Success Recruiting Software Companies to the Cloud

I was pleased to have Warren Wilbe, who leads Microsoft’s U.S. efforts recruiting Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) join my podcast to discuss Microsoft’s efforts to recruit software companies to its Azure Cloud. Warren’s team of Partner Business Managers work with key ISVs across the United States as part of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organization, or OCP.

In this episode Warren* and I discuss his teams focus, how he gauges success, how partners can engage with he and the team, and what makes a great partner.

If you are an ISV that is a Microsoft Partner or want to learn how to become one – you will find this episode of particular interest.

*About Warren – Prior to joining Microsoft, Warren spent 18 years working as a technical leader and architect across the U.S. and Canada with various ISVs, primarily software companies focused on providing ERP Solutions.

Warren lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and five children. When he isn’t enjoying time with his family or exploring technology, you’ll probably find him reading science fiction/fantasy or cruising on one of his motorcycles.

You can listen to the podcast or view the trascript below. You can also find Ultimate Guide to Partnering on iTunesSoundCloudStitcherGoogle PlayPlayer FM, other Android podcast players.

As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach out to me on Linked In, TwitterFacebook and Instagram or on email at You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the rating link. This helps others find the podcast.

This episode of the podcast is sponsored by Cloud Wave Partners.


Warren. Welcome to the podcast.

Warren Wilbee:              Hey Vince. Thanks for having me on.

Vince:                               It is great to have you on. You lead a team focused on helping independent software vendors, ISV’s, and are very focused on recruiting great companies to the Microsoft as your platform. I’m excited to have you join today to tell our listeners about your business, what you look for in great partnerships, what you’re seeing happening in this age of rapid change, and your career journey.

Warren Wilbee:              I look forward to the discussion.

Vince:                               Can you spend a few minutes explaining your role in the Microsoft OCP organization and where your organization is focused?

Warren Wilbee:              OCP, let’s decode that to begin with. OCP stands for One Commercial Partner. It was an organization that was created this last summer when several different organizations that all had been focusing on different partner types and sometimes often quite frankly, a little bit of overlap, came together to present a cleaner face to our partner community and to help us serve them better. My part of that very important organization is to focus on independent software vendors. My team focuses on recruiting new software companies to the Microsoft platform and also we have a large swath of partners that we have dealt with over the years that we still provide service.

Vince:                               You work with some organizations that are new to the cloud or new to Microsoft. How do you gauge success with your partners?

Warren Wilbee:              My organization exists to make our partners successful. When we start working with a partner, one of the things that we like to do with them is to help understand their vision, their mission, where they’re at and where they’re going and redefine success largely on how we help them meet those objectives using our platform. The thing is that we hold ourselves accountable to internally our twofold, we hold ourself accountable for the number of new partners that we bring to Microsoft. We want to be successful in bringing folks to our platform so we keep track of that number.

We also are interested of course in driving Microsoft’s platform and the cloud platform in particular so we also keep track of the amount of abjure consumptions that our team generates or more accurately, the abjure consumption that the partners we provide service to generate.

Vince:                               Is it their direct consumption or is there also, you know, we used to talk about influence revenue back in the day at Microsoft. Do you also look at how much as your consumption, some of those partners influence?

Warren Wilbee:              Yeah. One of the hardest things when you deal with independent software vendors or quite frankly, I just end up calling them software companies most of the time, one of the hardest things when dealing with them is trying to actually get an accurate picture of the influence that they have on the overall software ecosystem if you will, how much impact they really have in the community. Independent software companies, they do business in lots of different ways. Some of them still are selling licenses, some of them sell their products as services, some organizations install their software on a customers instance of abjure if you will. Some of them install them in customers data centers so ISV’s are kind of all over the place in their business models and all over the place in how they would potentially generate abjure consumption.

It makes …. One of the most difficult parts of my job is tracking down that influence and helping our executive teams understand the full influence that some of these ISV’s are having.

Vince:                               Your organization sits in the Build-With segment of the business under casing [inaudible 00:04:31]. How does your team cross engage with the other segments of the business? The Go-to-Market teams and the Sell-With teams, how does that look?

