These are exciting days for Microsoft partners.

With SharePoint 2016 now available and new releases promised on the road map, it's busy days ahead. 

The cloud is driving a lot of these changes — it's one of those generational technology changes, much like the launch of the iPhone and the subsequent lessons that release taught us.

Hundreds of thousands of Microsoft partners around the world have worked for years helping companies consume, implement and drive efficiencies as Microsoft continued to roll out newer, faster and improved products. The cloud is fueling a dramatic shift, from traditional installing and implementing software to helping companies get value out of the cloud services behind the transformation. 

Note the strategic use of terms here — we don’t call this new technology a 'product' but rather a 'service.'

This fundamental shift within the Microsoft ecosystem — from products to services — impacts the partner community. 

The shift is to managed services and what could be termed the general acceptance of intellectual property and productizing traditional service-level work. As someone who has been in this community for over 15 years, I am not sure where all this will lead. But if we plan on being relevant in the next 18 to 36 months, we must make some foundational changes. 

The Problem with Projects

We could summarize the massive shift away from project work in a couple of ways, but it mainly comes down to this: clients don’t like it! Project work is cumbersome, and often brings with it lengthy sales cycles, confused delivery expectations and a long tail of completion before the closure of a project.

Press a technology provider to explain why they do so much project work and more often than not they won't have an answer. Did it come from a failure to keep a simple task simple and instead layer complexity to differentiate your offering? Whatever the reason, it is time to evaluate whether this is the best way forward.

We need a different sales approach with cloud selling. Technology providers need to be faster, able to explain their offering in a concise manner and use inside sellers to quickly and accurately articulate the value proposition — preferably over the phone. 

Project work naturally falls away in this model. Technology companies delivering service work on top of the cloud need to move away from the big deal, one and done approach and think about making their service easy to manage and continuous. 

It's a shift to the long game and delivery services over months and years. Differentiation will come from speed and the ease with which companies work with you and your people, and the efficiencies the addition of your cloud services to their platform drives within their line of business.

Cloud-First Thinking

Cloud first is top of mind for many CIOs. Buyers frequently tell us about a mandate or a need to drive adoption of a recently purchased service. So often this cloud-first mandate is part of a broader change to just make it easier to do business with IT.

Cloud also gives partners the opportunity to sell outside of traditional IT channels. Buyers now come from specific lines of business, such as HR, marketing or corporate communications who are just trying to do their jobs more efficiently and with less input from IT. 

Selling into this community of thought leaders has long been the norm for specialized Microsoft partners. The current challenge is taking that one step further and making your previous offering something you can repeat. Think about how you've done this in the past, take your intellectual property and reproduce it in the form of a cloud service offering that can be consumed as a product.

The takeaways for the Microsoft partner are clear: be ready. The cloud will have a deep and profound impact. Prepare for your new buyers, the lines of businesses that don’t need the architectural framework to make a buying decision. And finally, don't be too quick to dismiss the cloud as a fad: the competitors you battle against tomorrow may not even be in your technology circle but rather a different platform altogether.

This is an exciting and demanding time for partners and technology providers — enjoy the ride. This wave has the potential to lift all boats.