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Ecosystem Leaders

Episode 187

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October 27, 2023

#187 Vanessa Sorenson: From Startups to Solutions: Insights from Microsoft's ANZ Chief Partner Officer

In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers, Chief Partner Officer, WorkSpan is joined by Vanessa Sorenson, Chief Partner Officer ANZ & MD MS NZ, Microsoft.

In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers, Chief Partner Officer, WorkSpan is joined by Vanessa Sorenson, Chief Partner Officer ANZ & MD MS NZ, Microsoft.

Vanessa is a visionary leader who is passionate about change and digital transformation. She is committed to Microsoft's mission of empowering everyone, and is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion.

With over 29 years of experience, including her role as General Manager at Spark New Zealand, Vanessa leads Microsoft's Licensing, Dynamics Business Unit, and Enterprise and Technical Sales Teams in New Zealand. She is dedicated to unleashing potential and fostering innovation for a brighter future.

Topics covered include:

  • Microsoft Programs with Partners - 4:30
  • The importance of co-creation & launch of founders hub - 14:41
  • How do Microsoft partners engage fields and incentivize teams in co-selling - 19:45
  • Advice for partner professionals - 25:36

Chip Rodgers  00:06

Hey everyone, welcome back. Welcome back to another episode of ecosystem aces. I'm Chip Rodgers Chief Partner Officer at WorkSpan. And I am so excited to be joined by Vanessa Sorensen, Vanessa, welcome.

Vanessa Sorenson  00:21

Hello, Chip, how are you?

Chip Rodgers  00:24

I'm very good. And just really excited to chat with you. We're talking from literally two sides of the world. I'm in the Bay Area. And Vanessa, you're in New Zealand today.

Vanessa Sorenson  00:39

I am in Tamaki Makaurau. And it's a sunny day, which I can't see. We've had a lot of that over the last 12 months. So yeah, it's a beautiful day here. And it's our morning at the moment.

Chip Rodgers  00:52

That's wonderful. Tuesday morning, Monday afternoon, US time. And so we'll just figure all those things out. Vanessa Sorenson is Chief Marketing Officer for ANZ and also the managing director for New Zealand for Microsoft. And that's a pretty big job going on.

Vanessa Sorenson  01:20

It's pretty exciting, the best job in the world.

Chip Rodgers  01:23

That's awesome. That's fantastic. In fact, Vanessa mentioned that just as we were getting started, you're actually in a customer meeting, and you stepped out of the customer meeting for our conversation, then you'll be stepping back into the customer meeting. So we really appreciate you taking some time to chat with us today.

Vanessa Sorenson  01:43

Look, it's my pleasure. I'm actually in their office, and I've never been here before. So an incredible New Zealand startup, that's the excitement that we've got an opportunity to bring that Kiwi number eight wire to the rest of the world. Nothing like these real time opportunities while you're in the middle of them.

Chip Rodgers  02:04

That's fantastic. So it's really exciting. So I love that, it's with a startup and big enough that they've created their own space and are building something to bring to the market with Microsoft.

Vanessa Sorenson  02:19

100%. And that's my title Chief Partner Officer, I love it, because it truly is about partnering. Chip, I've been with Microsoft for six years, I still feel like I'm a newbie. I started as the enterprise director, then took over as Managing Director, the week of lockdown. So that was pretty interesting. I remember saying, welcome, I'm your new leader, please stay home. 

So that was a pretty tough time. And then I took on the role of Chief Partner Officer a year ago, as Australia, New Zealand, merged. So I'm so fortunate I get to do such incredible work across our partners in Australia and New Zealand, but still live in this beautiful country that we in. So . I'm very fortunate.

Chip Rodgers  03:11

I had a chance to visit Australia, about three or four months ago in March and April. And it is beautiful. I didn't personally get over to Auckland, but one of my colleagues did, and we had events throughout Australia and New Zealand. And it was beautiful. Just like you said, just really lovely weather, wonderful people, everyone was so welcoming. And it was great to see so many partner people, connecting and getting together as well.

