By Rieva Lesonsky
Technology evolves so quickly these days, it’s near impossible for small business owners to keep up. But we have no choice—technology makes us smarter, more productive, more efficient and more competitive.
One of the easiest ways to keep current is working with people who do technology for a living. I talked to Alyssa Fitzpatrick, General Manager, Worldwide Channel Sales, at Microsoft to find out more about Microsoft Partners and how small businesses can get the tech assistance they need to grow.
Rieva Lesonsky: What are some of the tech trends you’re seeing now?
Alyssa Fitzpatrick: It’s plain to see that technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Highly technical skills like cloud computing, artificial intelligence services, and the internet of things (IoT) are becoming more and more relevant. It can be challenging for [our] partners, and especially for customers, to keep up with all the changes. This is why Microsoft puts such an effort toward providing trainings, certifications, and resources for our partners with tools like Microsoft Learning Path and on-demand courses. The industry today is competitive, but it’s also a very exciting time for growth and development opportunities. Partners who are able to provide added services are giving extremely valuable help to their customers, who need a guide in the changing landscape.
Lesonsky: What do you look for when recruiting partners for Microsoft? Are there specific criteria that must be met?
Fitzpatrick: We’re looking for partners who truly know their customers and have core technical competencies that align closely with customer needs. We ask that each potential partner complete a partner profile, provide customer evidence and references, take business-focused competency assessments, and either provide technical credentials or pass our technical assessment exam. For more information on what is required to become a Microsoft partner, check out the Microsoft Partner Network’s membership page.
Lesonsky: Can smaller businesses become Microsoft Partners?
Fitzpatrick: Of course! Many of our partners are also SMBs, and we have a section of the Microsoft Partner Center dedicated to resources just for our US SMB Partners. Microsoft offers partner incentives, customer offers, in-person and online trainings, and more tools for SMB partners. We also have an active US SMB partner Insider community that provides SMB partners with the latest news, webinars, and meetups to help encourage productivity and partner-to-partner (P2P) collaboration.
Lesonsky: How do you stay engaged with Microsoft Partners? Is there a communications method that works best?
Fitzpatrick: Microsoft Partner Center is really the hub for all partner news and activities, and I really enjoy the face-to-face element that comes from events. Meeting in person allows the partner to connect with both Microsoft and their peers on a personal level. There are so many great channels and methods to engage with partners including social media, our online communities, regional events and meetups and more. We recently launched the Microsoft Partner Community website to encourage P2P and Microsoft-to-partner (M2P) collaboration. Microsoft is a global company, and we have channel partners all over the world, so it’s important to us that we provide ways for partners to easily communicate and work with others on a global scale as well.
Lesonsky: Do business owners still attend conferences and trade shows? Is it harder to lure them there?
Fitzpatrick: Business owners absolutely do attend conferences and trade shows. Having that much direct exposure to peers, potential clients, competitors, and vendors is invaluable—and businesses know it. Last year’s sold-out Worldwide Partner Conference had 16,000 attendees, most of whom were businesses owners and decision makers, as you can see in this snapshot of attending partners from WPC 2016.
Lesonsky: What do you think of virtual trade shows and conferences? Is it more difficult to engage if you’re not face-to-face?
Fitzpatrick: While I would certainly encourage Microsoft partners to attend in-person trade shows and conferences like Microsoft Inspire when possible, virtual meetups are also a fantastic way for partners to engage with one another! One of the greatest things about these virtual conferences is they give partners the opportunity to learn from and engage with partners from all over the world they may never get to collaborate with otherwise.
Social media is a great way to build a community online with other SMBs and partner businesses. Microsoft hosts many webinars and tweet chats to bring these communities together and share valuable insights. As long as partners are approaching these types of events, virtually or in-person, with a clear plan of what they want to learn and achieve, they will be able to benefit from all they have to offer.
Lesonsky: What’s the benefit for SMBs for working with Microsoft partners?
Fitzpatrick: The wonderful thing about working with a partner is that they take a lot of unnecessary work and worry off your shoulders, allowing you to focus on what’s actually important to you and your small business. These partners are highly trained experts in what they do, and they can streamline processes that might be challenging for your internal team. Even if you do have people on your staff who might be qualified to handle your tech, allowing a partner business to handle these tasks will free up your employees to work on your business’ growth goals instead.