Anita Grassl’s first year as manager of channels at Microsoft Canada has been nothing if not eventful.

She’s spent the past 12 months focusing more attention on small- and medium-size business opportunities for the software firm and its partners, launched a Web site geared specifically

for value-added resellers and recently expanded her team to a complement of 10.

Prior to her current role, Grassl was the manager of channel marketing and development at the Mississauga, Ont.-based software company. “In my new role I’m responsible for the development of channel sales and distribution strategies and initiatives,” she says. Grassl and her team work with VARs, system builders and distributors across Canada.

“Our two top strategies and initiatives this year really focused on increasing partnership satisfaction and driving licensing revenue,” she says. “Having said that, I’m pleased to announce that we’ve focused on hiring partner account managers to help us.” Grassl recently hired four people in these roles to work with VARs and system builders. She’s also added a technical support specialist.

The addition of these people is not to say her team won’t be working in concert with Microsoft Canada’s channel marketing team any less, she says. “To have a successful channel plan, it’s so important to be well-integrated with your marketing team and the channel sales team. I think we do that very successfully here at Microsoft.”

Grassl says the three top pain points partners had with Microsoft at the beginning of the year was the lack of partner account managers that could help them with their Microsoft business strategy. “I recognized that and resourced that appropriately,” she says.

Another pain point was that they had concerns over profitability with a Microsoft line or platform, says Grassl. To address those concerns, Microsoft Canada has launched a tier one distribution model through Synnex. “What the tier one distribution model will allow partners to do is facilitate the licensing processing through Synnex, and be rewarded with a profitable agent fee.”

Microsoft has also made changes to how its licensing fulfillment model works in Canada, says Grassl.

“The U.S. has had a type of licensing and billing provider program in place for more than a year. We have just recently launched this Nov. 18, and we’re pretty certain our partners are going to enjoy this model,” she says. “They’ll still be able to purchase through the traditional distribution model and also have this tier one distribution model or licence billing program model that will allow them to earn up to 10 or 12 per cent from Microsoft.”

While the U.S. economy has slowed down significantly and spending on technology in North America dropped, Grassl says Microsoft Canada is seeing modest, positive movement in the economy. “What I think Microsoft as an organization has going for us and the partners have going for themselves is that shipments of packaged software . . . are expected to grow 10 to 12 per cent annually by 2006,” she says. “That’s not the type of growth that we saw in this industry five to 10 years ago, but certainly it’s really stable growth.”

Grassl says it’s hard to pin down whether or not partners are experiencing much tighter profit margins on Microsoft products in this soft economy. “You’ve got two types of partners out there. You’ve got the partner who’s strictly focused on reselling product, and then you’ve got a second type of partner who’s more of an influencer. If you look at those two types of partners, their margin on our product varies considerably.”

Grassl says a partner who is simply reselling Microsoft products is not going to be as happy with the margins, as would partners that are focused on consulting and services. “They are making the double digit healthy margins by recommending the Microsoft platform.”

Grassl says the best formula for being a successful partner is transitioning from a reseller model to a solutions consulting model, “where you recommend Microsoft product, you make those 30 to 40 per cent margins you’re looking for to stay in the game and remain healthy,” she says. “At the same time, with the new tier one licence and billing provider program, you’re going to make even greater margin because you’re going to receive that agent fee.”

Grassl says the staff additions and initiatives prove Microsoft’s commitment to the channel.

“We are not a direct company,” she says. “We work through and with our channel partners.”

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