#43 – Spotlight on the amazing transformation and leadership secrets. My interview with Gavriella Schuster.

Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft’s CVP for the One Commercial Partner Organization.

It’s been about 8 months since the new OCP organization and design was rolled out at Microsoft Inspire. I asked Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft’s  “Channel Chief”, to come to the podcast and share with our listeners her thoughts on what’s been going well thus far and where she sees the opportunities for continued growth and improvement in the Microsoft Partner business.

My questions for Gavriella focused on the state of the partner business, what’s she seeing during this amazing transformation, what in store for all of the attendees this year at Microsoft Inspire, leadership lessons from her career, and her interaction with Satya Nadella.

 Q: I’ve heard positive feedback from both interview guests at Microsoft and partners regarding the change in transformation, but change is not easy. Based on the feedback you’ve received, and I know you just recently returned from an overseas trip where you met with partners, if you could go back to last year, is there anything that you would have done differently when you were planning the new OCP model?

Gavriella:           That’s a great question, Vince. I mean I say that this is such a significant change in how we’ve approached partnerships and basically with the changes we’ve made really tied to our whole sales model, how we’ve approached customers that we knew that there were really going to be areas that would be revealed after we rolled out the model and I would say that the things that I would have changed in doing a Monday Morning Quarterback is more communications, more frequently to drive clarity with our field teams and with our sales teams. Because this was such a significant change, it’s taken awhile for people to really internalize and understand what their new role is and all of the tools and the resources that we’ve made available to them. I think I would’ve spent more time out in the field with each of the teams and then really driving cross team collaboration between our enterprise sales teams and our partner teams because we give that a little bit later when we saw some of the seams between roles. I would have done it earlier.

Vince: You bring up a really great point. I started this podcast because I believed from my talks at Microsoft and Partners that Microsoft needs to scale this message more broadly and we have a growing set of partners in the ecosystem and partners need to stay in greater lockstep through all the change.

Q: What steps are you thinking in terms of how to better scale programs and resources so that partners can stay better connected during all of this change and transformation?

Gavriella:           One of my key learnings is the first thing we need to do is make sure we simplify because when we have a simpler program or simpler sets of engagement, simpler tools, it is easier for people to engage on it and understand it. It’s more intuitive so we need to continue to derive for simplicity and eliminate the noise. There are always so many things that we want to do. I think we tend to put too much into the market at the same time. So that’s one thing is to clear the noise. I think the second thing is just to have communication all the time in an ongoing business through blogs, through ongoing emails out to our partners and then we have a lot of webcasts and calls and constant conversations with our field. One of the things that we’ve put in place since we started this change in July is regional business leads and those regional business leads are part of my team, but they actually live out in the regions and we do … they sit in every single one of our meetings in corporate, but then their job is to help us land that both with the partners locally as well as with our field.

Q: What are the one or two things you believe the changes have had the most positive impact on the business and for partners?

Gavriella:           Well for sure what we’ve seen is a tremendous explosion in the number of offers that our partners have been able to bring into the market. The value of those offers and the articulation and clarity that we’re able to bring to our customers that the value each of our partners is delivering. So the focus that we’ve had in our build with motion in really helping our partners to build in an accelerated pace some of their cloud services and then some of their data NAI services and then bringing those to the market faster with our channel managers. Those have been really positive impact and we’ve seen that through some of the results. We have over 83 thousand partners building their businesses with cloud services today. We ran an [inaudible 00:05:28] skills initiative and we’ve trained over 160 thousand people and amassed over 540 thousand training hours as a result. So we’ve done some damage to that skills gap that exists in the market and then with our cloud profitability and AI playbooks that we’ve released, we’ve already tracked more than 500 thousand downloads within our partner ecosystem. So we’ve seen that we’re able to accelerate the practices within our partners and the application development that they’re doing.

Vince: I’ve had Eduardo Kassner on the podcast and we’ve talked through some of the playbooks and there’s amazing content out there for partners and they can reference that. In fact, we put that in our show notes with Eduardo’s episode. Here it is again for your reference. 

Q: You were recently quoted in the press and this talks about the whole importance of IP, but the fact that not only traditional partners, but end-user customers have a role making their IP and solutions available to the broader market. And I want our listeners to understand if you can expand for them on this concept and maybe a specific use case example that comes to mind?

