Microsoft has launched a new websiteaimed at helping channel partners who are dedicated to serving the small business community.
It started as a smaller project for the Central Region last year.
“With five years as a channel partner prior to coming to Microsoft, I thought we ought to get back in touch with the small business channel and open some lines of communications,” said Eric Ligman, Small Business Manager, U.S. Central Region, Microsoft Corp.
There many small business partners who dont have the resources to share the vast wealth of information they have collectively.
“We created a small midwest site, allowing me to understand what their challenges and pains were, but we answer those question in a larger forum,” said Ligman.
The popularity of the idea grew larger than anyone at Microsoft imagined.
“I think a big part of it is that some of the people Eric worked with last year got wind of it, and said, ‘Hey, you should get on board; it’s really beneficial’,” said Jennifer Bogdalek, GM of U.S. Central Region Small Business, Microsoft Corp.
“We had to figure out a way that we as a team could build a central region without being there physically all the time. Eric is actually the genius behind the site.”
The site is unique, because it is designed and built with the channel and small business in mind, using input from the small business channel.
“Once this site was built, the final approval came from MVPs focused on the small business segment, who went through the site and helped make sure it was what the channel needs, prior to launch,” said Ligman.
It was really developed for the partners focused on the small business segment, with the ultimate goal to make the customer experience as positive as possible.
“This is a site that builds a community, and there are links that point to sites throughout Microsoft.com,” said Bogdalek.
“Eric built the site, but he wants it to be about how to service our small business customers better.”
Much of the information at the site and in the user group is about how to save money when buying and deploying Microsoft products in the small business environment. Some conversations are from a technical perspective, which a general end user may not find appealing.
“We have already launched our site for small business customers and the web is an area in which we feel customers will have a rich relationship with us,” Bogdalek said.
The channel can use the site to save time and effort, which translates into saved money.
“It helps the channel because it doesn’t force partners to drive to a briefing,” said Bogdalek.
“It allows them to learn from their peers. A lot of our partners stay in one line, for example Small Business Server. But they want to know somebody in their geography who sells something they may be able to partner with.
From a business partner perspective the idea was to create a place where information can be shared. One thought can become a very large topic with multiple viewpoints.
“Being as it is a virtual community, it saves our partners their biggest asset, which is time,” said Ligman.
“We aren’t requiring them to take two hours out of their days. They can wait until a quiet time, or the end of the day. Somebody in Australia can reply to a partner in Illinois about the same small business issue. It’s been an amazing experience to watch.”
The site presents issues, documents, presentations, and links that partners want to know about, right up front.
Said Ligman, “Suppose a partner has been to a training, and that issue arises, they think, ‘If I only had that one thing to show this customer.’ Well now they can have that thing, in a PDF so it’s universal to everybody, and it’s all in one place.”
All of the documents were created with help from partners in the worldwide user group. Those same documents have been there since day one. Now partners are saying to each other, “This is what you were looking for; this is what you were need to make action in your business today.”
“This is not a Microsoft marketing piece,” said Bogdalek.
“If it works for you, use it to create a one-page leave-behind to help your customer or to make a sale. It’s a collaborative tool.”
The site allows partners to ask for other opinions and respond the next day.
“I dont think Eric realized how popular this would be,” said Bogdalek. “It’s something we think is important to do for the company, and it will benefit all our customers.”
While the site is a great benefit to many viewers from around the world, will it not create confusion when specials and rebates are posted that are only available in the US?
“We try to be very clear when promotions or rebates are US-based,” said Bogdalek.
“We’re mindful to make it clear where those promotions would apply. Site visitors outside the US should check with their local Microsoft suppliers.”