MS Inspire, the annual Microsoft partner event, has just ended, wrapping up a flurry of news and announcements from Microsoft and its channel partners.
Most announcements were interesting; some more than others, especially when considering these items together. I’ve been following Nimble CRM and its founder Jon Ferrara for a while now, so I was particularly interested in hearing about the launch of its global reseller program and its social relationships insights add-in for Microsoft Office 365 and Outlook Desktop/Mobile. Nimble made its announcements within the context of Microsoft’s increasing its emphasis on partner success, as evinced by its One Commercial Partner initiative to bring together partner-focused teams from across the company and its new ISV Cloud Embed services offerings for partners.
Why is this interesting?
Microsoft’s lifeblood is its partner ecosystem. In all likelihood, the company has the biggest, most robust partner channel around. Microsoft basically sets, and resets, the gold standard with their constantly evolving partner strategies.
A case in point is Microsoft’s announcement to incentivize its partner-focused teams to sell 3rd party partner solutions with Microsoft first party solutions, Microsoft is making it even easier for MSP/CSV and ISV partners to leverage synergies and add value to customers, profits to partners and stickiness to Microsoft products.
We also see Microsoft’s Azure co-sell program taking further steps with ISV Cloud Embed. This new program allows partners to embed Dynamics 365, Power BI, Power Apps, and Microsoft Flow into their front- and back-office solutions. (I wouldn’t be surprised if LinkedIn were also integrated into this mix in the near future). If you think about it, this co-sell program looks a lot like Microsoft’s embedded Visual Basic for Applications on steroids. Lots of steroids.
This combination of initiatives allows MSP/CSP/ISV’s (Microsoft Solution Partner/ Cloud Solutions Provider/ Independent Software Vendor) partners to develop value faster and, through the partner-to-partner ecosystem, sell with common benefits.
Nimble is following an ecosystem strategy, too. The company has been co-developing its light-weight social CRM with Microsoft and integrated into the Microsoft stack for well over a year now. The latter is showcased by the new social insights add-in for MS Outlook and Office 365, the former by launching its own global reseller program in combination with becoming a Microsoft Gold ISV Partner.
At the same time. Nimble stays committed to the Google stack it was originally developed on, therefore running a two-pronged technology strategy.
This is a thing.
As I have written a few times, Microsoft owns a technology stack that should worry other business application vendors. Microsoft strives to, and has the potential to, become the fabric that connects enterprises of all sizes with their stakeholders. In cooperation with its partners, Microsoft’s reach spans everything from the hardware powering cloud-based and on-premise data centers to the hardware in the hands of users and customers.
Microsoft also has the software to connect the two. After nearly missing the SaaS wave, the writing's on the wall: Azure will surpass AWS as the infrastructure of choice for businesses big and small.
From my point of view, there are only two concerns (three, if you count the possibility of a major strategic stuff-up, which seems to be highly unlikely):
First, I still do not see a Microsoft e-commerce platform that has the potential to compete head-on with the likes of SAP Hybris, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, or Oracle’s ATG. With the world going more digital almost by the minute, I don’t understand why this gap remains.
The second concern stems from the innovator’s dilemma. Microsoft is well on its way to crossing the chasm, meaning that it is drifting (or has drifted) into the Enterprise market from Axapta and Navision, the SMB ‘roots’ of Dynamics.
This is where Nimble comes into the picture. With its strong Microsoft-centric strategy and solid credibility with small businesses, Nimble opens the door to SMBs adopting Microsoft’s business applications. Many, if not most, of them are running Microsoft Office and/or Microsoft Outlook already. Nimble is an easy entry point into the business applications market, which in turn offers Microsoft and its partners the opportunity to grow small business customers into the Dynamics offerings as they grow.
By leveraging Microsoft’s partnering programs while simultaneously setting up its own reseller program, Nimble is attempting to create a triple win for Microsoft, its channel partners and for itself. Given that Jon accomplished this previously with GoldMine (GoldMine has over 5 Million customers and 5,000 Reseller Partners, and it was Microsoft’s #1 ISV partner in the 90s), I don’t see any reason why this strategy wouldn’t succeed here as well. .
Nimble’s strategy is bolstered by its continued support of the Google stack since both Microsoft and Google are the operating systems of businesses. Google and Google Apps are especially interesting for smaller businesses.
The only shadow that I see in this rosy picture is Nimble’s current pricing model. They shed their free tier a while ago and settled for a $25 per user, per month model. The free Nimble Social Insights Add-In for Microsoft Outlook and Office 365 alleviates this to some extent. However, the free edition is still limited, and, considering Nimble addresses the SMB market with a capital S, there is a sizeable jump from free to $25/month/user. Jon hinted that Nimble will address this with an upcoming edition of a Nimble Contact Manager for Teams without advanced features, which will be priced at around $10/month/user.
So, in summary, Nimble is pursuing a sound strategy here, albeit one with a final question mark: Amazon. It will be interesting to see what moves Amazon makes in the Cloud Productivity Platform market over the next years.