners can expect to be announced at WPC, and her priorities beyond that.

Gavriella Schuster

Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President, WorldWide Partner Group, at Microsoft

TORONTO – Expanding Microsoft’s partner ecosystem is Microsoft global channel chief’s Gavriella Schuster’s top priority. A key way to get there is doing something that Microsoft has done before, but not well enough. That is the enablement of a turnkey way for partners to build bridges to other partners. A key advantage that Microsoft will have here this time is the imminent acquisition of LinkedIn.

“My job in running the partner network is to build out the ecosystem,” said Schuster, who had the Interim tag removed from her title two weeks ago. “What I need to do is make the partner network an actual network, so they can start to build their own solar system. They need to be able to find each other and do business together.”

That has been a Microsoft goal before, which has been attempted before, but was not really successful.

“We have had that before, but not in an organized way,” Schuster told ChannelBuzz. “I want to make it more turnkey. I’m hoping that this is something that becomes easier with the LinkedIn acquisition. We have to give partners better BI and better analytics and propensity models to make this work”

Schuster suggested other ways Microsoft could facilitate partnering between partners.

“We can give them ways to train other partners, such as extending our training platform so they can train them on that,” she said. “I can extend all of those systems to the partners and let them use those same systems with each other. That’s what I’m working on now. That’s how I can build an ecosystem big enough to meet our needs.”

Schuster also noted that this just isn’t a way to tie partners closer to Microsoft.

“This type of training initiative doesn’t have to be on our platform,” she said.

Schuster defined her perception of her new role, now that she has moved from the number two position in global channels to the top spot.

“It’s about setting the basis of the framework of our relationship with partners,” she said. “There is high touch and low touch, and the channel is like a funnel. My job is to span the whole of that to engage any partner that wants to do business with us – both to engage in a journey of self service and to bring them into the right phase for deep engagement. Ultimately we want to be able to pop them to the right people in the field when they are ready for that. Our best partners are brought by our field engagement teams to our customers.”

Schuster believes this has been a consistent element of Microsoft’s channel policy over the years.

“We have never shifted,” she said. “We have always been ‘come one, come all,” when it comes to expanding our channel. When you get to a level of competence and capability that’s when we bring you to our customers. We also invest a lot in the enablement and onboarding for all of our partners.”

While many – perhaps most – vendors in the channel today are leery about being overdistributed, and having more partners than they can train properly, Schuster said that Microsoft thinks more partners are necessary in a universe where digital transformation is become ubiquitous.

“My biggest fear is that we won’t have enough partners,” she said. “We are opening a market that isn’t based on IT – it’s based on the customer’s front end. That market opportunity just exploded by 1000 times. Will there be a way that partners can’t be kept busy? No way! A partner could run a business on any one of many dots, or connectors between the dots.”

Schuster said that the most important thing relating to partner numbers is geography.

“When field people bring partners to their customers, they are local partners. But in the cloud, that’s not the case. An ISV in Israel will likely have most of their sales in the U.S. That’s where we have the most work to do, enabling partners geographically where they want to go.”

Schuster confirmed Microsoft is sunsetting the Advisor Program, for partners who don’t want to do billing and support themselves. After reducing benefits last year, as of October 2016, Microsoft will no longer be paying fees on new Advisor subscriptions, and they will pay existing ones only until July 2017. Microsoft wants these partners to move to the CSP program. Schuster indicated that Microsoft isn’t planning any initiative to get Advisor Partners to move over, because it’s happening naturally anyway.

“People are moving because the CSP is such a good program,” she said. “The Advisor Program was popular for partners who didn’t want to have to deal with any level of customer transaction whatsoever. They didn’t care about owning the customer. So for them the Advisor Program was easy.”

Schuster also indicated several other forthcoming programmatic changes, which will be formally announced in the Wednesday keynote.

“We just introduced a new referral engine, and are sunsetting Pinpoint,” Microsoft’s marketplace which connected customers with pertinent partners. On Wednesday, we will introduce new branding that for the first time will let Gold partners use the Microsoft logo on their Gold brand. We are also doubling our cloud platform internal platform use for all qualifying partners, so they can do more demoing and build more robust solutions on the platform.”

Finally, Schuster indicated Microsoft will be announcing a new field investment in technical resources in the field for partners.

“it’s a new investment of about 250 to 300 people, which brings our total field investment to 3500 people,” she said.