Microsoft (MSFT) Channel Chief Phil Sorgen has been leading the software, device, and cloud giant's partner program for 60 days. But what are Sorgen's management traits -- and how does he expect to accelerate Microsoft's services plus devices strategy? The VAR Guy got the answers. Here's an exclusive interview. 


The VAR Guy: Let's start with the big picture. What do partners need to know about your near-term and longer-term focus?

Sorgen: I'm an 18-year Microsoft veteran. My entire experience has been that last mile of execution side-by-side with our partners in front of our customers. I think I bring a pragmatic point of view to understand how we get things done for our partners, working with customers.

(Side note: Sorgen also mentioned he has extensive North America experience, and is ramping up fast on the international front, meeting with Microsoft leaders and partners across the globe.-TVG)

During my 60 days on the job my beliefs have only been reinforced. The devil is in the details, but there's no question everything we're doing -- the bold ambitions -- are achievable. We have an achievable plan to become a devices and services company. I have to focus on ensuring our partners and Microsoft succeed for our customers.

But I also realize every company that’s a great company works hard every day to be an easier company to do business with. The market is moving faster and fast, so we have to be agile

Am I coming in with an immediate mission or charter? We’re a month into Q2. Now’s the time for execution and we need to keep driving continuity. We have a lot of things in motion.  As we execute our plan, we'll take a thoughtful approach to the things we’ll do next.


The VAR Guy: Tell our resident blogger a bit about yourself. How would peers describe your management style?

Sorgen: I think there are three ways I'd be described...

  • First, they would refer to me as a principle-based leader who is transparent in terms of sharing the reasoning for decisions. You may not have everyone in agreement, but they will understand the basis for your decisions more clearly.
  • Second, I’m a stickler for operational discipline and the value in change management both big and small. In addition to thinking through your ideas, you need to really think through how you communicate those ideas and changes. From executives to sales and marketing leaders, we need to make sure all groups understand the communications.
  • Third, I’ve been a sales and marketing leader the entire 25 years of my career, and all 18 at Microsoft. I believe customers are your North Star -- your guiding light on decisions. That has to be true for us and our partners. If we focus on that together... wow, the power of partnership couldn’t be stronger.

The VAR Guy: Rewind 15 years ago and Microsoft always seemed to launch products that were backed by associated partner program initiatives. But The VAR Guy has dinged Microsoft on two of the more recent launches -- Office 365 and Surface. In both cases, it seemed more like Microsoft went to market first then reached back and finally pulled partners along into the conversation. Going forward, can you -- as channel chief -- make sure all new services and devices launch with clear partner programs from day one?

Sorgen: The ones you’ve dinged us on [Surface and Office 365] are the things we’re newest at. Even at that, Office 365 at least came out with an element of channel but not as rich and as complete as it is today. Surface… it’s a fair statement [that the partner program wasn't there at launch.] It’s my responsibility to be at the table with our product groups [for future launches].


The VAR Guy: Did former Channel Chief Jon Roskill offer any advice when you succeeded him?

Sorgen: We worked together many years at various times. I have great respect for the team I was inheriting. There is continuity. We worked through the plan and the dialog he had at WPC [Worldwide Partner Conference 2013]. We made sure we transitioned his important relationships and we're giving partners that continuity I mentioned.


The VAR Guy: Do you have your channel team in place? Are you making any specific hires or team updates?

Sorgen: We just made an important hire. Erez Wohl will be our new GM for channel incentives, effective Nov. 6.  That completes our staffing right now.


The VAR Guy: Can you share your views on how Microsoft will work with partners to scale from SMBs to the enterprise? What are your thoughts on each segment?

Sorgen: I've spent a lot of time in small and midsize market and also focused all the way up to our largest customers. I think the cloud opportunity -- pick the product, say Office 365 -- is clear. It democratizes IT. It gives SMBs access to capabilities and infrastructure they couldn’t have built for themselves. For a large business customer, it’s about services like email -- which is mission critical but doesn't differentiate you as a business. When we give that enterprise customer the right SLAs and cloud services to work more efficiently, they can focus IT resources to help grow the business.


The VAR Guy: And once you provide the tactical services -- say, cloud email -- Microsoft and the partner can return to the customer table recommend strategic, innovative services?

Sorgen: Yes. The customer gains the ability to manage innovation across the enterprise, both on-premises and in the cloud, at the application layer and the physical layer. That's powerful.


The VAR Guy: During your first 60 days, what themes have you heard from partners?

Sorgen: We hosted our partner advisory council about three weeks ago. Among the things I heard:


  • More and more companies that are recognizing ways to drive increased profitability in the cloud.
  • Second, when repeatable IP is powerful. Sometimes it can be monetized in a different way. Some partners are starting to enable their own IP. We see VARs becoming ISVs and more.
  • Third, we see partners and customers focusing on managed services. When a technology is not a differentiator, the customer has the propensity to seek out an MSP for those services. 

The VAR Guy: Closing question. For partners who don't know you yet... what should they know about Phil Sorgen?

Sorgen: In the IT industry, some people are asked to become channel chief and then they really need to study what the partner community is capable of. That's not the case with me. I've lived partner success first-hand. All my success has been in partnership with this great ecosystem. I've seen the value of partnering. That first-hand knowledge will fuel all of my energy and focus.

Now, combine that with the fact that the technology marketplace is evolving rapidly. We participate and sometimes we lead, and sometimes we need to respond to changing conditions. Either way we need to be agile and we need to be even better in change management. I'll think about the role of the partner at every turn and during every decision we make.