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voice and video, with data and with other integrated technologies. We've really only scratched the surface of integrated communications. We'll continue answering customer demand for deeper integration across the whole productivity platform--Microsoft Office System applications, including Outlook 2003, SharePoint, Live Meeting and Groove, as well as Exchange and some of the other infrastructure pieces.
In recent months, Microsoft has beefed up its own sales force and has begun adding vertical specialists in a variety of industries. Does this mark a change in the way Microsoft sells things?
Ballmer: The steps we're taking with our sales force represent an evolution of solution selling, rather than a marked change to how we sell. If you look at how our platform is evolving to support integrated solutions that align with business process, it makes sense that our sales force and partner investments will be optimized for customized solutions that work how our customers work. We started solution selling five years ago, and everything we're doing today in the field--adding more specialized resources by technology and by industry, aligning our account teams by industry where possible, integrating partner solutions more effectively into the sales process--represents the next era of solution selling.
A year ago at the partner conference, Microsoft was pushing a similar specialization plan for its partners. Have you seen a significant shift in your resellers in that direction?
Ballmer: Partner by partner, we're making an impact by creating business opportunity for our partners and, in turn, partners are betting their business with us. It's really encouraging to see partners betting big and succeeding. One example there is Interlink, which has more than doubled its revenue since they focused on partnering with us a few years ago.
Microsoft has been dabbling in some new ventures that arguably have made the company somewhat less predictable for partners. For example, the company said in March that it was going to take over management of Energizer's internal IT functions, a job that Microsoft has not traditionally performed and its partners have. Why is Microsoft doing some of these things?
Ballmer: Let's be very clear here: Our core business is developing and delivering software. That said, our incubation project with Energizer should not surprise anyone. We have a responsibility to help drive cost and complexity out of our customers' environments and help them maximize the value of their IT investment. Energizer will not be the only one here in this pilot; there will be a few others, where we will mirror our own internal IT environment running the technology hand in hand as opposed to being a step removed. We're going to test this out and see where it takes us.
With the Internet serving increasingly as a means for businesses to learn about and purchase software, what is the long-term future for software resellers? How do you see their role evolving in the coming years?
Ballmer: Software resellers continue to provide value to customers across a broad range--some bring specific implementation or customization skills; others bring a unique understanding of particular verticals or geographies, etc. The one commonality, though--and this is the crux of the matter--is that the partners who specialize are the ones who will thrive. I talked a lot about this at last year's partner conference, and I'll talk about it this year. As we go to market with our partners, we want to provide customers with the broadest ecosystem of products and services, and to do that, everyone involved needs to make choices about where to focus and add value.
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