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Microsoft promises big shiny tool to cheer glum Windows resellers

'It is painful, not easiest thing' flogging Redmond kit

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Microsoft has vowed to end its reseller partners' woes by fixing the unstable website used to register customer sales: by the end of next month Redmond's deal-registration website will be upgraded and will include a new business intelligence and analytics tool.

The online system for inputting deals with IT buyers was launched for large account resellers (LARs) in December 2011, and as the Solution Incentive Programme for the wider distribution channel last spring. By registering sales, resellers can get rebates and also prevent rivals from nicking customers.

But, as revealed by The Channel, the Partner Sales Exchange tool periodically crashed when it was overloaded with work, meaning some product orders had to be processed manually.

In a candid interview, Janet Gibbons - Microsoft's director of partner programmes and strategy for small and mid-market partners and solutions - said the Redmond giant is getting to grips with the issues.

She said it had created the One Plan project in September to "fundamentally address all the pain points that we hear from partners around channel incentives".

"By February partners will see a significant change around all those issues, the systems are being changed," Gibbons said, adding that a BI and analytics tool is on its way to make the system more transparent.

"One of the biggest complaints we hear from the channel is 'I put a claim in and I receive money, but there is not a lot of transparency in the process, I'm a bit blind between those two motions'," she said. These fixes "should" make the process more straightforward, we're told.

As with Cisco's rebate system, Microsoft wants channel partners to be able to see where a claim is in the system, how much they'll receive in cash for securing the sale and be notified when it is paid.

Microsoft coughed up $4.2bn in channel incentives worldwide in fiscal 2012, ended June, the highest spend behind R&D which was just under $10bn.

'At least it's better than what resellers had'

Historically Microsoft only paid LARs for transacting Select and Enterprise Agreements, and resellers flogging Open licences, although it later wanted to pay any partner that "influenced" customers' buying decisions.

"We've all had to go through a change management process to understand the impact of that, but the partners I talk to say it is painful, administratively it's not easiest thing in the world, but they say it is better than what they had," said Gibbons.

The deal registration tool was devised by Ross Brown, who was worldwide partner group veep from May 2008 until September 2012 when he left the firm. He is now a top bod at channel consultancy Touch Worldwide.

Microsoft's channel partners said there was too little interaction with senior execs at Redmond over the online deals system when it was being constructed.

"The programme was over-thought and under-delivered," claimed one insider.

Gibbons agreed Microsoft could have spent longer on the project to roll out a "perfect" deal registration programme, but said it was facing competitive pressure from rivals and wanted to get channel partners onboard as soon as possible.

Deal registration is applicable for Server Systems Centre, Windows 7 and 8, Microsoft SQL and Lync - and in each of those areas Microsoft was feeling the heat from its opponents.

"If you look at the products we launched it on, in each one we have strong competition, so we wanted to make sure that we were really financially motivating our channel to go sell our stuff versus the competitors' stuff and earn money on the back of it," she said.

Some Microsoft channel partners said they'd be surprised if the bugs are squashed by the end of February, but one praised Gibbons for being "open and honest; we've got to give Microsoft credit for that". ®

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