Vanessa Sorenson  03:46

Absolutely, I think it's the Kiwi culture especially as always been like that number eight wire, real innovators well ahead of their time, and that's where the opportunity is certainly where we're investing as Microsoft into this country is to take the Kiwis to the rest of the world. And we've got this incredible sort of rivalry with Australia or New Zealand or with Sporting, all blacks versus the Wallabies. 

But actually, when we come together, it's incredible.We were one of the same, especially if you ever see us traveling into your beautiful country as well. We were like cousins but sometimes we battled differently on that sporting field.

Microsoft Programs with Partners

Chip Rodgers  04:30

Let's talk Vanessa about partnerships and Microsoft and so many important things going on today with Microsoft. Incredible, partner ecosystem 400,000 I think is the total number of partners globally and so many important things happening with Co-selling with partners making sure that your solutions are in the marketplace so that you can sort of their transactable and qualified incentives and things like that. 

So talk a little bit about what are some of the hot sort of topics and programs that you're bringing to market with partners in Australia, New Zealand.

Vanessa Sorenson  05:18

There's so many. And in fact, we could probably spend our whole time just going through those, I encourage everybody to go to our site to check them out. Because, we have always been through partners. That is our secret sauce. Honestly, Microsoft can't scale without our incredible partners. But what I love now, as our partners can build with their IP on our platforms, and as you say, grow globally without having to invest in those places. And that's what marketplaces do, so you design and build on our platforms on Azure, you get it certified and onto our marketplace, and you now can actually sell your IP around the rest of the world. 

And this is skyrocketing. It is just so incredible to see. Because the gone are the days  of Vanessa we'd love to go on your platform, but can you introduce me to your US based sales team to sell our products? We just couldn't scale. So this is incredible. And on top of that, actually launching founders hub, which again, for the startup community, how are we helping being more relevant for you? 

Where do you go, when you've got all these incredible ideas, to actually set up and build on our platforms. And really, from an investment perspective, we really do want to invest with our customers through our partners. So if it means that you want to help with migration services, you're wanting to go deeper in an area, Microsoft will fund through a partner to really help you achieve that faster, execute quicker to move you to the modern technology that, we see ourselves investing in to take you to that next transformation as an organization. So, it's really exciting.

Chip Rodgers  07:12

That is really exciting. And just to have the ability to take your solution, and then deploy it globally. Like that, on a platform, and that's the magic of the cloud. And, so what does that mean? Tell me a little bit about how that impacts partners and you're working with a startup today. And to bring them into the market, how do they do it? What do they think about that? And what's the value, distribution, but what is the value for your partner?

Vanessa Sorenson  07:57

It's opening up new revenue opportunities for them. So, before we had that sort of one to one relationship, we sell you, Mr. Customer, our tech, whether it be Azure or 365, dynamics, all these things that help you. Now what we've opened the door, is how you leverage our platform with your brilliant ideas, your data, bundle that up and sell it. 

And that's only been in the last year or so that we've been doing that. So it's opening up new revenue opportunities. And then you layer on AI and all of our investments in that space, it's about infusing the things that you no longer as a customer have to invest and build on, we will do that, what you're great at, is understanding how you hate harnessing the data that you've got. 

And you build on that to sell what you know, way better than what we ever could. So we're truly clear that we're a platform partner. I love it as well, we're not going to stand up and compete with you. Like we understand what our role is. And especially you see, our investments in AI organizations couldn't afford to do that. And AI has been around forever, but it's actually now got the compute power alongside our platforms, with customers' IP to think of solving problems that we just could never, ever have envisioned, like we can now.

Chip Rodgers  09:31

So let's talk about that. Let's double click a little bit into that with AI today. It's such a hot topic and Microsoft is at the forefront with open AI and having everything right, embedded right in. So how can our partner be able to take advantage of that Technology and that platform?

Vanessa Sorenson  10:02

I mean, it's so funny. I knew we were onto something when my 82 year old father came for dinner and said that he saw what's with this chat GPT and open AI? And,it's not just for people in the industry, this is it. This is touching everybody. And so the opportunities are incredible. And I think, how I see it, Chip, do you use your iPhone the way you thought you would? 