Warren Wilbee:              Sure. It should be relatively simple, especially to our partners. The people who are in the Build-With organizations and my organization and I think you’ve talked to some of my peers who are in Build-With as well, we are usually the first point of contact for our partners. We are the ones who own the relationship because Built-With is almost always the first part of the journey and it’s where the relationships get established. We end up owning the relationships in perpetuity. What we do is with regard to Go-to-Market and post sell, we are the organizations that sort of conduct the band. We are the one that connect our partners to the GTM organization and make sure that those activities are going smoothly. Similarly, we have that type of role with co-sell as well.

We make sure that the activities happen and that our ISV’s are talking to the right people and doing the right things and that our peers in those organizations are properly connected to our partners.

Vince:                               I’ve asked this question to multiple people at Microsoft in partner leadership roles, I’ve been hearing mostly positive feedback regarding the change and the new OCP organization, but change isn’t easy and if you could go back when the organization design was rolled out in July, is there anything you would have done differently?

Warren Wilbee:              Gosh. That’s a hard question. That’s a Monday morning quarterback kind of question because there’s always things that happen that are unexpected consequences. With the knowledge of everything that has transpired since July, yeah there are things that I would have changed but none that realistically could have been foreseen. By and large I believe the organizational design is correct. I believe that it makes sense to have all the partner organization under one house. I believe that keeping the program as simple and focused on partners is the right thing to do and having a single org with that, its overall mandate makes sense.

There are still things that are going on. I believe if you take a look at any organization, it’s like the stages of grief. I’m sure you are familiar when somebody goes through a trauma, that there are stages that people go through and it’s very predictable. Organizations have the same sort of thing. It is also well documented that the usual lexicon is you go through storming, forming, norming, and performing. Those are the steps that an organization will go through after it’s gone through a trauma. We did have our storming phase and we’ve gone through a forming phase. Now we are, and different parts of the organization are obviously in different places, but we’re in the norming and heading to performing at this point.

Any change would have generated that trauma and any change would have forced us through those stages. I’m actually pleased and a little bit surprised how fast the organization has gone through that process and how well people have performed. I think it’s a testament to the people that are in the org, that things have progressed so quickly.

Vince:                               Yeah. I tend to agree with you based on the conversations I’ve been having across the organization at Microsoft as well as partners that engage with Microsoft. Having everything under one house and one roof and having the connection points between your organization, the Go-to-Market, and the Sell-With organizations makes a ton of sense. As you think through how you engage your partners to help them scale, I talked to a lot of organizations and people about partner to partner play. Does that come into play here with your organization? No pun intended here but as you look at some of these partners that are looking to scale their business with Microsoft, do you try to match up partners to drive a solution offering or help them to scale?

Warren Wilbee:              Yeah, in lots of different ways. There’s many different configurations. It’s not something that happens with every single partner every single time but there are lots of synergies to be held [inaudible 00:09:22] marketplace. For example, many of our software companies will engage with system integrators. I know at Globeron for example, they will engage with system integrators to help them get their products built or help migrate their products to the cloud. Now, they’ll take advantage of the expertise that those people have in migrating solutions from data center to cloud for example. Another match that typically happens when people in [inaudible 00:10:00] organization deal with people in my organization is that quite often ISV’s utilize system integrators as a sales channel. That’s another partner to partner match.

We’re seeing ISV’s also engage with cloud service providers, and in some cases utilize cloud service providers so that that part of the management of the cloud platform is something they don’t have to focus on. They can just focus on the zeroes and ones of creating software. There are lots of potentials out there for partner to partner and ISV’s playing in almost every scenario [inaudible 00:10:48].

Vince:                               It sounds like it. One thing that’s been a constant in all of my discussions this year has been the rapid state of change. People are seeing change faster than they anticipated a year ago. What are you seeing now that you didn’t expect to see a year ago in terms of the digital transformation?

