In July 2020, Microsoft cloud computing business Azure reported quarterly sales growth of 47%. We caught up with Thomas Winter to find out more about its partner marketing.

Tell us a bit more about the Microsoft approach to partners.

Microsoft is and always will be a partner-centric company, it defines how we do business – four years ago, we moved from a reselling to a co-selling model. Co-selling means that we encourage our partners to add value for customers, by bringing something new and distinct. We think this makes more sense, as otherwise why wouldn’t customers simply buy direct? Our partners therefore make their money by providing a new and valuable service to their customers, not through mark-ups. 

Do you offer partners the opportunity to generate leads in joint activities?

The shift to co-selling has naturally led to a focus on co-creation and value, with cooperative marketing and selling. Based on a structured process, we select several partners for each area of our business and build joint campaigns to generate high-quality leads. This work is co-funded, delivered by the partner and supported by Partner Marketing Advisors from Microsoft. Supporting campaign means invest in their business growth

What types of joint activities do you support with partners?

COVID and the subsequent decision to move all events to a virtual format for the time being, presented us and our partners with the challenge and opportunity to redirect marketing budgets from events and hospitality to sophisticated digital campaigns. There is a wide spread of knowledge and creativity in our partner landscape in this field. Some are making their events virtual, while there is also a very positive trend towards more thought-thru account-based marketing strategies. 

How do you measure demand generation activities with partners?

Our partner marketing is truly collaborative. Partners are supported by Partner Marketing Advisers who act as strategic consultant and sounding board, helping them to develop their digital marketing capabilities. We engage with relatively few partners at this level, so measurement is somewhat easier. In the last 18 months, there has been a distinct move to focus on leads generated and an increasing awareness of the need to analyse the cost of these leads. We need to be more aware of the investment and resulting revenue across bigger and smaller opportunities.  

How do you organise partner marketing within your company?

We have a dedicated Through Partner Marketing team in the country that runs the marketing activities based on the priorities the company defines. Additionally to joint campaigns, this team works with our partners on their marketing strategy, aligning to their overall business development plans. 

How do you differentiate between partners when selecting who to engage in strategic high-visibility lead generation?

We evaluate candidates for joint marketing activities against several criteria such as, solutions in Microsoft appsource, partner certifications and advanced specializations, existing market share, historic growth, growth plans and ambitions. These ambitions need to be substantiated by a viable plan, however! We seek full, thorough and compelling cases supported by plans to demonstrate how a partner plans to take market share. This approach means we don’t always work with the biggest partners. We often end up investing with the more innovative, agile and ambitious in the partner community.  We also often find partners collaborating on co-marketing, and particularly the smaller, more innovative partners scaling through collaborations with large global integration partners. 

How do case studies and thought leadership play a role in your co-marketing activities with partners?

We do a great deal of sharing of stories with partners, but we don’t consciously produce case studies. We ask partners to define their thought leadership value to us, and we really emphasise this. Thought leadership is the route to partners’ business differentiation and success. We want partners to develop intellectual property and differentiate themselves rather than just being service providers on behalf of Microsoft. 


Photo by Dominik Dancs on Unsplash

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