Navigating Microsoft: Preparation Leads to Opportunity

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Bill GauthierBy Bill Gauthier

Microsoft is a very large and complex organization that can prove difficult to navigate from a partner perspective. While aligning a go-to-market plan with this behemoth can often seem daunting, it can also be very fruitful for your bottom line. And fortunately, once you get a firm grasp on how to best work with the company, Microsoft is actually very “partner-friendly,” so it’s worth overcoming these complexities.

A successful partnership begins with fundamental planning, assigning the right resources, and sticking to the strategy. Here are three tips for a sound, sustainable Microsoft partner plan:

1. Understand the Rhythm and Find Your Voice

It is critical that efforts with Microsoft align with your organization’s overall goals and investments. However, it is equally important to ensure synchronization with Microsoft’s initiatives for its own current and upcoming fiscal year. Paralleling Microsoft’s go-to-market approach and prioritizing key initiatives will make it much easier to articulate and deliver solutions that will help it meet its goals — which will make it more likely to dedicate resources to invest in a partnership with you.

While that may sound obvious, experience tells us that many don’t follow this simple first step.

The good news is, the company is unlike many large corporations in that it’s very public about disclosing plans and priorities. There are specific times and places throughout the year when Microsoft shares this information with partners. Partners that calibrate their strategic plan to Microsoft’s “rhythm of the business” will be better positioned to take advantage of business opportunities in a systematic and consistent way.

Also critical: snagging a seasoned Microsoft alliance manager. A sound pro will have deep organizational knowledge, relationships across the company and a detailed understanding of how to partner. They are key to relationship-building and will typically serve as a partner’s “voice” inside of the multinational giant, as well as Redmond’s voice back to you, the partner.

2. Get To Know Microsoft “ROB”             

As mentioned, partners that align their strategic plans with Microsoft’s “rhythm of the business” or ROB, are positioning themselves for success.

  • Microsoft Fiscal Year (FY), July 1-June 30. All budgets and field activities align to these dates and are key from a planning and engagement perspective.
  • Priority Setting Meetings (PRISM), primarily occurs in its third quarter. This is when business-unit and field executives gather to discuss strategic priorities for the following FY. The output of these meetings is an internal Worldwide Sales and Marketing Memo (WWSMM) released in late Q3 or early Q4 timeframe.
  • Each business group releases a memo that typically includes: mission; customer and market insights, growth drivers, and key themes; next FY priorities and go-dos for field and segments; scorecard — metrics and key leading indicators to be measured.
  • Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) is the annual event, usually held the second week of July, where Microsoft shares the next FY priorities with partners from around the world.
  • Microsoft Global Summit (MGX) is the worldwide internal sales meeting, typically the week after WPC, where the Microsoft field meets and dissects FY priorities and field go-dos.

Based on business alignment, there are other Microsoft events throughout the year that could also prove beneficial. A complete list is available on its website:

3. Map to the Organization

To maximize opportunities, it is essential for partners to map to the Microsoft “machine.” For instance, if technical enablement is needed, Engineering and the Developer Experience (DX) Groups are the appropriate route. In contrast, go-to-market support would take place within specific business functions and operations groups, either at the global level or the corresponding subsidiaries.

Microsoft is currently organized by the following segments, divided into engineering groups and business functions:

Engineering Groups:

  • Applications and Services Engineering Group :Microsoft Office, Office 365, SharePoint, Exchange, Yammer, Lync, Skype, Bing, Bing Apps, MSN and the Advertising platforms and business group.
  • Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group: Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Microsoft Dynamics, Active Directory, System Center, Visual Studio and .NET.
  • Windows and Devices Group: Microsoft Edge, Minecraft, Halo, Surface, HoloLens, Lumia and Xbox.
  • Technology and Research: Technology and Research, including Microsoft Research, Trustworthy Computing and Technology Policy

Business Functions:

  • Business Development Group: Key partnerships, especially innovation partners (OEMs, silicon vendors, key developers, Yahoo, etc.) and broad work on evangelism and developer outreach. DX, corporate strategy and the business development efforts formerly in the business groups are part of this group.
  • Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs Corporate Strategy & Planning: Cross-engineering and cross-business strategy, execution and planning initiatives, with an emphasis on opportunities that span product and engineering boundaries.

Finance Group:
All product group finance organizations.

HR Group
Marketing Group
Global product marketing, advertising, brand, research and communications functions for businesses and consumers.

Worldwide sales, field marketing, services, support, and stores as well as IT, licensing and commercial operations.

Grow for the Future

Because of its scale and complexities, partnering with Microsoft can be a very challenging proposition. By understanding how it operates and planning accordingly, however, the company can become a powerful ally that brings tremendous value to a partnership.

These best practices are a starting point toward establishing a strong foundation for a successful and profitable engagement. Most importantly, however, a proven Microsoft alliance manager can serve as a valuable resource to develop this plan, navigate the nuances of working with Microsoft and liaise between companies.

With a solid plan and an experienced account lead, a partner can be well-positioned for a lasting relationship with our friends in Redmond.

Bill Gauthier is director of technology alliances at Armor, a cyber security company that keeps sensitive, regulated data safe and compliant in the cloud. For more information, visit

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