Building a strong Microsoft Alliance marketing program

To create a marketing and sales motion to support a first party Azure service required a novel approach that at the time, had no roadmap to follow. It’s a good thing that NetApp’s Microsoft Alliance Leader Adam Carroll’s favorite place to start was with a blank page.

The first party solution is now known as Azure NetApp Files. It was the right solution at the right time, and it demanded an innovative approach across the board—in engineering, marketing, and sales.

Here’s how Mercer-MacKay worked alongside Adam Carroll at NetApp to build a strong, measurable, and profitable Microsoft Alliance Sales and Marketing program for Azure NetApp Files.

The beginning

NetApp’s Journey to Azure NetApp Files

NetApp is a global cloud-led, data-centric software company. Since its inception, NetApp has focused on innovative data management services and solutions becoming the leading enterprise data storage and management company in the world.
Today, NetApp is experiencing unprecedented growth with a quickly expanding portfolio of intelligent cloud services that enable its customers to digitally transform and manage applications and data everywhere across hybrid multi-cloud environments.

With more mission-critical enterprise workloads moving to the cloud, Microsoft wanted a high-performance storage and data management infrastructure embedded in Azure. NetApp was the logical choice. Microsoft would own and sell the solution, Azure NetApp Files, but it would be built by together by Microsoft and NetApp engineers on the trusted NetApp ONTAP infrastructure to meet the unique needs of cloud customers.

The opportunity was unprecedented. But it came with challenges.

When I joined NetApp, I had a big job ahead of me: to build a new Microsoft Marketing Alliance team on the strength of a fairly new concept—a first-party service—and build programs, assets and go-to-market motions that would capture the mindshare of Microsoft sellers, NetApp sellers, and Microsoft partners. It was an exciting time to be at NetApp.

Adam Carroll

NetApp Microsoft Alliance Leader

The challenges

Bumps along the pioneering path

NetApp needed to create awareness of and demand for a maverick solution that would not be available in GA for 18 months; but both Microsoft and NetApp needed to drive the right candidates to the private and public preview offerings. These customers were needed to help shape features, use cases and marketing direction. Azure NetApp Files needed creative storytelling to capture the attention of Microsoft sellers, NetApp sellers, Microsoft partners and ultimately customers.

The partnership

Selecting a marketing partner

It was time to bring an experienced and committed marketing partner on board to discover ways to tackle this unique marketing challenge.

Mercer-MacKay Digital Storytelling was founded in 2007 to bring the power of storytelling and modern marketing specifically to technology companies who need help to differentiate, engage, and build connection within their marketing, partner programs, and strategic alliance initiatives. Mercer-MacKay brought years of experience telling tech stories to both tech and non-tech audiences, and best of all, brought almost two decades of experience navigating Microsoft and the complex Microsoft Partner ecosystem.

I knew I needed to work with a marketing agency that cared as much about NetApp’s success as I did. I looked at and interviewed quite a few; however, when I was introduced to Mercer-MacKay I liked their deep Microsoft and Parter-toPartner (P2P) experience, their strategic approach, and their can-do attitude.

Adam Carroll

NetApp Microsoft Alliance Leader

The approach

Exciting the right audience

Early on, a major objective was to create excitement among the primary target audience for Azure NetApp Files: the sales channels. It was going to be hard to get the attention of Microsoft sellers who had many, many Microsoft products to keep track of and sell. And equally hard to create excitement among NetApp sellers accustomed to selling NetApp products. Microsoft partners, too, were preoccupied with their own solution portfolios.

It became crucial to find ways not only to tell the story but also to map the solution to target audience score cards and show them how Azure NetApp Files helps them meet their commitments, and then build unique sales motions to support that. To be effective, we implemented a strategy that was aimed at creating integrated messaging and campaigns targeting our personas (Leadership, Microsoft sellers, NetApp sellers, Microsoft partners, customers, press and analysts). The strategy was executed across a variety of mediums and tactics all of them measured using a test-and-learn approach to determine continued and future investment direction.

Marketing that works that is measurable and drives business outcomes.

The strategy was executed across internal and external audiences and measured across:

Mercer-MacKay was more than a partner to us. They started as an agency vendor and became a trusted extension of our bench, helping us drive impactful results that helped us accelerate our sales efforts across Microsoft, NetApp, and partner sales teams to deliver transformational solutions for our joint customers. This is why, after initially positive results, Microsoft and NetApp decided to jointly invest and combine budgets to further boost the scale of daXai.

Adam Carroll

NetApp Microsoft Alliance Leader

Harnessing the Power of P2P and SaaS

In the same way Azure NetApp Files grew through the power of leveraging both Microsoft sellers and NetApp sellers, it was time to leverage the power of the Microsoft Partner ecosystem.

The Mercer-MacKay team was ready with a marketing-as-a-service portal with built-in storytelling frameworks, assets, training and best-practice programs designed for Microsoft partners and available on AppSource, named daXai.

NetApp and Microsoft invested in customized Partner-to-Partner (P2P) digital marketing programs using daXai. The programs were built on a data-driven foundation to enable Microsoft Partners to showcase their unique value while accelerating campaign deployment using proven methods and tactics aligned to the buyer’s journey to ultimately book meetings and drive pipeline. The initial target was SAP customers and Microsoft Partners were thrilled with their success rate. The P2P marketing program helped the partners at every step of the process from creation to analysis, with user-friendly dashboards that make it easy for partners to see their positive results.

The results

With commitment, an outstanding solution, communication, and trust came results.

Fast growth1 and advocacy of the Microsoft/NetApp solutions as evidenced by Microsoft and NetApp case studies;

Thousands of qualified marketing and sales leads generated across multiple programs

Several Microsoft Partner of the Year wins/finalists for both NetApp and NetApp partners

What started with a single service—Azure NetApp Files—expanded into a strategic Azure Portfolio at NetApp that also boasts 12 NetApp co-sell solutions in the Azure Marketplace and which Mercer-MacKay have participated in supporting the marketing efforts at various levels. Azure NetApp Files continues to open doors for portfolio sales and co-marketing initiatives continue to grow the Azure portfolio year over year.

1 Actual numbers are Microsoft and NetApp confidential
2 Actual numbers are Microsoft, NetApp and partner confidential

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