Honestly, setting up a partner network feels like being back in high school. Bear with me…

Which crowd do you follow? What are you going to say to them? What can you do to stand out?! You’re new to all this and it seems everyone has known one another forever.

A bit dramatic? Possibly. But with so many different partner ‘communities’ and hundreds of events nationwide ran by all different networking and business groups along with the fact that there are literally THOUSANDS of partners of all different shapes and sizes (you’ve got LSPs, MSPs, LARs, VARs, ISVs… hey it wouldn’t be a Microsoft blog without some acronyms now, would it?) it’s easy to become so overwhelmed that you simply never start. I was so worried about which ‘horse to back’ I nearly never got off the starting line.

So, what did I do? Well, I made my first mistake, of course. It’s easy to recognise it now with the benefit of hindsight but isn’t that always the case? Full of enthusiasm and keen to take the partner world by storm I wrote up and extremely well thought out (meaning long and overly complicated) partner agreement with a version for every single partner type you can imagine. Whenever I engaged with a partner I was absolutely walloped with red tape until I realised that actually, I was putting unnecessary barriers in place by positioning said partner agreement.

So, I took a completely different approach and shelved the partner agreement and instead focused my efforts on building relationships. There really is something to be said for simply opening a dialogue and getting to know the people within the organisation you want to work with. Whilst we courted one another (back to the high school thing again) and took the time to understand how we could add value to one another’s businesses the conversation naturally turned to talking about customers or prospects who may benefit from an introduction. During that conversation we could quickly figure out a kickback or partner incentive that seemed fair and we could keep the ball rolling. After that the paperwork becomes a formality. That is,  if you still need a partner agreement – we have partners we work with regularly and we still don’t have a documented agreement and it works just fine.

Here’s a few tips I can share for those wanting to make a start with partner working:

  1. Be loud and proud. Be unashamedly positive about what your business does well. Prepare a well thought of value proposition that articulates your strengths and how more importantly how this translates into pounds and pence for both you and your partner. Because being honest, you want the partnership to be fruitful for you both.
  2. Believe in building relationships. It’s an age-old adage that people buy from people. But it’s true. It also applies to partner working. Partners are far more likely to refer business if you’re the type of person they can ring and shoot the breeze with.
  3. Involve yourself in the partner community. Finding the right community that can help you is an absolute must. This is where IAMCP comes in (more on that in a minute). Whilst we all know and love Microsoft, and in my experience they’ve been very supportive in my partner journey, it’s no secret that their people are changing roles regularly so maintaining momentum is tricky. IAMCP is a steady presence full of people who have years of experience in the industry and they are all keen to build a relationship with you.
  4. ‘You don’t eat the elephant in one bite.’ A colleague of mine used this saying in a meeting with a client and after a few puzzled looks and laughs we realised that actually, it’s a good way of emphasising that slow and steady wins the race. I started off with a mindset of ‘I must sign up 15 partners within three months’ when actually I was better served finding three or four organisations with whom I could form a close working relationship with. Focus on quality, not quantity.

So why did I choose to join IAMCP? Quite simply, I found them through trial and error. I wish the answer was more romantic than that but being honest I drifted around the partner world, trying out various other user groups and communities until I found them. Well actually, Rob Pope made me join. I say ‘made me,’ but having been on a similar journey to me several years earlier when he set up his own partner network for Bam Boom Cloud he was able to recognise what I was trying to do and offered some support and guidance. He suggested I check out IAMCP and here we are. As I mentioned above, building relationships is key here. We’d started an informal partnership with Rob and Bam Boom Cloud and it was working out well for us both. Just from our weekly catch ups he was able to understand my aims and steered my towards IAMCP. Here’s what I can tell you about IAMCP and why I’m glad I found them:

  1. IAMCP is a professional association of Microsoft partners dedicated to helping companies and individuals in the “Microsoft ecosystem” to broaden their base of business opportunities through partnering with other IAMCP members – both within their own communities and around the world. The association is organised in chapters across three main regions: Americas, APAC, EMEA.
  2. The IAMCP mission is to maximize the business potential of members through peer-to-peer interaction, member advocacy, community outreach, growth and education—while enhancing members’ ties to Microsoft. Business development and higher bottom line profit are our goals.
  3. (where partners meet up monthly to discuss partnering – either best practice, topics of the moment or for opportunities they need supporting partners) and with regular meet ups (virtual and in person) it’s by far the most active partner community I’ve found. If you’re questioning where to focus your partner-to-partner efforts, then IAMCP is certainly your best bet
  4. You’ll meet plenty of like-minded people who will welcome you into the community.
  5. You’ll see results. Whether you’re looking to generate more business, strengthen your value proposition through a partnership or simply to build relationships you’ll hear plenty of inspiring success stories and before you know it you’ll be championing IAMCP and sharing your own, too.

So, there it is. My partner-to-partner journey in a nutshell. I’ve gone from pessimist to partner to partner champion in a couple of years and I’m hoping my experiences see you get there a little quicker. reach out for a chat if you have any questions or visit the IAMCP website to find out more about how the community can help you.

Leigh Odell 

Partner to Partner Chair @IAMCP EMEA