Office 365 is a brilliant platform that was built and provided by Microsoft. It remains one of Microsoft’s best innovations over the last decade and it’s their fastest growing product… Ever!
**Snaps for Microsoft!**
This is a big deal as Microsoft’s partners – those who have begun to capitalize on the cloud opportunity – have benefited tremendously.
But whilst we celebrate Microsoft’s innovation, the real question is “where and how does your business innovate to leverage this platform?” In other words, beyond selling Office 365 subscriptions, how do you add differentiated value in what would increasingly become an overcrowded space full of vanilla offerings? The real growth opportunity for Microsoft partners is not in selling Office 365 subscriptions, but in creating new solutions that leverage Office 365.
Differentiate or be forgotten
There are various ways in which you could innovate using Office 365, but it requires that you differentiate yourself from everyone else in the crowd. Up to this point, the Office 365 gala has largely been a black tie affair – everyone is wearing the same thing. Whilst dressing the same helps you to fit in, it would not help you to stand out. In this arena, you have to think through where you want to make your mark and become recognized so that your clients would continue to select you as their partner of choice.
Put another way, you have to find a space and own it. Differentiation is heavily dependent upon depth of insights about a customer group. Good insights allow you to generate your own intellectual property.
A triple-play approach for differentiation
Create new solutions
Offer unique products and solutions and not just services. At this point in time, most businesses who intend to make their Office 365 offering a profitable one have probably already decided to offer services on top of the subscriptions. That’s a great way to add value and earn more. But it still would not be a main point of differentiation. Partners have to find a way in which to add unique premium value to their customers. One way to do that is to create your own products that complement the core O365 offerings. Commission your creative team, brainstorm your ideas, select one and build it. Having a product extends your brand and gives you visibility in the marketplace.
Master a business function
The opportunities for specialization are vast so you have to find a meaningful space in which to play. There are certain business functions that are common across all businesses. HR, finance, accounting, information technology, customer support, marketing and others are common across companies. Building solutions for one particular business function is a good way to put your thumbprint in the Office 365 space. Within each function, there are sub-roles and sub-functions that are not served or underserved in the Office 365 marketplace. Identify one that is meaningful to you and your customers and build an appropriate solution. The good thing is that you can go on to build a suite of complementary solutions within that space.
Design for an industry
There are unique strategic concerns and pain points for companies in each industry - be it the energy sector, finance industry, real estate or any other. The commonality of concerns in a given industry creates a unique combination of circumstances worth considering. Firstly, the problem may be shared, thereby bringing with it a pool of customers to whom you may sell your solution. Secondly, you have the opportunity to engage many potential customers in order to understand the problem and solve it in a way that is meaningful to the wider group in that industry. The more meaningful your solution to the customer, the higher the chance of selling it. So take the necessary time to get to know the genuine customer concern. In the end, the payoff would be worth it as you would have an industry.
Microsoft has done its job of building a beautiful platform upon which you may build. Now it’s your turn to create something unique and differentiated that sets you apart. Build new solutions for your customers, empower different functional areas of their business or design something to transform an industry. Whatever you choose, find a space and own it.
For your willingness to step boldly forward, I say…
**Snaps for you!**
P.S. In a subsequent post we will explore how to design meaningful products for your newly found niches.
Lorenzo Hodges is Business Development Manager for Teleios Systems. Teleios offers a platform, Teleios QuikWorx, which enables Microsoft Partners to create unique solutions for Office 365 customers.