We're right in the middle. I don't know if you're a surfer. But for me, it's not often that you realize you're right in the middle of that barrel wave. And you feel the excitement. And you can see that there's a path that you're surfing on. And that's what we're in right now, like this is going to, I think the wave of the internet and mobile phones, but never, ever have, we have seen 100 million users come to a technology in less than three months, like we have here. 

So, we can finally transform the education system, we can finally transform health services, like getting the data and the information in the hands of the critical doctors and nurses, and frontline staff, which let's face it, hasn't had the ability to leapfrog in terms of what they need banking, I just think, as a customer, we want our banks to know us and, and service up the things that we truly need. And that's where this technology is taking off. So the opportunity for partners, many of our partners are part of our early beta pilots. 

This is what I love about Microsoft, we've kind of let everyone know we're here, but we want to make sure that it's secure and safe and well tested as we roll it out. So a lot of our partners are part of that program. And very, very soon, releasing auto pilot, then who doesn't want an auto pilot ship, let's face it, someone helping you because as humans, we weren't designed to deal with all the email in the chat and our productivity has been going down, because we're not having enough time to think about the strategic things within our business. 

So that's what I see our partners helping our customers transform this AI by letting go of those mundane tasks that actually none of us are really that interested in.

Chip Rodgers  12:30

Well, and I mean, I love hearing your passion for it as well. I can imagine what it really comes across. And the story is to partners, I guess the message to partners is you're only limited by your creativity.  100 ideas, the platform is there, the technology is there, the power is there. And it's just, and what's interesting is, under a lot of times partners know, as you said, Microsoft can't build everything. 

So a lot of times the partner is and understands the use cases and the personas very well more in a very great detail. And can bring all that knowledge to build a solution.

Vanessa Sorenson  13:15

100% and especially, ISPs and our ISP partners about building on vertical markets. So if you think about banking, insurance, they understand it better than us. And it's that co-creation together, of like I say us investing, gone are the days of having to buy all those servers that cost you millions that you didn't even know if you're utilizing them all now, dial up, you know using Azure, when soon as you're finished, turn it off, fail fast, like truly get creative, and make sure that it's secure. Like, again, I say this all the time, people say well, what do you know, you're concerned about security. 

And I said, well, if you leave your door unlocked at home, someone may come in, you've got to think about protecting your data, what your businesses, but imagine unlocking what you have in your business. And this is the thing, I think really fast tracking the banking and insurance industries about no me my whole life. I'm, I spent a lot of money with, when I have children, all these things serve me. And I think that's what's going to be. I honestly think we should connect in a year and see actually what has really taken place because it is this trajectory that we're on right now.

The importance of co-creation and launch of Founder Hub

Chip Rodgers  14:41

So you said a word that I love talking about which is Co-creating. And so let's talk a little bit about that. Vanessa, what does that process look like? How do your partners engage with Microsoft to do that? Are there some resources that Microsoft provides to help them get up to speed and solve the technical challenges that they're working on and understanding the business case? 

Or how do we want to bring this to market? All the process of bringing a product together and bringing it to market?

Vanessa Sorenson  15:21

Absolutely, we're so invested in this, we actually have teams now. And we didn't a few years ago. So again, like how fast this is evolving? And 100%, we have co-creation opportunities. The hardest thing for a lot of partners is where do we start? How do we get our hands on all of this, which is why the founders hub came about? 

We really learned from startups and our partner startup community that we didn't have one place for them to go to even get free access to Azure opportunities to connect them with our technical people. When they hit a real roadblock, what do they do? And again, what it's like when a business or a partner gets to a certain level, and they want to crack to the next level, how can we help? 

So we definitely handhold each stage. And again, all of this is on our local intranet sites because it does vary, depending on each country. But we are getting now a lot clearer about what that looks like from an industry perspective? How do we share more broadly? And again, how we invest, which it does depend on the size and scale of what we're looking to achieve. 

And just some local opportunities, for instance, Vampira. It's a 20 year startup. So it's not a startup. But it was a company, a company that was using data chips, to save lives, through breast screening technology. It is a fun, amazing job in New Zealand, but the world needs to see this technology. And so that's where marketplace and founders hub came in for them, because they're not really a startup, they've been around forever, but they've got a startup mentality about taking the technology to the rest of the world. 

