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The secrets behind building a knockout partner-marketing program

Mark Kurtz who leads partnerships between Microsoft and Adobe talks about how to build a partner program, some of the challenges involved along the way, and shared some key tips to get the best out of your partner ecosystem.

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by Momentum ITSMA Staff

April 20, 2021

Actionable Insights

A small group having a meeting


Partner marketing works. It really, really works.

If you need proof, look no further than Microsoft. The tech giant formally launched its partner program back in the early 1990s and now pulls in around 95% of its $143 billion revenue through a partner eco-system that now numbers upwards of 300,000 organisations.

The partner eco-system is so vital to Microsoft, in fact, that the organization’s CEO Satya Nadella said the following when interviewed for CRN last week: “We [Microsoft] fundamentally wouldn’t exist as a company if not for the partner ecosystem taking what we build, adding value to it and then, most importantly, jointly being as obsessed about how the outcomes of it help the world get better.”

We [Microsoft] fundamentally wouldn’t exist as a company if not for the partner ecosystem taking what we build, adding value to it and then, most importantly, jointly being as obsessed about how the outcomes of it help the world get better.

Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft

One man who knows both the value of that partner eco-system – and the challenges of working within it – better than most is Mark Kurtz, Worldwide GTM Partner Marketing at Microsoft.

Mark leads on the partnership between Microsoft and Adobe and he joined me for the latest episode of Momentum ITSMA’s digital download sessions, where he discussed how to build a partner program, some of the challenges involved along the way, and provided some key tips to get the best of your partner ecosystem.

You can access the full recording here. But the key takeaways were:

1) Create clarity of thought

Building and executing a partner marketing strategy is difficult and there is a lot to consider.  Researching which accounts would benefit most from a partner approach, developing a joint go-to-market strategy, and unifying sales teams from two or more organizations around one purpose takes time and effort.

“You can’t do everything,” Mark explained. “Even with the resources we have at our disposal between Microsoft and Adobe we still have to be selective and we really focus on what is going to support digital transformation in a specific industry context.

“The key is to create clarity for yourself and your team first. You need to be able to create a one-sentence narrative that sums up why a customer needs the partnered services. Once you have the answer to that you will be better equipped to build out your strategy.

“For example, for us at Microsoft and Adobe our aim it is to be the preferred technology partnership to the CMO and CIO. That’s our one-sentence narrative. But it took months to get to that.

“We started out with a 23-page document that talked about our customers’ needs, their wants, where are the opportunities, why are we unlike the other offerings. It took a long time to get to the one-sentence, but we got it and that north star has now been with us for two years.”

Discover more about developing joint propositions here.

2) Create clarity of purpose

When you have multiple partners working on the same deal it is vital to figure out the practicalities.

The best way to start is by having a workshop upfront to establish things like who’s the project lead, who is taking the purchase order, who is responsible for managing data and leads within the account, etc – and then regularly syncing to ensure everyone is on the same page.

At the heart of this is trust and an authenticity of purpose.

As Mark explained: “You have to earn trust. You can’t just decide you are going to have a global partnership overnight. You need regular syncs and completely open communication, and, just like any relationship, there are going to be times when you won’t see eye to eye and you need to call it out.

“It takes work, but authenticity is the key here. You have to genuinely believe that the partnership is the best way to get your customers to become better and aspire to achieve more. That needs to be your common purpose and when everyone involved on the account sees the same way, you’ll be in a good place.”

Learn more about sales enablement here.

3) Review, review and review again

As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on enterprises over the last 15 months has demonstrated, change is an ever present – and you need to build a partner program that reflects that.

Constant review cycles and thorough interrogation of data are necessary to have an understanding of what’s working and, more crucially, what’s not working so you can adjust priorities accordingly.

“We do a lot of reporting and a lot of evaluation.” Mark said. “We have an attribution index that codifies what success looks like and we are constantly asking what we can do better and remodelling the way we work.

“For example, we might find that there or five or so scenarios out of the 28 indexes that we’re tracking that really driving success for our partners – so we re-adjust our campaigns to play to those scenarios and deprioritize those that are not working so well.

“But things change so fast. We call it the ‘living enterprise’ and that’s why it needs to be reviewed so closely, so we can evolve our ecosystem and keep providing the best possible solutions to our customers.”

Discover more about the constantly evolving enterprise buyer landscape with our Customer Buying Index.

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