Gavriella:           Absolutely, so what we’ve found is that as we help customers unlock the data that exists in their organization and has historically existed on share points or in pockets or even on paper still. As we help them unlock that data, they find that the information available to them where they can then turn that into benchmarking, or they can get better insights in their customers or in the industry, they’ve been actually able to turn that into and productize that delivery to others where maybe not in their industry to create competition for themselves, but they’ve been able to actually turn that into value back into the rest of the commercial Fortune 500. So we’ve seen a number of cases like that where they’ve been able to take all of the data, you take some of the insurance companies that we work with, right? They unlock some of the data that they have and suddenly the anonymous data that they have about the preferences that customers have, the challenges they may have with their lifestyles and how that impacts their health or their overtime and turning that back out into information they’ve been able to share back with the healthcare industry, for instance, really has become a product that then they’re able to actually change the business that they’re in.

Other examples are where we’ve helped customers with their own logistics, so optimizing their supply chain and their logistics and then those essentially have become products that that customer has then IP, they resell those logistic solutions to other customers and so it’s a very interesting time now where our customers we start working with them and as we do that, we realize together with them, that we can access some of that IP that they’ve then developed and go to market and use it with other customers. So it’s a whole new, kind of repeatable practice approach that we hadn’t actually done before as a motion with our customers. So it’s, where in the past we’ve talked about kind of a partner to partner engagement, where partners use complementary skills, this ends up being a customer will be the customer of a partner. They’ll co-build something and then the customer has this IP that then the partner can go implement with other customers and bring back kind of royalties to their customer.

Q: That’s very interesting. So you bring in a partner, I was going to ask, how does a customer then engage with your organization, but it’s a customer to partner field, organization type of play to go co-sell?

Gavriella:           It kind of goes in all directions, but yes, in 95% of the cases of when we ever engage with a customer there’s always a partner involved and so where its a delivery of a service or a postal motion beyond that, typically it’s again through the partner they were working with.

Q: A universal theme in all my interviews has been the rapid pace of change in innovation and many guests have commented that it’s happening fast, they’re just blown away by how fast its been happening. What are you seeing happen now that you didn’t expect to see happen a year ago?

Gavriella:           Well there’s a lot of things that I’m seeing happened. I don’t think I would’ve predicted. We are, we’re engaging with customers in a whole different way. As you go in and do digital transformation projects with customers, what you find is that it is not a traditional supply chain engagement anymore. It used to be Microsoft would build some technology or product, and then we would work with a partner who would enhance that and get it kind of through to the last mile of what the customer needed. We would jointly sell that and either the same partner or a different partner would go deploy and instrument that with the customer and then somebody would manage and support it. So that was our traditional supply chain.

What we’re finding now is that as you go in and uncover digital transformation projects that are not about helping a customer how to run their business, but they actually are about the customers business, it’s about the customer’s product or the customer’s go to market, the value actually occurs on-site with the customer and so a lot of the development of the solution occurs on site and so we end up taking Microsoft’s technology as a toolkit in with various Lego pieces, I guess if you will. And then the value is constructed and you end up with, like I was saying, a whole different product every time you have one of these engagements. A whole new solution that then somebody says he I know how to make this into a repeatable thing that I can bring to the next person. Sometimes the repeatability happens from the partner who’s created that value onsite and they take that into as a now a product that they can go and take on. Sometimes it’s the customer who owns the IP and they take it on as a product that they can go resell. So it’s a fascinating approach to the technology development that I wouldn’t have predicted probably a year ago.

Vince:                Yeah it’s a fascinating time we live in. It’s just amazing to be chronicling this and sitting, observing all of this.

Gavriella:           Yes, exactly.

Q: Microsoft Inspire is just a few short months away, what do you have planned that you can discuss today, maybe something you haven’t already shared in the public, and why should every Microsoft partner make the trip to Vegas this year?

Gavriella:           Oh well so now the topic of conversation, probably the hottest topic at Inspire, is probably going to be all about our data service and how to unlock that through artificial intelligence. That is clearly what all of our partners want to learn more about. It’s what all of our customer engagements are about and every single one of our partners is buildings some sort of a data service, AI service, into their applications of the service that they deliver and so that will be the theme of the whole event. Just talking about the many successes and best practices because the more you hear about what partners are doing today and about what customers are doing, the more kind of it sparks your imagination of what’s possible and how to bring these different elements of the technology together and it’s a phenomenon that only hasn’t gotten unlocked because of the cloud services and the way that you can then bring things that used to be locked up on premise into the cloud and then take a different level of data governance over the structure of the information that you have. So that will be the hottest topic. The biggest change in Inspire is that we’re actually combining Inspire with our traditional Microsoft sales kickoff and we’re doing them at the same time in the same week and that’s something that we’ve never done.