So that's when Microsoft engineers got involved, helping them now grow exponentially in the US and other regions, through getting connected into the founders hub, and our marketplace. So it's these opportunities to expand, where we truly see incredible technology that should go to the rest of the world.

Chip Rodgers  17:36

That's so exciting. I love the concept of founders hub, because it's hard for, a startup or a 20 year startup to be to understand well, how to get started, how do you get connected to the right people how to vote, what happens when you run into, challenges, and we're stuck at some point, how do we get unstuck and bring this to market for everybody's benefit?

Vanessa Sorenson  18:09

Absolutely. And especially when you hit that glass ceiling, That's where, again, we throw around the word partnership a lot. But I truly believe Microsoft partners very well with these businesses that truly have got, they can change the world. And that's what I see. For New Zealand, we're finally launching data centers and a country that's going to connect the New Zealand startup community to the rest of the world, no longer latency issues we've got, we can stand up and test them. 

New Zealand's an incredible country, if you think about Witter, and doing movie making but the cost sometimes of shifting those workloads around so the opportunities to connect us to the rest of the world will be next level and, and when we say we're going to partner with you, we really do. Another great organization is called sewing machines. They've got digital humans, sewing machines started out of an Auckland University. Kids doing a degree about  , some people would prefer to deal with a nonhuman when they're dealing with potentially a first home loan, if they got turned down, or, health agencies when they're struggling with mental health actually sometimes talking to a digital human. 

So the opportunities of infusing their technology and Microsoft's technology is the true sort of partnership that we're looking to explore.

How do Microsoft partners engage fields and incentivize teams in co-selling

Chip Rodgers  19:45

Wow, that's really exciting. So go through this process of building a solution co creating with Microsoft using some micro stuff technology using their IP kind of putting it together, bringing it to market. Let's talk about that next stage then on the cool marketing activities Co-selling, how do your partners get connected with the field and get the right incentives in place, I guess for the field teams to take an interest.

Vanessa Sorenson  20:25

I struggled keeping up with just Microsoft's product set. So this is not easy. And we had $1, for every part of the seat, can you just introduce me to the account Exec. But what we have done is aligned the goals, the way we pay both teams in terms of compensation to get more aligned. And this is where the industry vertical pieces are really playing out for us globally and locally. Because it makes it easier for us to interconnect, if it's retail or offense FSI or if it's government or if it's education. So we've really invested heavily on trying to make it easy. But again, we can only scale through our partners. 

So what are the partners? What do they have? What does that look like for the industry? And when we go with our teams, with our partners, to our customer, that's when we go faster. So again, marketplace is the place to get kick started, that is the, I suppose the certification of the tech, that it's trusted, that it's working, and that it truly does solve an issue out there. 

And then it's making sure and we do a lot of this. We do a lot of speed dating with our account teams, we do a lot of bringing people together from our own internal Microsoft teams as well as our partners, our startup partners, to go actually, what are we solving together? And it's, again, people do business with people, right?

It's like, well, who are we going to take this to? It's going together? We don't want the Microsoft meeting, and then the partner meeting, we want to go together.  And you see that's true partnership, and we're doing that more and more and more, because we've aligned those goals and compensation plans.

Chip Rodgers  22:14

Well, we started this. And you've mentioned a couple times that it's really important for our partners to think about the verticals. Because then I think you get, you've got a very specific audience, you have a specific use case, it's understood, there are challenges. And, Microsoft has vertical specialists as well. And so that's where you can make really make the that connection, because they all know the pain point.

Vanessa Sorenson  22:52

100% and we're not sometimes the easiest, but once we do get clear on the road ahead, and where we're going, I've just seen huge shifts and changes of how quickly we can solve problems with customers. And, in the six years I've been with Microsoft, I felt that we were sort of always involved in I suppose customer escalations, because we weren't co creating, and we weren't co designing, and we weren't architecting together, and now completely an open kimono. We will, with our partners, stand behind that, we've got unified support. 

Now, in terms of once a project's gone live, you've got through a partner or direct into Microsoft to get that help when you need it. Because you imagine even an hour without email these days, I mean, this, the whole world was so reliant on things working. And that's another massive component of making sure that we've got all the right support contracts in place. So when something happens, you've got a direct source that you can truly get that help that you need.