Warren Wilbee:              I mean, I’m not going to pretend that I predicted the future or anything but change is a natural state in the software business. We have been changing since the sixties and we will continue to change for the foreseeable future. Seeing the way that it was going to change, I for one didn’t predict how the org was going to evolve. I’m glad it did. I think when you’re talking about change it’s important to look at the drivers behind change. The cloud is a huge force and it is making big changes in the way we approach computing. It’s making big changes in the way we build and design software and it’s only natural that those changes would be felt in the ways our partners organize and the way we organize. If the bedrock underneath your feet is shifting, you’re going to shift too.

Vince:                               Absolutely. It has been shifting. Let’s talk a little bit about partnering, since this podcast is called The Ultimate Guide to Partnering and we focus in on what makes successful partnerships. What attributes do you think are needed now from partners looking to be successful working with you and your organization? In fact, what makes a great partner?

Warren Wilbee:              I guess if I had to come up with one word I’d say commitment. Another way of expressing the same [inaudible 00:12:34] is this, that Microsoft, like any organization [inaudible 00:12:38], partners vest with with people who partner with it. If you’re committed to me, I’ll be committed to you and together we’ll do great things. That, for me, has always been the simple equation that makes partnering with Microsoft work.

Vince:                               What do you look for in terms of commitment? Do you look for exclusive relationships, in other words, only working with Microsoft? How do you define commitment?

Warren Wilbee:              No. Certainly in this world, I’m not looking for any form of exclusivity. What I’m looking for, is I’m looking for someone who takes a serious look at our platform, takes a serious look at the value proposition that we have, and partners with us to put together a business case. You know, really sit down and analyze what the pluses and minuses are of working with Microsoft. Any time when I’ve had the discussion and we factored in what we could do on the technology side, what we could do on the Go-to-Market side, what we can do to help them sell their products in the market space, I have never come away unhappy from a conversation that has earnestly gone through that analysis.

If you go through that analysis of looking at the technology, looking at what we have to offer from the marketing standpoint and looking at what we have to offer to help you sell your product, whenever that analysis has happened I’ve never come away unhappy. Microsoft has a peerless value proposition when you factor all those things in.

Vince:                               Is there one thing that isn’t taught but you believe is true, besides commitment to successfully partnering with Microsoft?

Warren Wilbee:              One of the problems with Microsoft is you can take a look at our staff and having vendors and everybody else, we have circa 100,000 to 120,000 people, a large group of people. One of the biggest problems that I see that partners face is that when dealing with us they almost feel like they have a one in 120,000 chance of finding the right person. That’s why I like participating in forums like this where we can try and help people understand how to partner with us and how to connect with us because once people find the right entry point into Microsoft and for ISV’s [inaudible 00:15:09] and my team, once they connect with the right people things tend to go well. It’s when they can’t find the entry point that I think we run into some problems.

Vince:                               Once they find that entry point and those partners are now looking to work with you and your team, is there any advice or strategies they need to think about before engaging with your team?

Warren Wilbee:              That’s an excellent question. Generally speaking we take all comers but the conversations that tend to go best are the conversations where people have a clear set of objectives that we can latch onto and help them fulfill. When you walk into a room and the conversation is, “Why are you here?” “No, why are you here?” That gets confusing for everyone. If you come in with a clear set of objectives, if you can tell me where you’re at and where you want to be, it’s very easy for myself and my team to engage in that conversation and try and figure out a way to help you get there. At the end of the day what we are all about is helping you solve your problems using our platform and help you reach your business objectives using the tools that are provided in our partnering frame.

Vince:                               Warren, I’m fascinated by how people got to this particular spot in life and I was wondering if you could tell our listeners how you got started at Microsoft and how this led to this role in the company?

Warren Wilbee:              I’ve been pointed at this role for a very long time. When I was in college I took an internship for a software company and ended up working the summer with them. After that I ended up working through the year with them and then I joined them as a graduate and eventually assumed a leadership position in that company. From that time until the time I joined Microsoft, I enjoyed the role of architect, the relevant leader, director of development, lots of different titles but basically running the technical side of software companies, ISV’s. The last company I worked for was purchased and I went from being the guy who made the decisions to being one of 12 guys [inaudible 00:17:33] where commas were placed in memos and kind of got tired of that after about six months and Microsoft had been recruiting me through that time. My job satisfaction got worse and the offers from Microsoft got better and eventually the lines crossed and I ended up taking a role very similar to the one I now hold at Microsoft.

