How SMB partners can weather the economic storm

By Maxine Cheung, Computer Dealer News |  Channel, Microsoft

At a time when most businesses are looking to cut costs and leverage existing resources, channel partners may feel discouraged in the marketplace. But according to Lora Gernon, senior director of Microsoft Canada's partner group, there's actually no better time than now for partners to start having conversations with their customers.

Last October, Microsoft conducted an online flash poll asking small to medium-sized business (SMB) customers how they plan on saving money in the New Year. Four hundred and sixty-two people responded from 20 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Thirty-seven per cent of SMB customers said they plan on reducing travel, while 34 per cent have plans to become more energy efficient. Thirty-two per cent said they plan to reduce the time and expenses spent on systems management.

Despite these SMB cost-cutting measures, there are still ways channel partners can ensure steady business, as long as they exercise the right go-to-market approach. For Mississauga, Ont.-based Envision IT, a software and integrated products development company and also a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, it's business as usual, for now, said Peter McKenzie, vice-president of sales and marketing with the company.

"So far, I'd say the immediate effect of the economic downturn hasn't really been felt," McKenzie said. "We're expecting to feel a bit more...maybe going into the end of Q1 and Q2 though. Now, we're fully engaged on our existing projects that have existing budgets."

Partners and end-users can take advantage of solutions such as Live Meeting, Microsoft's Web conferencing service, SharePoint Server for collaboration, enterprise content management and business intelligence purposes and more, McKenzie suggests. For companies looking to save money on travel, McKenzie says Live Meeting can help businesses be more efficient and productive without anyone having to leave the office. With SharePoint Server, McKenzie says businesses will see a quick return on investment (ROI), whether it's seen through things such as improved efficiencies and reduced costs.

"Businesses are concerned about streamlining their business processes," he says, "They want their staff to do their jobs as efficiently as possible and we help them do all of that with things such as SharePoint and CRM (customer relationship management) technologies."

On a broader scale, Gernon says many customers are now turning towards unified communications solutions (UC) as well to help reduce costs.

"UC is something a lot of our customers are looking at now because it reduces travel and also streamlines productivity," she said. "We're also seeing a lot of interest around virtualization technology to also reduce costs and simplify management. Software as a service (SaaS) is another area that businesses are moving towards because they want more predictability right now."

No matter which solutions partners sell and deploy, it's important to remember that customers will be looking to leverage their existing resources and infrastructures, Gernon says.

"My message to partners right now is to keep focused and think of how their solution can help their customers take costs out of their business to increase productivity to be more competitive," Gernon said. "Partners should stick to their core competencies and what they do well. That's how they can be successful."

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