Chip Rodgers  24:05

So, Microsoft, what is the process for a partner to get to the point where, because I'm sure,Microsoft can't just accept any support calls from anyone right about anything? Oh, is there a certain level or some certification that is required in order for that to be able to happen?

Vanessa Sorenson  24:25

100%. Our core partners absolutely sign up on a unified support contract, which goes again, hand in hand, what our customers out there can commit to us that all of our partners are certified, technically wise, but it's when something really goes wrong. And so how do we both jump in together? And so we have Chip. We have incredible fast track teams within Microsoft. 

They jump in when there's something, because we're doing bigger and bigger biceps projects with our Dynamics platform where organizations are shifting all CRM and ERP to our platforms, and no afford for them to not be working and always on. So, we have contracts with our partners. But we will also contract directly to a key customer, if needed. So that's like another tier of fast track that can help them with support directly into Microsoft, with engineers, if they needed. 

Advice for partner professionals

Chip Rodgers  25:36

Fantastic. I love it. Well, Vanessa, you have a customer to get back to. Before I let you go, first of all, I appreciate you taking the time, this has been just terrific. I love hearing all about the programs that Microsoft has in place, and then how it's actualized in Australia, New Zealand. You've been very successful as a partner leader through the years, maybe you've got a word of advice or something that someone has shared with you along the way that's helped you that you might want to share with, with our audience of, other partner professionals. 

Vanessa Sorenson  26:26

Something that we do so many hours of our lives. And so for me, it's how all of us use our platforms to do good. And so we launched in Australia, New Zealand, our partner for purpose program. And this is to help our partners think about where it really resonates with them that they want to do more of whether it's enticing more women into tech because New Zealand, Australia with 27%. 

For me, I'm very passionate about our indigenous peoples, so Maori Pacifica, Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders, underrepresented in tech, and how do we link arms, and really partner for purpose? Because we are so privileged to be what we get to do every day. And I personally worry about the digital divide getting bigger and bigger, because how can our citizens be part of our world? If they're not connected? How will they soon be able to even get a doctor's appointment or be part of society? So for me, for our partners, what fills your soul? How do we partner together to really make a difference?

And it's something I'm personally extremely passionate about. Because I was one of those kids, I would have been left behind. I dropped out of high school at 16 and grew up in caravan parks, I just happened to fall into tech. And so I want to be the voice for those that simply don't have one.

Chip Rodgers  27:55

That's wonderful. I love that. Technology has really changed your life and your path and wanting to want it to give that back.

Vanessa Sorenson  28:07

I think if we all did a tiny bit. And that's where I'm very fortunate in the position that I hold a very privileged one, I get to do some incredible projects. And see the fruits of that rather than just ticking a box I truly, and I'm really witnessing our Australian New Zealand partners jump on board and make a huge difference.

And again, maybe that's the next time we get together, I'll just take you through all of those things because they should be celebrated. Honestly, just even helping our homeless in Australia with barrhead. A coder with Aboriginal communities getting health care. And in New Zealand, we partner with Bitola to bring more Maori and Pacifica into tech. Because we truly believe that we want to have a diverse group of people that don't look and feel the same.

Chip Rodgers  29:03

That's fantastic. That's really exciting. So next time, we'll talk again, and we'll talk about some of those additional partners that are and we'll talk about AI and some of the incredible AI solutions that partners are deploying on Microsoft.

Vanessa Sorenson  29:22

It's gonna be phenomenal. I mean, I'm just an early user myself, and it just blows my mind that I can be part of a meeting at the end of it. It comes out with all the actions, all the dates, everything that needs to happen. And I didn't even need to be at the meeting. It was recorded, like honestly, it's amazing. So it's only just getting started but yeah, it's an exciting time.

Chip Rodgers  29:48

Fantastic. Vanessa, thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning and sharing the time with us and thank you.

Vanessa Sorenson  30:00

Thank you. I've enjoyed Chip. Next time come down to New Zealand. You'll love it.

Chip Rodgers  30:06

I will. I've heard it's just beautiful. Thank you, Vanessa. And thank you all for joining and we will see you next time in another ecosystem aces podcast. Thanks, everybody.

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