With more than 600,000 partners in Microsoft's Partner Network, it is understandable that some find it hard to stand out. The vendor is one of the largest of its kind and has a huge channel organisation, meaning one might be hard pressed to find an IT reseller which does not have at least some expertise in a few Microsoft products.
In the past, being the biggest and the best when it comes to software licence sales would have been a good way to make significant inroads with the vendor, perhaps meaning smaller, start-up resellers had less chance of rubbing shoulders with the vendor's channel bigwigs.
But in recent years, Microsoft has overhauled its strategy, with cloud services – and their consumption – rocketing to the top of its priority list. This has given way to a new breed of Born in the Cloud partners which established themselves purely to sell cloud services.
One such company is Axon IT, a 28-strong firm based in Macclesfield with revenue approaching the £2.5m mark. The firm was set up as a traditional reseller in the early 2000s but seven years ago it took a leap of faith and became 'reborn' in the cloud, focusing on services sales instead.
This was a huge factor in putting the company on the map and gaining it global recognition, according to managing director Tim Mears.
"Historically, we were just a Microsoft partner and they took no interest in us because there were so many out there that we were just another partner," he told CRN, as part of the Born in the Cloud series. "We strategise every year and that usually takes four or five hours and we all have arguments and so on. This year was really quick – we just said 'what are Microsoft doing? We'll do that'."
Since then, he said the firm has earned managed partner status, meaning it is one of 40 focused partners in the UK.
"We've never been near there before," added Mears. "They see the value of people who 'get it' rather than going out to talk to the traditional ones where they are blue in the face [persuading them to move to cloud]. We're starting to get awards with Microsoft too. They look at us very favourably."
Mears said that one of the biggest benefits of its new Born in the Cloud status is gaining recognition from the vendor's top brass.
"We've been recognised by Microsoft Corp in the States," he said. "They rang us to work out how we are doing it. They've done a study to take to worldwide partners saying 'this is how you do it'. They're all about consumption and we've been told we have some of the highest consumption in the world. It's consumption, consumption, consumption – they are asking us about best practice and how we are doing this, and this is Microsoft Corp."
The process of moving to the cloud was not a simple one for the once-traditional reseller, with Mears admitting that waving goodbye to big one-off deals was painful at the time. But ensuring the business is fit for the future was more important, he said.
"We are of the opinion that kids are coming now out of university – the Facebook generation – and they're setting up businesses," he said.
"They are going to go into clients and say 'what's that? Is that a server? What are you doing?' That is one the main reasons we went down this route, because we see this as the biggest threat. You're going to get new businesses with bright kids and they are going to take your business. It's adapt or die. It's painful because it hits the revenues, but we are building a recurring revenue model.
"We're all building business, let's be honest, to sell. I've worked in corporate finance and recurring revenue adds a bigger multiple on the business."
CRN's Nima Green caught up with Chris Labrey for a quick Q&A at CRN's recent European Channel Leadership Forum
We caught up with the Atea chief exec at CRN's European Channel Leadership Forum in London
Andy Gillett has been appointed GM for the UK and Ireland
UK is one of two countries to see rollout of vendor's newest subscription service