At that point I thought I was just going to be there for a year because I was a products guy and I wanted to go and build some more products but I ended up instead of just working on one product at a time, I ended up working with 20 different software companies that I was having a material impact with, and ended up having an influence on 20 products and making a difference in 20 organizations. That turned out to be a lot of fun. I’ve been doing it for 13 years at Microsoft and will probably keep on doing it until they tell me I have to stop.

Vince:                               What was the best piece of advice you received along the way, either in the workforce or at Microsoft?

Warren Wilbee:              I had lots of great mentors and got lots of great advice along the way. I think the best piece of advice I got is always make sure you understand the underlying question. So many times people give you sort of a top line question or a top line problem and you end up not really working on the root cause. You end up not really looking at the big problem that needs to be solved. Always dig down to the bedrock. Always get down to that fundamental question, that fundamental problem that people are trying to solve because if you start solving those problems you’ll be amazed where life takes you.

Vince:                               That’s great advice. What about people that you mentor, either in your organization or outside your organization. Is there any advice that you give to them?

Warren Wilbee:              It depends on what I’m mentoring them for. If I’m mentoring for leadership, the one clear piece of advice I get is never … The one clear piece of advice I give, pardon me, is to never underestimate the value of teams. Building teams is extremely important. I believe that all of us is better than any one of us and the organizations that I’ve been privileged to be a part of always work and function as teams, not a group of individuals that all have similar goals. We’re in it together, we win together, we lose together, we make it happen together.

Vince:                               Do you have a quote that you live your life by or you think of often?

Warren Wilbee:              Be kind.

Vince:                               Be kind, I like that.

Warren Wilbee:              Be kind. [crosstalk 00:20:33].

Vince:                               You cover so much ground, actually.

Warren Wilbee:              Exactly right. It’s great. It’s easy to remember. Life is hard, everybody’s going through something, everybody has problems. When you look at the people around you, be kind.

Vince:                               What about advice you would give to your 25 year old self?

Warren Wilbee:              I think my 25 year old self, I would tell my 25 year old self to be patient.

Vince:                               Be patient.

Warren Wilbee:              I remember my 25 year old self, and my 25 year old self wanted to solve all the problems of the world, wanted to solve them today, and quite frankly life tends to be a one step at a time adventure. It’s important to understand where you’re going, it’s important to understand who you want to be and how you’re going to make it there. But, you also have to take a breath and understand you’ve got to do the work, you’ve got to put in the time, you’ve got to go through the steps to get to where you’re going.

Vince:                               That’s great advice. I find that many people I work with at that early stage of a career are not very patient. Thank you for sharing that with our listeners. How about books you’ve read? Is there any one book you’ve read or gifted often, that you’d recommend to our listeners and why?

Warren Wilbee:              There is a book by Robert Asprin called Phule’s Company, that had a rather amusing take on leadership that somebody who listens to this might get a kick out of.

Vince:                               Phule’s Company. That author again?

Warren Wilbee:              Robert Asprin.

Vince:                               Aspen?

Warren Wilbee:              Asprin, like the medicine.

Vince:                               Asprin like the medicine. Okay, great. We’ll share that in our show notes for our listeners. I want to thank you Warren. I appreciate how busy your time is and how compressed it is. I know you’re doing this interview today remote. You are a real road warrior at Microsoft. I know that first hand. I appreciate you coming on today and sharing your story, your business with us, with our listeners. Thank you so much for your time.

Warren Wilbee:              No problem. Happy to do it. As you said, I am a road warrior. When people ask me where I’m based I usually tell them the Hyatt.

Vince:                               The Hyatt. What about if any of our listeners want to reach you, is there a best way to do so?

Warren Wilbee:              Sure. I’m easy to find, Feel free to send me a note, I’d be happy to engage with you, help you find your direction with regard to Microsoft. Please reach out and I will respond.

Vince:                               Thank you so much. We’re going to put that in our show notes. Again, want to thank you for your time today Warren. It’s been a pleasure to have you ask a guest. Thank you.

Warren Wilbee:              Great conversation, glad to participate, happy to do it anytime.