Check out our video interview and five ways Microsoft is supporting resellers

Interview: Microsoft’s Brent Combest on the cloud

Microsoft has several cloud products available for resellers from Office 365 to Azure and Intune, but what are the revenue opportunities and how can you get started?

Brent Combest, Microsoft’s worldwide director of sales excellent and strategy for cloud in SMB, gives Dominic Sacco an overview of Microsoft’s cloud. Plus, check out our video interview below…

Could you give us a rundown of Microsoft’s cloud services and their benefits to resellers?

We have a number of different products available in the cloud. We’ve got Office 365; Microsoft Azure – a fantastic platform for partners whether they want to use that as infrastructure as a service to do many things such as hosting business apps, virtual machines, backup and storage, website hosting, there’s a myriad of opportunities for partners; Microsoft Intune – a product where partners can manage devices on behalf of customers and enable them to protect the devices whether that’s a PC, tablet or a phone. And we have Dynamic CRM Online as well – a leading product in the industry to help customers manage relationships with their end customers.

How are your cloud services performing overall today? Are you seeing growth in UK B2B sales?

Growth has been tremendous. It’s far exceeded even our expectations. If you look at what leading analyst firms like IDC predict, they’re looking at a compound annual growth rate in the range of 23 or 24 per cent. You’ve got some other providers out there that are seeing growth rates in the mid 30s. We’re seeing well above that – nearly five times what many of our competitors are seeing. So it’s actually a fantastic opportunity not only for Microsoft but also our partners.

What kind of margins can UK resellers expect to make selling Microsoft cloud services, specifically smaller independents?

We have a number of programmes partners can leverage, whether that’s the Open licensing platform we’ve had for many years, or the Advisor platform that enables them to earn channel incentives. Depending on their performance they will be able to earn more as they sell more. Beyond that, there are tremendous monetisation opportunities.

The channel incentives are just the beginning for our partners, whether they want to do time and material services to help a customer get their business into the cloud, and stand up Office 365, or they want a customised Sharepoint, or help a customer find their way into Microsoft Azure by migrating a line of business apps from point A to point B. There’s all kind of revenue opportunities in that regard.

We’re also seeing a lot of partners really start to drive deeply into managed services and becoming that outsourced IT provider. They’re doing a number of things – they’re becoming the delegated administrator for Office 365, they’re managing the devices and the network for customers using things like Microsoft Intune.

Is Windows 10 going to affect Microsoft’s cloud strategy?

It won’t have any impact on how Office 365 is sold. Those things act independently – Office 365 is a separate entity as far as that point is concerned and it will have no impact on it at all.

What kind of reaction have you seen from your partners following the various cloud changes announced at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this year?

So far it’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’re working towards simplifying the benefit structure that’s available to partners to make it easier for them, but at the same time providing focused value around cloud. Things like internal use rights benefits, having the ability for an elevated premier support type offering so that they can find what they need and also use the products that they’re going to sell.

You made some other changes in October this year. Can you tell us about those?

We’ve made some adjustments to our SKU line-up. We’ve taken away some of the SKUs we previously had and we’ve replaced them with some that are easier for partners to understand and leverage.

We’ve also taken away some of the barriers around user account limitations and transition limitations that we’ve had in the past, so that partners can sell with more confidence to their end customer and know that they’re selling them solutions they need today, but as they grow over time, it’s going to be easier to adapt – either the SKU mix or the transition to a bigger SKU – when they need to worry about it.

What’s next for Microsoft, the cloud and that market? How will things evolve in the future?

I think things will continue to accelerate. If you look at the adoption beyond Office 365, you’ve got Microsoft Azure now on Open, and as you start to peel the data back and look at what customers are wanting in the cloud as the primary workload you think about backup, disaster recovery, virtual machines to support line of business applications… those things will continue to grow and represent a new opportunity for partners.

So as they build the Office 365 business, the one thing I try to suggest is they need to think of it as the starting point and ask how can they attach Microsoft Azure and the other products to that, which will spur another evolution of growth for our partners beyond what has just taken shape over the last three or four years with Office 365.


1. Partner changes

Microsoft has launched new cloud competencies, allowing resellers to sell Office 365 to 10 new customers over the next 12 months. The silver competency is currently free and gives partners access for internal usage rights and unlimited cloud support.

On October 1st Microsoft also made available a set of Office 365 plans tailored to meet the needs of SMBs ranging in size from one person to around 250 employees.

2. Distributor investments

Microsoft is investing in people and activities in its distributors (Westcoast, Ingram Micro and Tech Data) and Microsoft UK. It has a team dedicated to bringing new partners on board Office 365 and Azure and transitioning them to an authorised distributor. Each distie has its own specialists, resources and promotions. Email, or for more information.

3. Online resources

There’s a host of materials, articles and resources online which Microsoft regularly updates to help resellers get started in selling cloud, and keep track of the latest changes. It has a SureStep programme for new partners, with resources on the Microsoft Partner Network UK Blog. 

4. Cloud roadshows

Microsoft is running a roadshow across 16 locations, from London to Liverpool. It started in September and will run until December 9th. Each roadshow session will cover Office 365, Azure, CRM Online and Windows 8.1, with Cloud Development Managers and guest speakers covering various topics.

5. Future Decoded

This is a series of new events taking place in ExCel London. November 10th will have speakers including Satya Nadella and Sir Bob Geldof, and will be focused around Microsoft’s enterprise technologies. November 11th is dedicated to partners, with different tracks on marketing, sales, products and licensing. November 12th is for IT professionals and developers, and will be more technically focused.

Brent Combest also took part in our cloud roundtable, where other resellers joined PCR and Microsoft to dicsuss the benefits of cloud. 

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