We’ve always had Inspire first and then had our global sales kickoff the week after. And so we’ll all be in Las Vegas at the same time. We have about forty thousand people descending on Las Vegas during that one week, which will be a tremendous logistical challenge I think. We’ll see how that goes. And so we will be able to have more Microsoft sellers and managers from around the world, integrated and engaging with our partners in a way that we’ve never been able to orchestrate before. Traditionally, the people from Microsoft that go to our Inspire are ones that are supporting and working with partners all year long. This actually enables us to bring a lot of the technical folks and a lot of the management teams also into play with our partners. And many of our partners throughout the year have been really focused on doing geographical expansion and this I think will enable them and encourages them to create those relationships. Not only finding partners from those other areas of the world but finding the Microsoft people that they want to connect to.

Q: So will there be collaboration opportunities or mixers or ways that partners and sellers can get together?

Gavriella:           Yes, absolutely. Actually, we’re planning our whole Wednesday as the mixer day. And so all of the different workshops and sessions, and activities that we have are all designed to bring the Microsoft teams and the partner teams together.

Vince: Nice well we all should be in Vegas them along with the forty thousand so that’s a great and compelling reason why partners should come. All our listeners should be there.

Q: I recently joined IAMCP, which is the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners. And was at a recent meeting in Washington DC and shared my observations with the leadership. I believe the organization has so much potential. What are some ways that IAMCP can continue to grow and support the Microsoft ecosystem?

Gavriella:           I love the IACMP and I love the Women in Technology chapters that are also associated with the IAMCP. It has for a very long time been one of our secret weapons I think. It’s better than, you know, most organizations have kind of user groups, but this is actually professional association as you know. And so the things that I’ve seen that have been really helpful is to our earlier point about how do we scale our message. How do we provide better support? How do we help partners who are coming into the Microsoft ecosystem to succeed? I have seen some tremendous best practices from IAMCP where they have mentor matching, where they have workshops where they consult with other members and almost do kind of coaching sessions on their business development and best practice sharing amongst each other. So those are invaluable ways of collaborating between the communities and typically there’s more, there’s like a competitive edge with Partners and sharing information with each other, but when they join the IAMCP, I don’t see that happening.

It’s much more of a supportive community organization and it’s also a place where we can then have our teams land and run workshops and get members of the community together at a scale that we wouldn’t be able to necessarily bring to ourselves. So those are some of the things that they’ve done incredibly well and as we’ve looked out into the future I think the opportunity is to bridge the partner to partner connections even more as we have more and more partners developing IP, who want to then bring it out and sell it to other partners or incorporate it into other partner practices. The IAMCP is very logical and awesome bridge to bring that collaboration in the community out.

Vince:                Yeah I would agree with you and we’re going provide links on how to join IAMCP in our show notes here, so for our listeners who aren’t members already.

Q: I wanted to ask you about, you’ve had the privilege of working side by side with some amazing people at Microsoft, including someone that many of us admire, Satya Nadella. Can you tell our listeners what it’s like to work side by side with Satya? How engaged is he in the partnered business? And what guidance or counsel does he provide to you on how to shape the partner business moving forward?

Gavriella:           Yeah I mean Satya is an amazing leader. Every time I have the opportunity to be with him I learn something new. In the way that he communicates, in the way that he brings people along and the clarity that he can create form the communication. We can have a whole bunch of people debating an issue and the way that he can help everybody reframe what are we trying to accomplish and get everyone on the same page and aligned towards the direction and pull in and listen in an inclusive way to what people are saying, it’s just incredible. He engages pretty deeply on the partner business. He understands the role, the importance of partnerships in enabling us to reach our customers and support our customers. He is fully dedicated to making sure that we have a very healthy ecosystem and an inclusive ecosystem.

That we are thinking broadly enough about the global scale of our business and the reach that our customers are trying to get in how we make sure our partners are really driving that business with us and make sure that within the engineering teams, everything that they do is set up to be completed by a partner. That there are APIs, that there’s the right documentation, that we’re supporting and enabling partners, that we’re testing with them. So we co-create a lot. And that’s a lot of his influence in the design of the way that we go to market and the way that we build the product. So it’s pervasive, the influence that he has within the organization is pervasive and it makes me feel great that the work that we do every day because we are supported from the top down to make sure that we have a very healthy and thriving ecosystem.

Vince: It’s not just talk at Microsoft, it’s ingrained in the vision of the organization. It’s pretty clear from my vantage point.

Gavriella:           Yes.

Q: You also have a reputation as an amazing leader and many of our listeners are early in career and would love to learn about your journey to Channel Chief so I was hoping I could ask a couple of questions here.

Q: What is the one best piece of advice that you received when you took this role?

Gavriella:           The best advice that I received was stay connected. Think like a partner. Make sure that you’re taking an outsider’s view of all of the decisions that you make. Make sure that you have a good posse of advisors out in the community who make sure that we can keep it real and don’t get sucked into the ivory tower of Redmond.

Q: You actively mentor others and frankly, you’ve been a role model to many. Not only women in technology, but also many men in technology, as well. Is there a favorite piece of advice that you give to others that you mentor and that you can share here?

Gavriella:           I would say there are a few pieces of advice that I have. One of them is that you have to, the technology industry changes very fast and takes almost everything out of you and so if you want to run the marathon in the tech industry, you have to take care of yourself. You have to make sure that your setting your boundaries and you are giving yourself time to have a life along with, like because when you give yourself time to breathe, when you give yourself time to think that’s when you actually internalize and understand the bigger picture of what’s possible and if all you do is go, go, go all the time, which you can get into in this industry, you just go all the time, then you rob yourself of the ability to create a vision or have that bigger picture view of where you’re trying to go or what’s possible.

So that’s one thing, I think the other is to make sure that you are collaborating and scaling yourself. There are so many great minds and so many people that have so much to contribute that you want to make sure that you are checking in early and often with people. That you’re socializing any thoughts that you have, kind of co-create. And then the third piece of advice is really the continue to be outside in. Make sure that you’re connected with your customers. You’re connected with your partners. I make sure that I have several partner meetings every day that I go to the EDC and I talk with customers so that we really do know what they’re thinking and what they need. Not just making things up.

Q: Is there one quote you live your life by or think of often?

Gavriella:           Yes so for me, because there is such rapid pace, I always have to remind myself that I am most productive when I am balanced. So when I feel the most pressure I know that’s the time when I have to take a step back and take a break and do something else. So the quote that always goes through my head is there are only 24 hours in a day, you’re most productive when you feel relaxed and centered, so get centered.

Q: So is there anything that you do specifically when that happens? Is it a form of mindfulness? Or is there anything you can share here with our listeners?

Gavriella:           Yeah I create a routine for myself so I workout first thing in the morning to kickstart my day. I make sure when I come home from work that I take the dogs for a walk and I always have dinner with my family and so it’s my way of, by having that routine that I stick with that I just stay centered and I make sure that I’m taking that break and really taking time out.

Q: That’s really great. Is there one thing that you would tell your 30-year-old self if you could?

Gavriella:           I think the thing I would tell my 30-year-old self is life is a great juggling act. There is really no such thing as work-life balance it’s more about doing what you think you need to do at the moment in time and have grace with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. There’s always tomorrow, you can always be better tomorrow than you today.

Q: That’s great advice. Gavriella, any parting comments for our listeners that you’d like to share?

Gavriella:           I think what I would say is that now, there’s never been a better time to build a business with Microsoft on the technologies that we have coming out. There’s so much outside opportunity. IDC just released their latest view that the market opportunity is going to be 20 trillion dollar market opportunity by the year 2025. So all of this technology just keeps unlocking more and more potential with our customers and it’s mind-blowing. So I would say that there’s never a better time to start a business, join the technology trend, jump in and have no fear because there’s plenty of work and plenty of opportunities to co-create and build great new solution services and products using these Lego blocks that we have available.

Vince:                20 trillion dollars, jump in and have no fear. I love it. That’s tremendous. You know, Gavriella, I just want to thank you. I know how compressed your schedule is, and I just want to thank you for taking the time for listeners, for the Microsoft Partner Ecosystem for all you do for our partner ecosystem I want to thank you for joining the Ultimate Guide to Partnering and if our partners want to reach out, what’s the best way they can follow or reach you?

Gavriella:           The best way is also to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m very responsive on LinkedIn and then I try to share some of my thoughts about what’s going on. The best practices, some of the great stories that I hear. I try to post those out and share those on LinkedIn. So you can get to me at it’s @gavriellaschuster. Surprisingly, I am the only one named Gavriella Schuster.

Vince:                Why am I not surprised? You’re one of a kind. And we’re going to provide links to all of this in our show notes and maybe even the IDC study if we can get our hands on it. So I want to thank you again. Gavriella I want to thank you for all you do for the channel. You’re a role model not only within Microsoft, but to the whole Channel as well, and to our partners that listen to this podcast, I want to thank you so much for your time today.

Gavriella:           Great, thank you, Vince.


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As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. 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.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione

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